July 2017 Health + Wellness News Roundup
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 July, WellBe-style.
What: The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released the results of a two-year project to compile a database of pollutants in American tap water.
The Details: The non-profit environmental organization collected data from almost 50,000 public water systems in all 50 states and D.C., creating a comprehensive source on the quality of our drinking water. They found that 93 contaminants were linked to an increased risk of cancer. To find out what’s in your local water, visit the EWG Tap Water Database and enter your zip code or local utility’s name. The data came directly from water utilities. What’s interesting about this collection of information, is that, rather than comparing pollutant levels with legal limits that may be influenced by political and economic compromise or based on outdated research, the EWG used “the best and most current science” to determine levels that were appropriate for public health.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? We need water— lots of it —to survive and flourish. Unfortunately, water can be one of biggest vehicles of toxins and pollutants into our bodies.
The WellBe Takeaway: We’re NYC-based and we weren’t thrilled to see six contaminants linked with an increased risk of cancer on the “above health guidelines” list and eight other contaminants originating from manufacturing runoff, disinfectants, agriculture, manufacturing byproducts, and industrial use. But it wasn’t the first time we’d heard that tap water may have issues. We used the EWG filter guide to get the best filters we could (for drinking water and the shower), based on cost and what would fit in our tiny NYC kitchens!
What: Your favorite ice cream brand may be hiding low levels of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup (a controversial herbicide made by Monsanto). As of July 7, glyphosate is on California’s list of cancer-causing chemicals, Reuters reported. The state will require companies selling the chemical to add warning labels to packaging.
The Details: According to The New York Times, the Organic Consumers Association found traces of glyphosate in 10 of 11 samples of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. You’d have to eat 290,000 servings of ice cream to hit the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) cutoff for the amount of glyphosate allowed in food, but recent animal research found that very low daily doses of the herbicide led to early signs of fatty liver disease within three months. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (it’s part of the World Health Organization), glyphosate is “probably” carcinogenic to humans.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Roundup is the most heavily-used agricultural chemical in the world, Newsweek reported in 2016. Which means it’s likely that many food products contain traces of it, but testing is costly and labor intensive, so it’s hard to know what’s in your food. Last year, tests revealed low levels of glyphosate in Quaker Oats, Cheerios, Ritz Crackers and Stacy’s Simply Naked Pita Chips, among other products. It’s likely the glyphosate found in the Ben & Jerry’s products came from add-ins like peanut butter and cookie dough, which contain ingredients (wheat, oats, peanuts) that are often sprayed with Roundup to dry them out. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just began testing corn, soy, eggs, and milk for the herbicide in June. If you eat any soy, corn, wheat, oats, peanuts, or meat (since most animal feed contains wheat, soy or corn), or any food products containing any of these ingredients, this info may matter to you.
The WellBe Takeaway: Controversy around federal testing, warning labels, and lawsuits are making us think where there’s smoke, there’s fire. At WellBe, we’re trying our hardest to avoid non-organic food products (including ice cream!), any of the crops mentioned above, and meat because farmers can’t use glyphosate in organic agriculture. “If they went organic, they wouldn’t have this problem,” Will Allen, a founder of Regeneration Vermont and an organic farmer who has met with Ben & Jerry’s executives, told The Times.
What: In less than 40 years, sperm counts dropped by more than 50 percent in men— and it may be due to the impact of modern living (read: chemicals, pesticides, smoking, stress, and obesity).
The Details: The study was the first systematic review and meta-analysis of trends in sperm count, and looked at 185 studies conducted between 1973 and 2011. Researchers found a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count in men from Western countries.
The study didn’t look at causes, but researchers noted that sperm count has previously been “plausibly associated with environmental and lifestyle influences, including prenatal chemical exposure, adult pesticide exposure, smoking, stress and obesity. Therefore, sperm count may sensitively reflect the impact of the modern environment on male health across the lifespan and serve as a ‘canary in the coal mine’ signaling broader risks to male health.”
Prenatal exposure to certain chemicals, such as a mother’s smoking, have been linked to lower sperm counts. It’s been hypothesized that endocrine disruptors may also disrupt male fetuses’ hormones and increase the risk for future fertility problems, NBC News reported.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Well, our species depends on us procreating, and we need male sperm to do it.
The WellBe Takeaway: This is another reason to avoid toxins, especially if you’re a pregnant woman. At WellBe we’re not worrying about procreating right now, but we’re looking at the possible causes for this sperm decline— pesticide exposure, smoking, stress, carrying extra weight, sedentary lifestyles — and doing our best to avoid or combat them in our lives.
What: Multiple studies came out in July that took note of how prenatal and early life exposures can worsen a child’s outlook, including causing inflammation in adulthood.
The Details: Researchers at Northwestern University found that environmental conditions in early life can cause inflammation in adulthood. Their findings suggest that altering aspects of a baby’s nutritional, microbial, and psychosocial environment can leave lasting marks on the epigenome (a fancy way of saying the stuff that tells your genes what to do).
In another study, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that stress in pregnancy increases the effect of toxic chemicals, which may lead to a low-birth-weight baby. It’s known that stress and chemical exposures, separately, are bad for fetal growth, but this study looked at the combination. The worst combo in their research? When highly stressed pregnant women smoked, they were about twice as likely to have a low-birth-weight baby as less stressed smokers.
And over in Canada, this study found that babies whose mothers took antibiotics in the first trimester had a higher risk of birth defects.
Why Does This Matter For Your Health? If your mother was stressed, had poor nutrition habits, endured a traumatic event, was exposed to toxic chemicals, smoked, or took antibiotics while pregnant, it could explain health issues you’ve had later in life. If you’re pregnant or planning to be, you might consider avoiding or combating the effects of the above triggers.
The WellBe Takeaway: Like we said, we’re not focused on pregnancy, ourselves, but at WellBe we believe that if it negatively impacts fetuses and pregnant women, it’s doing something to us, too. We’re avoiding secondhand smoke, focusing on eating real, clean foods, learning to deal with stress and trauma, avoiding chemicals and only taking antibiotics when absolutely necessary.
What: Your kid’s mac and cheese mix may contain potentially harmful chemicals that mess with male hormones.
The Details: Phthalates are industrial chemicals used in plastic and vinyl. They were banned from toys years ago, but The New York Times reported that they may still be found at high levels in the highly processed cheese powder in boxed mac and cheese mixes. The chemical isn’t intentionally put into food products, but gets in there through food processing equipment and printed labels or plastic materials in packaging. There’s strong evidence that phthalates block the production of testosterone, and it’s been linked to genital birth defects in infant boys and learning and behavioral problems in older children, The Times reported.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? We found this one particularly troubling since most boxed mac and cheese eaters are children who, along with pregnant women, are most affected by endocrine-disrupting hormones. But even if you’re neither of those demographics, the full effects of exposure to these chemicals is not fully known.
The WellBe Takeaway: We haven’t eaten mac and cheese for a long time, even the organic brands, because it lacks nutrients and it’s a pretty processed product. Still, we’re rethinking any products in our pantry that have plastic packaging. Since we don’t know if it’s phthalate-free, we’d rather not take the risk.
What: At least two years after undergoing mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), patients with bipolar disorder still find benefit from the practice.
The Details: In a small study of patients in France and Switzerland, researchers found that bipolar patients who practiced mindfulness saw lifestyle changes and better prevention of depressive relapse. Some patients did a formal practice (body scanning, sitting meditation, mindful walking, or movements), others did informal practice (mindful activities). Most importantly, study participants found that they had increased awareness of being able to improve their own health.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Chances are you don’t have bipolar disorder. But if mindfulness can help someone with a serious mental illness, then it could help with other mental illnesses and regular everyday stresses. It may seem like a fad, but recent research is showing that mindfulness is the real thing and can have a long-lasting impact on well-being.
The WellBe Takeaway: Daily meditation is our goal, but we’re still struggling to establish a consistent practice. We’re finding even just deep breathing for 30 seconds, gratitude exercises, getting off our devices, going for a walk, yoga, and being in nature helps.
What: Treating low-back pain with electric currents doesn’t lead to improvement of chronic pain.
The Details: Radiofrequency denervation is a procedure where electric current is applied to the pain-conducting nerve. In a study of three randomized trials published in JAMA, researchers found the jolt didn’t improve chronic low-back pain, or didn’t improve it by a clinically significant amount. Study participants all did strength and mobility exercises and researchers concluded that a standardized exercise program should be the first choice to treat patients with low-back pain.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? At any given time, 31 million Americans experience low back pain. Chances are, especially if you work at a desk or drive a lot, you’re one of them.
The WellBe Takeaway: Team WellBe has back, hip, neck, and jaw issues, so we’re always trying to figure out what works. Per one doc’s suggestion, we’re going to focus on improving core strength with planks, quadriceps strength with lunges or wall sits, and flexibility with hamstring stretches (and we’re avoiding crunches because it can make back pain worse). Besides working on good posture, we go to Pilates, practice yoga, visit the chiropractor, and have acupuncture, cupping, and myofascial massage treatments. Most of all, we’re trying to sit less!
What: The AANP, which represents licensed naturopathic physicians, held their annual convention on July 12-14 and Rhode Island has a bill up for vote that could make it the latest state with these regulations, according to Integrative Practitioner.
The Details: At the convention, Laura Farr was appointed as the new executive director and will work on their strategic goals, including full-scope legal recognition of the profession in all 50 states by 2025. In January, Massachusetts became the 19th state to sign into law a bill creating a licensing board to regulate naturopaths, which will help ensure that practitioners are qualified. In Massachusetts, licensure helps ensure naturopaths are qualified (they must graduate from an approved naturopathic college and pass an exam), but they’re not allowed to prescribe or order medications and must refer unimmunized children to physicians. Licensure can help ensure standards for education and quality of care in the field. Naturopaths aren’t physicians, but their care can be a helpful integrative health option. Rhode Island may soon follow suit.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? When integrative practitioners and naturopaths become licensed and regulated, it helps bring legitimacy to the field. It allows insurance to more easily reimburse for their services, makes more people pursue naturopathic degrees, and allows more patients to access naturopathic doctors.
The WellBe Takeaway: At WellBe, naturopaths gave us answers when dozens of MDs couldn’t figure out what was wrong and helped us get to the root cause of disease. We see naturopaths, as well as integrative MDs, depending on our needs.
What: The actress told Vanity Fair that she developed the temporary facial paralysis, as well as hypertension, last year.
The Details: In the interview, Jolie said she was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, which caused one side of her face to droop. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the condition occurs when there’s damage or trauma to the facial nerves. It’s unknown what exactly causes this damage, but it has been linked to viral infections, such as respiratory illness, according to the Mayo Clinic. SELF reported that being stressed out could play an indirect role because it dampens your immune system’s infection-fighting abilities, leaving you more vulnerable to infection. In China, acupuncture has been used to assist in recovery, according to the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. Jolie told Vanity Fair that she credits acupuncture with her full recovery.
Why It Matters For Your Health: While Bell’s palsy is rare— it affects 40,000 Americans a year —acupuncture’s ability to help with facial nerve function, paralysis, and pain is the main takeaway and might be worth trying if you experience any of those symptoms.
The WellBe Takeaway: At WellBe, we love acupuncture! We are using it for headaches, digestive issues, stress, and back, shoulder, neck, and jaw pain.
What: In a small survey, Johns Hopkins Medicine found that the majority of the primary care physicians observed didn’t know the 11 risk factors that qualify patients for prediabetes screening.
The Details: Johns Hopkins Medicine said their survey of 140 doctors may be the first to formally test PCPs’ knowledge of current professional guidelines for the screening. The findings also showed that nearly one-third of the doctors weren’t familiar with the American Diabetes Association’s guidelines for prediabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 86 million American adults (that’s more than 1 in 3) have prediabetes, and 9 out of 10 of them don’t know they have prediabetes. Studies have shown that behavioral weight loss programs are an effective way to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, but only 11 percent of docs recommend it to prediabetes patients.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common, costly, and preventable chronic diseases in the U.S. If primary care physicians— who are often the frontline of intervention — aren’t familiar with prediabetes guidelines or effective ways to reduce diabetes, it may explain how and why the diagnosis has risen to such high rates.
The WellBe Takeaway: We are looking at the type 2 diabetes guidelines and eating real, clean foods as much as we can, trying to avoid eating added sugar (except on our birthdays!), and aiming to do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity.