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Very depressing news about football. A study looking at those who played football long-term (as a career in adulthood) found that for every year of playing tackle football (lots of pounding and repeated head collisions), a person's risk of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) increases by 30%. The researchers from the Boston Univ. School of Medicine arrived at this conclusion after looking at 266 deceased former amateur and professional football players.

What was different about this study was that they compared football players who did not develop CTE with those who did - so the researchers thought it was representative of career football players.

The study results make total sense, but are horrifying because of all the children in the US growing up and playing tackle football from a young age. Other studies find brain changes from just playing some semesters in high school or college or before the age of 12.

From Futurity: CTE RISK GOES UP 30% FOR EACH YEAR OF PLAYING FOOTBALL  ...continue reading "Football May Not Be A Good Career Choice"

Walking is important for health, but walking speed is also important. It turns out that slow walking speed or gait (particularly when trying to walk as fast as possible) is a problem sign already in mid-life (the 40s). Researchers found that slow walking speed is a sign of "accelerated aging",  and that slow walkers exhibited such signs as reduced brain volume, cortical thinning, and reduced brain surface area.

The Duke University researchers found that a slow walking speed at midlife was associated with poorer mental functioning, and that there was an average difference of 16 IQ points between the slowest and fastest walkers. The researchers point out that this matches other studies showing that there is an association of slow walking speed of older adults and cognitive impairment and risk of dementia. The researchers viewed midlife gait speed as a summary of life-long aging, and felt that some differences were apparent already at the age of three. [This was a 5 decade long study in New Zealand of 904 persons.]

From Medical Xpress: Slower walkers have older brains and bodies at 45

The walking speed of 45-year-olds, particularly their fastest walking speed without running, can be used as a marker of their aging brains and bodies ...continue reading "Are You A Slow Or Fast Walker?"

Once again a study finds health problems from supplements. This time, researchers found that several bodies of evidence (the long-running American Nurses' Study and two studies in Norway) found a higher risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women who took high doses of both vitamin B6  and B12. Interestingly, B12 alone seemed to not be associated with problems. And only getting the vitamins from foods was totally fine.

Yes, taking supplements is highly popular, but many studies are finding adverse effects. As the researchers point out in the journal article: "Both insufficient and excess intakes of a nutrient may be harmful. According to randomized clinical trials (RCTs), high-dose vitamin supplementation may lead to unexpected adverse effects."

The researchers also point out that studies find that vitamin B supplementation has not had a preventive effect on cardiovascular diseases (heart disease) and cancer. Also, taking high doses of vitamin B12 and folic acid supplements has not shown a fracture-preventing effect in studies. And now this finding of a combination of high dose vitamin B-6 and B-12  is associated with an almost 50% higher risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women. Uh-oh.

So instead of taking supplements, focus on a good diet with a wide variety of foods. Only take (high dose) supplements if there is a known deficiency, and not "just in case".

Excerpts from Medical Xpress:  Too much vitamin B can cause hip fracture  ...continue reading "High Dose Vitamin B Supplements and Hip Fractures"

Everyone is concerned with the problem of antibiotics not working due to antibiotic resistance, that is, when bacteria resist the effects of antibiotics. Researchers typically study genetic changes that occur in bacteria over time, but researchers at Newcastle University in the UK found evidence for a another reason that antibiotics may not work in treating an infection. They found that bacteria can change shape and shed their cell walls, which are their outermost defense and the primary target of most antibiotics. Then when the antibiotics are stopped, they can go back to their original shape. Sneaky!

The researchers suggest that in the future we may have to treat infections with combined antibiotics, that is use antibiotics that kill bacteria with cell walls and also antibiotics that kill bacteria forms without cell walls (called L-forms).

Excerpts from  the study researcher Katarzyna Mickiewicz's post in The Conversation: Antibiotic resistance: researchers have directly proven that bacteria can change shape inside humans to avoid antibiotics   ...continue reading "Antibiotics May Not Work If Bacteria Change Their Shape"

A recently published study found that a strong ability in languages may help reduce the risk of dementia. The study of 325 Roman Catholic nuns (75 years or older) in the United States found some differences in the 109 women (33.5%) who developed dementia later in life compared to those who didn't. They found that more years of education was protective. Those speaking 2 or more languages were less likely to develop dementia than women only speaking one language (35% developed dementia) with 4 or more languages the most protective (only 6% of these women developed dementia). However, speaking 2 or more languages did not significantly affect the age at onset of dementia.

But the strongest predictor of later developing dementia was written linguistic ability, especially "idea density". Idea density was viewed as the average number of ideas expressed per 10 written words.180 of the women provided autobiographical essays that they had written decades earlier (in early adulthood) and the researchers looked at the essays for idea density and grammatical complexity. The researchers suggested that written linguistic ability was a measure of "cognitive function" or brain health.

From Science Daily: What multilingual nuns can tell us about dementia  ...continue reading "Does Speaking Several Languages Lower the Risk of Dementia?"

Two recent studies point out the dangers of air pollution to the developing fetus. The first study found an association with high levels of air pollution during pregnancy and lower IQ years later when the children were between the ages of 4 to 6 (as compared to women exposed to less traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy).

The second study found that soot (tiny carbon particles) from air pollution  (e.g. vehicle exhaust) are breathed in by the pregnant woman, and then make it to her placenta during pregnancy and cross over to the baby's side of the placenta. (The placentas were collected and examined after delivery.) The fact that these tiny particles found in polluted air are breathed in by the pregnant woman and reach the baby's side of the placenta and accumulate, suggests to the researchers how air pollution causes harm to the fetus. They also found that the more particles the pregnant woman was exposed to throughout pregnancy, the more particles were detected on the baby's side of the placenta ("placental load").

The placenta used to be viewed as a barrier to toxins, but NOPE - it's not. (As we already know with alcohol and drugs, etc.)

But now some good news: In the first study, pregnant women who had higher levels of folate in their blood - meaning they had better nutrition and higher intake of folic acid during pregnancy, appeared to have a protective effect on the developing baby. As the researchers said: "Maternal folate levels may modify the impact of prenatal air pollution exposure on child cognition." In those with the lowest folate levels during pregnancy, the negative effects of air pollution during pregnancy on the developing fetus appeared to be the strongest (6.8 points lower IQ). Folate is naturally occurring in many fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, and nuts, and is in the form of folic acid in vitamin supplements. Best is a good diet.

From Medical Xpress: Offspring of pregnant women exposed to high level of pollutants may have lower IQs   ...continue reading "Air Pollution Has Harmful Effects During Pregnancy"

Good news for women who really like to eat onions and garlic! A study conducted in Puerto Rico found that women who more frequently consumed garlic and onions, especially  "sofrito", had a lower risk of breast cancer. Both onions and garlic are an important part of the Puerto Rican diet, and sofrito is a raw onion and garlic based condiment or puree that is the base for many Puerto Rican dishes.

This study found that as consumption of garlic and onions increased, there was a decrease in the risk of breast cancer, which was true for women both before menopause or after menopause. There was evidence of a dose-response (the more eaten, the lower the risk). This association was especially strong for women consuming sofrito more than once a day - they had a 67% decrease in breast cancer risk compared to those who never ate sofrito.

The researchers point out that studies show that the more one eats of onions and garlic, the lower the risk of certain cancers, such as the lung, prostate, colon, and stomach. However, the evidence for whether it has a protective effect on breast cancer has been mixed, but with most studies finding a protective effect with frequent consumption of onions and garlic, especially raw onions and garlic. One study in Mexico found a 70% lower risk of breast cancer in those eating one slice of onion per day, compared to those eating less than one slice. The researchers also mentioned that studies find that cooking onions and garlic reduces their anticancer activity.

From Science Daily: Onion and garlic consumption may reduce breast cancer risk   ...continue reading "Onions, Garlic, and Lower Risk of Breast Cancer"

Did you know that many tea bags contain plastic or are made totally from plastic? And that tiny pieces of plastic (microplastics) from these teabags are released into the hot water when brewing tea? Canadian researchers found that a single plastic teabag releases about 11.6 billion microplastic and 3.1 billion nanoplastic particles into the water during normal tea brewing. And no one knows what this is doing to us long term, but it is doubtful that ingesting billions of tiny plastic particles in each cup of tea is beneficial to health. View it as an "unknown risk".

The researchers point out that water is frequently at or above 95 degrees C (203 degrees F) when brewing tea, and that "food grade"plastics degrade or leach toxic substances when heated above 40 degrees C (104 degrees F). They tested 4 different commercial teabags in 95 degree C water for 5 minutes. Note: Boiling water is 100 degrees C or 212 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, the researchers noted that few plastic particles were released into room temperature water.

Microplastics are particles ranging from 100 nm to 5mm in size, while nanoparticles are particles ≤ 100 nm in size. The researchers found that many, many more plastic particles were released into the water from the teabags than what has been reported in other foods (e.g. salt or bottled water).

There is another reason to also avoid plastic teabags - if the plastic contains phthalates (endocrine disruptors), it will leach them into the hot water. Which, of course, we are then drinking.

What to do? Just stick with the traditional paper teabags. But you'll have to do research to find one that has zero added plastic. Some bags may appear to be paper, but plastic may be coating the paper, or in the glue sealing sides of the bag. Or drink tea made from loose leaf tea. By the way, any company that advertises its tea bags as "silky", "silken sachets", or "mesh" is using plastic tea bags. There is no silk used. Also, assume that any company that won't tell you if it uses plastic in the tea bags, has plastic in the teabags.

Nowadays many foods come in plastic pouches that are meant to be heated - keep in mind that they probably all leach plastic particles into the food or liquid. If the idea of ingesting multitudes of tiny plastic particles concerns you - avoid heating foods in plastic pouches or containers. Instead, transfer into a glass, stainless steel or iron container for heating.

From Science Daily: Plastic teabags release microscopic particles into tea  ...continue reading "Are You Drinking Tiny Plastic Particles In Your Tea?"

Years ago I would see large flocks of birds in my yard - all sorts of songbirds and up to 40 robins at once. Year by year the numbers slowly started diminishing and this year there was only 1 lonely robin, no chickadees, no titmice, and no sparrows. A recent study documents that same finding, that bird species are in serious trouble and their numbers are in free fall in the US and Canada. About 3 billion birds or a 29% decline since 1970! This decline in bird numbers includes common "backyard" bird species such as sparrows. Yup, this confirms what I am seeing.

Similarly, recent studies found that there are tremendous declines in the numbers of insects, including bees and butterflies. Yup, this is also what I am seeing in my yard - only a few butterflies (and no monarch butterflies), and hardly any bees. All these declines are an indicator of environmental health and it is not good.

What can one do? For starters, we need the elimination of lawn pesticides in suburban areas, more insect-friendly flowers and plants, more milkweed (for monarchbutterflies), and fewer pesticides used by farmers, communities, on the sides of highways, etc. Pesticides kill. Think of it this way: Pesticides can give you and your pets cancer and other health problems, but weeds (wildflowers) can't.  [One example: Years ago I sent in a dead bird (1 of many that I was finding) to be analyzed by a wildlife pathologist, and he found that it had died of pesticide poisoning.] Ban or don't use lead bullets (bird lead poisoning). Also, do all you can to preserve open space - to be kept as park lands protected from development.

Excerpts from Science Daily: US and Canada have lost more than 1 in 4 birds in the past 50 years

A study published today in the journal Science reveals that since 1970, bird populations in the United States and Canada have declined by 29 percent, or almost 3 billion birds, signaling a widespread ecological crisis. The results show tremendous losses across diverse groups of birds and habitats -- from iconic songsters such as meadowlarks to long-distance migrants such as swallows and backyard birds including sparrows ...continue reading "Have You Noticed Fewer Birds In Your Neighborhood?"

The number of people diagnosed with the infection Valley fever is increasing. According to a CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) report released this week, individuals diagnosed with the infection called Valley fever or Coccidioidomycosis has increased 74% since 2014.

Valley Fever is an infection caused by the fungus Coccidioides spp., which is typically found in the soil of warm, arid regions of the southwestern US (Arizona, California). It is found in a lesser degree in Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Texas, but has even been found as far north as central Washington. The fungus is inhaled and goes to the lungs, where it can cause a respiratory illness, but sometimes can also lead to disease throughout the body.

The CDC says on the Valley fever page: "People can get Valley fever by breathing in the microscopic fungal spores from the air, although most people who breathe in the spores don’t get sick. Usually, people who get sick with Valley fever will get better on their own within weeks to months, but some people will need antifungal medication. Certain groups of people are at higher risk for becoming severely ill. It’s difficult to prevent exposure to Coccidioides in areas where it’s common in the environment, but people who are at higher risk for severe Valley fever should try to avoid breathing in large amounts of dust if they’re in these areas."

What are the symptoms? Many people infected don't have any symptoms, while others (about 40%) may have flu-like symptoms lasting weeks to months, which may go away on their own. Valley fever can include symptoms such as: fatigue, cough, fever, shortness of breath, headache, night sweats, muscle aches or joint pain, and perhaps a rash on the upper body or legs. There is usually a 1 to 3 week incubation period. Unfortunately it may look like pneumonia, but typical pneumonia treatment with antibiotics does not help.

Much is still unknown in how to treat the illness, including whether antifungal medications lessen symptom duration or intensity in patients with uncomplicated Valley fever. [Antifungal medications are used to treat complicated cases.] About 5 to 10% of patients develop life-threatening severe lung (pulmonary) disease and in about 1% of people the infection spreads from the lungs to other parts of the body (e.g. brain and spinal cord, skin, or bones and joints). Some people may need lifelong treatment. While anyone can get Valley fever, the CDC says some risk factors include: immunosuppression (e.g. have had an organ transplant, have HIV, are on corticosteroids), being pregnant, having diabetes, people who are black or Filipino. The CDC lists some tips in preventing getting this fungus.

From Medscape: Valley Fever on the Rise and Spreading, CDC Says  ...continue reading "Valley Fever Infections Are Increasing In the United States"