Everybody wants to be healthy. Young and old, rich and poor, we all want to be the best we can be.

To do that, you have to know what risks you have. For example, when you’re older most people don’t realize that falling is a major risk factor for death. In my county each year, there are roughly 10 murders, 20 suicides and more than 35 deaths from falls.

Deaths from falls for senior citizens are far greater than deaths from violence. Holy cow. How many seniors know that?

Now let’s go on to young women. Researchers publishing in an American Heart Disease journal queried more than 300 young women ages 15 to 24 asking them what health issues they were concerned about.

As you might expect, stress and mood concerns were common. Losing weight was up there. Fear of breast cancer was an issue. But when asked what they thought about their risk of dying from heart disease, only 10 percent thought it was going to be a major problem when they got older.

Right. Only one in 10 thought heart disease might strike them, yet heart disease is the leading cause of premature death in women. Deaths before your time from heart disease surpass deaths from breast cancer. In fact, more women die from heart disease than all cancers combined.

Why is this important? Because it is young women. And what you do before the age of 25 can affect how healthy you are when you’re in your 50s, 60s and 70s.

To fight back against heart disease, we can start by lowering the rate of smoking in women. One in eight still smoke. Many women stop when they’re pregnant and start up again when the baby is born. As Forrest Gump would say, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

The prevalence of diabetes is skyrocketing. It is 22 times what it was in 1960, when JFK was president. Diabetics have an increased risk of heart disease. Not becoming a diabetic should be a preoccupation with young women.

There is an important bottom line here that needs to be on the radar for more young women. Taking care of stress and mental health is important. Equally important is preventing heart disease. That means smoking less, exercising regularly and losing weight. It also means eating better including moving more toward a Mediterranean diet, the king of diets, and reducing sugar intake, especially high-fructose corn syrup.

Where to spread this message? It should be passed along when young women go for contraception, when they go for counseling, when they head out to their health care provider for sinusitis or allergy care.

My spin: We need to teach our young women (and, for that matter, young men, too) that the risk for heart disease doesn’t begin when you’re middle-aged but when you’re a young ’un.

Dear Doc: I heard you talk about Benadryl affecting the brain. As a Ph.D., I find that scary because I take it every night for sleep. Should I? — D.L., from College Station, Texas

Dear D.L.: Recent research shows that diphenhydramine, which is found in Benadryl and is the active drug in most over-the-counter sleeping pills, may affect your brain. Researchers looked at 30 well-controlled studies that measured cognitive performance in people older than 60. Those who took Benadryl regularly scored lower on testing.

Other side effects can include urinary retention and dizziness. In the middle of the night, when the call from Mother Nature comes in, that Benadryl just might make you dizzy — dizzy enough to fall. As I said before, falls in the elderly are dangerous things.

My spin: Benadryl is at the bottom of my list when it comes to sleeping aids for folks over 65. If you need something, your doctor has other drugs that are safer. Stay well.

This column provides general health information. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions. Any opinions expressed by Dr. Paster in his columns are personal and are not meant to represent or reflect the views of SSM Health.

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