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!

Carvings July 15, 2022

Do COVID vaccines work or don’t they?

            COVID-19 has become the proverbial skunk at a garden party. It has embarrassed medical experts, thrown politicians into turmoil and in general has confused everyone. It just isn’t behaving like most viruses. But there are some upsides to this messy situation.

            First, although in recent months there have been countless breakthrough infections even in those, like Dr. Fauci, who have been quadruple-vaxxed, the mortality rate among vaccinated persons is low. Dying from this virus is many times more likely among persons who have never been vaccinated than among vaccinees. Myocarditis, inflammation of the heart, is also more likely in natural infection than in persons who have received the vaccine and the latter have a very low risk of dying. Like the influenza vaccine, it may not keep you from getting infected but it will keep you from becoming sick enough to be hospitalized. That matters, because hospitals harbor some very dangerous, multiply antibiotic-resistant bacteria that kill more than 75,000 Americans each year. That is a fearsome number.

            Why are COVID vaccines inadequate? There are two reasons the I can think of, although I’m sure that there are more. One problem is that this virus mutates rapidly and some of those new mutants are able to evade immune mechanisms that were activated by the original strains of the virus. Another reason is the design of the vaccines, in that those in most common use are directed at only one part of the virus, the spike protein, and not the internal components of the virus particle. Without sounding like Pollyanna, I expect that by this time next year there will be a vaccine that will be directed toward elements of the virus that are less likely to mutate.

            Do COVID-19 vaccines kill people? There are some egregiously false stories that claim that they do. In studies from the United States and Taiwan that explored this issue, mortality following vaccination was actually lower than background rates in both populations. The pandemic virus has killed more than one million Americans. Opponents of the vaccine claim that the vaccine has killed more than the disease itself. Don’t you think that the nation’s media would have been all over this? In the words of a well-known politician: “C’mon man!”

Lifestyle

You’ve probably heard that by using a smaller dinner plate it will appear that there is more food there and you will eat less. The reverse is also true. If a plate is bigger and you fill it yourself you’ll put more on it – and you’ll probably clean your plate!

            Some ingenious researchers with a sense of humor went a little further. They offered Philadelphia moviegoers fresh popcorn in either a medium-sized bowl or a large one. (There is no such thing as a “small” popcorn bowl in a movie theater.) The large-bowl folks ate 45.3 percent more popcorn than those who had a medium-sized bowl. But the sadistic researchers went a step further. They did the same thing with stale popcorn – and the people with large bowls ate 33.6 percent more than the medium-bowl subjects.

            Even persons who should know better can fall into the trap. When a group of 85 nutrition experts were invited to an ice cream social, they were given either a small bowl or a small scoop or a large bowl or a large scoop, and were told to serve themselves. If they had a large bowl they took (and ate) 31 percent more ice cream. Those who used a large scoop gave themselves 14.5 percent more, whether they had a small or large bowl.  

            Take a look at your mealtime habits and ask yourself if you can make a few changes to take advantage of this nutritional illusion!

Carvings July 2, 2022

Lifestyle

            In the course of discussing immunizations at a couple of senior communities recently I learned that a sizeable percentage of persons had not yet received the shingles vaccine – Shingrix. Big mistake!

            It occurs because those of us who had chickenpox as kids still have the virus hidden away in the nerves that lead out from the spinal cord. After a few years or even several decades when our immune system is challenged by a coronavirus, as an example, some other illness, or certain medications, the virus emerges and creeps along the nerves, usually around the waist. (That’s why it’s called shingles, after the Latin word cingula, for belt.)

            Shingles is not a benign disease. When the rash involves the face it can lead to permanent loss of vision. Some persons experience post herpetic neuralgia, constant pain that can last the rest of your life. And there are still other complications.

            Shingrix was released in 2017 and it already has a much better track record than Zostrix, the old vaccine. After six years since trials began it is still 97 percent effective. Side effects are common but brief: headache, fever, muscle aches, a sore arm.

            Are you at risk? Absolutely! About 20 percent of persons over the age of 60 are going to get shingles. That number jumps to 50 percent at age 85 with a high risk of complications such as  blindness!

            And for those persons who experience some nasty side effects from the two-dose vaccine, you need to know that if you have had a reaction to this mild vaccine it probably means that you would have a severe illness from the real thing.

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!