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Drawing of colon seen from front (the appendix is colored red). Credit: Wikipedia.

Over  time researchers have learned that the appendix is more complex than originally thought, and that it is beneficial to health. It's where good bacteria go to hideout during sickness (e.g., food poisoning) or when a person is taking antibiotics, and it acts as a "training camp" for the immune system.

This is the direct opposite of what was thought for years - that it is a vestigial organ with no purpose. Instead, research found that removing the appendix increases the risk for irritable bowel syndrome and colon cancer. It also plays a role in several medical conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, colorectal cancer, Parkinson's disease, and lupus.

One possibility is that it protects against diarrhea. The appendix acts as a safe house for beneficial bacteria. We now know that it contains a thick layer of beneficial bacteria. People who've had their appendix removed have a less diverse gut microbiome, and with lesser amounts of beneficial species.

By the way, recent research found that antibiotics can successfully treat up to 70% of uncomplicated appendicitis cases. For this reason, it is recommended that antibiotics should be tried first in uncomplicated appendicitis cases. And if needed (e.g., if there are recurrences of appendicitis) surgery can be done.

Excerpts from Medscape: The 'Useless' Appendix Is More Fascinating Than We Thought

When doctors and patients consider the appendix, it's often with urgency. In cases of appendicitis, the clock could be ticking down to a life-threatening burst. Thus, despite recent research suggesting antibiotics could be an alternative therapy, appendectomy remains standard for uncomplicated appendicitis.

But what if removing the appendix could raise the risk for gastrointestinal (GI) diseases like irritable bowel syndrome and colorectal cancer? ...continue reading "The Appendix Has Health Benefits"

Great news for individuals with lower back pain. Which is a lot of us. A recent study found that the simple act of walking helps  with prevention of low back pain episodes!

In the study, persons who had recently recovered from an episode of lower back pain were randomly assigned either to 1) an individualized and progressive walking intervention, along with 6 sessions with a physical therapist over a 6 month period (to discuss the walking) or to 2) a no treatment control group. Afterwards, the walking group took an a median of 208 days until their next activity-limiting episode of lower back pain, while the control (no walking) group took a median of 112 days.

In other words, walking regularly resulted in going twice as long until the next occurrence of low back pain compared to non-walkers. They also had fewer occurrences of activity limiting low back pain episodes. Note that these were individuals (43 to 66 years) who had a history of low back pain episodes

How much did they walk? The walkers kept a walking diary, with the median 80 minutes of walking in week 1, which increased to 130 minutes by week 12. They walked a median of 3 times in week one, which increased to 4 times in week 12.

From Science Daily: Walking brings huge benefits for low back pain

Adults with a history of low back pain went nearly twice as long without a recurrence of their back pain if they walked regularly, a world-first study has found. ...continue reading "Walking Helps Prevent Low Back Pain Episodes"

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The ingredient xylitol is added to a number of products, but recent studies find it to have no health benefits (in sinus products) or even associated with health harms. A recent study found that xylitol is linked with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Xylitol is used in a large variety of products, especially as a sugar substitute (artificial sweetener). However, the research shows that xylitol it is prothrombotic - it causes platelets to clot, and increases the risk of thrombosis or clotting of the blood.

Interestingly, when comparing xylitol vs a glucose (sugar) in a study - drinking a xylitol sweetened drink increased every measure of platelet clotting in humans, but the glucose-sweetened drink did not.

From Science Daily: Sugar substitute linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke, study finds

Cleveland Clinic researchers found higher amounts of the sugar alcohol xylitol are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke. ...continue reading "Study Finds That Xylitol Is Linked To A Higher Risk of Stroke and Heart Attack"

Credit: Wikipedia

It turns out there are a number of simple things you can do to keep your sinuses healthy and reduce the chances of developing another sinus infection. A lot of these suggestions involve preventing nasal stuffiness and congestion, and to improve sinus drainage.

Because, as we all know - once those nasal passages get clogged, the odds of another sinus infection increases. When the nasal passages are inflamed or blocked, then mucus can't properly drain from the sinuses.

Chronic sinusitis goes hand in hand with rhinitis, which is why the medical literature refers to chronic sinusitis as chronic rhinosinusitis. It can be allergic rhinitis or non-allergic rhinitis - that is, with known or unknown triggers leading to a dripping nose, congestion, increased mucus, even sneezing or coughing. Dust, irritants, fragrances, allergies (e.g., tree pollen), spicy foods, and air pollution are all examples of triggers.

Some of the following tips are to avoid fragrances and scented products. This is because they are considered indoor air pollutants. They release chemicals that cause nasal inflammation, which can result in rhinitis symptoms, and possibly lead to sinusitis. All air pollution (whether indoors or outdoors) can cause nasal inflammation.

TWENTY TIPS FOR SINUS HEALTH:

1) Sleep with 2 or more pillows in a semi-upright position. This helps with mucus drainage in the nasal passages.

2) When needed, use an ordinary saline nasal rinse once or twice a day. This helps with nasal congestion.

3) When needed, use a 12-hour 1200 mg guaifenesin non-prescription product (e.g., Mucinex) at night. It helps to thin mucus.

4) Can use antihistamines (for allergies) and nasal corticosteroid sprays (especially for nasal polyps) when needed.

5) Can use a premade saline mist spray (e.g., Arm and Hammer simply saline mist) to help relieve minor congestion. This can be helpful any place with stuffy air.

6) Shower at night to wash away dust and allergens.

7) Use unscented personal care products as much as possible (e.g., unscented deodorant). Or if that's not possible, try for minimally scented products.

8) Avoid cigarette smoke and smoke-filled air as much as possible.

9) Consider limiting your intake of alcohol. Alcohol causes temporary nasal inflammation in everyone, but for some persons the swelling lasts a long time and can cause nasal congestion and other symptoms.

10) Avoid the use of scented products in the home, including air fresheners, scented candles, incense, essential oils, clothes detergents, and scented dryer sheets (fragrances/chemicals are air pollutants - in the air, get on our clothes, and us).

11) Frequently open windows to air out the home, even if only for a few minutes. Use bathroom fans if you have them.

12) When cooking, use a kitchen exhaust fan that vents to the outside, especially if you have a gas stove and oven.

13) Vacuum frequently with a good vacuum cleaner.

14) Wall to wall carpeting can be a problem for many, especially in the bedroom. They accumulate dust and contaminants, which are hard to clean.

15) Change your A/C and heating filters frequently.

16) Consider getting a good air purifier (check Consumer Reports and Wirecutter. Especially powerful are the Austin Air Purifiers.)

17) Make sure there isn't a hidden mold problem, and clean up any mold you find. Also, make sure that water isn't getting into the house. [CDC guidelines]

WHEN STARTING TO FEEL SINUSITIS SYMPTOMS:

18) Get enough sleep. When sleep deprived, people can feel “mucusy”. They are also more susceptible to viruses.

19) At the start of a sore throat or infection - suck on a zinc tablet or lozenge. It may stop the viral infection.

20) Use L. sakei (e.g., Lanto Sinus) at the start of a sinus infection. (Stop using it when feeling better.)

Additionally, try to boost your immune system by eating a healthy diet (one rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes, olive oil), getting plenty of sleep, drinking plenty of  water, and getting enough exercise or physical activity (Government guidelines say at least 2 1/2 hours per week of physical activity, including walking).

Can also take a vitamin D supplement (research shows it can decrease the number of respiratory infections) or get enough sunlight. After all, vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin.

Good health!

Azalea blossoms and bee 

A few weeks ago I watched many bees buzzing around a large azalea bush. They were loud! This was in a rural wooded area, where there are no outdoor pesticide applications on lawns and bushes.

Meanwhile, in my suburban yard, it is now rare to see bees and butterflies. This started ever since neighbors started hiring a company to do "mosquito and tick" pesticide applications. Synthetic pyrethroids are applied with a large "leaf blower" type device at waist height. Unfortunately, pyrethroids are highly toxic to pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

As you can imagine, this type of application - high volume application at waist height, means that the pesticides go everywhere, including into neighboring hedges and yards. This means that even though I have an organic yard, the bees and butterflies are now gone. I miss them!

Tattoo Credit: Wikipedia

There has always been some concern about whether there are health effects from tattoos, especially ones that cover a large area of skin. Tattoo inks contain heavy metals, colors, nanoparticles, and all sorts of other chemicals, including carcinogens. A recent study conducted in Sweden found an increased risk of malignant lymphoma in persons with tattoos, specifically a 21% higher risk.

It has been known for years that tattoos cause chronic inflammation, and that nanoparticles from the inks travel throughout the body, including lymph nodes. It is thought that perhaps the low grade chronic inflammation from the tattoo is causing an increased risk for cancer in the lymphatic system, such as malignant lymphoma. Interestingly, in the study, the size of the tattoo did not increase the risk - it didn't seem to matter.

By the way, in this large study, 21% of individuals with malignant lymphoma had tattoos, but18% of persons who did not get malignant lymphoma also had tattoos. So... if you have a tattoo, it does not mean you'll definitely get lymphoma - it just increases the risk.

From Medical Xpress: Possible association between tattoos and lymphoma revealed

Our knowledge regarding the long-term health effects of tattoos is currently poor, and there is not a lot of research within this area. Now a research group at Lund University has investigated the association between tattoos and lymphoma. ...continue reading "Tattoos and Increased Risk of Cancer?"

Basil plant in a pot Credit: Wikipedia

There is a simple and easy way to improve your skin microbiome and immune system, even if you live in the city - it's indoor gardening. A new study found that just 1 month of urban indoor gardening improves the skin microbiome (community of bacteria, viruses, fungi) and boosts the immune system.

What appeared to be critical for the skin and immune system health benefits was using a good quality soil, one with lots of microbes in it, such as a compost based soil.  Avoid peat based soil, which is commonly available, because it is not rich microbially. The researchers found that growing plants in the peat based soil did not have any health benefits.

The study used flower or planter boxes filled with soil, and 7 kinds of plants (lettuce, white mustard, radish, garlic, ginger, pea, and fava bean) were planted into them. A grow lightbulb was used in a lamp because the study started in winter. Fertilizer sticks were used in the peat based soil group, while nutrients came from the compost in the rich soil group.

The participants in the study were instructed to monitor, water, harvest, and then consume the produce. That's it.

Bottom line: Set some plants on a sunny windowsill or buy grow lights for some indoor plants. Make sure the soil is a rich soil (compost based) and not peat-based. Enjoy!

From Science Daily: Urban gardening may improve human health: Microbial exposure boosts immune system

A one-month indoor gardening period increased the bacterial diversity of the skin and was associated with higher levels of anti-inflammatory molecules in the blood demonstrated a collaborative study between the University of Helsinki, Natural Resources Institute Finland and Tampere University. ...continue reading "Growing Some Plants Indoors Benefits Skin and Immune System"

Dupont Chemical facility in Delaware Credit: Wikipedia

Reading studies or news reports is not the only way to get information about the dangerous "forever chemicals" (PFAS chemicals) that are found in basically all of us. Some films and videos are also excellent sources of information.

There is a very good legal thriller film called Dark Waters (released in 2019, official trailer, now on Netflix), an investigative documentary The Devil We Know (official trailer, now on Amazon), as well as short videos such as that produced by NRDC (PFAS: The Toxic Forever Chemicals Crisis) and PBS News Hour (Why PFAS are so impervious, and who is at most risk from the forever chemicals).

Attorney Rob Billot

The film Dark Waters is based on a true story. In it, attorney Robert Bilott (played by Mark Ruffalo) jeopardizes his career to expose Dupont's toxic chemical waste dumping scheme (of forever chemicals used in Teflon), the harms they caused (including deaths), and of corporate greed and corruption.

In 2019, Robert Billot's book (Exposure) about his battle with Dupont Exposure was also published.

Harmful PFOS chemicals, are commonly referred to as forever chemicals because they persist in the environment and accumulate in all of us, where they cause all sorts of health harms, including cancers, decreased fertility, liver damage, thyroid disease, impaired immune system, abnormal fetal development. They even go to the brain! The chemicals are found in many products that we are exposed to daily (e.g., non-stick pots and pans, grease-proof packaging).

For a while now researchers have been finding that certain environmental chemical exposures are linked to the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease. Frequent exposure to pesticides and heavy metal and VOC exposure in solvents (e.g., in woodworking) are linked to ALS.

A recent study found that storing chemicals such as gasoline, kerosene, gasoline-powered equipment, lawn care pesticides, paint, and woodworking chemicals in an attached home garage is also linked to a higher risk for ALS. These are toxic chemicals that are volatile - get into the air.

The researchers felt that not only did the persons with ALS have a history of exposure by working with the chemicals, the chemicals also leach into the air when stored in the home (the attached garage). Every time the door to the garage is opened, the chemicals in the garage air rush into the home.

Earlier studies found higher amounts of pesticides in people with ALS, as well as faster disease progression. Certain pesticides show up repeatedly in studies, including 2,4-D, glyphosate, carbaryl, and chlorpyrifos. Note that 2,4-D is in popular feed and weed products (and was in Agent Orange), and glyphosate is in the commonly used Roundup.

ALS is a progressive and fatal neurodegenerative disease. There is progressive loss of motor neurons, the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement and breathing.

From Science Daily: Chemicals stored in home garages linked to ALS risk

Over the last decade, researchers at University of Michigan continue to find that exposure to environmental toxins -- from pesticides used in agriculture to volatile organic compounds in the manufacturing industry -- is linked to the development of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. ...continue reading "Pesticides and Other Chemicals Stored in Home Garages Linked to ALS Risk"

Intestines Credit:Wikipedia

New discoveries about our gut microbiome (the community of viruses, bacteria, fungi) keep occurring. There is growing evidence that certain bacterial species in the gut are associated with cholesterol levels and heart disease.

Adding to the evidence, a recent study found that people with higher levels of several species of Oscillibacter bacteria had lower cholesterol levels than people without or diminished levels of these bacteria. The researchers than  found (in the lab) that these species of Oscillibacter bacteria actually take up and metabolize artery-clogging cholesterol, which could explain the lower cholesterol levels.

By the way, other species (e.g., Eubacterium coprostanoligenes)  were also associated with lower cholesterol levels in the study. The same people with higher levels of beneficial bacteria also had greater diversity of gut bacteria, which is considered a sign of gut health.

Species of Oscillibacter bacteria are not available in any supplements at this time. You'll just have to eat a diet that feeds and nurtures beneficial gut microbes.

And what is a health-promoting diet? A recent study found that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and olive oil promotes healthy bacteria in the gut, which are associated with good health. This also is a diet high in fiber. Think along the lines of a Mediterranean diet.

From Science Daily: Scientists link certain gut bacteria to lower heart disease risk

Changes in the gut microbiome have been implicated in a range of diseases including type 2 diabetes, obesity, and inflammatory bowel disease. Now, a team of researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard along with Massachusetts General Hospital has found that microbes in the gut may affect cardiovascular disease as well. In a study published in Cell, the team has identified specific species of bacteria that consume cholesterol in the gut and may help lower cholesterol and heart disease risk in people. ...continue reading "Certain Gut Bacteria Are Associated With Lower Cholesterol Levels"