My mission for the Ask Doctor K newspaper column

This is the first of a new column: Ask Doctor K. My new column replaces a longstanding health column, Ask Dr. Gott. Former readers of Ask Dr. Gott know he provided considered answers to health and wellness questions from readers. I plan to do the same and I hope you will find my comments as helpful as Dr. Gott’s were.

I’m a practicing doctor. I see and treat patients, and am a professor at Harvard Medical School. I am also responsible for all of our school’s newsletters, special health reports and books about health for the general public.

Why am I writing this column? A patient of mine once surprised me by asking: “You take my medical history, you examine my body, you order tests and prescribe treatments. So what’s the most important thing you do for a patient?”

No one had ever asked me that question. I hadn’t asked it myself. So I had to think for a minute. Then I told the patient: “The most important thing I do is explain — explain what I think is wrong, and why, and explain what needs to be done, and why.”

I’m writing this column because I believe in the power of information to improve people’s health.

In the years since I went to medical school, two hugely important things have occurred. The first is that medical science has progressed much faster than most doctors expected. What once was science fiction is now reality. For example, we can see deep inside your body without touching you. We can determine whether you have a particular genetic defect and treat it.

The second important thing is that scientific studies (many of them conducted at Harvard) have revealed how powerful lifestyle changes are in lengthening life and making those added years healthy ones. You’ve almost surely heard that “eating right” and regular exercise are good for you. That’s not news. What might be news is just how good they are for you. Did you know, for example, that specific changes in your diet and regular exercise can reduce your risk of getting the most common kind of diabetes by 70 percent? No medicine yet invented can do that for you. But you can do it for yourself.

You can send questions to me here on my website. You also can mail them to me in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. I won’t be able to answer all the questions that are sent to me, but I’ll do the best I can.

I can’t offer any specific medical advice, of course: Only your doctor knows you well enough to do that. Instead, I want to provide information that you can use to protect your health, and to deal with symptoms and diseases. I also want to tell you about the amazing new discoveries that can help you and your family — new treatments that are available today, or will be soon.

I really look forward to answering your questions. Through this website, I will welcome your comments and suggestions as to how I’m doing. Tomorrow, we’ll begin.