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Many people don't realize that the plastic toys our children play with may contain harmful chemicals. Children get exposed to these chemicals by touching the toy (absorption through the skin), or ingesting chemicals (e.g. when a baby mouths the toy, or child ingests dust from the toy), but also from breathing in chemicals leaching out of all the plastic toys in the room into the air. This has been known a long time, yet here we are...

An international team of researchers looked at 419 chemicals and found 126 chemicals of concern (chemicals known to be harmful) in plastic toys - chemicals that they felt should no longer be used in children's toys. Many are endocrine disruptors, while others are linked to cancer. In this group were 31 plasticizer chemicals (including phthalates and BPA [bisphenol]), 18 flame retardants, and 8 fragrances. These chemicals can be measured in the urine. [Note: they did not look at some chemicals, such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, etc.]

The researchers conclude: "Nowadays, existing regulations mainly prioritize a small set of chemicals, and regulators struggle to keep up with the thousands of new chemicals entering the market every year." They stress that we need to avoid "regrettable substitution" (substituting a dangerous chemical with another equally dangerous related chemical - such as replacing BPA with BPS). We need to identify safer substances that can be used in toys.

The more plastic toys in a room, the more exposure. They are outgassing all the time - even if you can't smell it. Soft plastic toys emit (outgas) the most chemicals. Children are especially vulnerable to these chemicals. Currently there is no international agreement over which chemicals to ban or regulate, and not enough chemicals are regulated or banned in toys and children's products.

There is no way right now to know which plastic toys contain dangerous chemicals and which don't. Toy manufacturers do not tell us what chemicals are in the toys. So... yes, we absolutely need (global) regulations to totally ban the use of certain chemicals in plastic toys, especially because so many toys are produced in countries with weak environmental regulations. We need to use safer chemical alternatives in plastic toys.

Bottom line: Try to have fewer plastic toys, especially soft plastic toys. Try to ventilate rooms frequently (every day) by opening windows, even if only for a short while.

From Science Daily: Potentially harmful chemicals found in plastic toys

It has long been known that several chemicals used in plastic toys in different parts of the world can be harmful to human health. However, it is difficult for parents to figure out how to avoid plastic toys containing chemicals that may cause possible health risks to their children.   ...continue reading "Plastic Toys May Contain Harmful Chemicals"

It's official! The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says there is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted by food or packaging. This means that the last holdouts can stop washing and disinfecting their food (remember those scary instructional videos last spring?). Whew!

This opinion has international consensus. For example: the International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Foods (ICMSF)External Link Disclaimer, stated: “Despite the billions of meals and food packages handled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, to date there has not been any evidence that food, food packaging or food handling is a source or important transmission route for SARS-CoV-2 resulting in COVID-19."

The FDA stresses that COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that is spread from person to person through the air - through droplets or aerosol transmission.

From the medical site Medscape: FDA: COVID-19 Not Transmitted by Food or Packaging

There is no evidence you can catch coronavirus through food or food packaging, the FDA and other government agencies said Thursday.  ...continue reading "COVID-19 Is Not Transmitted By Food Or Packaging"

There is much debate over whether pregnant women should get a COVID-19 vaccine. This is because studies of pregnant women receiving vaccinations have not been done, and so risks and possible harms (if any) are unknown. But what is known is that pregnant women are at higher risk for pregnancy complications if they get COVID-19 (e.g. increased risk of preterm labor and stillbirth).

Pregnant women getting the vaccine are essentially part of an experiment looking at the vaccine's safety for both the pregnancy and the developing baby. But finally a case study (one woman!) has been published.

The good news is that results look promising. Antibodies from the vaccinated mother crossed the placenta and reached the baby. The pregnant woman had received the Moderna vaccine at 36 weeks, she delivered the healthy baby at 39 weeks, and antibodies against the virus were found in the umbilical cord blood - which meant they had been transferred from the mother to the baby.

A related study (see below) also gives hope that it may be beneficial for pregnant women to get vaccinated - at least 17 days before the birth so that antibodies can build up.

Excerpts from The Scientist: COVID-19 Vaccines for Pregnant Moms May Protect Newborns

Pregnant women with COVID-19 are at an increased risk for severe illness and death compared to people with COVID-19 who are not pregnant, and they experience preterm birth and pregnancy loss more frequently than do expecting moms who don’t catch the virus. In spite of these risks, there is no clear guidance available yet for vaccinating pregnant women against COVID-19. But there is now some evidence that immunization could protect their newborns. For the first time, doctors report that SARS-CoV-2 antibodies from a vaccinated mother can cross the placenta, pointing to a likely benefit for her fetus.  ...continue reading "Pregnant Women and COVID-19 Vaccines"

Breastfeeding
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Anton Nosik

Finally some good news for pregnant women who develop a COVID-19 infection during pregnancy (a high-risk situation). According to a recent study, it turns out that in women who had a COVID-19 infection during pregnancy and recovered, their breast milk contains antibodies against the virus. Which get transmitted to the baby during nursing.

This means that the mothers are passing "viral immunity" to their babies, and so the babies are protected from COVID-19.  Yay!

Yes, it was a small study of only 15 women, but a second similar study had similar results. As the researchers point out, this discovery has potential benefits to more than the nursing babies. The antibodies in the breastmilk could benefit others.

By the way, so far there is no evidence that a mother can transmit the virus to her baby through breastmilk. The researchers and others have tested breastmilk and have not found any live virus. All these results suggest that donor breastmilk is safe for babies to consume.

Excerpts from The Scientist: Breastmilk Harbors Antibodies to SARS-CoV-2

Milk from lactating moms may hold potent antibodies to counter SARS-CoV-2 infections, according to a new study of 15 women. All of the samples from women who had recovered from COVID-19 and who were breastfeeding babies at the time had antibodies reactive to the virus’s spike protein, researchers report in the November issue of iScience ...continue reading "After COVID-19 During Pregnancy, Breast Milk Has Antibodies Against The Virus"

Good news for coffee lovers! Drinking 1 or more cups of coffee a day was associated with a reduced risk of heart failure in three large heart disease studies. However, drinking decaffeinated coffee was not.

Researchers analyzed results of the 3 studies, in which more than 21,000 adults were followed at least 10 years. The studies did not differentiate between type of coffee consumed and how it was prepared (drip, espresso, percolated, French press). The researchers point out that other studies have similar findings - that increased consumption of coffee is associated with decreased heart disease deaths or deaths from any cause.

Many studies also find other benefits from daily coffee consumption, such as lowered risk of diabetes, some cancers, and some neurological conditions. However, avoid caffeine when trying to conceive and during pregnancy - then it is associated with harm to the pregnancy and fetus (e.g. with miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight and/or small for gestational age).

Excerpts from Science Daily: Coffee lovers, rejoice! Drinking more coffee associated with decreased heart failure risk

Dietary information from three large, well-known heart disease studies suggests drinking one or more cups of caffeinated coffee may reduce heart failure risk, according to research published today in Circulation: Heart Failure, an American Heart Association journal.  ...continue reading "Drinking Coffee Associated With Lower Heart Failure Risk"

Amazing how opinions regarding cannabis have changed in a few decades. From marijuana being viewed as an evil drug years ago to viewing cannabis (both marijuana and hemp) as medicinal and a pain reliever nowadays. A recent study suggests that regular use of cannabis (by either ingesting it orally via oil extracts or by smoking) can reduce blood pressure in older adults with hypertension.

The Ben-Gurion Univ. of the Negev (Israel) researchers found that after 3 months of medical cannabis use by 26 persons over 60 years of age, there was a reduction of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers. The lowest blood pressure occurred 3 hours after ingesting or smoking cannabis.

From Medical Xpress: Cannabis reduces blood pressure in older adults: study

A new discovery by researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and its affiliated Soroka University Medical Center shows that medical cannabis may reduce blood pressure in older adults.  ...continue reading "Cannabis May Reduce Blood Pressure In Older Adults"

Many grocery stores now offer several brands of organic milk and eggs. But faced with choices, how do you choose the best organic brands? That is, how do you know which brands really follow organic practices, and which are factory farms playing at sort-of organic?

Meat and dairy products labeled "organic" can be vastly different in how the animals were raised, and whether they truly are organic. This means that they also have nutritional differences (e.g. in beneficial fatty acids), differences in whether the animals were organic from birth, what kind of food they ate, did the animals spend time outside, and what was given to the animals. Yes, there are big loop holes (which Big Agriculture actively lobbies for and follows).

This also explains why factory-farm organic foods are typically much cheaper than  organic foods from small farms or cooperatives. The small farms are being squeezed out. Organic is more than just being antibiotic and pesticide free. You get what you pay for!

There are two main things you can do: 1) buy organic foods from smaller farms, especially local farms,  and 2) look at ratings of organic food brands and buy the better, more reputable ones. But keep in mind that all organic brands are better than non-organic foods (which contain pesticides and drug residues).

COMPARING ORGANIC BRANDS:

1) An excellent resource is the Cornucopia Institute. (cornucopia.org) They have Scorecards that rate and rank different types of organic food (dairy, poultry, cereal, etc). They do research and investigations, and act as a watchdog organization for organic agriculture in North America.

If you look at their Organic Dairy Scorecard, you will see that organic factory farms score poorly (Horizon, many store brands such as Costco and Shoprite). There are many great organic  brands available nationally (e.g. Organic Valley, an independent cooperative of organic farmers that carries dairy products, eggs).

2) The Organic Eye (organiceye.org) is an investigative organization that is monitoring the "increasingly corrupt relationship between corporate agribusiness and government regulators" and how this is weakening organic food standards. See some of their work on the News page, including several videos called "Kastel's Kitchen" where Mark Kastel discusses and compares high integrity organic brands with factory farm organics, and also fraudulent organic foods from China.

According to Mark Kastel (in the videos) some very good organic brands are: Seven Stars yogurt, Hawthorne Valley, Eden Foods, Nature's Path cereals, Dr. Bronner soaps, Pure Indian Foods, Sno Pac Products (frozen vegetables and berries), and Frontier Co-op (herbs, spices, extracts). On the east coast Stonyfield Farms gets its milk from organic family farms (good!). Many store brands don't reveal where they get their organic milk, but many (most?) get it from huge factory farm Aurora Dairy, which has been the subject of investigations.

In the future, giving specific microbes or entire microbial communities may be part of some cancer treatments! This is because the composition of a person's gut microbiome (the community of bacteria, fungi, and viruses) influences whether a person responds to immunotherapy drugs. This means that the mixture and variety of microbial species living in your intestines may determine whether you respond to cancer immunotherapy drugs. Wow!

One recent study found benefits from fecal microbial transplants (FMT) - that is, transplanting the stool (which contains an entire microbial community of bacteria, fungi, viruses) from a donor who had responded well to immunotherapy drugs to a person with advanced melanoma who had not responded to immunotherapy drugs. In total, 15 persons received stool transplants, and 6 of them had changes to the gut microbiome (becoming more like the donor's gut microbiome) so that the immunotherapy drug now worked against melanoma.

Now studies are needed to identify which specific microbes are the ones that were critical for overcoming a tumor's resistance to immunotherapy drugs.

This is very exciting research because the best treatments for advanced melanoma (metastatic melanoma) are immunotherapy drugs, but it only works for a minority of patients at this point. Microbial manipulation (in this case with fecal transplants) could be a game changer!

Excerpts from Science Daily: Fecal microbiota transplants help patients with advanced melanoma respond to immunotherapy

For patients with cancers that do not respond to immunotherapy drugs, adjusting the composition of microorganisms in the intestines -- known as the gut microbiome -- through the use of stool, or fecal, transplants may help some of these individuals respond to the immunotherapy drugs, a new study suggests. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Center for Cancer Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, conducted the study in collaboration with investigators from UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at the University of Pittsburgh.  ...continue reading "Microbes and Advanced Melanoma Treatment"

Bleeding gums are usually considered a sign of gingivitis, and the typical advice is to brush and floss more. However, new research suggests that bleeding gums can also be due to low vitamin C levels, and that extra vitamin C in the diet or supplements could help reverse the bleeding in these cases.

After reviewing fifteen studies, the authors found that bleeding in the eye (retinal hemorrhaging) and cerebral strokes are associated with an increased tendency for gum (gingival) bleeding, and that vitamin C supplementation (e.g. ascorbic acid) reverses the retinal bleeding associated with low vitamin C  levels in the blood.

These bleeding tendencies may reflect trouble in the person's microvascular system (microvascular fragility), which can be reversed with increased vitamin C (ascorbic acid) intake. [microvascular means the tiny vessels (e.g.venules and capillaries) of the circulatory system.] The researchers point out that current recommended vitamin C (ascorbic acid) doses are enough to prevent scurvy, but may be too low to prevent microvascular fragility.

Getting more vitamin C in the diet is easy to do by eating more fruits and vegetables. Especially high levels of vitamin C are in orange juice, oranges, citrus fruits, kiwis, red peppers, broccoli, strawberries, brussels sprouts, and grapefruit.

From Medical Xpress: Bleeding gums may be a sign you need more vitamin C in your diet

Current advice from the America Dental Association tells you that if your gums bleed, make sure you are brushing and flossing twice a day because it could be a sign of gingivitis, an early stage of periodontal disease. And that might be true. So if you are concerned, see your dentist. However, a new University of Washington study suggests you should also check your intake of vitamin C.  ...continue reading "Bleeding Gums Can Be Sign Of Low Vitamin C Levels"

An recent study from University of Saskatchewan researchers found that stretching exercises were better than brisk walking for lowering high-normal blood pressure or moderately elevated blood pressure. However, walking was more effective than stretching for reducing waist size.

The researchers randomly assigned 40 male and female adults (average age 61 years) with high normal or moderate hypertension (130/85–159/99 mm Hg) to either 8 weeks of whole body stretching exercises or brisk walking (on outdoor trails or a treadmill) for 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week, for 8 weeks. The stretching exercise routine included 21 exercises for the shoulders, chest, legs, arms, hips, and back. Each stretch was done twice and held for a 30-second duration with 15 seconds of rest between stretches.

Other studies have also found stretching exercises effective in reducing blood pressure. A possible reason is that when muscles are stretched, blood vessels are also stretched, and this may lead to structural changes in blood vessels. By reducing arterial stiffness, there is improved blood flow, and ultimately reduced blood pressure.

The researchers suggested adding stretching exercises to an aerobic exercise program or brisk walking for additional health benefits. By the way, stretching exercises are similar to yoga, which also lowers blood pressure.

From Medical Xpress: Stretching more effective than walking to lower high blood pressure, study finds

A new University of Saskatchewan study has found that stretching is superior to brisk walking for reducing blood pressure in people with high blood pressure or who are at risk of developing elevated blood pressure levels.  ...continue reading "Stretching Exercises Can Help Reduce Blood Pressure"