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Several studies are now suggesting that low vitamin D levels are linked to increased risk of getting COVID-19. And if you get COVID-19, low vitamin D levels are linked to a higher risk of developing serious symptoms requiring admission to intensive care,  and also not surviving. These studies are observational and don't prove that vitamin D levels are the cause, but a number of studies from countries worldwide and several lines of research are suggesting the same thing.

The best source of vitamin D is sunlight, but if taking supplements - then take vitamin D3. Researchers, doctors, and medical organizations vary in their recommended dosages, but many (such as Mayo Clinic) suggest 1000 to 2000 IU per day. The minimum daily requirement is 600 IU.

Some studies also suggest that having adequate magnesium is needed for vitamin D to be metabolized well. Good food sources of magnesium are nuts, seeds (especially pumpkin seeds), peanut butter, whole grains, beans, leafy vegetables, some fatty fish (halibut, salmon, mackerel), milk, yogurt, dark chocolate, legumes (beans), quinoa, tofu, and bananas. Daily magnesium requirements are 420 mg for men, 320 mg for women. Food is generally considered a better source than supplements.

However, some researchers point out that having a disease (e.g. diabetes) or chronic inflammation results in lowering of vitamin D levels (and not that low vitamin D levels causes disease). We need good double-blind studies (people randomly assigned to groups, and no one knows who is getting what) to understand if it really is vitamin D that's causing beneficial health effects.

Excerpts from Medscape: Low Vitamin D in COVID-19 Predicts ICU Admission, Poor Survival

Having low serum vitamin D levels was an independent risk factor for having symptomatic COVID-19 with respiratory distress requiring admission to intensive care — as opposed to having mild COVID-19 — and for not surviving, in a new study from Italy. ...continue reading "Vitamin D and COVID-19"

Looking for  a reason to stop smoking? How about brain bleeds? A recent study found that cigarette smoking is linked to death from the extremely serious bleeding stroke called subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH).

Researchers in Finland followed 16,282 twin pairs for over 40 years. They found that for both men and women smoking was strongly linked to death from a subarachnoid hemorrhage, and was more important than any genetic factors (which had a "modest link" to only a few deaths). They also did not find a link with high blood pressure, or levels of physical activity.

A subarachnoid hemorrhage is a type of stroke that results from bleeding in the space between the brain and the thin membrane that covers it (subarachnoid space). A SAH occurs in about 5 to 6% of all strokes. It is a medical emergency that frequently leads to death.

Excerpts from Science Daily: Smoking linked to bleeding in the brain in large, long-term study of twins

An investigation of the Finnish Twin Cohort reaffirmed a link between smoking and subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), a type of bleeding stroke that occurs under the membrane that covers the brain and is frequently fatal. The new study by researchers in Finland is published today in Stroke, a journal of the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association.  ...continue reading "Smoking Linked To Hemorrhagic Stroke Deaths"

A recent study found that eating higher levels of foods with flavonoids (e.g. berries, apples, and tea) may lower the risk of later development of Alzheimer's disease and other age-related dementias.

Since currently there are no effective drugs that prevent or actual medical treatments for dementia, it is great that what a person eats (the dietary pattern) long-term may be protective. Something we can do to lower our risk for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias!

Tufts University researchers followed 2801 persons (50 years and older) for 20 years and found that those with the lowest intake of flavonoid rich foods (especially 3 flavonoid classes: flavonols, anthocyanins, and flavonoid polymers) had a 20 to 40% higher chance of developing Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, when compared to those eating the most flavonoid rich foods. [Note: The lowest intake group averaged  about 1 1/2 apples, but no berries or tea per month.]

Flavonoids are naturally occurring bioactive pigments, of which there are 7 types, that are found in plant-based foods. Some good sources of different types of flavonoids include berries & red wine (anthocyanin rich), onions & apples, pears (flavonol rich), citrus fruits and juices, teas, dark chocolate, parsley, celery,and soy products.

Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables appears to be best for health benefits. There is no one super-food. Other studies also find that the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits and vegetables (thus flavonoid rich), may reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

Why are flavonoid containing foods protective, specifically "neuroprotective"? Studies suggest that they do the following: antioxidant effects, protect neurons from neurotoxins and combat neuroinflammation, and favorable changes in brain blood flow,

Excerpts from Science Daily: More berries, apples and tea may have protective benefits against Alzheimer's

Older adults who consumed small amounts of flavonoid-rich foods, such as berries, apples and tea, were two to four times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease and related dementias over 20 years compared with people whose intake was higher, according to a new study led by scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University.  ...continue reading "Eating More Fruits and Berries Lowers Risk of Dementia"

Word wildlife numbers are catastrophically plummeting - an average of 68% decline in almost 21,000 wildlife populations between 1970 and 2016 (46 years). Two thirds of all wildlife! This is the conclusion of the Living Planet Report 2020, a collaboration between World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International and the Zoological Society of London.

Humans are to blame for the decline.

This catastrophic decline is largely due to environmental destruction (such as deforestation, agricultural expansion, and the illegal wildlife trade), habitat loss, and degradation. The report includes a Living Planet Index (LPI) - which tracks trends in global wildlife abundance, as well as contributions from more than 125 experts from around the world.

The report goes on to say that the kinds of steep wildlife population decreases the Earth has seen in recent decades have not been seen for millions of years. It outlines steps that should be immediately taken to stop wildlife declines from progressing further and resulting in extinctions and destruction of ecosystems. One obvious step is stopping further habitat loss. But will this actually happen?

The United Nations warned this year: "Protecting biodiversity amounts to protecting humanity." WWF agrees: "... nature is unraveling and our planet is flashing red warning signs of systems failure."

From phys.org: World wildlife plummets more than two-thirds in 50 years: index

Global animal, bird and fish populations have plummeted more than two-thirds in less than 50 years due to rampant over-consumption, experts said Thursday in a stark warning to save nature in order to save ourselves.  ...continue reading "We Are To Blame For the Loss of Two Thirds Of All Wildlife In the Last 50 Years"

It turns out that there is another serious source of air pollution in cities that is not usually mentioned - the emissions from roof and road asphalt, especially on hot and sunny days.

Yale University researchers found that asphalt emits a complex mixture of compounds, including hazardous pollutants. The emissions really increase as temperature increases, as well as exposure to solar radiation (sunlight).

The researchers estimate that urban areas are about 45%+ paved, and 20% are roofs. They stated that in a city such as Los Angeles, asphalt's potential to emit secondary organic aerosols is comparable to vehicles.

From Science Daily: Asphalt adds to air pollution, especially on hot, sunny days

Asphalt is a near-ubiquitous substance -- it's found in roads, on roofs and in driveways -- but its chemical emissions rarely figure into urban air quality management plans.  ...continue reading "Asphalt In City Streets and Roofs Emits Air Pollutants"

We use so much plastic that we are now surrounded by plastic. But eventually all plastic degrades into tiny pieces called microplastics and nanoplastics. These tiny plastic pieces are found throughout the world, including in the food we eat and water we drink, especially bottled water. A few years ago researchers even found microplastics in the feces of people - meaning they ingested microplastics, which traveled through the intestines, and then eventually excreted.

But the big question remained - do some microplastics get absorbed into human tissues?

Two Arizona State University researchers looked into this and found small parts of plastics (plastic monomers) in the tissues of every single person examined. They analyzed 47 human tissue samples (using mass spectrometry) taken from deceased persons who had donated their bodies to science. All had plastic particles in the lungs and adipose (fat) tissue. For example, they found BPA (bisphenol A - an endocrine disruptor) in every single sample. Other examples of plastic particles found were polypropylene and polysterene.

Currently it is unknown if there are health consequences from plastic particles being absorbed into our tissues. However, wildlife and animal research has linked microplastic and nanoplastic exposure to infertility, inflammation, and cancer. Once plastic is absorbed by tissues, it will stay there - it will not biodegrade. Whether there are human health effects is a very important issue because more and more plastic is produced each year, which means exposure to more plastic particles over time, and accumulation in our bodies.

Note that microplastics are plastic fragments less than 5 millimeters in diameter (many can be seen by the human eye), while nanoplastics are even smaller with diameters of less than 0.050 millimeters (these can not be seen by the human eye).

Excerpts from an American Chemical Society press release about research presented to the American Chemical Society in August 2020: Micro- and nanoplastics detectable in human tissues

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2020 — Plastic pollution of land, water and air is a global problem. Even when plastic bags or water bottles break down to the point at which they are no longer an eyesore, tiny fragments can still contaminate the environment. Animals and humans can ingest the particles, with uncertain health consequences. Now, scientists report that they are among the first to examine micro- and nanoplastics in human organs and tissues.   ...continue reading "Plastic Particles Detected in Human Lungs and Other Tissues"

Pregnant women receive all sorts of advice on what to do or not do during pregnancy. For years medical guidelines in both the US and Europe have been that moderate (up to 200 mg) ingestion of caffeine during pregnancy is OK, which means about 2 cups of regular coffee a day.

However, a recent review of studies by Reykjavik University Professor Jack E. James found that ingesting caffeine during pregnancy is linked to health problems and that there is no safe level during pregnancy. In other words,  caffeine and caffeinated beverages should be avoided during pregnancy and when trying to conceive.

Health problems associated with caffeine intake during pregnancy are miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight and/or small for gestational age, childhood leukemia, and childhood overweight and obesity. Studies typically found a dose-response effect - the more caffeine is ingested, the more negative health effects.

Human studies looking at this issue are observational, but negative health effects are supported by animal research going back more than four decades. Caffeine crosses the placenta and goes to the baby. Negative health effects occur because the fetus can not clear the caffeine well because it lacks an enzyme that metabolizes caffeine.

Professor James points out that the industry established and funded the group ILSI (International Life Sciences Institute) which successfully fought any FDA warnings about caffeine and pregnancy, and which attacked any research suggesting it could be harmful to pregnancy or the fetus. [Why am I not surprised about the success of the industry group? And that they published their own "research" showing caffeine was benign in response to scientific research showing negative health effects.]

Excerpts from Science Daily: No safe level of caffeine consumption for pregnant women and would-be mothers

Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should be advised to avoid caffeine because the evidence suggests that maternal caffeine consumption is associated with negative pregnancy outcomes and that there is no safe level of consumption, finds an analysis of observational studies published in BMJ Evidence Based Medicine.   ...continue reading "Avoid Consuming Caffeine During Pregnancy"

A recent study found that giving daily vitamin D supplements to children with severe asthma and low vitamin D levels did not prevent severe asthma attacks, reduce the time to an asthmatic attack, or enable the children to reduce the maintenance dose of an inhaled corticosteroid. Very disappointing!

As of 2018, it is estimated that 5.5 million children in the US have asthma, and that asthma led to more than 546,000 emergency department visits and 80,000 hospitalizations. So the researchers started the study hoping that vitamin D3 supplements could help with asthma attacks.

The well-done year long study recruited children (6 to 16 years old) from 7 US medical centers. They were assigned randomly to different groups (vitamin D or placebo), and with no one knowing who got vitamin D and who didn't. The children took 4000 IU/day of vitamin D3 or a placebo for 48 weeks, and all were maintained with a low-dose of inhaled corticosteroid (fluticasone propionate).

The findings contrast with earlier observational studies (basically a snap-shot of  groups of people) that found a link with severe asthma and lower vitamin D levels. Meanwhile, other well-done studies (women assigned randomly to different groups, etc) have found no protective effect from vitamin D3 supplementation during pregnancy - that is, it did not protect children up to the age of 6 from asthma.

Excerpts from Science Daily: Compared to placebo, vitamin D has no benefit for severe asthma attacks, study finds

Contrary to earlier results, vitamin D supplements do not prevent severe asthma attacks in at-risk children, according to the first placebo-controlled clinical trial to test this relationship.  ...continue reading "Children With Severe Asthma Not Helped By Vitamin D Supplements"

The relationship between mold and sinuses is something I've been thinking about lately. Why do so many people after prolonged exposure to ordinary mold eventually develop sinusitis? What is going on?

This is a really interesting question because we are exposed to mold (which is actually fungi) every single day just from ordinary breathing. Fungi are all around us - in the wind, in the air, in the soil, and we always have a little in our homes. For example, in the bathroom tub or shower area, in moldy food, or around the kitchen sink. These are common molds. And we're normally just fine.

In addition, we all have some fungal species living in and on our bodies, and they are part of the normal human microbiome (the community of bacteria, fungi, and viruses living on and in us). In fact, different species of fungi live in different parts of our body, even some species that we tend to think of as harmful, such as yeast and aspergillis. In a healthy person, any potentially harmful microbes are kept in check by the other microbes in the microbiome so that they are living there harmlessly.

Yes, sometimes fungi can multiply to the point of doing harm (such as during a fungal skin infection, e.g. athlete's foot) or in an immunocompromised person, but normally fungal species live in a complex ecosystem in harmony with all our other millions of microbes.

Ordinary common molds can sometimes cause problems

But sometimes people get exposed to a lot of ordinary or common molds over a prolonged period of time. And this is where problems can develop if they breathe in a lot of the fungi.

The most important thing to know is that fungi (mold) grow in wet or moist conditions. Especially where it is not well ventilated. For example, when air conditioning systems that are not draining properly result in mold growing in the unit and the ducts. Or a water leak from the roof causes mold to grow on a wall or ceiling right in your bedroom. In both cases people are breathing it in for prolonged periods.

What kind of health problems can result? The health problems from common molds are generally of an inflammatory  or allergic nature, such as respiratory symptoms, respiratory illnesses (sinus infections), asthma, allergic responses, immunological, and other inflammatory responses. [This is according to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), WHO, and other major associations.]

But here's another thing - responses to large mold exposure vary, with some people having big responses (respiratory infections or asthma), some minor (perhaps drippy nose), and some no effects at all.

The good news is that more extreme health effects from mold exposure are very rare according to the CDC, the World Health organization, and some other health groups, with only some individual cases reported. Whew.

Looking back on my own history of sinus infections, it all makes perfect sense! After developing non-stop sinus infections years ago, I went to an ENT specialist who, after careful examination of my nasal passages, said that I was showing a massive inflammatory response, an allergic response. And only when I figure out what was causing the allergic response would I start to improve. Which turned out to be true.

[NOTE: This post is not going into the issue of mycotoxins (of fungi that release toxins), and of molds that take over houses making them uninhabitable, for example after floods.]

Deal With A Mold Problem As Soon As Possible

The CDC says don't bother with blood tests for mold - there aren't any. There are only tests that look at allergic responses to mold. And don't worry about what type of mold is in the house. Just clean it up, replace what needs replacing, make repairs, fix whatever needs fixing, etc. as soon as possible.

Once the mold problem is fixed and mold removed, the mold exposure is gone. And any health symptoms related to too much mold exposure health can finally improve.

Final thoughts about mold and sinusitis: For a while in the 1990s it was thought that people with sinusitis all had fungal problems in the sinuses and sinusitis should be treated with antifungals. Nope. When genetic sequencing tests were developed, researchers discovered hundreds of microbial species in healthy and sick people - and they realized that we all had fungi as part of our microbiome.

Which is why physicians now generally view sinusitis as an "inflammatory process", maybe due to an allergic response. Fungal sinusitis is considered one type of sinusitis, and only in a small minority of sinusitis cases.

Indoor mold by window Credit: Wikipedia

This is rarely mentioned, but there is research showing that commonly used chemicals that we are exposed to, such as bisphenols (BPA, BPS), phthalates, persistent organic pollutants (e.g.flame retardants, nonstick cookware), heavy metals (e.g. lead), and some pesticides (e.g.chlorpyrifos, glyphosate), all have an impact on the gut microbiome in animals and humans.

For example, these chemicals may alter levels of certain microbial species, or alter the variety (diversity) and type of species in the gut, or increase intestinal inflammation. These alterations are associated with health effects, and the effects may be different depending on the stage of life. Yikes!

The human gut microbiome is the huge and complex community of microbes (fungi, bacteria, viruses) that live in our intestines and play important roles in our health. Trillions of microbes, hundreds of species. The presence of certain microbial species in the gut are associated with health, and the presence of certain other species are associated with disease. We know that what we eat and drink, whether we exercise, and other lifestyle factors can influence the gut microbes, but it appears we also need consider exposure to chemicals in the environment around us.

A recent study by University of Illinois researchers reviewed the environmental chemical and microbiome research, and found that many chemicals have an effect on the gut microbiome. They point out that humans are constantly exposed to hundreds of chemicals in the environment, and many get into humans (through inhalation, ingestion, absorption through the skin). Currently more than 300 environmental chemicals and their metabolites have been measured in humans (e.g. in blood and urine).

Many of these chemicals are endocrine disruptors, and many are associated with adverse health effects, including male and female reproductive and developmental defects, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular effects, liver disease, obesity, thyroid disorders, and immune effects.

By the way, gut microbiome effects are currently not considered by the EPA when regulating chemicals.

From Science Daily: Environmental contaminants alter gut microbiome, health

The microbes that inhabit our bodies are influenced by what we eat, drink, breathe and absorb through our skin, and most of us are chronically exposed to natural and human-made environmental contaminants. In a new paper, scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign review the research linking dozens of environmental chemicals to changes in the gut microbiome and associated health challenges.  ...continue reading "Some Common Chemicals Alter the Gut Microbiome"