Category Archives: Health

Junk Food Junkies

Need help following your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier food? Move to the UK, where apparently they will do this for you! (You might take this with a grain of salt, except it’s also on the watch list.)

Thanks to TheEnlightenedMind622 blog for another eye-opener.

The U.K. Uses COVID-19 to Justify More Nanny State Junk Food Crackdowns

Bans on ads, displays, refills, and buy-one-get-one-free offers

by SCOTT SHACKFORD 

britishcandy_1161x653

(Composure / Dreamstime.com)

The United Kingdom has been attacking its citizens’ food choices for years and now the government is using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse for a new crackdown.

On Monday, the U.K.’s Department of Health and Social Care announced a pack of new regulations that will be implemented in April 2022 to restrict junk food promotions.

In 2018, London implemented a ban of junk food advertising that was written so broadly that it forbid promotion of all sorts of normal foods (like butter, olive oil, and canned fruit) not because those items were unhealthy but because they had sugar, salt, or fat levels beyond government-approved thresholds.

The U.K. now plans a nationwide ban on television advertisements for what it calls “junk food” before 9 p.m. And that’s not the only new regulation. Also on the list:

  • Retailers will not be permitted to offer “buy one, get one free” promotions (or similar offers) for foods the government deems unhealthy.
  • Retails will not be permitted to display these unhealthy foods for promotioal purposes near checkout counters, near the front of the store, or on the ends of aisles.
  • Retailers will not be permitted to promote unhealthy foods on the entry or landing pages of their websites.
  • Free refills of sugary drinks will be banned at restaurants.

“We know families want to be presented with healthier choices,” said Public Health Minister Jo Churchill. “This is why we are restricting promotions and introducing a range of measures to make sure the healthy choice is the easy choice.” They’re going to make it the “easy choice” by deliberately bringing about economic harm to any competing choices!

The government claims that the British people have an obesity problem—more than 63 percent of adults and a third of elementary school children are overweight. Because the United Kingdom has socialized medicine through the National Health Service (NHS), this means the healthcare costs associated with obesity, which are estimated to be 6 billion pounds annually ($8 billion), are everybody’s problem.

The U.K. government can’t seem to acknowledge or accept the idea that people are voluntarily and willingly making bad choices. This Nanny State mentality means that the government must lay the blame on those who sell or advertise unhealthy food.

“Promotions often appear to help shoppers save money,” the agency explained in its press release. “However, data shows that these deals actually increase purchases of promoted products by almost 20%. They encourage people to buy more than they need or intended to buy in the first place.”

But people always need food. If you buy more food than you “need or intended to buy in the first place” you can usually save it for the future. That is what sales, promotions, and other low-pricing deals accomplish. They allow people to stock up and store food. That’s particularly important when governments everywhere are trying to discourage people from gathering in public places due to the pandemic.

Speaking of COVID-19, even though the U.K.’s food nannyism has been building for years, British officials can’t help but try to use the coronavirus as a justification for their actions: “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the impact that obesity can have on people’s health and health outcomes.”

Snowdon notes that a ban on buy-one-get-one-free promotions could cost the average family more than 600 pounds (more than $800) a year by the government’s own estimate. That means that British officials are trying to deliberately force up the cost of unhealthy foods because they think this will force people to choose healthier alternatives.

But that’s just not what happens. Instead, shoppers will turn to black markets. Driving up the price of sodas in Philadelphia with a special tax, for example, did not affect how much soda that people drank. Lots of people there just avoided the taxes by buying their soda elsewhere.

What will U.K. health authorities do when their latest tactics fail to make people eat better? A cynic might assume they’re already planning out even more new rules that are doomed to fail.

Good News Monday: Hope In Sight


Experimental brain implants in monkeys offer hope for restoring vision

Scientists have said they are one step closer to restoring the sight of blind people using brain implants.Scientists have said they are one step closer to restoring the sight of blind people using brain implants.

[Adapted from an article by Amy Woodyatt, CNN]

Monkey business? After a series of successful experiments, scientists are a step closer to restoring the sight of blind people using brain implants.

Researchers at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience developed implants containing 1,024 electrodes — conductors that carry electrical currents into and out of the brain — and implanted them in the visual cortex, the part of the brain that processes visual information, in two macaque monkeys. By sending electrical signals to the monkeys’ brains, researchers created “phosphenes” — dots of light that could be “seen” or perceived by the brain, and then used to create the illusion of shapes and objects.

Lead researcher Pieter Roelfsema told CNN that the team wanted to show it was possible to induce “vision of objects” through direct electrical stimulation of the brain, explaining that the visual cortex has “a sort of visual map of space.””You can work with it like a matrix board along the highway. If you stimulate or light up multiple boards, you can see patterns,” he said.The monkeys performed a series of tasks, and, using their artificial vision, were able to recognize shapes and “percepts” including lines, moving dots and letters, according to findings recently published in the journal Science.

Wider implications for restoring sight

The team believes that such technology could one day be used to simulate sight in blind people who have been able to see at some point in their lives.

Good News Monday: Beginning of the End?

The first coronavirus vaccine was given in the U.S., opening a new, hopeful chapter in the battle against a pandemic that has ravaged the country.
Monday, December 14, 2020 9:35 AM EST
Shortly after 9 a.m. on Monday, vaccinations took place in Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, N.Y. The pandemic has scarred New York State profoundly, leaving more than 35,000 people dead and severely weakening the economy.
The vaccinations started after the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Friday night, and as the U.S. coronavirus death toll approaches 300,000, with a steady surge in new cases daily.
Better late than never?
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Send In the Cavalry!

Exciting news these days, as several COVID vaccines show promising results, and it looks as though antibodies in those who’ve survived the disease can last months or even years.

While we wait, it’s also good to know that both mouthwash and baby shampoo have been shown to provide additional protection. (No, we aren’t supposed to gargle with baby shampoo or put mouthwash in our hair. It’s quite straightforward.)

What I really want to see, though, are some additional, mandatory vaccines:

  • Protection against false claims of fake news, fake election results, and generally fake anything you happen to disagree with
  • A vaccine against racism, antisemitism and Holocaust denial
  • 100% protection against ignoring the reality of climate change
  • 99.9% protection against stupidity — 100% being simply unrealistic
  • A vaccine against meanspiritedness, unneighborly behavior and selfishness

And, finally, a shot that will permanently erase 2020.

Photo by Artem Podrez on Pexels.com

Good News Monday: It’s Not You, It’s Your Brain

Unhealthy, processed food, snacks
(© beats_ – stock.adobe.com)

[Reprinted from studyfinds.org]

Our brains may be wired to seek out junk food, scientists say

by Chris Melore

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WAGENINGEN, Netherlands — If you’ve ever snuck into your kitchen for a midnight snack, you probably know exactly where all the sweet and tasty treats are hidden with your eyes closed. Researchers in the Netherlands say this isn’t just about good memory, the human brain may actually be wired to hunt down high-calorie food. Their study finds humans are significantly better at remembering where junk foods are kept than they are with healthier options.

A team from Wageningen University & Research believes the human brain has evolved to focus on memorizing where high-calorie foods are located. Study authors theorize this allowed our hunter-gatherer ancestors to survive in tough environments with few food options.

The study tested 512 participants who were put through a sort of food-memory maze. Researchers had the group follow a fixed route through a room where eight foods or food-scented pads were strategically placed.

As each participant walked through the maze, they either tasted the food or smelled the pads. These tasty options ranged from apples and cucumbers to potato chips and chocolate brownies. The group was also asked to rate how much they like each food they encountered. Researchers then gave the volunteers a surprise quiz on where these snacks were located.

Junk food more appealing to our mind, too

The results reveal the group was 27 percent more accurate at picking the right locations of high-calorie foods than low-calorie options. Participants were even better with food scents, spotting high-calorie pads with 28 percent more accuracy than low-calorie ones.

Researchers report that the results weren’t affected by whether the high-calorie snack was sweet or savory. It also didn’t seem to matter if the participants liked the foods or not. Overall, people were 2.5 times (or 243 percent) better at memorizing where actual food was compared to food-scented pads.

Is there a downside to this skill?

While this ability likely served humans well in the distant past, the study suggests it could lead to problems today. Researchers hint that the memory bias towards high-calorie foods can create dieting issues for many people.

They add that brains which can resist the urge to hunt down sweeter snacks will likely avoid these dieting problems. Researchers are now looking at how the high-calorie memory bias affects present day eating habits.

The study appears in Scientific Reports.

Save Your Skin

Today, I’m sharing a heads-up from The Enlightened Mind’s excellent blog.

[Reprinted from The Guardian]

Screen burn: why the glare from your computer could be ageing your skin

Researchers have suggested a week in front of a screen is the same as 25 minutes in the sun. So should you be slapping on the sunblock every morning before sitting down to work?

‘Blue light’ may cause premature ageing, although it is unclear what dose may be required.

‘Blue light’ may cause premature ageing, although it is unclear what dose may be required. Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

Name: Screen burn.

Age: Me? I’m 17.

No, you never are, you liar! Seventy-one, more like. Look at your skin, all old and leathery like a turtle’s. Seriously, I’m 17.

Then you’ve been spending way too much time out in the midday sun without any factor 50 on. Nope. Spent the whole summer indoors looking into a phone or a laptop, like any normal well-behaved teenager in lockdown. It’s screen burn.

Screen burn! Seriously, is that a thing? Well, that’s what researchers at the consumer-goods multinational Unilever are saying: that a week in front of a digital screen can have the same effect on the skin as 25 minutes in the sun.

A week against 25 minutes … that’s quite a difference. It all adds up as we spend more and more time staring into screens. By “a week” they mean five working days in front of a digital device for more than six hours. It’s the artificial “blue light” these devices emit, apparently – it’s the highest-energy light on the visible spectrum. It does occur naturally, but people often get more from a screen.

And what does this “blue light” do? Penetrates deep into the skin, through the epidermis and dermis, to the subcutis layer, destroying collagen. It can cause premature ageing, although it’s still unclear what dose is required to do this or what the effects of long-term exposure are. There are also effects on melatonin levels and sleeping patterns.

Sounds as if more research is needed. Are you sure this is good science? Well, Samantha Tucker-Samaras said: “Long-term exposure to blue light has the potential to have significant negative impact on people’s wellbeing.”

And she is? Global vice-president, science and technology, beauty and personal care at Unilever. That’s science and technology.

What does ST-S suggest we do about it? “People should be looking for skincare products loaded with antioxidants, as well as niacinamide and zinc oxide.”

Such as those made by Unilever brands? Others are available.

Hang on, is this why Donald Trump has an orange face? Because he spends the majority of his waking hours staring at – shouting at – his phone? That could be it, yes.

But you don’t really look like that, do you, from spending a few hours at a laptop? No, I did it on a face-ageing app. Just hope I can figure out how to undo it.

Do say: “Time for a screen break. And to engage with three-dimensional living people for a while.”

Don’t say: “And I get a tan as well! My own little portable sunbed! Yay!”

Good News Monday: Writers, Think Pink!

Many of us remain isolated from friends and family during this pandemic. So imagine how difficult it would be to find yourself newly diagnosed with breast cancer — and with no support system to help you through the crisis.

An organization called Girls Love Mail has a novel way of boosting women’s spirits. Since 2011, it’s enlisted thousands of empathetic people to send words of encouragement to strangers; about 167,000 letters have been mailed to date.

Want to share a little hand-written optimism? Visit girlslovemail.com in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month in October.

Photo by Abstrakt Xxcellence Studios on Pexels.com

Good News Monday: Statins, stat!

For us older folks with cholesterol concerns — mine’s hereditary; thanks, Dad — today’s NY Times article had some heartening info.

For Older People, Reassuring News in the Statin Debate

There is accumulating evidence that the benefits of statins far outweigh possible risks, and nearly all statins on the market are now available as inexpensive generics.

Credit…Gracia Lam
Jane E. Brody

By Jane E. Brody

  • Sept. 21, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ET

Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, already one of the most popular medications worldwide, may become even more widely used as evidence grows of their safety and value to the elderly and their potential benefits beyond the heart and blood vessels.

Among the latest are reports of the ability of several leading statins to reduce deaths from common cancers and blunt the decline of memory with age. Perhaps such reports will persuade a reluctant 65-year-old friend who has diabetes, and others like him, that taking the statin his doctor strongly advised is a smart choice.

In addition to accumulating evidence that the benefits of statins far outweigh possible risks for the vast majority of people for whom they are now recommended, nearly all statins on the market are now available as inexpensive generics.

Full disclosure: I have a strong family history of heart disease and have been taking a statin — atorvastatin, originally marketed as Lipitor — for many years after dietary changes failed to control a steadily rising blood level of artery-damaging LDL-cholesterol. My prescription is now fully covered by my Medicare Part D insurance with no co-pay.

But cost of a medication is not the only consideration for a drug that can be lifesaving for many people. The primary indication for taking a statin is to reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke by lowering serum LDL-cholesterol and, in some cases, also triglycerides, both of which can damage coronary arteries when levels rise above normal.

Statins offer further cardiovascular protection by stabilizing the fatty deposits in arteries called plaque that can break loose, block a major artery and cause a heart attack or stroke.

Current guidelines typically recommend statin therapy for:

  • People with a history of heart disease, stroke or peripheral artery disease or risk factors that give them a 10 percent or greater chance of a heart attack within 10 years;
  • People over 40 with diabetes and an LDL-cholesterol level above 70 milligrams per deciliter;
  • People over 21 with an LDL-cholesterol level of 190 or higher (despite dietary changes to minimize saturated fats and achieve a normal body weight).

Currently, more than 60 percent of older people in the United States who, like me, have high cholesterol take a statin to help prevent a heart attack or stroke.

Still, there’s been a long-simmering debate as to whether statins are advisable for people over 75, even though the risk of suffering life-threatening cardiovascular disease rises precipitously with age. Concerns have been raised about side effects associated with statins, potential adverse effects of the drugs on other ailments common in the elderly and possible harmful interactions with the many other medications they often take.

Writing in the Harvard Health Blog last October, Dr. Dara K. Lee Lewis noted, “The paradox that we face is that as our patients age, they are at increased risk for heart attacks and strokes, and yet they also become more sensitive to medication side effects, so it is a tricky balance.”

Statins can sometimes cause blood sugar abnormalities, resulting in a diagnosis of pre-diabetes or diabetes, and possible toxic effects on the liver that necessitate periodic blood tests for liver enzymes. A very small percentage of people prescribed a statin develop debilitating muscle pain. An elderly friend developed statin-induced nightmares. There have also been reports suggesting statin-associated memory problems and cognitive decline, already a common concern as people age.

But likely the biggest deterrent was the existence of meager evidence for the role statins might play for older people at risk of cardiovascular disease. As is true in most drug trials on new medications, relatively few people over 75 were included in early studies that assessed the benefits and risks of statins.

The latest reports, however, are highly reassuring. One followed more than 120,000 French men and women ages 75 to 79 who had been taking statins for up to four years. Among the 10 percent who stopped taking the drug, the risk of being admitted to a hospital for a cardiovascular event was 25 to 30 percent greater than for those who continued taking a statin.

Another study in Israel, published last year in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, involved nearly 20,000 older adults followed for 10 years. Among those who stayed on statin therapy, the chance of dying from any cause was 34 percent lower than among those who failed to adhere to a prescribed statin. The benefits were not reduced for those older than 75 and applied to women and men alike.

This year a study published in JAMA by a team headed by Dr. Ariela R. Orkaby of the VA Boston Healthcare System found that among 326,981 United States veterans whose average age was 81, the initiation of statin use was associated with 25 percent fewer deaths over all and 20 percent fewer cardiovascular deaths during a follow-up of nearly seven years.

However, none of these studies represent “gold standard” research. The results of two such studies, the Staree trial and the Preventable trial, both randomized controlled clinical trials of statin therapy to prevent cardiovascular events in the elderly, have not yet been published. Both will also assess effects on cognition.

Meanwhile, a report last year from Australia published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found no difference over a six-year period in the rate of decline in memory or cognitive status between statin users and those who had never taken the drugs. In fact, among those who started a statin during the study, the rate of memory decline was blunted. Another observational study by a Swedish team published in Nature found beneficial effects on reaction time and fluid intelligence among statin takers over 65.

Finally, there are several reports that a major class of statins called lipophilic (including atorvastatin, simvastatin, lovastatin and fluvastatin) may have anticancer effects. One study of nearly 2,000 survivors of early-stage breast cancer found a decreased five-year recurrence rate in women who started a statin within three years of diagnosis.

In a report presented in June to a virtual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, Dr. Kala Visvanathan of Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore described a 40 percent reduction in deaths from ovarian cancer among more than 10,000 patients who had used statins either before or after their diagnosis. The patients who benefited in this observational study had the most common and aggressive form of ovarian cancer.

Dr. Visvanathan explained that statins inhibit an enzyme in a chemical pathway involved in the growth and proliferation of tumors. At a press briefing, Dr. Antoni Ribas, president of the association, said that if the finding is confirmed in a randomized clinical trial, “this would be a great outcome.”

Good News Monday: COVID Immunity

Reprinted from today’s New York Times

Is herd immunity ahead of schedule?

Mumbai may be among the cities that have already achieved herd immunity, scientists say.Indranil Mukherjee/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Today, we’re turning this section over to our colleague Apoorva Mandavilli, who has been covering the pandemic for The Times’s Science desk.

The pandemic will end only when enough people are protected against the coronavirus, whether by a vaccine or by already having been infected. Reaching this threshold, known as herd immunity, doesn’t mean the virus will disappear. But with fewer hosts to infect, it will make its way through a community much more slowly.

In the early days of the crisis, scientists estimated that perhaps 70 percent of the population would need to be immune in this way to be free from large outbreaks. But over the past few weeks, more than a dozen scientists told me they now felt comfortable saying that herd immunity probably lies from 45 percent to 50 percent.

If they’re right, then we may be a lot closer to turning back this virus than we initially thought.

It may also mean that pockets of New York City, London, Mumbai and other cities may already have reached the threshold, and may be spared a devastating second wave.

The initial calculations into herd immunity assumed that everyone in a community was equally susceptible to the virus and mixed randomly with everyone else.

The new estimates are the product of more sophisticated statistical modeling. When scientists factor in variations in density, demographics and socialization patterns, the estimated threshold for herd immunity falls.

In some clinics in hard-hit Brooklyn neighborhoods, up to 80 percent of people who were tested at the beginning of the summer had antibodies for the virus. Over the past eight weeks, fewer than 1 percent of people tested at those same neighborhood clinics have had the virus.

Likewise in Mumbai, a randomized household survey found that about 57 percent of people who live in the poorest areas and share toilets had antibodies, compared with just 11 percent elsewhere in the city.

It’s too early to say with certainty that those communities have reached herd immunity. We don’t know, for example, how long someone who was infected stays protected from the coronavirus. But the data suggests that the virus may move more slowly in those areas the next time around.

Happy Random Day

Not only is today a lot like yesterday — and probably tomorrow — but I don’t seem to be able to focus on one particular topic. A few things are buzzing around my brain. First up:

Can You Get COVID-19 Twice?

As with everything else, nobody has a clear opinion. Or they change faster than a politician’s election strategy.

Reported in today’s Washington Post:

Doctors emphasize there is no evidence of widespread vulnerability to reinfection and that it is difficult to know what to make of these cases in the absence of detailed lab work, or medical studies documenting reinfections. Some people could be suffering from a reemergence of the same illness from virus that had been lurking somewhere in their body, or they could have been hit with a different virus with similar symptoms. Their positive COVID-19 tests could have been false positives — a not-insignificant possibility given accuracy issues with some tests — or picked up dead remnants of virus, as authorities believe happened in hundreds of people who tested positive after recovering in South Korea.

Suspect Sanitizer

The FDA has warned that some hand sanitizer brands labeled as containing ethyl alcohol actually contain a much more dangerous ingredient.

The agency reported that there has been an increase in hand sanitizers that have tested positive for methanol, or wood alcohol. If methanol is absorbed through the skin, it can cause blindness and hospitalizations; even death if ingested.  For the complete list, go to FDA hand sanitizer updates.

Men and #MeToo

It’s not just women who’ve been harassed by men in power.  This fascinating article looks at how some men have suffered too. And no, they weren’t the abusers.

Life In 3-D

How about a random mantra? Decode the problem. Decide the next steps. Deliver change.

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(Random beach photo from a recent walk)