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Many routine checkups have been postponed during this pandemic, including routine dental checkups every 6 months. But is it OK to put off such visits? A recent review of studies found evidence that traditional six-month visits are not necessary in healthy individuals without dental problems. The 6 month checkups don't improve oral health when compared to persons getting them every 24 months.

The researchers found that in adults there is no difference in the number of cavities (caries), gingival or gum bleeding (gum disease), and oral health whether one gets a six-month dental checkup versus a 24 month check-up. This review is published on the prestigious Cochrane reviews web-site.

In other words, it is OK to put off a routine dental visit in healthy adults. However, the researchers stress that this is in adults without any dental issues, and that if there are dental problems to go to the dentist.

From Medical Xpress: Study shows traditional six-month dental check-ups not necessary for healthy adults

A new review provides reassurance to patients who have missed routine dental check-ups due to COVID-19 restrictions by showing that six-monthly check-up appointments do not improve oral health.  ...continue reading "Routine Dental Checkups Not Necessary Every Six Months"

If you're a hunter or eat wild-caught game (deer, elk, moose, reindeer), then you should be concerned with chronic wasting disease (CWD). Chronic wasting disease is an always-fatal prion disease similar to "mad-cow disease" (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in cattle.

In chronic wasting disease there is a long incubation period, followed by the brain become progressively like a sponge - riddled with holes, along with deterioration in brain function, behavioral changes, and eventually death. A horrible slow death. There are no treatments or vaccines.

It turns out that chronic wasting disease is slowly spreading and infecting wild game across the United States (26 states) and 3 Canadian provinces. [Also detected in Finland, Norway, South Korea, and Sweden.] The concern is that this disease will jump to humans, especially in people who eat contaminated meat.

A research center monitoring the situation and publishing information and research on its site is CIDRAP (Center for Infectious Disease and Policy). Make sure to look at the Tweets (Twitter).

One scary thing about CWD is that once it gets into the soil, it stays there for years, and high heat, disinfectants, and radiation don't kill it. Yikes! Dr.Zabel at the Colorado State Univ. Prion Research Center suggested a few years ago that controlled burns (fires) of infected fields or areas could eliminate the prions left behind by infected animals (from animal mucus/saliva, urine, and feces, and decaying carcasses) on plants and soil.

An article with advice for how hunters can protect themselves, and a map of where CWD is found in the US.: 5 Ways Hunters Can Prevent Spreading Chronic Wasting Disease

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has several chronic wasting disease pages, including prevention and transmission.

Here is some of what CIDRAP says on their site about CWD:

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a prion disease that affects several cervid species: deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer, and moose. CWD was first identified in 1967 in a captive mule deer living in a Colorado research facility. In 1981, CWD was detected for the first time in a wild cervid. Since these initial detections, CWD has been identified in 26 states and three Canadian provinces. It has also been detected in Finland, Norway, South Korea, and Sweden. ...continue reading "Chronic Wasting Disease Is Spreading In the United States"

To boost the immune system of young children, as well as improve their skin and gut microbiomes - send them out daily to play in a natural environment. That means outdoors in a natural park-like setting with grass, plants, soil, and trees. Yes, germs and dirt!

Finnish researchers found that replacing the gravel and pavement in urban daycare playground areas with natural forest-type vegetation (forest plants, shrubs, sod, mosses, and peat blocks for climbing) resulted in beneficial changes to young children's immune systems, and skin and gut microbiomes. This happened in just one month!

The researchers studied 75 children (3 to 5 years old) at 10 daycare centers in 2 Finnish cities (urban areas). Four of the daycare centers had their gravel/paved playgrounds turned into a forest-type natural area (where the children played), 3 daycare centers weren't changed (kept the gravel/pavement), and 3 daycare centers were already nature-oriented with children visiting forests daily. All children spent the same amount of time outside each day.

An important finding was that after 28 days the skin and gut microbiomes (microbial communities) of children playing in the transformed forest-type playgrounds had shifted to become more similar to children attending nature-oriented daycares. This change was also reflected in their immune systems: they developed a higher ratio of anti-inflammatory proteins to pro-inflammatory proteins in their blood (this is good).

The researchers point out that getting exposed to all the microbes in a natural forest-type setting (environmental microbial diversity) is beneficial. On the other hand, playing outside on man-made landscaping materials does not result in beneficial changes. Translation: playing outside in the dirt and plants is good for you.

From Medical Xpress: Replacing asphalt with forest-type plants at daycare centers found to strengthen immune defenses in children

A team of researchers affiliated with multiple institutions in Finland and one in the Czech Republic found that replacing asphalt in play areas at daycare centers with natural vegetation can lead to stronger immune defenses in the children at the centers. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the group describes removing asphalt from play areas at several daycare centers and replacing it with forest floor vegetation, and what they found when they tested the children who attended the centers.  ...continue reading "Playing Outside In Nature Is Healthy For Young Children"

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just issued a new warning about taking non-prescription and prescription pain relievers known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDS) during pregnancy. The FDA warned that using them from week 20 or later during pregnancy can cause rare, but serious, kidney complications in the unborn baby. This can lead to low levels of amniotic fluid (called oligohydramnios) surrounding the baby and possible complications.

The FDA advice is to avoid the following NSAIDs from week 20 and later of pregnancy: ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), diclofenac, and celecoxib (Celebrex). However, low dose (81 mg) aspirin is excluded from this warning. [See FDA warning for more information.]

The FDA had earlier warned about those same NSAIDs - cautioning to avoid taking them during pregnancy after week 30 because of heart-related risks.

The full warning and information from US FDA: FDA recommends avoiding use of NSAIDs in pregnancy at 20 weeks or later because they can result in low amniotic fluid

Excerpts from Medscape: FDA Issues New NSAIDs Warning for Second Half of Pregnancy

The US Food and Drug Administration released new warnings today that most nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs) carry an elevated risk for kidney complications in an unborn children when taken around weeks 20 or later in pregnancy.  ...continue reading "New FDA Warning About Using Common Pain Relievers During Pregnancy"

A study looked at how long the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) which causes COVID-19 lives on human skin. Researchers in Japan used human cadaver skin (because they didn't want to infect living humans) to compare influenza and the new coronavirus. They found that coronavirus lives up to 9 hours on undisturbed skin! And influenza A virus (a flu strain) less than 2 hours.

They also found that both viruses are easily washed away with soap and water or a hand sanitizer containing 80% alcohol.

Yes, it is thought that aerosol and droplets are the main ways to get the new coronavirus. But you do want to wash it off your hands after exposure. Proper hand hygiene!

From Medscape: New Coronavirus Survives Nine Hours on Human Skin

Left undisturbed, the new coronavirus can survive many hours on human skin, a new study has found.  ...continue reading "Wash Your Hands!"

What a change from a few decades ago when marijuana use was totally illegal, frowned upon, and viewed as a "gateway drug"! A recent study found that about 15% of older adults reported using cannabis in the past 3 years. Most adults (78%) reported they used it only it to treat medical problems such as pain or arthritis (73%), sleep disturbances, anxiety, and depression.

University of California researchers conducted anonymous surveys of 568 older adults aged 65 years and older at a geriatrics clinic in California. They found that adults using cannabis for the first time after the age of 60  were more likely to apply it topically as a lotion, and not by smoking it or ingesting it as edibles. Three fourths said the products helped them.

A minority used it for recreational purposes by smoking or eating edibles. About half (53%) of cannabis users reported using cannabis regularly on a daily or weekly basis. The researchers pointed out that other surveys at geriatric clinics also showed increased cannabis use in recent years.

From Science Daily: Older adults using cannabis to treat common health conditions

With growing interest in its potential health benefits and new legislation favoring legalization in more states, cannabis use is becoming more common among older adults.  ...continue reading "More Older Adults Are Using Cannabis Products For Medical Problems"

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Intermittent fasting has generated much excitement over its potential  as a simple method to lose weight and improve health. It involves eating normally  during limited hours each day (e.g. 8 hours), and then abstaining from food the other hours (e.g. 16 hours). However, a recent study found that people following intermittent fasting for 12 weeks did not really lose weight or improve key metabolic markers. Bummer.

University of California researchers randomly assigned 116 adults, who were overweight or obese, to either an intermittent fasting group (16 hours fasting/8 hours allowed to eat ) or a group that ate 3 regular meals at set times each day (breakfast, lunch, dinner). The intermittent fasting group lost 2 pounds over the 12 weeks, which is not significantly different from the group that ate their meals at structured times - they lost 1 1/2 pounds. Same with metabolic markers (e.g.insulin levels, fasting glucose levels, cholesterol levels) - no real differences between the groups after 12 weeks.

Of course this was just 1 study, so we'll see what other human studies find. In contrast, other small human studies, as well as mice studies, have found health benefits from intermittent fasting, also called time restricted eating.

From Medical Xpress: Intermittent fasting is popular—but it doesn't work for weight loss

The currently popular diet of intermittent fasting that restricts eating to eight hours per day, separated by 16 hours of fasting, is not effective on its own as a means of either losing weight or for improving key metabolic health markers, according to a new study led by researchers at UC San Francisco.  ...continue reading "Intermittent Fasting Study Didn’t Find Expected Health Benefits"

Weetabix biscuits Credit: Wikipedia

Exciting research from the UK suggests that to prevent celiac disease in children, the answer may be to feed the child gluten in early childhood (starting at 4 months of age). Early exposure!

Celiac disease, which occurs in about 1 in 100 people, is a lifelong condition caused by an abnormal reaction to gluten - a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Eating gluten results in the body mounting an immune response that attacks and damages the small intestine, so that nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body. The only treatment for celiac disease is to strictly adhere to a gluten free diet.

The study included one group of children that had early exposure to high doses of gluten starting at 4 months (4 grams of wheat protein per week in the form of 2 Weetabix biscuits - wheat biscuits produced in the UK). They were compared to children who did not have gluten exposure until 6 months (standard dietary recommendations of breast milk only). At three years of age none of the early gluten group (0 out of 488 children) had celiac disease, while 1.4% (7 of 516 children) of the delayed gluten exposure had celiac disease.

This finding is along the lines of research suggesting that to prevent peanut allergies from developing feed small amounts of pureed peanut products (such as peanut butter or peanut puffs) to a child in the first year of life, starting as early as 4 months of age.

Another bit of interesting celiac disease research from 2019 found a link with higher fiber intake by the mother during pregnancy, especially of fruits and vegetables, and a lower incidence of celiac disease in the children. Also, gluten intake (high or low) by the pregnant woman had no effect on whether her child would later develop celiac disease.

From Science Daily: Early introduction of gluten may prevent celiac disease in children, study finds

Introducing high doses of gluten from four months of age into infants' diets could prevent them from developing celiac disease, a study has found. 
...continue reading "Introducing Gluten At 4 Months Of Age May Prevent Celiac Disease In Children"

Today while waiting in a line at the store, everyone wearing the required masks, the woman in front of me told me that the masks are useless and that there isn't good evidence that the coronavirus is spread through the air. Huh? Where did she get that idea? Of course there is airborne transmission of the virus!

It's true that some government agencies are hedging about airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus which leads to COVID-19 infection) , but the scientific evidence for aerosol and droplet transmission of the virus is growing and very clear. [Aerosols are smaller than droplets, and both carry the virus.] Fortunately, the evidence just isn't there for getting this particular virus from touching surfaces (such as doorknobs or faucets) - which originally was a big worry.

The following are some articles that discuss how airborne transmission occurs, why wearing a mask protects us from others exhaling the virus, and also protects us from inhaling the virus and lowers how much virus we are exposed to (cloth and surgical masks protect us from most virus particles, but not all). In fact, some scientists are wondering whether wearing masks so lowers the amount of virus a person is exposed to (viral load), that if a person gets the infection, the body can deal with it much better and the infections may be asymptomatic or minor.

In case you're wondering: being outdoors dilutes and disperses the virus. If you are concerned about the virus spreading indoors - then open a window (to dilute and disperse the virus).

This is a really big deal - the possibility that up to 95% of infections could be asymptomatic! Excerpts from an interesting article by Dr. Monica Gandhi (Prof. of Medicine at Univ. of California) at The Conversation: Cloth masks do protect the wearer – breathing in less coronavirus means you get less sick

It seems people get less sick if they wear a mask.   ...continue reading "Masks Protect Us Several Ways From the Coronavirus"

Exercise is good for memory and the brain. University of Geneva researchers found that even one short bout of moderate or intense exercise improves memory and acquisition of new motor skills.

In a well-designed study, 15 healthy volunteers exercised intensely for 15 minutes, moderately for 30 minutes, or rested, and were given various tests both before and after exercising. They found that exercise had beneficial effects on the hippocampus of the brain, and that physical exercise improves some types of memory. The hippocampus plays a critical role in learning and memory.

Intense physical exercise improves memory functions by increasing neural plasticity in the hippocampus. [Note: increasing plasticity of the brain is good.] The findings of this study match earlier animal research, in that "a single session of physical exercise has been shown to boost anandamide (AEA), an endocannabinoid known to promote hippocampal plasticity".

The researchers felt that this study provided additional evidence that physical exercise could possibly prevent cognitive decline as people age. Typically some cognitive decline, along with a reduction in brain volume, occurs in the aging brain, so slowing down or preventing cognitive decline is desirable. Bottom line: Get out and move, move, move for brain health! By the way, all physical activity is better than no activity.

From Medical Xpress: Sport and memory go hand in hand

If sport is good for the body, it also seems to be good for the brain. By evaluating memory performance following a sport session, neuroscientists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) demonstrate that an intensive physical exercise session as short as 15 minutes on a bicycle improves memory, including the acquisition of new motor skills. ...continue reading "Some Intense Exercise Is Beneficial For The Brain"