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 November, broken down WellBe-style.
1. Sorry, OTC meds won’t help that cough
What: A new report found that no over-the-counter medicines (yep, not one) have really been proven to work well for coughs. Say what?
The Details: The American College of Chest Physicians took a look at clinical trials of cough syrups and cold products that combined decongestants and antihistamines, decongestants, and painkillers, and found that none of them can be recommended, HealthDay reported.
Why Does This Matter for My Health?
Every season, most people probably get at least one cold-induced cough, study authors said. We’ve been taught to spend money on these drugs when we get sick— Americans spent a collective $9.5 billion on the remedies in 2015 —now it’s time to undo that habit.
While the study said home remedies like chicken soup or using a neti pot for nasal irrigation aren’t proven to help, researchers said that if they make you feel better, do it. One expert told HealthDay that letting yourself rest (take the day off!) and drinking enough water to break up thick cough-causing mucus can help. Oh, and both those things are natural— and free.
The WellBe Takeaway: When we have a cough, we like a soothing tea (especially one made with infection-fighting ginger). We also sleep, stay warm, drink lots of water, avoid alcohol, and load up on herbs and supplements. We haven’t gone to a drug store for a cure in…maybe ever?
2. Sugar industry covered up worrisome research
What: Newly uncovered research shows that the sugar industry buried findings that sugar could promote heart disease and bladder cancer. That was back in the ‘60s, and experts say it’s probably part of a bigger cover-up on the harmful effects of sugar.
The Details: In 1968, animal research funded by the Sugar Research Foundation (now known as the Sugar Association), set out to look at the connection between sugar and heart health. Then, when researchers started to see that sugar might promote heart disease and bladder cancer, the trade group shut it down, The New York Times reported.
This new report from the University of California, San Francisco, is important because it points to the industry’s long pattern of covering the bad stuff up, study author Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at U.C.S.F., told the Times.
And it isn’t the first time. Last year, the NYT looked at internal documents that demonstrated how the sugar industry paid for research to turn around “negative attitudes toward sugar” in the ‘60s. The top exec who secretly paid off the scientists went on to work in the tobacco industry.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Any group that pays for research to cover up how unhealthy their goods are is clearly problematic. These documents are rare evidence that the food industry suppressed research just like tobacco companies and drug companies, Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, told the Times.
The sugar industry has been adamant that sugar isn’t linked to obesity, diabetes, or heart disease, even though plenty of research has disputed that. Now it’s plain and clear that they’ve been manipulating nutrition science— and putting all of us at risk.
The WellBe Takeaway: We’re already pretty good about skipping out on the sweet stuff, but this is a good reminder that it’s an ingredient that does not do the body any good. If we want something sweet, we do it in moderation or grab piece of fruit. (Yes, you can roll your eyes at us.)
3. Congressmen form integrative health group
What: Two Congressmen from both sides of the aisle launched the Integrative Health and Wellness Congressional Caucus to educate legislators.
The Details: Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Mike Coffman, R-Colo. created this “bi-partisan educational forum” as a way to give their fellow lawmakers access to the latest best practices, research, and legislative opportunities related to integrative health.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? When politicians from different parties band together and agree on healthcare, that’s a high five moment. When they talk about focusing on the whole person, not just treating symptoms with drugs, that’s a jump-up-and-down-with-confetti moment. In their joint press releases, the duo emphasized that the chronic disease drain on health spending can be improved by going outside the conventional medicine norms. (Which you guys probably already get, but, you know, government can be slow.)
“As we debate how we can further the health care system in the U.S., we must ensure that it is affordable and accessible to all – but also, we must ensure that it provides the best possible care available. That means investing in evidence-based integrative care,” Polis said in the statement.
The Caucus will hold its first briefing in the first quarter of 2018, so we’ll see where it goes from there.
The WellBe Takeaway: We’re asking our members of Congress to join the Integrative Health and Wellness Congressional Caucus using this handy contact form, which has a pre-written letter, so it’s super easy to send. No excuses, play like a champion.
4. ~10% of Americans eat enough fruits and veggies
What: According to a new CDC report, only 12 percent of people eat enough fruit and 9 percent of people eat the recommended amount of vegetables.
The Details: Federal guidelines recommend people eat at least 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day. The CDC made some suggestions to help people get to those numbers, including supporting community and home gardens, farmers’ markets, and access to fruits and vegetables in workplaces.
The report compared states; in New York, 14 percent of people eat enough fruit and 9.6 percent eat enough vegetables. In California, 13.6 percent eat enough fruit and 11.2 percent eat enough fruit. Technically above the national average, but, guys, that’s pretty low.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? We may be preaching to the choir, but a reminder that eating fruits and vegetables gives you essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber and helps protect you against chronic disease like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. It’s worth thinking on how much you’re actually putting on your plate on a daily basis. Even we think we eat more than we truly do.
The WellBe Takeaway: We’re pretty fruit- and veg-centric here, and these numbers were definitely a surprise. We’ll continue to support local farmers’ markets and keep an eye on ways you can speak up for supporting more access to clean fruit and veggies in everyday American life.
5. Research institute endorses insurance coverage for mind-body therapies
What: An independent non-profit group found that acupuncture, yoga, and other drug-free therapies are an effective treatment for back pain and should be covered by health insurers.
The Details: The Institute of Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) is a group that assesses the values of drugs and proposes a fair price (more on them here). They looked at research on using acupuncture, yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and mindfulness-based stress reduction for chronic lower back pain and found that each of the therapies were useful and had far fewer risks than opioids or surgery. Plus, these practices are generally cheaper than pharmaceuticals. A win for everyone, right?
But even in the midst of an opioid epidemic, patients aren’t offered these treatments— or insurance coverage for them —and ICER said that’s not cool. Their recommendation that health insurers cover these treatments is a promising step, we just hope those companies listen up.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? On an immediate level, if you’re suffering from chronic low back pain, try one of these therapies to find relief. Taking opioids is risky business, so avoiding them at all costs is recommended. On a bigger scale, if health insurers take heed of ICER’s evidence-based recommendation, maybe one day you won’t have to pay out of pocket to use natural therapies to heal back pain. Crazy concept, right?
The WellBe Takeaway: We’re clearly big fans of all of those types of treatments, we’re just bummed we can’t get insurance coverage on them when we’re dealing with a chronic issue. This makes us optimistic that it could happen!
6. Prenatal use of painkiller linked to ADHD
What: Long-term use of acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) during pregnancy is associated with a child’s increased risk of developing ADHD later in life, a new study suggests.
The Details: In a large, prospective study of 114,744 children, Norwegian researchers found that children born of mothers who used acetaminophen for more than 29 consecutive days during pregnancy had a more than twofold increased risk of developing ADHD. But they also saw that using acetaminophen for less than eight days was associated with a decreased risk of ADHD.
Confused? Researchers said it’s still OK to take a few days’ worth of acetaminophen during pregnancy if a woman feels she absolutely must have it. However, women in need of long-term pain relief should look for potentially less risky treatments. To be clear, the findings do not establish that the drug causes ADHD, but do show that more study is needed into its use during pregnancy.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? An estimated 65 to 70 percent of pregnant women in the U.S. use acetaminophen and it’s usually considered to be the safest option for pregnant women with fever or pain (compared to NSAIDs like aspirin, which pose the risk of birth defects). This study isn’t the first to find something amiss with use of the drug during pregnancy, though— there’s evidence it may increase a child’s risk of asthma and behavioral problems.
The WellBe Takeaway: None of us on Team WellBe are having kids soon, but if we were in pain for 29 days straight, we’d go to our acupuncturists or an integrative or functional medicine doctor to figure out A) the root cause of the pain and B) drug-free ways to treat it. Oh and we’re trying our hardest to avoid popping acetaminophen or NSAIDs for anything, pregnant or not.
7. Eat nuts to help prevent heart disease
What: Results from a 32-year long Harvard University study were just released and found that people who regularly ate nuts had a lower risk of heart disease. How nuts is that?! Sorry, we had to.
The Details: According to the study, which tracked 210,000 U.S. adults from 1980 to 2013, people who ate less than one one-ounce serving of nuts per week (that’s ~24 almonds, 14 walnut halves, or 18 cashews) reduced their risk of heart attack and stroke by 9 percent and their risk for coronary heart disease by 12 percent, compared to those who ate none. Less than 24 almonds isn’t a lot! Upping that amount to five times a week was associated with a 14 percent reduction in cardiovascular events and a 20 percent reduction in coronary heart disease.
There’ve been other studies on nuts and heart health, but this is one of the largest to date. One unique point: The study looked at specific kinds of nuts and their impact on heart health. They found that walnuts are particularly good. Eating them two to three times a week was associated with a 19 percent lower risk of cardiovascular events and a 21 percent decreased risk for coronary heart disease. Other nuts didn’t fare too badly, either. With two servings a week:
Peanuts were tied to a 13 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and 15 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease.
Tree nut (i.e. almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts) intake correlated with a 15 percent lower cardiovascular risk and 23 percent risk reduction for coronary heart disease.
“Nuts have a unique nutritional composition, high in unsaturated fats, fiber and minerals,” lead author, Marta Guasch-Ferré, a research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told The New York Times. Eating a variety of nuts is a good idea, since they all supply a different mix of nutrients, Guasch-Ferré told Consumer Reports.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Nuts have been part of dietary guidelines for heart health, but this study was so long-term and large that it makes a significant case for eating nuts every day, forever. Worth noting, they didn’t see heart benefits associated with peanut butter. “This doesn’t mean that it’s bad for your health,” she says, “we just didn’t observe an effect,” lead author, Marta Guasch-Ferré, a research fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told Consumer Reports.
The WellBe Takeaway: We love nuts and this makes us love ‘em even more! We buy ours organic and Adrienne roasts hers on the weekend, which may help kill any salmonella bacteria and mold lingering in them. We try to keep them in our bags when traveling and in our desks at work— basically everywhere we might need a snack. And now we’re def upping our intake of walnuts!
8. Heartburn meds may increase cancer risk
What: Long-term use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) has been linked to an increased risk of stomach cancer. PPIs, including Prilosec, Nexium, and Prevacid, are used to treat heartburn and acid reflux.
The Details: A new study found that people who’d been treated for an infection caused by Helicobacter pylori (commonly called H. Pylori) bacteria had up to an eight-fold increased risk of developing stomach cancer after taking PPIs for nearly three years. Taking PPIs for a shorter period of time also had an increased risk; daily use for more than a year had more four-fold risk. While stomach cancer accounts for only 1.7 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. every year, this finding was still statistically significant enough to make our chins drop.
Researchers didn’t see a cause and effect, but pointed out that recent research has linked long-term PPI use with pneumonia, heart attack, and bone fracture, so docs should exercise caution when prescribing for these patients.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? PPIs are some of the top-selling drugs in the world, which means you probably know someone who takes ‘em for relief or have used them yourself. H. pylori is a common cause of peptic ulcers and affects more than half the world’s population. According to the Mayo Clinic, most people with an H. pylori infection won’t ever have signs or symptoms. Yikes. Since stomach cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer death in the world, it’s worth thinking about non-drug ways to treat acid reflux. Consider one of these tips from functional medicine doc and gut health specialist Dr. Vincent Pedre (he spoke at our Eating for Immunity panel!), including cutting out gluten.
The WellBe Takeaway: We’re fortunate not to suffer heartburn or acid reflux, but know that the foods we eat are a big part of that. We’re encouraging loved ones who think it’s normal to have acid reflux, or who rely on PPIs to change their diet.
Other news worth noting: