Carvings January 1, 2023

In the news

The COVID variant stew: the latest ingredient.

            When this pandemic was recognized three years ago it didn’t take long for the first mutations to make themselves known. To the lay public this came as a surprise but to infectious diseases specialists it did not. Coronaviruses, like influenza viruses but even more so, undergo frequent mutations. Most of these cause the virus to self-destruct but they are extremely numerous and some have characteristics that make them more contagious or more lethal. When these two features occur simultaneously the results can be devastating. For the moment, at least, COVID-19 has not seen such a frightening combination.

            The new kid on the block is the Omicron subvariant known as XBB. Its incidence has nearly doubled since mid-December and it now accounts for more than half the cases of COVID in the northeastern United States, about 20 percent for the country as a whole. The recent massive storm frustrated many people whose travel plans were aborted but it may have blunted or at least delayed the spike in cases that has followed holiday travel in the past.

            It appears that XBB is no more dangerous than its parent, BA.2 and we still don’t know if the latest vaccine booster will protect us from it. (Saint Anthony has stated that it will provide “some protection but not the optimal protection.”) Nonetheless, if you have not yet gotten the fourth dose of the vaccine – and more than 85 percent of Americans have not – you should seriously consider it. In spite of the fact that the coronavirus vaccine does not always prevent infection, its track record of preventing death by a factor of about sixteen (!) compared with no vaccine, along with the fact that it has very few side effects, makes this a no-brainer.

Note: The COVID saga is a fascinating one that is the subject of an excellent book by Dr. David Quammen: Breathless. The scientific race to defeat a deadly virus. The audio version is very well done. He is also the author of Spillover, which describes (and predicts) how animal diseases make their way into our lives and why pandemics like COVID-19 are inevitable unless we develop entirely new strategies to intercept them.

Lifestyle

            For a better night’s sleep – from Why we sleep, by Matthew Walker – with a few personal edits.

  1. Have a regular bedtime both at night and in the morning. This will stabilize your sleep pattern and provide consistently better sleep.
  2. Exercise is a great sleep inducer but don’t exercise within two hours of bedtime. It will have the opposite effect.
  3. Avoid caffeine after about noon. Some persons are caffeine sensitive so that even decaf (a misnomer) coffee or an ounce of chocolate will interfere with sleep.
  4. Avoid that alcohol nightcap. It interferes with the all-important REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep that nature intended to refresh the brain.
  5. A large meal (solid or liquid) before bedtime will interfere with sleep.
  6. Numerous medicines, both OTC and prescription, can interfere with sleep. Of the former, cold medications are especially problematic. Blood pressure and heart medications might be better taken earlier in the day. Discuss these with your physician.
  7. Daytime naps are healthy, especially for seniors, but don’t nap late in the day.
  8. Unwind before bedtime with reading (not the scary stuff) or music.
  9. An evening warm bath helps by causing after-bath cooling, which helps to induce sleep.
  10. The ideal bedroom is cool, dark and free of gadgets such as a TV or cell phone. And don’t check your e-mail just before getting into bed!
  11. Do you really need that telephone extension on the nightstand? We removed ours after months of getting 7 a.m. telemarketing calls. What took us so long?
  12. Get as much daytime light exposure as is practical. Daylight helps to stabilize your circadian rhythm and that includes getting sunlight when you wake up. So open those blinds before you go to pee.
  13. If you don’t fall asleep in about 20 or 30 minutes, get up and do something relaxing. But keep the lights low and don’t indulge in a nighttime snack. Walk around, listen to soothing music.

Carvings December 15, 2022

In the news

When scientists wear blinders.

            Two recent articles reveal why scientific information is rendered less valuable by a narrow view of the subject by investigators. Some researchers simply are unable to see factors beyond their field of study that would affect, perhaps negate, their conclusions.

            In Obesity tied to worse brain health in children, the authors report that a study of nearly 12,000 children revealed that obesity is linked to “pervasive loss of white matter integrity and neurite density, cortical gray matter thinning, and decreased connectivity within and between networks that have been associated with impulse control and reward-based decision making.” (Note: This is an article in Medscape based on an abstract presented at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, therefore there was no original paper that I could access for more details.)

            Obesity is a form of dysnutrition, that is, the body receives excess calories but too few nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Obese persons, especially adolescents, consume almost no plant foods (except for french fries). In actual surveys, the average teenager takes in only 0.9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day – less than 10 percent of the recommended number. They eat nearly zero omega-3 fats that are essential for normal brain and eye development. It’s not the presence of fat that hinders brain development but the absence of brain-building nutrients.

            I think that those scientists are simply looking in the wrong direction.

            On the same day that I saw that article another appeared: The surprising failure of vitamin D in deficient kids. In that study, 4400 Mongolian children who received vitamin D for three years didn’t become taller or gain weight faster than 4400 given a placebo. Note: 95 percent of these kids had vitamin D deficiency; more than 30 percent were severely deficient. Isn’t it possible that pretty much everything else in  their diet was also inadequate for normal growth? The  physician who wrote the column for Medscape offered some possible reasons: “Perhaps the dose wasn’t given correctly, or three  years isn’t long enough to see a real difference (C’mon, man !!!), or the growth metrics were wrong, or vitamin D needs to be given alongside something else to really work and so on”.

            That last part might have hit the nail on the head – many somethings! All the studies that compare a group given a supplement with a group given a placebo suffer from the same defect: adding a single vitamin or other supplement to one’s diet and expecting significant results makes no sense. Vitamins, as well as other nutrients, never act alone. A normal diet for humans consists of several thousand nutrients, most of which are found in plant foods. Expecting to see a difference when adding more of only one out of thousands is not what I would expect from nutrition experts.

            BTW – if  you’re wondering how nearly 100 percent of Mongolian kids could be vitamin-D deficient, consider that Ulan Bator is at about the same latitude as Winnipeg, Canada. If you draw a line from Los Angeles to Atlanta, residents above that line get almost no vitamin D from sun exposure for about six months of the year – and Ulan Bator is waaaay farther north than Atlanta. And do you think that those kids are getting vitamin D-fortified milk like our kids?

Lifestyle

Most seniors (sorry – that means about 55) don’t sleep through the night, mostly for bathroom visits, sometimes because of medical issues. In a drowsy state, falls are more likely, so there are some safety tips that are recommended in the book Why we sleep by Matthew Walker – an excellent read for people of all ages because sleep disorders of one type or another affect more than half the population.  

Some tips to avoid falls:

Don’t get out of bed quickly. As we get older it takes a few seconds of sitting on the side of the bed to allow blood vessels to adjust so that we don’t get light-headed. This is known as postural hypotension. (Don’t let it bother you. It’s very common in adolescents too, whose bodies are going through a lot of adjustments.)

Have a light and a phone on the nightstand.

Consider motion-sensitive night lights. We have two from Amazon (of course) for only about $10 for both. They plug in, fit the décor just fine, intensity is adjustable.

Get rid of loose carpeting.

Check with your physician if you are taking a new medication. Some of them are associated with a risk of falls, especially antidepressants and sleep aids.

A new (to me) kind of scam

            I received a notice of a possibly unauthorized payment allegedly from PayPal. There was an 888 number to call to delete this payment from my account.This is part of the scam. A professional sounding man with an Indian accent started to walk me though the process of deleting the payment but I smelled a rat and ended the call. Indeed, when I went to my PayPal account there was a list of ways in which this scam is perpetrated and the unauthorized payment appeared on my account. I was able to refuse payment. Sure enough, a Google search gave all the details of how it works. ☹

Carvings December 1, 2022

In the news

To mask or not to  mask.

It has been three years since an unusual virus emerged from Wuhan, China to cause the most serious pandemic in a century. The turmoil that it has caused is not just medical but has spawned economic ruin for many businesses, disruption of children’s education from kindergarten to college and public distrust and disgust for politicians and medical authorities. One of the most contentious issues is the effectiveness of masking. Has near-universal wearing of face masks made a difference?

Like many medical issues, “It depends.” It depends on the type of mask, how long it is worn, the circumstances in which it is worn, and how it is worn. The last issue is the most maddening to those of us in the world of infectious diseases.

Persons who wear a mask that covers the mouth but not the nose, and who might be shedding the virus from their upper airway, not only contaminate the space around them but are depositing virus particles on the mask itself with every downward nasal exhalation. When they touch the mask they contaminate their hands and everything that they touch. It should be noted that contaminated surfaces such as doorknobs, light switches, computer keyboards and money are seldom sources of infection, but hands are another matter. Hands are usually warm and slightly moist, conditions that prolong the survivability of the virus.

Making cloth masks became a cottage industry in the early months of the pandemic. A cloth mask, especially one that consists of only one layer, is pretty – but it’s pretty useless. Infected persons who wear such a facial ornament can actually increase spread of the virus, thinking that they are safe to be around when they are not. One can also become infected while wearing a cloth mask, since those little buggers can easily pass through such an ineffective barrier. To quote one researcher: “If you can smell smoke through a mask you are also inhaling viruses into your respiratory tract.”

The N95 mask is the gold standard, but only if your standards are very low. It was not designed for medical purposes; the so-called “medical N95” mask gives a false sense of security. It does work, however, to lower the risk of transmission provided that it is fitted properly, that the fit is verified by another person, that it is not worn for more than a few hours– nobody knows how much is a “few” – and the wearer does not touch the mask – ever! The WHO recommends changing the masks every time they are touched!

In a study of several types of masks by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health it was found that a medical mask – the blue-on-the-outside-and-white-on-the-inside one that is worn by most people, 48 percent of cough aerosols and 58 percent of exhaled aerosols got through the  mask. This was improved significantly (but not reassuring to me) by wearing a second cloth mask. Fifteen percent of cough aerosols and 9 percent of exhaled aerosols still got through.

So is masking worthwhile? It is as long as it’s the right type of mask, is fitted properly, is not touched, and is not worn for more than about six hours. Just don’t expect it to be completely protective. After all, Saint Anthony (Fauci) wears two at a time, has received four vaccines and tested positive twice in about one month.

Carvings November 15, 2022

In the news

One more reason

                The influenza vaccines that have been developed over the last half-century are far from perfect, but to quote an old saw: “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Some vaccines have low efficiency, perhaps about 25 percent, but some are much better – and this year’s vaccine might be one of those. As I have noted numerous times over the past several decades, the flu vaccine might not keep you from getting that disease but the evidence has been consistent that it will keep you out of the hospital, and from dying. Remember that influenza weakens the immune system, which is why nearly all influenza-related deaths are not due to the virus itself but to secondary bacterial invaders, many of which are now resistant to almost all antibiotics.

            A recent report from Canada offers even more evidence that getting the flu vaccine is a prudent move. A  nine-year study involving more than four million adults showed that the vaccine reduced the incidence of all forms of stroke by about 25 percent. Previous research indicated that there is a similar reduction in heart attacks in vaccinees. Conversely, there is a significantly greater risk of heart attack and stroke following natural influenza virus infection.

            Flu season is well under way. Don’t spoil your holiday season by putting off such a minor procedure that is free for almost everyone and that has a very low incidence of side effects. And for heaven’s sake, stop reading all that negative crap on the Internet!

Lifestyle

            Pretty much everyone knows that cancer chemotherapy has some really nasty side effects: nausea, vomiting, feeling lousy, among others. A couple of recent studies encourage maintaining an exercise schedule during chemotherapy, at least as much of a workout that can be tolerated. An ideal regimen includes 30 minutes of cardio exercises such as the stationary bike or treadmill three days a week and 20 to 30 minutes of weight training two times a week. For persons who have not been exercising much, a physical therapist can provide the best guidance to maximize benefits and avoid injury.

            Objective measurements of participants in the Netherlands revealed improvement in muscle strength and oxygen uptake. These patients not only felt better but they lived longer by as much as 25 percent compared to controls (persons who did no exercise during the study period).

Carvings November 1, 2022

In the news

I love raw oysters but…

            The first human who ate a raw oyster must have been really hungry! Although they are a modern delicacy those who enjoy them probably have had to watch someone else slurp and swallow that slimy, viscous mass, although a good hot sauce really does help. I am one of those who love raw oysters but unfortunately, my background in infectious diseases has put the brakes on that culinary delight.

            To be honest, acquiring a serious infection from raw oysters is pretty uncommon but when it does occur it can be a serious, life-threatening illness. This problem made the news in the aftermath of Ian, the recent hurricane in Florida. An organism called Vibrio vulnificus is common in brackish water and in sewage, especially in summer months, so it’s no surprise that a number of Vibrio infections occurred recently in Florida. Since the hurricane’s exit nearly 30 persons have been diagnosed with the infection and four have died. That is not an inconsequential mortality rate. Some of these persons were infected because they were wading in contaminated floodwaters and had open wounds that provided an easy entry for the Vibrio organism.

            Vibrio vulnificus is the most common cause of death from eating shellfish. Most persons who become infected by eating raw shellfish, especially oysters, suffer little more than gastroenteritis, a nasty inflammation of the stomach that usually causes vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. For persons with a compromised immune system and  those with liver disease the results can be dire. Such persons are at high risk from a bloodstream infection that has a mortality rate of about fifty percent.

            Persons in good health don’t have to worry about eating raw oysters but there is an enlarging population of persons who should probably have their oysters fried or prepared a la Rockefeller. Those who are undergoing cancer treatment or who are infected with HIV are most at risk, as are persons with type 2 diabetes, which now affects more than twelve percent of Americans of all ages and a whopping thirty percent of those over the age of 60.

            If you don’t fit into one of those categories, go ahead and enjoy them. I might even  join you.

Lifestyle

            Is your BMI (Body Mass Index) worth measuring? Only if you’re a subject in a study of the demographics of obesity or related matters. The BMI was developed in the middle of the 19th century and it was never intended to apply to individuals, but to populations. Unfortunately, even physicians and nutritionists have fallen under its spell.

            The BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters. Those units of measurement, instead of pounds and inches, are a clue to the fact that it was developed by a scientist in Europe – Belgium, to be precise. If you are muscular your BMI will be unrealistically high. If you are not highly muscled, the higher the BMI, the greater the risk of heart disease – but keep in mind that the BMI is not the only predictor of health risk.

            The best measure of fitness vs. fatness is your waist circumference. Anything over 35 inches for women and 40 for men is an indicator of heart disease risk. Those are NOT your targets! Normal for men is about 35 inches and for women 31 inches. That’s because fat around the middle is the best predictor of cardiovascular risk – and that includes both heart attack and stroke.

            Even body fat measurement is not the perfect answer because all fat is not the same. The fat around the hips and thighs – which really makes women unhappy – is not associated with heart disease risk

            I’ll bet that in spite of my disclaimer you probably want to know your BMI, so just Google BMI calculator.

Carvings October 15, 2022

In the news

Influenza – don’t become complacent

            The flu season of 2021-2022 was the mildest since reporting began in 1997 due to several factors emanating from the rise in COVID-19. Among other things, we traveled less, kept our distance, worked and shopped from home and avoided crowds. Wearing masks probably helped but that issue is a can of worms in which each worm is different from every other, i.e., some masks are effective but even the best begin to fail after a few hours, and cloth masks, in the opinion of one scientist, are no more than facial ornamentation. In the last influenza season there was a dramatic reduction in deaths due to influenza – estimated at less than 10,000 when 40,000-80,000 is the norm – as well as deaths from other common respiratory illnesses.

            This should not make us complacent. It’s likely that influenza will come back with a vengeance this season and next. Unlike the coronavirus epidemic, seasonal influenza is devastating for children.

            Influenza vaccines are far from perfect but those who have received the vaccine, if otherwise in good health, almost never die from the disease. There is no doubt that the influenza vaccine significantly reduces the risk of hospitalization or death but there is another advantage that most people are not aware of. If you are unvaccinated and develop influenza, even if you survive you are at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke in the following six months. Conversely, vaccine recipients are statistically less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke in subsequent months.

            Unlike the “dirty”influenza vaccines of half a century ago, modern vaccines are almost free of side effects and the injection itself is almost painless. In short, there is no reasonable argument for not getting the vaccine.

On the COVID-19 front

            The fat lady is still in the wings and she isn’t likely to sing for quite a while. Although cases and deaths continue to decline in the U.S. they are beginning to rise elsewhere in the world. The latest version of the Omicron strain has spawned many variants – estimated at more then 200 so far this year – and it’s quite possible that an invasive one is lurking among them.

            As I have noted repeatedly, this virus is remarkably unpredictable. We are fortunate in that the latest vaccine is protective against the latest variants and as more persons throughout the world are vaccinated, and thus are likely to excrete the virus for a shorter duration and in smaller concentrations, the emergence of vaccine-resistant strains will become less likely. But still….

            Little things mean a lot – so keep up your immune system and overall resistance by taking some simple steps:

            Keep your weight down. Every pound of excess fat raises your risk because fat stores generate cytokines that can overreact if you are infected, leading to cytokine storm – a killer. Fat tissue also is a “vitamin D sink”, making that valuable nutrient less available to the body. And more – being overweight raises the risk of acquiring type 2 diabetes, a condition that weakens the immune system.

            Get enough protein in your diet. That’s what you need to make antibodies and immune cells.

            Exercise more. For reasons that are not entirely clear, persons who exercise regularly – that means at least four days a week for at least one hour, and with enough intensity to make you sweat – have stronger immune systems than those who do not.

            Get more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, from fish or from supplements. These nutrients reduce inflammation and boost the immune response.

Carvings September 15, 2022

In the news

Pregnant? It’s OK to eat  fish now.

            For more than 20 years pregnant women have been advised to limit their fish intake because of the possibility of mercury contamination. In the fetus and young infant, relatively low levels of mercury that would have no deleterious effect on the adult brain can injure the brain that is rapidly growing. The CDC specifically has mentioned the risk of larger fish such as tuna, shark and tilefish because mercury accumulates up the food chain.

            A new report suggests that such advice is unnecessary because previous data were flawed. In one study the high mercury levels attributed to fish were actually due to the ingestion of pilot whale meat. I can’t explain that kind of confusion among scientists but equally puzzling was the report concerning children in the Seychelles, whose fish intake was very high, whose mothers had abnormally high levels of mercury within their blood, but whose intellectual function was entirely normal. In fact, those children were re-evaluated at ages 5, 17 and 19 and continued to show no adverse effects from exposure to fish that might have high levels of mercury. That didn’t seem to matter to the CDC.

            Fish is a highly beneficial food with its abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, iodine and protein, all of which contribute to healthy brain development. Some scientists postulate that any adverse effects of mercury in fish consumed by a pregnant woman are offset by its anti-inflammatory nutrients, namely omega-3 fatty acids.

            The bottom line: everyone, including women who are pregnant, should enjoy two or three servings of fish every week. Wild-caught fish is better than farmed, but that is a topic for another blog. (And no, Virginia, fish sticks have no nutritional value.)

Lifestyle

            Nag, nag, nag. But here’s another reason for you to do strength-training exercises with moderate intensity at least 3 or 4 times a week: you will add several HEALTHY years to your lifespan. Japanese researchers found that persons who engaged in muscle-strengthening exercises had a lower risk of dying during the study period, a 17% lower risk of heart disease, were 12% less likely to develop cancer and were 17% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Being stronger means not having to use a cane or walker and being much more resistant to falls. And something that really matters to most of us – exercise delays the onset of dementia, possibly by several years.

            Some good news – it doesn’t take a gym membership to get these benefits. A couple of dumbbells or elastic bands will do.

Carvings September 1, 2022

In the News

The new COVID vaccine: will it work?

                The FDA has granted Emergency Use Authorization for the latest vaccine that will include the B.4 and the B.5 variants. Will it work? In all honesty, no one knows but my opinion is that it will make a significant difference. There are two reasons for my optimism.

            First, the booster that was in use until now (it has been suspended as of this week) has been very effective in reducing the mortality rate although, as is quite obvious, it does not lower the risk of becoming infected. I expect that we will see the same phenomenon with the latest vaccine.

            Second, the portion of the immune response, cellular immunity, which lasts longer than humoral immunity (i.e., antibodies measurable in the blood) may last a very long time, perhaps years. Every dose of the vaccine engages cellular immunity.

            Yesterday I received my flu shot. Note that the influenza season is officially under way, and that because so few people suffered from that disease in the past two years, and the fact that we are pretty much back to normal regarding socialization, it is likely that this flu season will  make up for lost time. Like the COVID vaccine, the flu vaccine is not very good at preventing disease but it is VERY good at preventing death.

            BTW – are you aware that persons who receive the flu vaccine are less likely to have a stroke or heart attack in the six months following vaccination, whereas those who get influenza are MORE likely to have a stroke or heart attack in the weeks following infection?

            The bottom line: trot over to your local pharmacy and get on the notification list for the new vaccine and while you’re there, get the flu shot.

Another lie: “Over 75% of COVID-19 deaths are in persons who received the vaccine.” Some unscrupulous media (please excuse the redundancy) have distorted a statement by the director of the CDC, Dr, Rochelle Walensky. What she actually said was that more than 75% of the deaths that occurred among fully vaccinated people were in those who had four or more comorbidities (such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease/hypertension or kidney disease). What was NOT included in the stories is that having even one comorbidity increases one’s risk of dying. Considering that 42% of Americans are obese, that more than one-half have abnormally high blood pressure, that 12% are diabetic and that of persons over the age of 65, more than half have at least one marker of heart disease, her comment understates the problem. N.B.: every one of these diseases is lifestyle-related and has nothing to do with aging.

Other news – the polio scare

            There was a report of a recent case of polio in the U.S. but some journalists and even some medical workers have not identified the problem accurately. It helps to understand the background.

            The vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk in the 1950s is very effective and as result the number of cases of polio quickly plummeted from tens of thousands per year to nearly zero. Dr. Albert Sabin came up with an oral form that was especially valuable in developing countries that could not readily afford needles and syringes. It quickly became the standard around the world. Unfortunately the Sabin vaccine is a live virus, unlike the Salk vaccine which consists of a killed virus. Among hundreds of millions of doses of the Sabin vaccine there are occasional mutants that regain the ability to cause paralysis. In countries such as the U.S. where wild polio virus has been eliminated and no longer causes any illnesses, there were more cases of vaccine-associated polio-like illness (note the italics) than that caused by the wild virus until in 1990 U.S. health authorities switched from the Sabin vaccine back to the inactivated Salk version.

            Most countries still use the oral, live vaccine, and in poor countries with substandard sewage treatment facilities the vaccine virus can spread just like its wild cousin. Although, like wild polio, only about one infected person in about 200 develops paralysis or dies, that still amounts to a couple of thousand cases of polio-like illness every year. Furthermore, vaccination rates in many of those countries are quite low so that the mutant vaccine virus can spread in the community.

            There has not been a case of paralysis due to the wild poliovirus in the U.S. since 1979. The young man in New York who became a victim had never been vaccinated and his disease was not caused by the wild virus. That is a distinction that has been lost in many media accounts. Health authorities in New York did not mince words; the mutant virus probably came from outside the United States. The enormous number of persons coming into this country illegally is likely to result in more cases of paralysis and perhaps even an outbreak. That’s not only because of unvaccinated immigrants, but because immunization rates dropped significantly during the current outbreak and because so many parents are refusing to have their children immunized.

            A warning: the wild polio virus has not been completely eradicated. It is still circulating in two countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The reason? Zealots in those countries claim that the vaccine will harm their children and have actually killed dozens of United Nations immunization team members. With increasing numbers of persons coming here from those two countries the wild virus may yet again begin to devastate our children.

Carvings August 15, 2022

In the news

Two strategies to avoid Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia.

            An aging population is plagued with dementia, one form of which is Alzheimer’s Disease but there’s more to it than just getting older. Among hunter-gatherers in Africa over the age of 70 the incidence of dementia is nearly zero. Recent studies may reveal why mental deterioration is nearly 20 times greater among “civilized” folks than among persons with a primitive lifestyle. And the answer is not because they don’t live as long as we do.

            The evidence is mounting quickly that ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are associated with vascular dementia, the damage caused by narrowing and distortion of blood vessels that supply the brain, reducing the availability of nutrients and hampering the removal of waste products.

            Are there UPFs in your pantry? These are foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt and low in fiber, antioxidants and protein as well as vitamins and essential minerals. Here’s the list. Read it and weep!:

            Soft drinks, chips, fries, ice cream, flavored cereals, cookies, milk chocolate, fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, packaged soups, sausage, hot dogs, candy. There are more of course but I didn’t want to rub it in!

            Persons with the highest intake of ultraprocessed foods had more than twice the incidence of vascular dementia than those with the least. These UPFs also predispose to obesity and diabetes, both of which are linked to dementia.

            The good news is that by substituting healthy foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables and whole-grains for junk foods there is a measurable decrease in the risk of dementia

And there’s more good news. In two separate studies those who received the flu vaccine were 40 percent and 30 percent, respectively, less likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease.

In another study, persons between the ages of 65 and 75 who received the pneumonia vaccine had a 30% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease.

There are several possible reasons for these vaccine-associated benefits. By boosting the immune system to counter specific agents such as the influenza virus or the pneumonia bacterium, the vaccines also produce a generalized improvement in the functioning of the immune system, which helps to reduce the accumulation of abnormal proteins that interfere with brain cell connections. Conversely, influenza infection degrades the immune system, making it less able to “clean up” those harmful proteins.

Another reason is that infection produces inflammation, which drives both Alzheimer’s Disease and vascular dementia.

Then again, persons who receive these vaccines might ward off dementia simply because they take better care of themselves by eating healthier foods, keeping their weight down, exercising regularly and having a glass or two of red wine every day. 😉

Carvings            August 1, 2022

In the news

The fat lady is still in the wings

Famous recent quotes:

            “We are done with COVID but COVID isn’t done with us.” Michael Osterholm, M.D., perhaps the most knowledgeable, perceptive and honest infectious diseases specialist I know.

            “I’m not coming out until I’m good and ready!” The Fat Lady

            Our pandemic fatigue is obvious. Few people are wearing masks, sports and entertainment venues have been repopulated and airline travel is booming. Even though most Americans have either been infected or have been vaccinated – or both – 400-500 people a day are dying, mostly of the latest variant, BA5.

            Even if the mortality trend is stable for the rest of the year about 200,000 people will have died of COVID-19 in 2022. That’s about five times as many people that die of influenza and its complications in an average year. So where do we go from here?

            Here’s what we DO know:

The BA5 variant is more contagious but less likely to kill its victims than the first wave of the coronavirus, especially if they have been vaccinated.  

The current vaccines don’t prevent infection but they do lower the risk of serious or fatal disease.

We have no way of knowing how prevalent the virus is at the present time. That’s because so many people are testing at home and no one reports that to the local public health authorities.

Several billion doses of various COVID vaccines have been administered to date; verified deaths ( mostly due to blood clotting disorders) have been fewer than 10. Be aware that the Internet is filled with claims that the vaccine has killed more people than the wild virus. If that were true the MSM would be in an uproar.

            Here are my suggestions to keep you from becoming one of those 400 or so folks who will die today from COVID-19:

Get the vaccine – a third or fourth dose. Those who depend on “natural immunity” are 20-40 times as likely to die or to develop myocarditis than persons who are vaccinated. It’s possible that we may have a more up to date and therefore more effective vaccine by October, perhaps earlier. The University of Minnesota site listed below is worth checking every week or so.

Travel if you must. Be part of a crowd if you must. Meet with your family if you must. If any of these activities have a low priority, stay home.

If wearing a mask makes you feel safer, wear one. But know that the only ones that really work are N95, and only if they are fitted properly, are worn for no more than about six hours, and you don’t touch them!

A cloth mask is worthless. A surgical mask is only a little better.

If you test positive, even if you have no symptoms, isolate yourself for a minimum of five days, an optimum of nine.

You can get an excellent overview of what is happening as this pandemic makes its twists and turns at Dr. Osterholm’s University of Minnesota website, CIDRAP: http://www.cidrap.umn.edu.

Lifestyle

            Here’s a thought that should help to motivate you to stick to your fat loss plan: obesity has been linked to at least 14 different types of cancer. Although tobacco is now the leading preventable cause of cancer, obesity is going to overtake it before long. There are several mechanisms, some of which may be synergistic.

            Fat deposits produce estrogen, which is a factor in the development of cancer of the breast and the lining of the uterus. Fatty tissue also produces inflammatory chemicals that play a role in several diseases, including cancer. In addition, vitamin D, which is fat-soluble, is stored in fat deposits making it unavailable to the body. Besides being important for bone growth, vitamin D is a factor in immunity, a process that is necessary to prevent the establishment and growth of cancer cells.

            Losing fat is a real challenge for many people but there a couple of really easy steps to take that will help you to reduce calories, the only way that works:

            Eliminate sugared soft drinks.

            Instead of potatoes or pasta on your dinner plate, have a vegetable like squash, zucchini, sweet potato, beets, etc. Yes, I know – they all contain carbohydrates but unlike potatoes or pasta they have fiber and antioxidants, and the rise in blood sugar that they, like all carbohydrate containing foods cause, is slow and low – just like  nature intended.

            Make any fried food an occasional treat – like about once every month.

            Avoid restaurant desserts. Think of the money you’ll save!