Trying to stay on top of health- and wellness-related news and events can be overwhelming. It’s a lot to digest (pun intended). We saved you the trouble. Here’s what happened in February, WellBe-style.
PERFUME AND SOAP ARE AS BAD FOR POLLUTION AS CARS
What: Turns out, everyday beauty and household products cause as much air pollution as cars do. OK, read that again…and again…and maybe the third time it will sink in.
The Details: Back in 2010, California scientists started noticing that air pollution in the Los Angeles area were at higher levels than they expected— regulatory efforts on fossil fuels from cars mean those emissions had plummeted, so why were the numbers up? In a new study published in Science, they dug in and realized that household products contribute half of the volatile organic compounds (V.O.C.s) that cause air pollution.
The researchers saw that chemicals found in consumer products like soap, cleaners, wall paint, printer ink, perfume, and nail polish remover, were in the atmosphere at higher levels than what’s emitted by tailpipes. DROP THE MIC! Consumer products contain tens of thousands of chemicals and researchers haven’t pinpointed which are most likely to form ozone or PM2.5, the fine particles linked to heart attacks, strokes, and lung cancer, The New York Times reported.
Another new study of 6,230 people in Norway found that frequent exposure to household cleaners lead to an accelerated decline in lung function equivalent to years of cigarette smoking.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? The products we’re using are changing our atmosphere, and, as we’ve talked about before, air pollution is messing with public health and causing deaths. The California Air Resources Board regulates some consumer products for emissions, but we clearly need national measures to make this happen across the country.
The WellBe Takeaway: If we needed another reminder to buy clean products for personal and home use, these studies definitely work. Use the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database to find personal care products and their Guide to Healthy Cleaning to learn more about VOCs and home products. (Too busy to read? Start by swapping your kitchen cleaner for AspenClean’s Kitchen Cleaner with Organic Bergamont & Grapefruit, bathroom cleaner for GreenShield’s Organic Bathroom Cleaner, and stock up on Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap— they all have “A” grades from EWG.)
CHRONIC LYME DISEASE RECOGNIZED AS A “REAL DISORDER”
What: Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have (finally) identified symptoms of chronic Lyme, a big step for helping patients get diagnosed (and for getting insurance to pay for treatment).
The Details: Lyme disease, if caught early, can be treated with antibiotics and dies off (so we currently believe). But for a growing number of cases (including for Adrienne, WellBe’s Founder), severe, lingering symptoms persist, including issues with cognitive function, fatigue, pain, insomnia, and depression. Unfortunately, conventional testing doesn’t show signs of long-term issues, which means conventional doctors have a tendency to doubt a patient’s problems.
The Johns Hopkins researchers studied a group of 61 patients who’d been treated for Lyme, putting them through a battery of clinical and laboratory tests. They all looked healthy on paper. But when they asked the patients about how they were feeling, the numbers showed identifiable symptoms: about 50 percent reported severe fatigue, 28 percent reported severe pain, 23 percent reported severe cognitive complaints, and about 31 percent reported severe sleep difficulty.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? The study is a huge affirmation for chronic Lyme sufferers who’ve been told that tests said they’re fine, so they couldn’t be having Lyme issues. Doctors have questioned whether chronic Lyme is a thing, and here’s evidence that it is!
The WellBe Takeaway: Just because you can’t test for something, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Adrienne spent years dealing with her Lyme symptoms after going through the antibiotics route and her mother had to fight for her to get treatments that actually helped. Christina Sfakianos’ nerve damage was so bad, she didn’t realize she’d cut herself and was bleeding into her daughter’s dinner. Ally Hilfiger dealt with severe physical and neurological complications that led to institutionalization.
17 PUBLIC HEALTH UNIVERSITIES REFUSE PHILLIP MORRIS FUNDING
What: The deans of several American and Canadian universities passed on money from an anti-smoking group backed by cigarette and tobacco company Phillip Morris.
The Details: In September 2017, Phillip Morris said they’d donate $80 million to fund the newly launched Foundation for a Smoke Free World. But.. why? How? It’s so confusing… In their announcement, the company said the Foundation planned to work to reduce illness and death from smoking by, among other things, supporting research.
The World Health Organization quickly stepped up and said they wouldn’t work with the Foundation and in early 2018, deans from these 17 prestigious schools (see the full list here) did the same, saying they’d consider funding from the Foundation to be “equivalent to funding from the tobacco industry.”
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Major snaps to these institutions! In a statement, the deans emphasized that the tobacco industry and Phillip Morris have a “long history of funding ‘research’ in ways meant to purposely confuse the public and advance their own interests, aggressively market cigarettes globally, including to children, and persist in their relentless opposition to evidence-based tobacco control interventions.”
The WellBe Takeaway: That Phillip Morris expects the public to believe their research into the dangers of smoking is legit is ridiculous. As we saw with the sugar industry’s cover-up on worrisome research, unhealthy industries do a lot to manipulate research to confuse the public. We’re keeping ourselves safe by never, ever smoking and pointing friends and loved ones to smoking cessation programs to help them kick the habit.
NONSTICK CHEMICALS MAY CAUSE WEIGHT GAIN
What: Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a common class of chemicals found in nonstick pans, water-repellent textiles (think rain gear), and food packaging, may make it harder to maintain weight loss after dieting, especially for women.
The Details: A new study published in PLOS Medicine looked at a group of 621 overweight and obese people who had been part of a weight-loss clinical trial. They found that those with high PFAS concentrations in their blood had slower metabolisms and burned fewer calories doing daily activities. Additionally, the participants who gained the most weight back had the highest blood concentrations of PFAS— and the link was almost exclusively found in women, Time reported. Researchers say it may be due to PFAS effect on estrogen metabolism and functioning.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? PFAS chemicals have previously been linked to cancer, fertility problems, and thyroid dysfunction, and have the potential to leach into food, so this is just another reason to avoid them, which can be hard because they’re ubiquitous. Start with these tips:
– Skipping fast food and microwave popcorn: They come in food wrappers and containers; one study found about half of those studied had fluorine in them, an indicator of PFAS.
– Avoid stain- or water-resistant products: If it seems too good to be true, it is. When you get a new rain jacket and outdoor gear, look for those labeled PFAS-free or fluoro-free.
– Say no to nonstick cookware: Heard of Teflon? Yea, it was made of a carcinogenic chemical called PFOA (which is part of the PFAS family of chemicals) and only phased out recently. (Read this great Salon.com article on the chemical industry’s cover-up for more.) If the surface of your pan is black and flaking off, ditch it. When it’s time to get new cookware, go for stainless steel, ceramic, or cast-iron options. WellBe recommends: All-Clad 10-Piece Stainless Steel Set, GreenLife 14-Piece Ceramic Set, and Lodge 10” Cast Iron Chef’s Skillet.
– Choose fish carefully: PFAS have been found in seafood, so eat fish lower on the food chain (which also helps avoid mercury and other heavy metals), like wild and Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovies.
The WellBe Takeaway: PFAS are pretty ubiquitous, so we’re following the tips above (thanks, Health.com!) to avoid it and reduce our exposure.
OXYCONTIN MAKER TO STOP PROMOTING OPIOIDS TO DOCTORS
What: The company that makes OxyContin, one of the most prescribed and aggressively marketed opioid painkillers has announced they’ll stop marketing the addictive drugs to physicians. But that’s all 😕.
The Details: Purdue Pharma said it’s cutting its U.S. sales force from over 400 to about 200 people, so there’ll be fewer people pushing prescriptions for OxyContin, one of the most prescribed and aggressively marketed opioid painkillers. The company faces numerous lawsuits, including those from the attorneys general of Ohio, Alabama, and Washington, for the major role the drug has played in the opioid epidemic.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? While Purdue’s move should’ve happened decades ago, it’s at least a step to help doctors be more cautious about prescribing and not get bombarded with drug reps and advertising swaying them to prescribe more.
The WellBe Takeaway: Prescriptions for opioid pain relievers went up from 76 million in 1991 to nearly 207 million in 2013, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This move is a tiny, tiny dent to reverse that number. We want to see more focus on non-pharma, integrative approaches to pain (like acupuncture) and interventions to reduce the risk of addiction after surgery, like teaching coping skills.
FETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME PREVALENCE HIGHER THAN PREVIOUSLY THOUGHT
What: Alcohol-related disorders caused by drinking while pregnant affect at least one in 20 kids— 5X more (whoa!) than previous estimates, according to a new study published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
The Details: The study assessed 3,000 first graders in four regions across the U.S. and researchers interviewed mothers about their drinking habits during pregnancy. Researchers found that fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) affected 1.1 to 5 percent of the children. And that’s their conservative estimate— their higher estimate went up to 9.9 percent. Study authors think the number lies somewhere between that. For context, autism affects an estimated 1.5 percent of children.
FASDs can cause a range of cognitive, behavioral, and physical challenges for a child’s development and learning ability. It’s been hard to estimate their prevalence because the abnormal facial features are subtle and some problems, like issues paying attention, can apply to other diagnoses, The New York Times reported.
Proving the difficulty in identifying FASDs, study authors identified 222 children with a FASD and only two of them had been previously diagnosed, though parents and guardians were aware of the children’s learning and behavior challenges, Time reported.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? According to the CDC, one in 10 pregnant women reports drinking during their pregnancy and more than 3 percent said they engaged in binge-drinking 😧. In 2015, the American Academy of Pediatrics said that “no amount of alcohol intake should be considered safe” during pregnancy.
Figuring out if a child has alcohol-related impairments can help teachers and psychologists work with them more effectively to treat the root cause of their problems. For example, medication used for attention deficit disorder may not work for attention deficit symptoms caused by alcohol. However, it is challenging identifying FASD as the cause— there’s no blood test and it relies of clinical judgment. The JAMA study’s evaluations were done by professionals with expertise in diagnosing FASDs. In an accompanying editorial, one expert said that FASDs generally cause more severe symptoms than ADHD does.
The WellBe Takeaway: In 2016, the CDC recommended that all women of child-bearing age who aren’t on birth control shouldn’t drink. Yea, that’s patronizing. The topic of drinking during pregnancy has been debated a lot, but if and when we consider having children and stop using birth control methods, it looks like we’ll be staying away from alcohol.
SKIP THE OVARIAN CANCER SCREENING TEST
What: Women who don’t have symptoms or a known high risk of ovarian cancer should not be screened for it, according to a new recommendation by the U.S. Preventive Task Force.
The Details: After reviewing the pros and cons of screening for the cancer in asymptomatic women, the USPSTF found that it doesn’t reduce ovarian cancer mortality and can lead to unnecessary surgery in women without cancer. These screening methods include pelvic exams, blood tests, and ultrasounds. No major medical or public health organizations recommend screening for ovarian cancer, since there isn’t an accurate screening test for it.
According to the report, screening can cause false-positive results, which can lead to unneeded surgeries. These could include a biopsy, which could spread the cancer if it is there, or lead to removal of the ovary unnecessarily if there’s no cancer. The USPSTF has called for research into more accurate screening tests, and there is potential with biomarker testing.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? If you don’t have a high, inherited risk of ovarian cancer, it’s good to keep in mind the symptoms. If you are at an increased genetic risk, talk to your doctor to decide whether genetic testing or screening is appropriate. If a physician tries to convince you an ovarian cancer screening is standard, cite this recommendation and stand your ground.
The WellBe Takeaway: It’s a little confusing, but what we’re getting from this is a reminder to be your own advocate. Don’t let yourself get talked into an unnecessary testing or surgery. On the other hand, if you have symptoms and/or a known risk for ovarian cancer, speak up to ensure signs get caught before anything progresses.
VITAMIN D MAY HELP IBS SYMPTOMS
What: A study found that patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may benefit from taking vitamin D supplements.
The Details: Researchers from the University of Sheffield in England looked at previous studies from around the world and found a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency in IBS patients. Working from that, they concluded that IBS patients should have their vitamin D levels tested and that a large majority of them would benefit from supplementation.
The exact reason for the low vitamin D levels in IBS patients wasn’t clear, but researchers think it could be because vitamin D receptors are in the gut, so the vitamin may help intestinal function and protect against bad bacteria.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Our bodies need vitamin D for a lot of things, so if this could be a solution for someone with IBS symptoms, this is great! “Vitamin D is an important factor in multiple diseases and areas of health, including musculoskeletal, immune, mental health, and other gut health conditions, including colorectal cancer and IBD (irritable bowel disease),” Bernard Corfe, PhD, lead author of the study and principal investigator in molecular gastroenterology at the University of Sheffield, told Healthline.
The WellBe Takeaway: If you’re dealing with GI issues, talk to your doctor to get your vitamin D tested. The ultimate goal is to get to the root cause of your issue, of course, so look for an integrative or functional medicine doctor who can help you figure it out.
Other news worth noting: