Carvings June 1, 2022

In the news

Monkeypox    (Yawn!)

            Monkeypox is getting more media attention than the war in Ukraine, another sign of the lunacy of the mainstream media. What is happening in Ukraine is likely to affect the well-being of millions of people, far beyond that country’s borders; monkeypox doesn’t come close.

            Monkeypox, like  cowpox of the 18th century, got its name from the animal with which it was first associated and it was identified decades ago. It has a very low mortality rate, barely one percent and that is probably less in healthy, well-nourished, immune-competent individuals. Most cases have occurred in Africa among folks who eat primates and rodents, in both of which the disease is endemic. What is emerging now around the globe is another quasi-sexually transmitted disease. If that description seems odd it’s because unlike the typical STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) – formerly called STD (sexually Transmitted Disease) – monkeypox is the result of close physical contact, not necessarily involving juxtaposition of certain body parts. Although it is closely related to smallpox, a scourge that wiped out tens of millions of lives from the time it emerged at the dawn of the Agricultural Revolution until its elimination in the 1970s, it is rarely fatal and there is already a vaccine that is likely to be effective.

            There have been more than 600 cases of monkeypox in at least 26 countries, an epidemiological anomaly considering that until a few months ago there were only a few cases reported each year and virtually all patients were infected in Africa. In the united Kingdom there were only seven reported cases in 2018 through 2021. Although some media outlets have avoided or downplayed the evidence that this is a disease that is occurring almost exclusively in gay men the explosion in the number of cases appears to be related to a large gathering of the gay community – estimated at 80,000 persons – in the Canary Islands. Clusters of infection have also been occurring at events and in localities frequented by gay men.

            As the term pox would imply, it is almost always marked by a pustular skin rash; fever is common and complications include damage to the cornea of the eye and inflammation of the brain. Patients often have a compromised immune system or are malnourished and secondary bacterial infections are therefore common.

Where things are headed

            Monkeypox, like the current pandemic coronavirus, is here to stay. It’s likely that we will see a continued rise in cases and clusters following gay pride events around the globe. Although the spread to animal populations, both wild and domestic, is possible, it is quite unlikely.

            The smallpox virus does not mutate with great frequency and it’s doubtful that this will occur with monkeypox. At the moment there are no safe and effective drugs for monkeypox but we can expect that as cases increase in developed countries there will be a push to develop effective antiviral treatment.

In summary

            Monkeypox will soon fade from the headlines but not from the world. It is a threat only in the gay community whose members often have multiple STIs and whose immune systems are compromised by infection or prescription drugs.

Lifestyle

Dieting Guidelines

            What are “good” carbs? Answer: the kind that humans were intended to eat. They include green, leafy vegetables, fruits, berries, nuts, root vegetables and legumes – each of these should be eaten almost every day and all in great variety. In other words, carbohydrate foods are not villains – unless they are the refined type such as white flour, sugar, rice, baked potatoes and french fries. Hold on! Am I saying that you need to banish these great-tasting foods from your life? Nope! But give some thought to cutting back on these things that are the single most common reason why we are fighting epidemics of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

            How does your diet plan measure up? Remember that your Stone Age ancestors were able to choose from more than 100 different plant species no matter where they lived – most of them, of course, living in the temperate regions of Africa until a couple of thousand generations ago. Your local supermarket doesn’t come close to that kind of variety but with summer just days away why not try a few new veggies?

            No one of those types of plant foods provides everything that we need. Green leafies (is that a word?) and nuts give us omega-3 fats, berries provide antioxidants, fruits and root vegetables yield fiber and legumes give us protein.

            Variety isn’t the spice of life; it’s the price of life.

Carvings May 15, 2022

In the news

Bird flu: should we worry?

Bird flu, otherwise known as avian influenza, has a lot of infectious diseases specialists on alert. When it arose in China several years ago it spread rapidly among domestic flocks and caused several human deaths.

You’ll probably be hearing a lot about this form of influenza for two reasons. Although the total number of persons, mostly poultry workers, who have died from the disease is fewer than five hundred, it does have a mortality rate of about 50 percent. The other reason is that it is now present in most states, although the particular strain prevalent here is different from Chinese strains that have caused deaths among humans. There has been only one case reported to date in a human in this country, a Colorado poultry worker whose single symptom was slight fatigue and who was identified only because he was working with an infected flock and received periodic testing. It should also be noted that the guy was a soon-to-be-released prison inmate learning a new trade whose personal protective equipment was inadequate. I doubt that he was as meticulous in his technique as the average infection control technician.

Although there is no threat at the moment, we know from the COVID pandemic that things can turn on a dime and that influenza viruses are notorious for their ability to mutate and to exchange genetic material between strains. Still, I consider the risk to be extremely small and that you should not succumb to the hype that such issues are prone to receive from incautious journalists and wackos on the Internet.

I have two reason for being optimistic. First, the poultry industry is on high alert, a stance that has prevented outbreaks in other parts of the world. In addition the CDC is in a supersensitive state because of its COVID missteps and I expect that they will stay on top of this virus.

A second reason for optimism is that the vaccine industry has made enormous advances as a result of the 2019 pandemic. What was touted as warp speed in the production of several coronavirus vaccines will seem like a snail’s pace if they have to ramp up for avian influenza.

Although rife with disappointments in the past there is furious work going on in hundreds of facilities around the world to find effective antiviral agents. That will eventually have profound positive consequences in the fight against viral diseases such as mosquito-borne encephalitis for which there is no treatment.

Lifestyle

Your mother was right! Eating slowly is better for you but not for the reasons I heard when I was a kid: “Don’t eat so fast! You’ll choke on your food.” “It’ll make you sick.”  Well, that second part was right but the sickness would take years, even decades to develop. “Sick” means “obese”, not what Mom had in mind.

            When we eat fast we eat more. That’s because it takes about 15 or 20 minutes for our hard-wired appetite-control mechanism to let us know that we’ve eaten enough. It was once thought that this was a simple mechanism brought into play by a hormone called cholecystokinin that was released when the stomach was full. We should have known! Nothing is really that simple in matters of biology. Scientists now know that there are several mechanisms, some regulated by hormone-like chemicals that control appetite.

            Some of this came to light after lots of people had a portion of the stomach removed to lose weight. They didn’t get as hungry as they should have when portion sizes were limited to something about the size of a golf ball. The part of the stomach that had been removed contained cells that produced one of the hunger-causing hormones, so they just didn’t feel like eating more.

            The bottom line: follow Mom’s advice and eat slowly. You’ll end up eating less, especially if your meals consist largely of fiber-rich vegetables.

Carvings    May 1, 2022

In the news

May is Stop the Bleed Month

            It’s not likely that you will ever be confronted with a person who is bleeding severely as the result of a motor vehicle accident, a workshop injury, a shooting or a stabbing but those events happen every day somewhere and more than 100 persons die EVERY DAY in the United States from uncontrolled hemorrhage. If the majority of citizens were to take the one-hour Stop the Bleed course that is offered in almost every city and town, they could save an estimated 10,000 lives each year.

Stop the Bleed is a program that began after the murder of 20 schoolchildren and 6 school staff members in Sandy Hook, Connecticut in 2012. Recognizing that a victim of a stabbing, shooting, car accident or workshop mishap can die within 4 or 5 minutes from blood loss, and that 40,000 (!) persons die that way in the U.S. annually, the Department of Defense, American College of Surgeons and other organizations put together a course that teaches the simple steps that could save thousands of lives every year.

            The methods are simple and take only minutes to learn, although the hands-on practice that all students demonstrate in order to obtain a certificate of completion takes a little longer. The techniques shown in the program are only meant to control deadly hemorrhage in the few minutes before emergency responders arrive: Press, Pack, Tourniquet.

            As many of you know, I began a CPR training program at our church in 2001. Since then we have trained more than 700 members of the parish in this lifesaving skill. We began to teach Stop the Bleed just before the pandemic began and have trained more than 100 persons so far.

            Knowing what to do is important but you need to have access to the means of stopping extreme loss of blood. That requires such things as gauze pads or rolls and tourniquets. Do you have these items in your home, your car, your office, your boat or your RV? I didn’t think so!

            Acquiring these items won’t drain your savings. Start with a small pouch, or even a Ziplock bag. Several rolls of 3- or 4-inch gauze, two tourniquets and cheap scissors are the basics. You might want to include a pressure dressing or Israeli bandage but applying these takes training and practice.

            Why two tourniquets? Because one might not be enough to stop the bleeding, because the plastic windless might break, or there might be a second wound or a second victim.

            Why scissors? Because you may need to cut away clothing to visualize the site of injury.

            Be sure to remove the plastic wrapper from the tourniquets before you put them in your kit. Seconds matter and you will be fumble-fingered because of stress.

To learn more about this program and to find a class near you go to  www.stopthebleed.org. That site also includes access to online programs.

More In the News

            The world’ oldest person is 118 years and two months old – and she enjoys chocolate and drinks a glass of wine every day! She not only survived COVID in January, 2021 but she survived the Great Influenza pandemic of 1918.

Lifestyle

Osteoporosis has nothing to do with aging.

            Fossil bones from the Stone Age – about 30-50,000 years ago – reveal that persons who lived past the age of 60 (about ten percent of humans at that time) had thick-walled, dense bones. The MRI of the thigh of a 74-year-old (!) triathlete show that her femur (thigh bone) has the same thickness and oval shape as that of a 40-year-old triathlete.

            About 95 percent of our skeleton is formed between the ages of about 5 and 25 years. Without almost daily vigorous resistance exercise it’s all downhill from there. But there’s hope – at any age you can slow down and possible even reverse the bone loss that results from inactivity. It means walking and resistance exercises most days of the week.

            But there’s more – proper nutrition is critical but calcium is only part of it. Essential nutrients include protein, omega-3 fats, magnesium and vitamins A, C, D and K. Note that about half of senior Americans have low or marginal intakes of magnesium and vitamin D.

Carvings April 15th, 2022

In the news

            Most of us in California are pretty familiar with avocados and we have some good news to share. A Harvard study showed that in two studies involving more than 100,000 people over 30 years, having two or more servings (one half of an avocado) on a weekly basis lowered the risk of coronary artery disease by more than 20 percent. Considering that in the first couple of decades of these studies avocados were not a particularly popular food item, it’s likely that even better results will be observed in the future.

            Another bit of good news is that avocados were at the top of the Environmental Working Group’s 2022 list of the Clean Fifteen – the fruits and vegetables that had the lowest levels of contamination with pesticides.

            (Caveat: the EWG is not without controversy and so is its list of the Dirty Dozen – the ones with the highest levels of pesticide residue. The EWG has been criticized for being alarmist, castigating levels of pesticides that are far below those deemed to be harmful, using data that are far out of date, and of doing sloppy research. A group of toxicologists has dismissed their findings. We will discuss these topics in detail in a future post.)

            Let’s get back to avocados. They are loaded with beneficial nutrients such as vitamins, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, fiber, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (i.e., the ones that do not contribute to heart disease but without which our health would suffer significantly).

            The studies showed that persons who savored avocados were less likely to eat much saturated fat, cheese and meat products. That of course would also lower their risk of heart disease.

            But let’s face it, avocados are an acquired taste – maybe not as bad as okra or tofu but not as appetizing as most other fruits and vegetables. The good news is that you can get your one-half-of-an-avocado serving in a sandwich or salad, where the sweetness adds a good deal to the overall flavor of the item.

            There are several varieties of avocados so don’t give up on them if your first taste leaves you unimpressed. It’s worth trying different varieties to gain some outstanding health benefits. And there’s even avocado ice cream! But it’s called frozen dessert☹

Lifestyle

            For the last couple of decades there have been scary stories about the link between cell phone usage and brain tumors. It’s probably time to stop worrying.

            In a study that involved nearly 800,000 women in the U.K. there was no apparent link between cell phone usage and any kind of brain tumor. Although this information is reassuring it will probably take a decade or more to really know if cell phones can lead to brain cancers. This is a moving target. When cell phones first came on the scene they were huge. Do you remember “the brick” – phones that were ten or twenty times as large as the ones we use now? New technology has resulted in lower radiation levels from  these phones; many of us use earbuds and no longer hold the device against our skull.

            Considering how many deaths occur because of driving while dialing, talking or texting, and the occasional phone-distracted pedestrian who walks into the path of a bus, it doesn’t make much sense to lose sleep over the risk of acquiring a brain tumor from a cell phone.

Carvings  April 1, 2022

In the news

More on COVID-19 and diabetes – and a heads-up on screening

            In the last post I mentioned that in some persons who experienced abnormally high blood sugar after having been infected by the coronavirus, their sugar metabolism returned to normal. That left the rest with persistent elevations, meaning that they had developed type 2 diabetes. This has been confirmed by physicians at the VA health facility in St. Louis, Missouri.

            Among more than 180,000 persons with prior COVID-19 infection many still had a diabetes profile at the end of one year. Nearly all had type 2 diabetes. That surprised me, since some observers noted that this coronavirus damaged insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, a hallmark of type 1 diabetes. But then, these cases didn’t entirely resemble the pattern of type 2 diabetes either. The good news is that we can expect to learn much more about both types of diabetes, an eventual benefit for mankind.

            I have long encouraged annual diabetes screening for persons at greater risk as early as age ten!: those who are overweight, of black, Hispanic or Pacific Islander ancestry, persons with a family history of type 2 diabetes. Everyone over the age of 40 should be screened every year. You can add another group that should be screened: anyone who has experienced COVID-19, even if the symptoms were mild. Remember that prediabetes or the early stages of type 2 diabetes show no symptoms but the diagnosis can be made in many cases with a simple blood test and in nearly everyone with the next level of testing.

Lifestyle

Low-carb diet can include good carbs

Your grocery cart should be full – of fruits and vegetables. That might seem to be a challenge for persons on a low-carb diet that limits even the beneficial carbs in plant foods, especially in the early phases of the diet. However, the South Beach Diet lists 83 (!) legumes and vegetables that can be eaten in Phase One. The key, of course, is to limit the serving size to no more than ½ cup of legumes and two cups of vegetables with any meal. Two cups may sound like a lot for a weight-reduction diet but it is not a lot of calories because vegetables are comprised mostly of water and fiber.

            A two-cup “serving” is about the size of a medium-sized person’s fist. You can confirm the size of your own fist by putting 2 cups of water in a 4-cup measuring cup. Immerse your fist and see where the water level ends up. Your fist then becomes a practical guide to a 2-cup serving size. If you’re a big guy it might be only 2/3 of your fist; if you are small-framed it might be a little more. Don’t get hung up on small differences!!

            Vegetables – and even fruits — have very few calories per ounce; their fiber and water content give you a feeling of fullness that goes a long way to relieving hunger and especially, cravings. And the more colorful they are the higher content of antioxidants. Plants give us more vitamins than any other food and although they lose some of these in storage and shipping, only whole grains even come close. And junk food? Forgeddaboutit!

Carvings March 15, 2022

In the news

COVID-19 is the gift  that keeps on giving – confusion. Early in the course of the pandemic persons with type 2 diabetes were at much greater risk of dying from the infection but the situation is complicated. They were also more likely to be older, to be overweight or obese and have heart disease, all of which are additional risk factors. Patients with very high blood sugar levels were at similarly very high risk. Then it was discovered that some persons with no history of diabetes were found to have unusually high levels of blood sugar, putting them at risk as well. There was speculation that the virus destroyed insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, spawning a new cohort of type 1 diabetics.

Some good news has emerged from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. About 40 percent of newly diagnosed patients with diabetes reverted back to normal about a year after recovering from their illness. It’s important to note, however, that 56 percent of them remained diabetic. (Two patients could not be classified after nearly one year.) The story isn’t over – we won’t know what the long-term effects are for years. These seemingly recovered persons may have impaired sugar metabolism that will reappear years or decades from now.

An altogether separate but disturbing finding is that the incidence of type 2 diabetes – what was once called adult-onset diabetes – has doubled during the pandemic and the most dramatic increases have occurred in black teenagers, the majority of whom were not infected with the coronavirus. Even worse, there has been an alarming increase in the percentage of hospitalized youths with diabetic ketoacidosis – sometimes referred to as diabetic coma – a five-fold increase in one medical center. What’s going on?

Researchers are scrambling to unravel these developments. The isolation, the lockdown and the interruption of schooling are taking their toll. Less physical activity, more screen time, less sleep and a diet heavy of junk food most likely are contributing to the increase in type 2 diabetes, already an epidemic of its own.

Although what is needed is a massive public health effort to address this and other issues that have arisen since the outbreak of the pandemic, we are faced with enormous distractions: war in Ukraine, inflation, supply shortages, the chaos of an election only a few months away. In the meantime, as individuals we need to maintain our own good health which means a healthy diet and plenty of vigorous exercise.

Why these coronaviruses, i.e., the original virus and all its mutations, will never go away.

             Coronaviruses were found in turkeys in 1951 and since then all kinds of animals have been found to be infected, some 29 species so far. Our family dogs, our farm animals and the ones that we see in zoos are known to carry the virus, guaranteeing that after this pandemic phase has ended the coronavirus will be an endemic disease.

            Will it spread from these animals to humans? Probably, since we know that at least one person has apparently been infected after close contact with a deer – I have no details on that but it’s likely to have been a hunter. Is that a big deal? Probably not, since most mutations are lethal for the virus. My optimism is based on the knowledge that over several decades during which millions of birds have been infected with the “bird flu” virus, it has not emerged as a threat to humans. Cross your fingers!

Carvings March 1, 2022

In the news

The COVID silver lining

            A very large percentage of persons who have had symptomatic COVID-19 infection are still suffering from Long COVID, a condition with many and varied symptoms that include fatigue, headache, fuzzy thinking, joint pains, poor appetite, continued loss of sense of taste and smell, memory loss and a host of others. Scientists are beginning to unravel this problem but long COVID will probably require several approaches to treatment.

            One possibility is that the virus has damaged some organs and their recovery is a long process. This coronavirus targets blood vessels that are critical to the nourishment of cells and to the removal of their waste products.

            Another proposal is that the coronavirus reactivates another virus that lies dormant in the body. The best example of such a hidden virus is the common disease called shingles (nothing to do with roofs but that is a story for another blog) that results when the chickenpox virus emerges from its sanctuary in the nerves alongside the spinal cord to cause a painful, sometimes debilitating skin eruption, especially in older persons. In the case of long COVID one suspect virus is the Epstein-Barr virus, the agent of infectious mononucleosis – the so-called kissing disease because of its prevalence among adolescents. Infectious mononucleosis is almost universal;most of us have been infected but have had few symptoms. E-B virus infection also sometimes causes weeks of extreme fatigue, although without the other symptoms of long COVID.

            Yet another possibility is autoimmunity, wherein the immune system mistakenly causes damage to various organs in the course of attempting to overcome a viral assault. Autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis as well as type 1 diabetes, the last of which has increased markedly since the pandemic began.

            If we can determine what causes long COVID we’re likely to learn how to treat it, and the silver lining is beginning to emerge.  

Lifestyle

Exercise Tips

                Is it pain or just soreness? When you work a muscle hard, especially if it’s the first time, you know how sore it feels the next day and possibly for several days. That is normal and it is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). You can avoid it if you begin an exercise program – or a new type of exercise – with very low weight. I recommend that you go through a routine either with no weight at all or an empty barbell or dumbell in your hands or the lowest setting on a weight machine for at least two weeks to open up existing blood vessels and grow new ones. Walkers and runners should start with low speeds and short distances. That may not completely eliminate DOMS but it sure will help.

            Pain is different. It sometimes comes on suddenly during or after an exercise, and it’s usually asymmetric – involving only one side of the body, e.g., one shoulder.

            Do not try to “work through” DOMS or pain. In the former it’s just not worth the discomfort and in the latter you are likely to make the injury worse.

Carvings January 15, 2022

In the news

So where do we go from here?

            The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is without a doubt the most confusing event that the medical  profession has ever faced – and the most humbling one. Much of the devastation wrought by this virus is due to the behavior of politicians – sometimes overreacting and sometimes failing to act in a timely manner. It’s easy to apply hindsight to malfeasance such as the nursing home debacle of New York state and the closing of California’s beaches but flip-flopping by respected organizations such as the CDC has reached embarrassing new heights.

            The refusal of healthcare workers to be vaccinated is a puzzlement. Now that nearly ten BILLION doses of the vaccine have been administered with the number of deaths caused by the vaccines  in the low thousands, it must be remembered that the observed complications, myocarditis, Guillain-Barre syndrome and blood clotting events are many-fold higher among infected persons than in those who have received the vaccine.

Two recent articles illustrate the confusion. One is titled Common Cold Could Prevent Against COVID-19, Study Says. The other, Common Cold Antibodies May Hinder Defense Against SARS-CoV-2 shows the opposite. My advice: ignore the articles about the common cold.

            It’s disheartening to learn that persons who have received three or even four doses of a vaccine may develop infection, and that some have died. We need to recognize that the overwhelming number of those deaths have occurred among persons with conditions that were very uncommon a century ago: obesity, type 2 diabetes, kidney disease and hypertension.

            We do know that masks are somewhat effective but that inadequate materials, poor fit, wearing them below the nose, and prolonged use severely impair their effectiveness. And in the words of one researcher “a cloth mask is nothing more than a facial ornament”. But if you must be in a crowded area, it does make sense to wear a properly constructed (i.e. N95) mask, to apply it properly and to avoid  touching it (that’s tough!).

            Spend as much time outdoors as possible. Wash your hands several times a day with plain soap and water. Avoid crowds when you can but don’t become a hermit. Eat healthy foods – that means lots of fruit and vegetables, a variety of protein foods (especially wild salmon and smaller fish) and lose some weight. Considering that nearly 80 percent !!!!!!!!! of Americans are overweight and that excess fat is a serious contributor to the dreaded cytokine storm, that recommendation apples to just about everybody.

            And for heaven’s sake – get the vaccine!

Lifestyle

Go Mediterranean!

            I have been promoting olive oil for years and a recent report adds to the evidence that olive oil is an important element in a healthy diet. The study was done among more than 90,000 American health professionals over nearly 20 years. Numerous studies have  shown than those who enjoy the TRUE Mediterranean Diet – not what you get at your favorite pizza place – have a lower risk of heart attack and stroke.

            Even though the amount of olive oil consumed by Americans is much less than that taken in Spain or Italy, for example, the results could not be ignored. As little as a half-teaspoon a day was associated with (but did not necessarily cause) lower incidence of cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke), cancer, neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease and respiratory disease.

            There are four nutrients in olive oil that together contribute to its health benefits. It contains both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, the latter being precursors to omega-3 fats that have a  major role in limiting inflammation, in supporting the immune system and in protection of the heart from rhythm abnormalities.

            It is rich in polyphenols, nutrients that are important in many chemical processes, especially in limiting inflammation. Chronic inflammation is a major driver of heart disease, stroke, cancer, autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoporosis.

            Squalene, a chemical originally derived from sharks’ livers appears to protect us from certain forms of cancer.

            But there’s more to the story. Persons who adhere to a Mediterranean diet – and that was true in the subjects of this review – are  more likely to be of normal weight, to exercise, to eat less red meat, less saturated fat and more fruits and vegetables. Simply adding a teaspoon or two of olive oil to your diet isn’t likely to lengthen your life but making all those other lifestyle changes will.

            And of course, having a little red wine every day can’t hurt.

Carvings January 1, 2022

In the news

Let’s begin the New Year with some uplifting news: the COVID-19 Silver Lining

            Pandemics, like wars, call forth imagination and innovation and this pandemic has advanced areas of science whose fruits might not have emerged for years, perhaps decades.

            The structure of DNA was elucidated by Watson and Crick only a couple of years before I began medical school. My course in genetics included the study of pea plants, whose patterns of inheritance were recognized by a European monk before the American Civil War. In contrast, the genome – the genetic pattern of SARS-CoV-2 – was determined within weeks of the virus’s isolation and newer variants are being decoded within days.

            One major benefit is the ability to identify the presence of the virus within minutes, a process that took days only a couple of decades earlier. Although tests vary in their accuracy and reliability the ability to identify persons who are capable of spreading the virus has doubtless saved lives.

            Advances in vaccine development are mind-boggling. No less than 350 candidate vaccines were in development two years ago. Most of them were found wanting but the fact that we have given more than 8 billion doses of the approved vaccines with dramatic effectiveness – at least in the short term – with fewer side effects than had been anticipated, is remarkable. And those drop-out vaccines? I have no  doubt that some of those research efforts will turn out to be successful with other diseases and after even more research has been carried out on them.

            Until recently I had been disappointed that no drug treatment had been discovered that could stop a viral infection as quickly and completely as antibiotics have done with bacterial diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, the worst killers of the 19th century. But before this new year has ended it’s likely that there will be more than a few effective treatments for this pandemic virus. That, of course, has tremendous importance in the fight against diseases such as rabies and other kinds of encephalitis.

            This virus attacks blood vessels and especially the lungs of its victims. Initial attempts at ventilation were rather clumsy but experience has enabled more effective ventilator therapy.

            All this makes me hopeful that we will be better prepared when the next pandemic arrives, as surely one will within the next few years.

Lifestyle

            If your New Year’s resolution is to lose weight you might want to think about how you approach it. Exercise is not the key to weight loss but it’s important for another reason. The sad truth is that even moderately intense exercise has a limited effect on weight loss. For instance, when I pedal on the stationary bike with the incline setting at maximum, the monitor tells me that I have only burned a little more than 100 calories. ☹ (You can find lots of information on exercise and calories on Google.) Pick an exercise that you feel that you can do most days of the week from now on.

            Exercise does matter if you also restrict calories because by cutting back on intake to about 1200  calories per day, unless you exercise with moderate intensity the weight that you lose will come from glycogen, water, muscle tissue and fat, pretty much in that order. Simply put, significant calorie restriction results in the loss of lean body mass, mostly muscle, before the fat begins to melt away.  

            Also, keep in mind that as you lose weight through calorie restriction AND exercise, you will gain some muscle as you lose fat, so that you might not see much of a drop when you step on the scale. You WILL see that your waist size is smaller, since abdominal subcutaneous fat is the first to go.

            If your goal is to lose 50 pounds in 2022 and you can only lose 15, remember that even such seemingly small decreases in body fat will lower your blood pressure and your blood sugar. And that’s the good news for this New Year’s Day.

Carvings December 15, 2021

In the news

Nag, nag, nag – but someone has to do it!

            Three disturbing news stories emerged in the past couple of weeks and each one referred to articles that I have posted since the onset of COVID-19, whose sad anniversary occurred this month. Perhaps the most concerning news is that the rates of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes have increased dramatically in the past year and the adolescent black population is being hit especially hard. In persons below the age of 19, type 2 diabetes has almost doubled – 95 percent! In one large medical center it tripled in just one year. And  these kids are sicker – five (!) times as many presenting with so-called  “diabetic coma” than in previous years. As noted in previous posts, young persons with type 2 diabetes get complications such as kidney failure and blindness faster than those who develop it in their 50s or 60s, which had been the pattern of the 20th century.

            The International Diabetes Federation has just published a report noting that the rise in type 2 diabetes continues to increase among all ages and is also being seen in pregnant women who develop “gestational diabetes”, which is associated with serious complications for their infants. According to the IDF, one in ten adults in the world now has diabetes.

            And now we learn that the coronavirus can hide in fat cells and that fat stores harbor immune cells whose overactivity can lead to the fatal condition known as cytokine storm.

            There is a growing consensus among health educators that this is a wake-up call, a stimulus for a strong effort to reduce the rate of obesity – now a staggering 42 percent of American adults. As a nation we simply cannot afford the cost of treating persons with the complications of obesity and type 2 diabetes – soon to reach one trillion dollars a year.  

Lifestyle

If you’re an average American you probably don’t like fish, or you have it only a couple of times a month. Big mistake. Fish is one of the best sources of protein on the planet and it comes with a very small amount of saturated fat. Most of the fat that we find in fish is the polyunsaturated omega-3, which in my humble opinion is the single most important nutrient that is lacking in the American diet. (Actually, it’s the opinion of scores of nutritionists.)

            Unless you’re pregnant, about to be, or under the age of 5 you don’t have to worry about mercury. Non-pregnant grownups can tolerate levels of mercury that are considerably higher than that found in most fish, especially the smaller ones like salmon and sardines.

            Half of the salmon in U.S. restaurants is farmed. Fish raised in pens are often fed grain, not what fish eat in the ocean or in lakes and streams.  Eat wild when you can.