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.

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