Carvings                 January 1, 2021

In the news

Does “Warp Speed” give you the jitters?

            Depending on the source of the report about 30-40 percent of Americans say that they will not get the COVID-19 vaccine. Many of them are concerned that the vaccines – of which there are dozens in the pipeline – were designed hurriedly, use methods that have never been tested on humans and side effects are unknown. How realistic are these fears?

            The many candidate vaccines use a variety of designs and some of them are unique. The ones recently released by Moderna and Pfizer use mRNA technology. This messenger RiboNucleic Acid molecule is necessary in the formation of proteins on which life depends.

            These mRNA vaccines are hardly new. Work began on them nearly 30 years ago during which time the technology has been refined, testing has been done on thousands of animals and against many viral diseases. Prior to the recognition of the current pandemic there were very few studies in humans but in more than 100 subjects there were no serious adverse events. More than 100,000 persons were included in the trials of current vaccines and as of this date more than 5 million persons have received one of the new vaccines. The most serious side effects have occurred in persons with known allergies for whom appropriate treatment was at the ready. That resulted in an advisory that persons with known allergies should not receive the vaccine.

            In past vaccine development, testing phases were done sequentially. These phases have now been done in parallel, shortening the process. “Warp Speed” meant that some manufacturers revved up their production and distribution programs even before the vaccine materials were available. That term, which has become politically pejorative, does not apply to the science behind these vaccines.

            Few vaccines are completely free of side effects if that term includes a sore arm. Such soreness actually indicates that the body is processing the vaccine. In fact, someone who experiences a lot of soreness, fever and a day or two of feeling lousy is probably someone who would have been really knocked out by the natural infection.

            By the time frontline healthcare workers, military personnel and a few privileged politicians have been vaccinated the rest of us will be able to decide whether these vaccines, of which we will have a choice of several, are safe.

            This virus has shown itself to be full of surprises and the rollout of the vaccination program will probably reveal a few more. At least for now the newly-discovered and more highly transmissible variant appears not to require a change in vaccine technology or strategy. Let’s hope that it stays that way!

Lifestyle

Exercising to lose weight? Don’t count on it.

            I would guess that the number of folks who have made a New Year’s resolution today to lose weight is setting some kind of unofficial record. (Have you seen those Internet photos of post-COVID Batman or Mona Lisa?) The title of this section isn’t as negative as it seems. Exercise is a critical element of a weight-loss program but not for the reason that most people think.

            The most effective way to lose weight is not to eat less but to eat fewer calories. In order to stifle diet-killing cravings that means eating food that fills you up, not fills you out. Replace calorie-dense foods made from refined flour and sugar with calorie-sparse vegetables and fruits. (I know – fruit contains sugar but an apple or a banana contain roughly 75 calories, about as many as you will find in 1 ½ Oreo cookies or one-third of a Krispy Kreme donut. You can probably polish off four or five Oreos and a couple of donuts but you’ll feel really stuffed after three apples or three bananas. And nobody stops at 1 ½ Oreos or a third of a donut!)

            That strategy can shave off 500 or 600 calories a day without leaving you feeling hungry but much of the weight that you lose will include lean body mass, mostly muscle. Regular exercise will keep that from happening so that you will retain energy, muscle mass and bone mass. Without exercising regularly a low-calorie diet will leave you feeling sluggish and it will eventually lead to osteoporosis.

            A warning: as you lose fat and gain muscle it will seem like you’re not losing weight, a frustrating experience. But you will also find that your waist size is getting smaller because fat takes up more space than muscle.

            And isn’t that a nice trade-off?

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