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Wonder what the new coronavirus that everyone is worried about looks like? The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has now released a number of images of the novel coronavirus, along with a blog post.

The full name of the coronavirus is SARS-CoV-2, and the illness it causes is COVID-19 disease. The spread of this virus has rapidly grown to be a global public health emergency since it was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. [CDC novel coronavirus site]

The images are beautiful. Note the spikes on the surface of each virus which give it a crown-like appearance. The word "corona" is Latin for "crown". Most coronaviruses have a crown-like appearance, including MERS (which emerged in 2012) and SARS (in 2002).

NIAID’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) in Hamilton, Montana, produced the images on their scanning and transmission electron microscopes.

The virus SARS-CoV-2 with its crown-like spikes
Credit: NIAID-RML

The virus SARS-CoV-2 (yellow) emerging from the surface of cells (blue/pink). Cells were from a patient in the US and cultured in the lab.  Credit: NIAID-RML

Today a study was published finding health benefits to frequent (daily!) consumption of cocoa - improved walking in older persons with peripheral artery disease (PAD). Another reason to drink cocoa and eat dark chocolate!

The study, conducted in Chicago, Illinois, randomly assigned persons, over the age of 60 years with PAD, to different groups. Those who drank a cocoa beverage for 6 months (3 times a day) were able to walk further in a 6 minute walk at the 6 month follow-up  (when compared to the placebo/no cocoa group).

The researchers also found that the cocoa significantly improved a number of measures of the calf muscle (e.g. capillary density, calf muscle perfusion), which suggested that there is a durable benefit on the calf muscles from the cocoa beverage. In other words - it's not just a quick sugar-cocoa high that boosted their walking.

On the other hand, the placebo (no cocoa) group deteriorated in how far they could walk over the 6 months, which is consistent with peripheral artery disease. Yes, it typically gets worse over time.

PAD (also called peripheral arterial disease) is a common circulatory problem, due to atherosclerosis, in which there is reduced blood flow to the limbs due to narrowed arteries.Typically the legs don't receive enough blood flow and there is pain when walking (which goes away after resting a bit). Treatments include lifestyle changes (e.g. diet, exercise) and medicines.

What is so beneficial about cocoa? Both regular dark chocolate and cocoa contain flavanols, including epicatechin, which have therapeutic properties and may improve walking in people with PAD. Evidence from other studies of people with and without PAD suggests that cocoa may increase "limb perfusion" and "improve skeletal muscle mitochondrial activity and muscle regeneration".

Can you imagine a prescription for dark chocolate and cocoa on a daily basis? Fantastic! From Medical Xpress: Cocoa could bring sweet relief to walking pain for people with peripheral artery disease   ...continue reading "Enjoy Some Cocoa Or Dark Chocolate Daily"

Taller men have a lower rate of dementia? Apparently a number of studies have found a link between height of men and risk of dementia.

The latest is an interesting Danish study that measured the height of more than 666,000 young adult men (at the physical exam for the draft) and then looked at the rates of dementia decades later when they were between 55 to 77 years of age. They found that young men that were above average in height had about a 10% lower rate of dementia more than four decades later.

The researchers thought that the early adulthood height was an indicator of early life environment (such as nutrition and childhood diseases).

What were some of the height differences? "Above average in height" was being at least 1 standard deviation above average height. For example, the researchers found that Danish men born in 1959 who had a mean (average) height of 185.6 cm (73.07") had a 10% lower rate of dementia than men of average height (179.1 cm or 70.5").

From Medical Xpress: Study suggests taller young men may have lower dementia risk

Men who are taller in young adulthood, as an indicator of early-life circumstances, may have a lower risk of dementia in old age, suggests a study published today in eLife.   ...continue reading "Tall Men Have A Lower Rate Of Dementia?"

Did you know that our modern lifestyle is exposing us to thousands of harmful chemicals? All of us are exposed to many harmful chemicals daily - in ordinary household products, at work and school, in our food, and in the air and water around us. These chemicals are found in plastics, in stain resistant finishes, non-stick cookware, flame retardants, fragrances, pesticides, water resistant finishes, and antimicrobial products.

All these chemicals have made our lives easier in many ways, but they have a dark side. The chemicals leach out of the products and get on us and in us, and can be measured in our blood and urine.

They are linked to all sorts of health problems (reproductive effects, infertility, neurological effects, lower IQs, immunological problems, cancers, etc.) and the list is growing annually. Many are hormone (endocrine) disruptors. Developing children and fetuses are especially vulnerable, and the effects can be life-long.

We all have many of these harmful chemicals in our body. No one can totally avoid all these chemicals, but we can lower our exposure to many of them quite a bit. These chemicals get in us various ways: we ingest them (in food and water), we absorb them through the skin, and we breathe them in (e.g. in household dust and in the air).

Many chemical levels can be reduced quickly - within a few days or weeks (for example, by switching to different personal care products, switching to organic foods, and not eating canned foods).

It is especially important to lower exposures to these harmful chemicals if you are considering conceiving a child, are pregnant, or have children. Many of these chemicals are linked to fertility problems for both men and women, and researchers think this is why male fertility is dropping so rapidly over the past few decades.

Yes, it does require a life-style change, and it does require reading labels, but it is worth it. Following these tips should also have the added bonus of improving your gut microbial communities. It's all related.

HOW TO REDUCE EXPOSURE TO HARMFUL CHEMICALS:

IN GENERALTry for a more “natural and non-toxic” lifestyle, and reduce use of plastics (including vinyl) and pesticides.

  • Read labels of personal care products, household products, and clothing. Avoid products with parabens and oxybenzone. Avoid products that are antimicrobial, antibacterial, anti-odor, anti-stain, anti-mildew, and nonstick.
  • Use unscented or fragrance-free products, including personal care products. Avoid fragrances or scented versions of products.
  • Don't use air fresheners, dryer sheets, scented candles, incense, essential oils.

FOOD

  • Buy foods and beverages in glass bottles and jars whenever possible.  Store food in glass, stainless steel, or ceramic containers. Avoid plastic bottles and containers.
  • Avoid canned foods, including aluminum cans - they are all lined with plastics containing BPA or equally bad BPA alternatives. Canned foods are a major source of endocrine disruptors.   ...continue reading "Tips For Reducing Exposures to Harmful Chemicals"

Will eating certain vegetables prevent or improve fatty liver disease?  Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease goes hand in hand/is a consequence of being overweight or obese, and is characterized by an accumulation of fat in the liver. As the disease progresses, the liver shows damage from inflammation, and can ultimately even lead to cirrhosis (liver failure).

A recent multi-part study raises the possibility that perhaps eating certain foods can prevent or reverse this condition. Gut bacteria produce many compounds , one of which is indole, which has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Obese people have less indole in their blood, and lean people more. And people with fatty liver disease have less indole in their blood. In the study, giving mice indole actually improved their fatty liver disease.

How can one naturally increase levels of indole? By eating cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, bok choy, collards, and Brussels sprouts.

From Medical Xpress: Natural compound in vegetables helps fight fatty liver disease   ...continue reading "Eat Certain Vegetables To Improve or Prevent Fatty Liver disease?"

Another study finding that eating an egg each day is totally fine for our health. Of course it is! For years nutritionists were obsessed with the cholesterol in eggs, thinking it must translate into being bad for heart health. Remember the advice to only eat egg whites?

An international team of researchers looked at 3 large studies (50 countries on 6 continents) and found that there were no associations between eating about one egg a day and cholesterol levels, death, or strokes and heart attacks. And that this moderate egg intake "does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or mortality even if people have a history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes".

Eggs are a good source of essential nutrients and protein, are inexpensive, easy to cook,  and are also an excellent source of choline - which is needed for brain health (for neurological functioning).

From Medical Xpress: An egg a day not tied to risk of heart disease: new study   ...continue reading "Eating An Egg A Day Is Totally Fine"

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The past year has resulted in disappointments for the vitamin and mineral supplement industry as study after study didn't find health benefits from routinely ingesting them. Instead, study after study found health benefits from eating a good diet, specifically one that has as few as possible highly processed foods, but lots of whole foods, and rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes (beans). And in this way, also high in fiber. Think along the lines of a Mediterranean diet.

The following are some of the studies finding no benefits to various vitamin and mineral supplements. Many found the results of the vitamin D studies especially disappointing.

1) From Science Daily - Vast majority of dietary supplements don't improve heart health or put off death, study finds

In a massive new analysis of findings from 277 clinical trials using 24 different interventions, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers say they have found that almost all vitamin, mineral and other nutrient supplements or diets cannot be linked to longer life or protection from heart disease.   ...continue reading "Four Vitamin Studies Have Disappointing Results"

Air pollution is a killer, but it also does damage in subtle ways - such as having effects on the brain. A recent study found that early childhood exposure to high amounts of traffic-related air pollution (city life, living next to a highway) resulted in the brain having structural changes (differences in brain volume and cortical thickness) at the age of 12 when compared to children who did not have such high exposure to traffic-related air pollution. This means that the changes were permanent.

The study was conducted in Cincinnati, Ohio, but traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) is a problem throughout the world. This type of air pollution has all sorts of gaseous pollutants, fine and ultrafine particles, heavy metals, carbon, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Diesel exhaust may be even worse - it has more than 40 toxic pollutants. When people breathe in the pollutants, the pollutants then can travel to the brain where they can cause damage.

What will it take for governments to really accept the dangers of air pollution and to take the hard steps necessary to toughen standards? Instead of loosening all sorts of pollution standards, which is what is going on in the United States today.

[More studies about air pollution and the brain, including higher risks of dementia, millions of ultra-fine particles getting to the heart and brain and lodging there, and shrinking of brain volume.]

From Science Daily: High air pollution exposure in 1-year-olds linked to structural brain changes at age 12   ...continue reading "What Is Air Pollution From Traffic Doing To Your Brain?"

Please, only buy or use sofas and upholstered chairs that do NOT contain any flame retardant chemicals. Be sure to look at the tags attached to the furniture that are required by a California law since 2015 (called Technical Bulletin 117-2013) to be on each new sofa and upholstered furniture. It will tell you if it contains flame retardant chemicals or not.

This is especially important if at some point you are thinking of having a child, if you are pregnant, or if you have children. The problem is that the flame retardant chemicals, which were added for decades to the foam in upholstered furniture, migrate out and so get into us (through the skin, inhaling, or by swallowing). Unfortunately, almost all of us have flame retardants in our bodies.  Where they can cause health problems.

Two new studies were published recently showing harms from exposures to flame retardants. The first found an association between flame retardant chemicals before birth (when the pregnant woman is exposed, it gets to the developing baby) and later reading problems.

The second study found that exposures to pesticides and flame retardants have overtaken  lead and mercury as leading contributors to IQ loss in children.

The researchers looked at exposure to major groups of endocrine disrupting chemicals during pregnancy and effects on the children. Yes - once again, chemicals frequently found all around us are hormone disruptors, and these chemicals also negatively affect neurological development. One result with higher exposure is that it lowers IQ. The 4 groups are: flame retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs), certain pesticides (organophosphates), mercury (methymercury), and lead. Exposures to the first three have the biggest effect during pregnancy (they cross the placenta and so get to the baby).

The researchers found an interesting result: organophosphate pesticide (such as chlorpyrifos) exposure and IQ loss attributed to it has increased since 2003. And that since the EPA did not ban chlorpyrifos (widely used on crops), then organophosphate pesticide "levels will continue to climb in the United States population due to ingestion of chlorpyrifos-treated crops". NOTE: these pesticides are allowed on conventional crops, but NOT organic crops.

How to avoid exposure? Hard to totally avoid exposure to these chemicals, but you can lower your exposure. Eat as many organic foods as possible. Try to avoid buying or having flame retardant sofas, upholstered chairs, and other upholstered furniture in your home. [Note: if they say that they use "safer" replacement chemicals - still avoid that furniture. The replacements are similar chemicals and may be just as bad or worse.] Frequently open windows to "air out" the home.

Excerpts from Science Daily: Prenatal exposure to flame retardants linked to reading problems   ...continue reading "Flame Retardant Chemicals Have Harmful Effects Before Birth"

Notice that the carbon dioxide levels in the air keep rising and rising? Along with the world getting hotter, the carbon dioxide levels are rising, and last year it hit 414.7 parts per million (ppm). This is the highest it has been in at least 800,000 years, and maybe for millions of years! (It's from the burning of fossil fuels.) Soo... the big question is: What will increasingly higher CO2 levels mean for our brains - for our thinking and cognition?

Ever notice that in rooms filled with people, that the air gets stuffier over time? Well, that's the effect of carbon dioxide - as the carbon dioxide levels rise (from us simply exhaling), the air in the room feels stuffier. It can already feel stuffy at 600 ppm. Rooms with people in them (classrooms, office meetings, etc) easily hit over 1000 ppm of carbon dioxide.

Studies suggest that at certain levels of carbon dioxide our thinking gets worse. While study results vary, there does seem to be agreement that "mental processes in the domain of decision making and planning appear to be robustly affected".  And yes, a growing number of studies do find pretty scary results.

For example, one 2016 study that looked at indoor air in office buildings found that: "...seven of nine cognitive function domains tested in a strategic management simulation decreased as CO2 increased. Employee scores were 15 percent lower in a day spent working at 945 ppm, and 50 percent lower at 1,400 ppm." It means that the people weren't thinking all that well as the CO2 levels rose in the air they were breathing.

Research looking at carbon dioxide effects have generally studied the problem as an "indoor pollutant" and used the outdoor air as a comparison. But what happens when the outdoor air of the future is the "high CO2" level studied today?

Some physical effects of rising carbon dioxide exposure in humans: increased CO2 in the lungs, in the blood, and in the brain (which is associated with reduced oxygen and brain activity), increased sleepiness and anxiety (both of which harm cognitive function), and acidosis (lowered blood pH - which leads to symptoms such as restlessness and a rise in blood pressure). One study in juvenile rats found "reduced levels of neuroprotective growth factor", which harmed brain development and impaired learning and memory.

What about babies and children? Developing fetuses? The elderly? The sick?  All unknown. Also, studies looking at effects are short term, but our future (if not changed) will have us exposed to higher and higher levels of CO2 all the time.

Keep in mind that as outdoor carbon dioxide levels rise, indoor levels will also rise.  Think about it - opening a window to let in some fresh air will only give you the CO2 levels in the outside air. If that is high and feels stuffy, that's what you'll get. All the time. Why isn't everyone discussing this issue? 

Excerpts from Robinson Meyer's article at The Atlantic: The Human Brain Evolved When Carbon Dioxide Was Lower   ...continue reading "What Will Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels Do To Our Brains and Thinking Abilities?"