Category Archives: Health

Good News Monday: Gettin’ The Boost

Another adventure in the ongoing saga,Tales of Covid. Despite all the perky reassurances that our initial Pfizer shots were still “highly” effective, whatever that means, Dear Husband and I were eager to get a third shot as soon as possible.

Breaking news Friday was that the Oregon Health Authority would follow the CDC’s Thursday booster recommendation for us 65+-ers as well as the immunocompromised and workers in potentially perilous industries.

Actually finding somewhere to do it was a bit more challenging. The first stop was a nearby RiteAid drugstore, where the apologetic youngster at the prescription drop-off told us they were waiting for the OR pharmacy board to also get on board so nothing was likely to happen any time soon.

Next stop: the Internet, to check availabilty through our local healthcare system. Although phone calls and attempting an online appointment proved futile, the walk-in urgent care clinic seemed poised to administer boosters, so off I went first thing Saturday morning while DH stayed behind to watch football and await my report. I expected long lines of eager seniors brandishing canes and face masks, but the clinic looked quite deserted.

I wasn’t optimistic, since the receptionist chirpily showed me a now-out-of-date notification that only mentioned the immunocomprised with an eight-month timeline for eligibility. But, to her credit, when I pointed out the smaller line reading “some people who received the Pfizer vaccine may get a booster six months after their second dose”, she allowed me to sign in. One of the few times that vagueness has been a benefit!

While waiting to be called back, I was happy to see two pairs of 20-somethings arriving for their second shots. The message is finally trickling down that the vaccine is a) effective and b) necessary if we’re ever going to beat this thing.

One quick jab, one sore arm, and several headaches later, I feel poised to rejoin the world with a bit less anxiety. DH, who received his booster Saturday afternoon, had more severe side effects — fatigue, soreness, headache, and feeling “flu-ish”– but is on the mend.

Photo by Bruno Scramgnon on Pexels.com

Another Sad Cautionary Tale

Wishing that those who spread misinformation and/or continue to cause harm to others by refusing to get vaccinated would be held accountable.

Bride-to-Be, 29, Who Was Fearful of Getting Vaccinated Dies of COVID: ‘Misinformation Killed Her’

Samantha Wendell’s funeral will now be held at the church where she had planned to have her wedding. By Julie Mazziotta People Magazine

Samantha Wendell

Samantha Wendell | CREDIT: BLAKE-LAMB FUNERAL HOME

A 29-year-old Kentucky woman who was fearful of getting vaccinated died of COVID-19 after missing her wedding while hospitalized with the virus.

Samantha Wendell had spent nearly the last two years planning her wedding to fiancé Austin Eskew, obsessing over every aspect of the big day, NBC News reported. The surgical technician from Grand Rivers had put off getting vaccinated, worried that her plans to have three or four kids with Eskew wouldn’t be possible after she heard false information from her co-workers that the shots led to infertility.

She “just kind of panicked,” Eskew, 29, said.

The Centers for Disease Control, OB-GYN groups and health experts have emphasized that the COVID-19 vaccines do not cause infertility and are entirely safe for hopeful or expecting moms. “It is just not true that getting the COVID-19 vaccine is associated with infertility in either males or females,” Dr. Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, previously told PEOPLE.

RELATED: Unvaccinated Pregnant Nurse and Her Unborn Baby Die of COVID: ‘It’s Hard to Accept’

Wendell ended up changing her mind on getting vaccinated as the delta variant spread through the U.S., and decided that she and Eskew should get inoculated before their honeymoon in Mexico. She made appointments for them for the end of July, but after her bachelorette party a week prior, she started feeling sick and tested positive for COVID-19.

“She could not stop coughing,” Eskew, who got it too, said.

Neither of the couple had preexisting health conditions, and Eskew’s symptoms were mild. But Wendell continued to deteriorate and was hospitalized in August. She spent six weeks in the hospital, and five days before their planned wedding date of Aug. 21, Wendell was put on a ventilator. Just before, she asked doctors if she could get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“It wasn’t going to do any good at that point, obviously,” her mother, Jeaneen Wendell, said. “It just weighs heavy on my heart that this could have easily been avoided.”

Good News Monday: Your Aging Brain is a Better Brain

Better brainpower with age: Some mental abilities actually improve after turning 50!

by Study Finds

WASHINGTON — Think it’s all downhill for your brain after you hit 50? Think again. Like a fine wine, some mental skills such as concentration and paying attention to detail, believe it or not, actually improve with age.

The exciting discovery could lead to better therapies for Alzheimer’s disease, say scientists.

“These results are amazing, and have important consequences for how we should view aging,” says senior investigator Michael Ullman, PhD, a professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Georgetown University and director of its Brain and Language Lab., in a statement.

The study of hundreds of older people found two key brain functions get better from our 50s onwards. They include attending to new information and focusing on what’s important in a given situation. They underlie memory, decision making and self control, and are even vital in navigation, maths, language and reading.

“People have widely assumed attention and executive functions decline with age, despite intriguing hints from some smaller-scale studies that raised questions about these assumptions, but the results from our large study indicate that critical elements of these abilities actually improve during aging, likely because we simply practice these skills throughout our life,” says Ullman. “This is all the more important because of the rapidly aging population, both in the U.S. and around the world.”

Ullman believes deliberately improving these abilities will help protect against brain decline.

Dementia cases worldwide are expected to triple to around 150 million by 2050. With no cure in sight, there is an increasing focus on lifestyle changes that reduce the risk.

For their study, the international team looked at three separate components of attention and executive function in 702 participants ages 58 to 98, when cognition often changes the most. The brain networks are involved in alerting, orienting and executive inhibition. Each has separate characteristics and relies on different regions, neurochemicals and genes, suggesting unique aging patterns. Alerting is characterized by a state of enhanced vigilance and preparedness in order to respond to incoming information. Orienting involves shifting brain resources to a particular location. The executive network shuts out distracting or conflicting information.

“We use all three processes constantly. For example, when you are driving a car, alerting is your increased preparedness when you approach an intersection. Orienting occurs when you shift your attention to an unexpected movement, such as a pedestrian,” explains first author Dr Joao Verissimo, of the University of Lisbon, “And executive function allows you to inhibit distractions such as birds or billboards so you can stay focused on driving.”

Remarkably, only alerting abilities were found to decline with age. In contrast, both orienting and executive inhibition actually got better. The latter two skills allow people to selectively attend to objects, and improve with lifelong practice, explain the researchers. The gains can be large enough to outweigh any underlying neural reductions.

In contrast, alerting may drop off because this basic state of vigilance and preparedness does not get better with implementation.

“Because of the relatively large number of participants, and because we ruled out numerous alternative explanations, the findings should be reliable and so may apply quite broadly,” says Dr Verissimo, “Moreover, because orienting and inhibitory skills underlie numerous behaviors, the results have wide ranging implications.”

“The findings not only change our view of how aging affects the mind, but may also lead to clinical improvements, including for patients with aging disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.” adds Ullman.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

Has Delta Peaked?

This is a fascinating analysis of COVID’s two-month cycle, with the Delta variant following a similar pattern to the first outbreaks. (Apologies for formatting wonkiness — cutting and pasting NYT articles doesn’t always work well.)


A testing site in Auburndale, Fla., last month.Octavio Jones for The New York Times
Almost like clockwork

By David Leonhardt and Ashley Wu for The New York Times
Has the Delta-fueled Covid-19 surge in the U.S. finally peaked?
The number of new daily U.S. cases has risen less over the past week than at any point since June, as you can see in this chart:
The New York Times
There is obviously no guarantee that the trend will continue. But there is one big reason to think that it may and that caseloads may even soon decline.
Since the pandemic began, Covid has often followed a regular — if mysterious — cycle. In one country after another, the number of new cases has often surged for roughly two months before starting to fall. The Delta variant, despite its intense contagiousness, has followed this pattern.
After Delta took hold last winter in India, caseloads there rose sharply for slightly more than two months before plummeting at a nearly identical rate. In Britain, caseloads rose for almost exactly two months before peaking in July. In Indonesia, Thailand, France, Spain and several other countries, the Delta surge also lasted somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 months.
* Between February and July 2021, depending on the country.The New York Times
And in the U.S. states where Delta first caused caseloads to rise, the cycle already appears to be on its downside. Case numbers in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri peaked in early or mid-August and have since been falling:
The New York Times
Two possible stories
We have asked experts about these two-month cycles, and they acknowledged that they could not explain it. “We still are really in the cave ages in terms of understanding how viruses emerge, how they spread, how they start and stop, why they do what they do,” Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, said.
But two broad categories of explanation seem plausible, the experts say.
One involves the virus itself. Rather than spreading until it has reached every last person, perhaps it spreads in waves that happen to follow a similar timeline. How so? Some people may be especially susceptible to a variant like Delta, and once many of them have been exposed to it, the virus starts to recede — until a new variant causes the cycle to begin again (or until a population approaches herd immunity).
The second plausible explanation involves human behavior. People don’t circulate randomly through the world. They live in social clusters, Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist, points out. Perhaps the virus needs about two months to circulate through a typically sized cluster, infecting the most susceptible — and a new wave starts when people break out of their clusters, such as during a holiday. Alternately, people may follow cycles of taking more and then fewer Covid precautions, depending on their level of concern.
Whatever the reasons, the two-month cycle predated Delta. It has repeated itself several times in the U.S., including both last year and early this year, with the Alpha variant, which was centered in the upper Midwest:
What now?
The New York Times
In a few countries, vaccination rates have apparently risen high enough to break Covid’s usual two-month cycle: The virus evidently cannot find enough new people to infect. In both Malta and Singapore, this summer’s surge lasted only about two weeks before receding.
We want to emphasize that cases are not guaranteed to decline in coming weeks. There have been plenty of exceptions to the two-month cycle around the world. In Brazil, caseloads have followed no evident pattern. In Britain, cases did decline about two months after the Delta peak — but only for a couple of weeks. Since early August, cases there have been rising again, with the end of behavior restrictions likely playing a role. (If you haven’t yet read this Times dispatch about Britain’s willingness to accept rising caseloads, we recommend it.)
In the U.S., the start of the school year could similarly spark outbreaks this month. The country will need to wait a few more weeks to know. In the meantime, one strategy continues to be more effective than any other in beating back the pandemic: “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine,” as Osterholm says. Or as Nuzzo puts it, “Our top goal has to be first shots in arms.”
The vaccine is so powerful because it keeps deaths and hospitalizations rare even during surges in caseloads. In Britain, the recent death count has been less than one-tenth what it was in January.

Good News Monday: Bonus Round

I don’t know about you, but I could use a little extra good news these days. This story comes from Georgia, so it may be a little biased. (Georgia produces one-third of the pecan harvest in the US: nearly 88 million pounds of pecans from over six thousand pecan trees.) Still food for thought.

Image by Lisa Redfern from Pixabay

Pecans can dramatically reduce bad cholesterol and fat levels

by Study Finds

ATHENS, Ga. — Adding more pecans to your diet can dramatically improve cholesterol and fat levels, leading to better heart health, a new study finds.

Researchers from the University of Georgia find people at risk for heart disease who ate pecans during an eight-week trial displayed “significant” improvements in total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides — which are fats the body stores in cells.

The team saw an average drop of five percent in total cholesterol and between six and nine percent in LDL among participants who ate the nuts as part of their daily diet.

“This dietary intervention, when put in the context of different intervention studies, was extremely successful,” says study co-author Professor Jamie Cooper in a university release. “We had some people who actually went from having high cholesterol at the start of the study to no longer being in that category after the intervention.”

The research team finds these nuts beat out 51 exercise plans designed to lower cholesterol, which reported an average drop of one percent in total cholesterol and five percent in LDL cholesterol.

“The addition of pecans to the diet not only produced a greater and more consistent reduction in total cholesterol and LDL compared to many other lifestyle interventions, but may also be a more sustainable approach for long-term health,” Dr. Cooper adds. “Some research shows that even a 1% reduction in LDL is associated with a small reduction of coronary artery disease risk, so these reductions are definitely clinically meaningful.”

Adding pecans (any way you can) improves health

For the study, researchers assigned 52 adults between the ages of 30 and 75 who were at higher risk for cardiovascular disease to one of three groups. One group consumed 68 grams (about 470 calories) of pecans a day as part of their regular diet. The second group did not add the nuts on top of their normal diet, but replaced other things they ate with the same number of calories in pecans. The third control group did not eat any pecans at all.

At the eight-week mark, participants ate a high-fat meal which allowed researchers to detect changes in the fats and sugars in their blood. Results revealed improvements in the levels of fat in blood among the two pecan groups, while post-meal triglycerides dropped in the group that added pecans. Blood sugar levels were also lower in the group that replaced parts of their usual diet with pecans.

“Whether people added them or substituted other foods in the diet for them, we still saw improvements and pretty similar responses in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in particular,” Dr. Cooper explains.

The team says their findings back up previous research which revealed bioactive properties of pecans for possible mechanisms driving the improvements. They added that pecans are high in healthy fatty acids and fiber, both of which contribute to lower cholesterol.

The findings appear in The Journal of Nutrition.

South West News Service writer William Janes contributed to this report.

Good News Monday: Kick the “Can”

Encouraging news from the frontiers of cancer research.

Cancer’s ‘Achilles’ heel’ discovered by scientists

by Study Finds

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Scientists may be one step closer to defeating cancer after finding what researchers at the University of British Columbia call the disease’s “Achilles’ heel.”

Their study has uncovered a protein that fuels tumors when oxygen levels are low. It enables the cancerous growths to adapt and survive and become more aggressive.

The enzyme, called CAIX (Carbonic Anhydrase IX), helps diseased cells spread to other organs. It could hold the key to new treatments for the deadliest forms of the disease, including breast, pancreatic, lungs, bowel, and prostate cancers.

Cancer cells depend on the CAIX enzyme to survive, which ultimately makes it their ‘Achilles heel.’ By inhibiting its activity, we can effectively stop the cells from growing,” says study senior author Professor Shoukat Dedhar in a university release.

The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, will help researchers develop drugs that destroy solid tumors. These are the most common types that arise in the body. They rely on blood supply to deliver oxygen and nutrients which help tumors grow.

As the tumors advance, the blood vessels are unable to provide enough oxygen to every part. Over time, the low-oxygen environment leads to a buildup of acid inside the cells. They overcome the stress by unleashing proteins, or enzymes, that neutralize the acidic conditions.

Stopping cancer before it spreads

This process is behind the spread, or metastasis, of cancer cells to other organs — which is what can kill patients. Finding a way to prevent cancer from metastasizing is the “Holy Grail” of cancer research. One of the enzymes which appears to do this is CAIX.

The Canadian team previously identified a unique compound known as SLC-0111 as a powerful inhibitor. It is currently being tested in clinical trials. Experiments in mice with breast, pancreatic, and brain cancers revealed its effectiveness.

The compound suppressed tumor growth and spread, although there were side-effects, with other cellular properties diminished. Now, the researchers have demonstrated other weaknesses in CAIX using a technique called genome-wide synthetic lethal screening. The powerful tool systematically deletes one gene at a time to determine if a cancer cell can be killed by eliminating the enzyme.

Surprisingly, results pointed to an unexpected role of proteins and processes that control a form of cell death called ferroptosis. This process happens when iron builds up and weakens a tumor’s metabolism and cell membranes.

“We now know that the CAIX enzyme blocks cancer cells from dying as a result of ferroptosis,” Dr. Dedhar adds. “Combining inhibitors of CAIX, including SLC-0111, with compounds known to bring about ferroptosis results in catastrophic cell death and debilitates tumor growth.”

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

A large international effort is currently underway to identify drugs that induce ferroptosis. The study is a major step forward in this quest.

Good News Monday: The Upside of Bad Cholesterol

Not that this is license to eat vast quantities of Brie, but it’s reassuring to know that if you take medicine for cholesterol management one surprising benefit is that it also seems to reduce COVID severity.

In a new study, researchers found that patients taking statin medications had a 41% lower risk of in-hospital death from COVID-19. Confirming their earlier hypothesis, statins have anti-inflammatory effects and binding capabilities, which could explain how they stop progression of the virus.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Good News Monday: Advocating for Avocados

They’re not just for guacamole anymore! A recent study suggests they may also fight cancer.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Avocado discovery may lead to new leukemia treatment

by John Anderer on studyfinds.com

GUELPH, Ontario — Avocados are a dietary staple of millions, but a new study finds these delicious fruits may have some extra medicinal benefits to offer as well. Researchers from the University of Guelph have discovered a new avocado compound they say may open the door for better leukemia treatments.

More specifically, this compound appears to target and attack an enzyme that can be critical to cancer cell growth.

Researchers focused their attention on acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which doctors call the most dangerous variety of blood cancer. Most people diagnosed with AML are over 65 years-old and only about 10 percent survive for five years post-diagnosis.

Importantly, leukemia cells house large amounts of an enzyme called VLCAD that helps with metabolic processes.

“The cell relies on that pathway to survive,” says Dr. Paul Spagnuolo, Department of Food Science, in a university release. “This is the first time VLCAD has been identified as a target in any cancer.”

Is there a cancer treatment hiding in a superfood?

Spagnuolo and his team tested various nutraceutical compounds in an attempt to find any substance capable of fighting VLCAD.

“Lo and behold, the best one was derived from avocado,” Spagnuolo notes.

“VLCAD can be a good marker to identify patients suitable for this type of therapy. It can also be a marker to measure the activity of the drug,” he continues. “That sets the stage for eventual use of this molecule in human clinical trials. There’s been a drive to find less toxic drugs that can be used.”

Right now, about half of all older AML patients enter palliative care. Others opt for chemotherapy, but that often does more harm than good.

“We completed a human study with this as an oral supplement and have been able to show that appreciable amounts are fairly well tolerated,” Spagnuolo concludes.

The study appears in the journal Blood.

Good News Monday: Housework = Brain Work

According to the study below. So if you sit on your butt while your partner does the housework, here’s good reason to think twice!

old person cleaning chores
(Credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels)

Doing household chores can actually give you a bigger brain

StudyFinds.com

TORONTO, Ontario — Have you been putting off your spring cleaning or just saving some tedious chores for a rainy day? A new study may provide the motivation you need, especially for seniors. Researchers in Toronto find older adults who perform household chores have larger brains — a key measure of good cognitive health.

“Scientists already know that exercise has a positive impact on the brain, but our study is the first to show that the same may be true for household chores,” says Noah Koblinsky, lead author of the study, Exercise Physiologist and Project Coordinator at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI) in a media release.

“Understanding how different forms of physical activity contribute to brain health is crucial for developing strategies to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia in older adults.”

Researchers at Baycrest Hospital examined 66 mentally healthy older adults during their study. Each participant took part in three assessments, a health evaluation, structural brain imaging, and a cognitive test. Results reveal older people who spend more time doing chores have greater brain volume, regardless of how much they exercise. These chores ranged from cleaning, to cooking, to going outside and working in the yard.

How do chores keep the brain healthy?

Although most people probably aren’t fond of doing chores, the team finds they’re likely helping the brain in several ways. First, study authors believe chores have a similar effect as low-intensity aerobic exercise — which benefits the heart and blood vessels.

Chores also push the mind to plan and organize, which promotes the formation of new neural connections over time. Lastly, researchers say chores help older adults become less sedentary. Previous studies have revealed how sitting and being less active can lead to poor health and cognitive decline.

“Besides helping to guide physical activity recommendations for older adults, these findings may also motivate them to be more active, since household chores are a natural and often necessary aspect of many people’s daily lives, and therefore appear more attainable,” says senior author Dr. Nicole Anderson, Senior Scientist at the RRI.

The study appears in the journal BMC Geriatrics.

Good News Monday: A New Way to Heal a Broken Heart

Another fascinating story from StudyFinds.com

broken heart woman
(Credit: RODNAE Productions from Pexels)

Researchers discover drug that can mend the physical damage of a broken heart

by Chris Melore

MELBOURNE, Australia — From someone experiencing chest pain after a breakup, to a married couple dying within minutes of each other, there are many real examples of what doctors call broken heart syndrome. While the emotional scars are a separate issue, there may finally be a way to prevent lasting physical injury. Researchers in Australia say, for the first time, scientists have uncovered a drug that can literally mend a broken heart.

A team from Monash University find Suberanilohydroxamic acid (SAHA) can significantly improve cardiac health due to this condition. In their study, researchers used SAHA to target genes affected by a “broken heart” — or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

Although many may think broken heart syndrome is just a saying, doctors know it to be a very real ailment. Patients suffer a weakening of the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber. Stressful emotional triggers, usually following a traumatic event like the death of a loved one, often cause this problem. Researchers add broken heart syndrome can mimic a heart attack, causing chest pain, shortness of breath, and an irregular heartbeat.

How does SAHA heal the heart?

Suberanilohydroxamic acid is currently serving as a cancer treatment, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approving its use. The drug works on the heart by protecting certain genes and the acetylation/deacetylation (Ac/Dc) index in particular. This is a vitally important process which regulates gene expression in humans.

“We show for the first time a drug that shows preventative and therapeutic benefit is important to a healthy heart. The drug not only slows cardiac injury, but also reverses, the damage caused to the stressed heart,” says study leader Professor Sam El-Osta from Monash Central Clinical School in a university release.

Mostly women suffer from this mysterious condition

The study finds, in western nations, broken heart syndrome almost exclusively affects women, especially after menopause. In fact, researchers say up to eight percent of women believed to be having a heart attack may actually be dealing with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

While the symptoms are similar, the exact cause of the physical pain of a broken heart is still a mystery. Doctors believe a surge of stress hormones flood the heart during a traumatic event. This may cause changes in the heart muscles and blood vessels which prevent the left ventricle from working properly. The result is the heavy, achy feeling people get in the chest that can be mistaken for a heart attack.

The good news is most people recover from broken heart syndrome within two months. The bad news, unfortunately, is that some patients may suffer from heart failure due to their extreme trauma. Although death from a broken heart is rare, researchers say 20 percent of patients experience some degree of heart failure. Until now, there has been no standard treatment to alleviate this condition.

“This pre-clinical study describes a new standard in preventative and therapeutic potential using a cardioprotective drug that targets genes in the heart,” Professor El-Osta concludes.

“The team is committed to the research of women’s health recognizing the uneven sex prevalence of almost 9:1 (female to male). Based on these promising results we are focused on the continued development of compounds like SAHA to improve cardiac benefit and healthier life.”

The study appears in the journal Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy.