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Another reason to get more active - a new study finds that being physically inactive (a couch potato) is associated with a higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and ICU admission for COVID-19, and death from COVID-19. The researchers concluded that being consistently inactive should be viewed as a risk factor for severe COVID-19 outcomes, and that it is a "stronger risk factor than any of the underlying medical conditions and risk factors identified by the CDC except for age and a history of organ transplant". Yikes!

On the other hand, being physically active at least 150 minutes per week, and this includes brisk walking, is linked to lower rates of all of the above. Some activity (but under 150 minutes per week) is also better than none, but 150 minutes or more is better. The researchers state that besides vaccinations, social distancing, and mask wearing - being physically active is the single most important action individuals can take to prevent severe COVID-19 and its complications, including death.

The 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of physical activity per week are the recommended US Physical Activity Guidelines for adults, and include moderate and vigorous physical activity. It includes brisk walking. This can be achieved in less than 1/2 hour per day!

The researchers point out that health benefits of regular physical activity include: improved immune function, lower incidence of viral infections, as well as lower intensity and cases of death from viral infections, lowers the risk of chronic inflammation, improves cardiovascular health, increases lung capacity, muscle strength, and improves mental health. Which is why it is not surprising that persons getting a good amount of physical activity each week also generally have fewer problems with COVID-19 infections.

From CNN: Reduce risk of severe Covid with regular activity, study says. Here's how to get in 22 minutes of exercise daily

Some excerpts from the study at British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM): Physical inactivity is associated with a higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes: a study in 48,440 adult patients

Abstract: Objectives To compare hospitalisation rates, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and mortality for patients with COVID-19 who were consistently inactive, doing some activity or consistently meeting physical activity guidelines.  ...continue reading "Reduce Your Risk of Severe COVID-19 Infection By Being Physically Active"

Another study has confirmed that if a person wants to have beneficial gut microbes that are associated with lower rates of chronic inflammation and many health conditions and diseases, then you need to eat a diet that nourishes the beneficial gut microbes. And once again, research finds that it is a plant based diet that does this.

A plant based diet is one rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans), nuts, and seeds, thus containing lots of fiber - and these nourish beneficial gut microbes. In this group is also oily fish. This is an anti-inflammatory diet. It feeds short-chain fatty acid (SCFA)-producing microbes (this is good). A great example of plant foods also containing bacteria, as well as nutrients and fiber: one raw apple has about 10 million bacteria!

On the other hand, a diet rich in processed foods and lots of meat (an animal derived diet), is associated with microbes linked to intestinal inflammation - thus an inflammatory diet . Also includes foods with high amounts of sugar and alcohol. This type of diet is low fiber and considered a Western diet.

To arrive at these conclusions, researchers in the Netherlands looked at the gut microbiome of 1425 persons in 4 groups - those with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and the general healthy population. They found 38 associations between dietary patterns and microbial clusters, as well as 61 individual foods and nutrients with 61 bacterial species. They found that specific foods and nutrients were associated with species known to give mucosal protection and have anti-inflammatory effects.

These beneficial bacterial species are NOT found in probiotics or supplements. You must eat the foods on a daily basis. [Another study with similar findings.] Studies show changes will occur very quickly - within two weeks, both in microbes and effects on the intestines.  Think of the saying: You are what you eat. Yes!

From Medical Xpress: Diet rich in animal foods, alcohol and sugar linked to 'inflammatory' gut microbiome

A high dietary intake of animal products, processed foods, alcohol and sugar is linked to a gut microbiome that encourages inflammation, finds research published online in the journal Gut.  ...continue reading "What You Eat Determines The Type Of Bacteria Living In Your Gut"

Many people complain of frequent colds and upper respiratory infections. Perhaps even every month. This is an especially big problem for those suffering from chronic sinusitis, because every cold and sore throat also leads to a sinus infection. So a goal is to try to reduce the number of infections, and daily vitamin D supplements may be the answer.

Many studies have looked at vitamin D supplementation, at all sorts of doses, for all sorts of health conditions, including cancer. Unfortunately, when properly done studies with people randomly assigned to different groups are done, then all sorts of correlations don't hold up, or mixed results. Right now it appears that the main positive benefit of vitamin D supplements is lowering the incidence of upper respiratory illnesses that a person gets. Another study just confirmed this finding.

An international team of researchers reviewed data from 43 studies (48,488 participants), and found a small but significant protective effect of vitamin D supplementation in lowering the risk of getting a respiratory infection (when compared with a placebo). The studies revealed that the protective benefits of vitamin D supplements were strongest in 1 to 16 year olds who took between 400 to 1000 IU daily for up to 12 months.

Interestingly, and this may really bother high dose vitamin D advocates, the researchers found that lower doses (400 to 1000 IU daily) had a positive health effect, but NOT larger daily doses. They found that data from 4 recent good studies (with persons randomly assigned to different groups) in which vitamin D was given at daily dose equivalents of 2000 IU/day or more for 2 to 5 years had NO EFFECT. In other words: null data.

These differing findings suggest that frequency (daily is better then weekly or monthly), dose, and duration (no more than 12 months) of vitamin D supplementation are key to its protective effects against respiratory illnesses. It is unclear why higher doses are NOT protective, while smaller doses are protective. It's like the saying: Less is more.

Excerpts from Medical Xpress, which actually is misleading in how the conclusions of the study are described: New research on vitamin D and respiratory infections important for risk groups

Studies have shown that supplementary vitamin D seems to provide a certain degree of protection against respiratory infections. A new study involving researchers from Karolinska Institute has now made the most comprehensive synthesis to date of this connection. The study, which is published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, confirms that vitamin D protects against respiratory infections, a result that can have significance for the healthcare services. [NOTE: Protective effect was seen in the 1 to 16 year old age groups, and not other age groups.] ...continue reading "Fewer Respiratory Infections With Vitamin D Supplements"

Covid-19 infections are linked to many long-term health problems, but now a surprising one - an increased risk for erectile dysfunction in sexually active men. University of Rome researchers found that the risk of developing erectile dysfunction (ED) increased six-fold after a COVID-19 infection. They also found that a person who already has erectile dysfunction is at five times higher risk for a COVID-19 infection.

They thought that erectile dysfunction after COVID-19 could be either a short or long-term effect  - meaning it might or might not go away over time.

Why would a coronavirus infection lead to erectile dysfunction? Evidence is finding that even "silent" asymptomatic COVID-19 infections may have an effect on small blood vessels so that there is endothelial dysfunction, which is impaired functioning of the inner lining of blood vessels. This means that arteries and arterioles are unable to dilate fully, and so blood supply to the penis can be blocked or narrowed.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) has been often considered a sign (a hallmark) of endothelial dysfunction. Higher rates of erectile dysfunction occur among men suffering from hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

The University of Rome researchers summed it up as get vaccinated or "Mask up to keep it up."

A related finding: Last year a study (conducted in China) that autopsied 12 persons who had died of COVID-19 found that they had damage in the testicles - with inflammation, fluid accumulation, and reduced numbers of Leydig cells (which normally produce testosterone).

Excerpts from Medscape: Risk for Erectile Dysfunction Sixfold Higher in Men With COVID-19

COVID-19 increases the risk of developing erectile dysfunction (ED) by nearly sixfold, according to data from the first study to investigate the association between ED and COVID-19 in young men in a real-life setting. ...continue reading "COVID-19 Infection Linked to Increased Risk of Erectile Dysfunction"

The millions of bacteria, fungi, viruses (human microbiome) that live on and within us are extremely important for our health in all sorts of ways. The birth experience (as the baby travels down the birth canal) is one way that a mother's microbes get transmitted to the baby ("seeds" the baby's microbiome). But babies born by Cesarean delivery start out picking up different species of microbes - from dust in the operating room.

Thus there has been concern with the possibility that a baby born by C-section, as compared to a vaginal delivery, will have life long microbiome differences. Swedish researchers studied this issue in 471 children and determined that by 5 years of age that the microbiome differences at birth and first year of life have generally disappeared. The differences in microbial composition had decreased to less than 2% in the 2 groups. This is good news!

Over the 5 years everyone had a great increase in the number of microbial species that live in the gut. The gut microbiome became more "adult-like", but it wasn't yet like that of adults. A conclusion was that not only does it take years to develop adult microbial complexity, but there is also individual variation in how long this takes. A person's diet, especially the introduction of solid foods, and environment all have an effect on species diversity and composition.

By the way, another way mothers transmit hundreds of species of microbes to their babies is during nursing in the breast milk (this is great!), and these species change over time. This is a good reason to breast feed - it's not just the nutrition, but also the microbes.

From Science  Daily: Gut microbiota in Cesarean-born babies catches up

Infants born by cesarean section have a relatively meager array of bacteria in the gut. But by the age of three to five years they are broadly in line with their peers. This is shown by a study that also shows that it takes a remarkably long time for the mature intestinal microbiota to get established.  ...continue reading "Five Year Olds Have Similar Gut Microbes, No Matter the Type of Birth"

The possibility of a vaccine for helping the body fight cancer just got one step closer. A vaccine that targets a specific type of usually incurable brain cancer called "diffuse glioma" has had very good results in a trial of the vaccine. This is great news for a brain cancer that, even with treatment, keeps spreading throughout the brain, and only has a general 5-year survival rate of 48.9%.

The most important findings of the vaccine trial: the 3 year survival rate after being fully vaccinated was 84%, and in this group of 30 patients - 63% did not have any progression in tumor growth. And 82% of one subgroup of patients whose immune system showed a specific response to the vaccines had no tumor progression within the 3 year study period. This is amazing news for a cancer that typically has such a bleak prognosis.

brain cancer, diffuse glioma
Diffuse glioma in the brain. Credit: NCI

In a follow-up to this trial the researchers are combining the vaccine with checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy (which give the immune system a boost), and which they think (are hoping) may produce even better results. Think of it this way - these treatments have the potential for you (your body's immune system) to effectively fight a cancer. The future is looking bright!

From Medical Xpress: First-ever vaccine for malignant brain tumors reported safe, effective in early trial

Tumor vaccines can help the body fight cancer. Mutations in the tumor genome often lead to protein changes that are typical of cancer. A vaccine can alert the patient's immune system to these mutated proteins. For the first time, physicians and cancer researchers from Heidelberg and Mannheim have now carried out a clinical trial to test a mutation-specific vaccine against malignant brain tumors. The vaccine proved to be safe and triggered the desired immune response in the tumor tissue, as the team now reports in the journal Nature.  ...continue reading "Encouraging Results For A Vaccine Targeting Brain Tumors"

Syringe. Credit: Wikipedia

Some people get a large red rash on their arm after the first Moderna vaccine dose, and it is being called "COVID arm". It generally appears a few days after the shot, generally occurs in the arm that received the shot, and it goes away in less than a week. It occurs rarely - in under 1% of the people getting the first dose, and even less frequently (0.2%) after the second dose.

It is considered harmless - a hypersensitivity rash. Someone getting the rash after the first dose should get the second dose. In other words - everything is OK, and you can definitely proceed with the second vaccine shot.

You can take antihistamines if needed (if the rash is itchy).

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a letter and photos about this rash - Delayed Large Local Reactions to mRNA-1273 Vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. Some patient photos of the rash:

Credit: New England Journal of Medicine

From the CDC page: If you get a rash where you got the shot

CDC has learned of reports that some people have experienced a red, itchy, swollen, or painful rash where they got the shot. These rashes can start a few days to more than a week after the first shot and are sometimes quite large. These rashes are also known as “COVID arm.” If you experience “COVID arm” after getting the first shot, you should still get the second shot at the recommended interval if the vaccine you got needs a second shot. Tell your vaccination provider that you experienced a rash or “COVID arm” after the first shot. Your vaccination provider may recommend that you get the second shot in the opposite arm.

If the rash is itchy, you can take an antihistamine. If it is painful, you can take a pain medication like acetaminophen or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).

Pregnant women now have another reason to try to limit exposure to flame retardants while pregnant - having higher levels of flame retardants in their blood during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of preterm birth.

Nearly 100% of North American women have flame retardants  such as poly-brominated ethers (PBDEs) in their bodies, which can be measured in their blood. Unfortunately they are  hormone (endocrine ) disruptors, and they are also very similar in structure to thyroid hormones. Flame retardants have a number of harmful health effects during pregnancy.

A team of NY and California researchers checked the level of one type of PBDE in the blood of 3,529 pregnant women in the first trimester of pregnancy. They found that those with the highest levels (above 4 nanograms per milliliter of blood) had a higher incidence of preterm birth. But if they had levels below that there wasn't an increased risk of preterm birth.

Flame retardants are all around us (e.g. synthetic carpeting, upholstered furniture), but they migrate out of the product, and so get into us. Yes, they are in our household dust. There are ways to minimize exposures - for example, check carpeting, sofa, and upholstered furniture labels, and only buy those products free of flame retardants. See tips on how to lower your exposure to harmful chemicals.

From Medical Xpress: Exposure to flame retardants early in pregnancy linked to premature birth

Expectant women are more likely to give birth early if they have high blood levels of a chemical used in flame retardants compared with those who have limited exposure, a new study finds. ...continue reading "High Flame Retardant Levels During Pregnancy Linked to Preterm Birth"

Finally, a huge review of decades of studies answers the question of whether there are actual structural differences between male and female brains. And the answer is...(drumroll)... No - they are very similar. There aren't male brains and female brains with 2 different brain shapes or features. The main difference is a size difference in brain volume.

Women tend to have a little smaller brain (about 11% in adults) because they are smaller than men. (Similarly, smaller men also have smaller brains.) The Chicago Medical School researchers found that any sex/gender differences in the human brain are extremely subtle and inconsistent, and maybe account for 1% of variation between males and females. Note: Brain size is not correlated with or indicative of intelligence! 

They found that the size of the structures in the brain (e.g cerebellum, hippocampus) change along with the volume - it's a matter of proportion. The researchers summarized it: "Males’ brains are larger than females’ from birth, stabilizing around 11% in adults. This size difference accounts for other reproducible findings: higher white/gray matter ratio, intra- versus interhemispheric connectivity, and regional cortical and subcortical volumes in males."

By the way, the researchers also point out that large studies find that human males and females are far more similar than different in most measures of cognition, personality and attitudes.

From Medical Xpress: Massive study reveals few differences between men and women's brains

How different are men and women's brains? The question has been explored for decades, but a new study led by Rosalind Franklin University neuroscientist Lise Eliot is the first to coalesce this wide-ranging research into a single mega-synthesis. And the answer is: hardly at all. ...continue reading "Main Difference Between Male and Female Brains Is Size"

Human sperm. Credit: Wikipedia

Back in 2017 the world was shocked by a major study that focused on dropping sperm counts in men living in Western countries - a drop of over 50% in 4 decades, or about 1% per year. Along with an increase in infertility. If the drop in sperm counts continues at its current pace, it ultimately means that humans soon will not be able to reproduce. Worse case scenario: extinction of humans.

Dr. Shanna Swan, who an author of the study, has a just published an excellent eye-opening book about this topic. The cause for these sperm count drops and increasing infertility are the hormone (endocrine) disrupting chemicals in everyday products all around us. In plastics, in many pesticides, in personal care products, in our foods (from the packaging)... Yes, all around us. It turns out these chemicals have all sorts of harmful health effects, not just lowering of sperm counts and increasing infertility. [see below]

Good news: we can't escape all the harmful chemicals around us, but we can really decrease our exposures and so decrease the levels of these chemicals in our bodies. And it's better for our health! For tips on ways to reduce your exposures and the levels of harmful chemicals in your body - see Avoiding Harmful Chemicals.

The highly recommended book is written by Shanna Swan, PhD and Stacey Colino: Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race. Scribner, 2020. With many pages of references at the end.

An interesting short interview with Dr. Shanna Swan. From The Intercept: TOXIC CHEMICALS THREATEN HUMANITY’S ABILITY TO REPRODUCE

..a book that ties industrial chemicals in everyday products to a wide range of changes taking place in recent years, including increasing numbers of babies born with smaller penises; higher rates of erectile dysfunction; declining fertility; eroding sex differences in some animal species; and potentially even behaviors that are thought of as gender-typical.

Excerpts by Shanna Swan and Stacey Colino's piece from Scientific American: Reproductive Problems in Both Men and Women Are Rising at an Alarming Rate

When you see or hear a reference to “the 1 percent,” most people think of socioeconomic status—the people with the top 1 percent of wealth or income in the United States, which is how the term is commonly used in our culture.

Not us, though.  ...continue reading "A New Book Discusses Falling Sperm Counts and The Chemicals Around Us"