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 October, WellBe-style.
1. New telehealth company takes integrative medicine online
What: Holistic healthcare goes digital with the launch of Harvey, an online platform focused on helping patients find the root cause of their health issues.
The Details: Harvey brings integrative medicine to patients’ homes through virtual consultations with functional and naturopathic docs (they’re all graduates of accredited four-year residential med schools who passed national boards and are licensed in their states as naturopathic doctors or doctors of osteopathy), in-home testing, and natural treatments, according to a post by founder/CEO Kyle Hill.
So how much does this cost? It’s $150 for the initial consult, then $75 for follow-up appointments. It’s not covered by health insurance, but the company says HSA and FSA accounts generally approve the appointments and tests.
At press time, Harvey isn’t available in all states. They are available in 36 and are working on getting licensed in 11 more (including Washington, D.C.), but they won’t be available in Alaska, New York, South Carolina, or Tennessee, they told WellBe. This is because naturopath regulation and telemedicine are controlled on a state level (only 20 offer naturopathic licensure) and restrictions apply. The American Naturopathic Certification Board keeps a list on the latest legislation if you’re looking for more info.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? If you’re dealing with a health issue (about half of U.S. adults are) and don’t have easy access to an integrative medicine doctor, Harvey could be a useful option for you to find care that gets to the root cause of your illness. The company noted that one of their reasons for starting Harvey is that doctors don’t get enough nutrition training, which we’ve chatted with a number of experts about. When we talked to Dr. Delia Chiaramonte, Associate Director and the Director of Education for the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, she mentioned that naturopaths have “tremendous knowledge about food as medicine, supplements, and mind/body interventions and can be a really great resource for patients.”
The WellBe Takeaway: Obviously we’re pro-integrative healthcare and using tech to bring it to more people is an exciting development. As we talked about in our July news roundup, the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians hopes to get state recognition in all 50 states by 2025. BTW, did you catch our interview with Dr. Robin Berzin, another health/tech pioneer practicing tech-enabled integrative medicine?
2. Pollution is definitely messing with public health
What: An estimated 1 in 6 deaths worldwide are due to pollution, according to a new study— that’s three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.
The Details: According to the two-year project from The Lancet Commission for Pollution and Health, in 2015, there were ~9 million premature deaths from diseases driven by pollution. The majority were noncommunicable diseases such as asthma, cancer, and heart disease, STAT reported. Most of those who died were low- and middle-income individuals. This isn’t a new thing, but modern pollutants (ex- car fumes at rush hour and industrial waste in water supplies) are rising, researchers told PBS.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? The largest numbers of death attributed to pollution were in India and China while Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kenya were also severely affected. We’d venture to guess our readership isn’t that global (yet!), so most of us are lucky to live somewhere where poor air quality isn’t as aggressively life-threatening, but it can still affect long-term health.
An unrelated U.S. study found that exposure to dirty air was linked to increased risk of poor kidney function, kidney disease, and kidney failure to the tune of almost 45,000 new cases of chronic kidney disease.
“Even levels below the limit set by the [Environmental Protection Agency] were harmful to the kidneys. This suggests that there is no safe level of air pollution,” said study leader Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, according to HealthDay.
The WellBe Takeaway: Looking at the Lancet study through a narrower lens, household air was second highest contributor to pollution-linked deaths. There’s one thing you can take steps to control— the quality of air in your home. These (NASA-approved!) indoor plants can help purify the air in your home and office: Boston fern, rubber plants, peace lily, and golden pothos. Stay tuned for WellBe’s panel on indoor air pollution coming in the spring, too!
3. California requires ingredient labeling in cleaning products
What: The Golden State became the first to make ingredient labeling for cleaning products a requirement.
The Details: Governor Jerry Brown signed the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017 into law, so cleaning products sold in the state must list ingredients on their labels and online. The law applies particularly to chemicals whose ability to harm human health or the environment has been recognized by established scientific authoritative bodies, EWG said in a press release (they were one of the bill’s sponsors).
For workers who use cleaning products daily, they’re at risk for acute allergic reactions and chronic or long-term effects such as asthma or cancer. California’s janitors and cleaners have nearly double the rate of work-related asthma, compared to the overall workforce.
To give manufacturers time to reformulate their products and remove harmful chemicals, they’ve got until January 1, 2020 to put ingredient info online and January 1, 2021 for on-package labels.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? This law brings increased transparency that both consumers and workers want and need— we’re exposed to this stuff constantly. Before this, we were left in the dark about potential presence of allergens, environmental toxicants, and chemicals linked to harmful health effects. According to EWG, New York is close to finalizing industry guidance for ingredient disclosure. With the two biggest states making the move, companies have a big incentive to reformulate their products.
The WellBe Takeaway: What an awesome example of how consumer pressure can change policy! Like we say in our mission statement, we want to empower you to demand a system that supports you in your quest to get and stay well.
4. Code red: STDs have hit an all-time high
What: The past three years have been record setters for sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. Rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis (the three most common STDs) were higher than ever. Chlamydia is the most common of the three; nearly half of all diagnosed chlamydia infections were young women.
The Details: The CDC report found there were more than 2 million cases of the three STDs, but that the number was probably closer to 20 million. That sounds crazy, but it’s probably because many STDs don’t show up with symptoms, so people are infected without being diagnosed, Men’s Health reported.
Luckily, these three infections are bacterial, and therefore usually easy to treat, but antibiotic resistance (watch our primer) is getting in the way. Gonorrhea is increasingly resistant to antibiotics (and there are only three new drugs in development), and the same is likely to happen to chlamydia. Syphilis is usually treated with penicillin, but sometimes antibiotics are prescribed instead, and antibiotic resistance does occur.
When it comes to syphilis, it’s the most troubling because people aren’t getting treated, which is causing a rise in congenital syphilis, Popular Science reported. “This is a completely preventable problem,” Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, told CNN. “Every baby born with syphilis represents a tragic public health system failure. All it takes is a simple STD test and antibiotic treatment to prevent this tragedy from occurring.”
In a separate, unrelated study, researchers found 1 in 9 men have oral HPV, a diagnosis that can lead to cancers of the head, neck, and throat. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection and doesn’t typically cause symptoms. If infected, the body usually clears it in one to two years, but men are less likely to clear oral HPV than women, Men’s Health reported.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Two words: Use. Condoms. Only one-third of men used a condom the last time they had sex, according to a 2017 report from the CDC. The data was nationally representative of the U.S. population and found that for women who were engaged, married, or living with their partner, 12 percent of their male partners always used a condom. For women who’d “just met” their partner or only went out with him “once in a while,” 43 percent used condoms.
As for oralHPV, there’s not much to be done once someone is infected and there’s no FDA-approved test. HPV is transmitted from skin-to-skin contact, so even using a condom isn’t a perfect solution (but still helpful!). Keeping your immune system healthy can help you clear the infection, so it comes back to the daily choices you make— eating nutrient-rich foods, exercising, managing stress, and sleeping well. Worth noting: Using birth control pills for 5+ years can increase your risk of cervical cancer caused by HPV.
What: People who ate foods labeled as “healthy” were more likely to eat more than those who ate food labeled “indulgent,” according to an Arizona State University study.
The Details: The study had two parts, involving two kinds of protein shakes, one high in fat, sugar, and calories, and the other low in those nutrients. After drinking a shake and doing a task, participants watched a video while eating potato chips.
In the first part, researchers observed that people who drank the high-sugar shake ate more chips than the low-sugar group. In the second part, researchers labeled the shakes as either “healthy living” or “indulgent” and found that the group with the “healthy” shake ate more chips.
Researchers knew that sugary foods can make you feel hungry later, but this study shows that product packaging can make some kind of self-control kick in.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Buying something labeled as “healthy” doesn’t make it so (remember the SnackWell’s craze?) and doesn’t give you a pass to overdo it on unhealthy food choices. Reading the Nutrition Facts panel and ingredient list on packaging can be annoying, but it’s the best way to keep an eye out for the bad stuff.
The WellBe Takeaway: Food industry marketers are geniuses, and will use all sorts of tricks to get us hooked on their products. Puting a “gluten-free” label on Twizzlers? Yea, of course they are. But marketers they know that stuff works! We are pretty big skeptics of anything in a package. We’re more into one-ingredient real foods (ex- apples, walnuts, celery), instead of those with complicated ingredient lists that could be masking added (and inflammation-causing) sugar.
6. Light therapy may help bipolar patients
What: For patients with bipolar disorder, daily exposure to bright white light may reduce depressive symptoms and increase functioning.
The Details: A study from Northwestern Medicine of patients who had at least moderate depression, bipolar disorder, and who were on a mood stabilizer, put half the group in front of a bright light for 15 minutes (then up to 60 minutes per day) at midday for six weeks. At the end, they observed that more than 68 percent of the test group achieved a normal level of mood, had a lower average depression score, and were able to function higher (i.e. going back to work or doing tasks they hadn’t been able to finish before treatment).
“Effective treatments for bipolar depression are very limited,” lead author Dr. Dorothy Sit, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a news release. “This gives us a new treatment option for bipolar patients that we know gets us a robust response within four to six weeks.”
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Researchers observed minimal side effects on the study participants— which is hard to come by for depression treatments (hello, drugs). Winter and darker days are near, which can bring on seasonal affective disorder (SAD), depression that recurs in a seasonal pattern. Women are four times more likely to be diagnosed with SAD than men. The causes of SAD are unknown, but light therapy is a known treatment for it. SAD may be linked to Vitamin D deficiency, which could result from a lack of sunlight during winter months.
The WellBe Takeaway: This is huge since antidepressants and bipolar meds often have terrible side effects. If we took either, we’d speak to our prescribing doctor about light therapy. We’re fortunate not to deal with seasonal depression, but everyone gets a little down when the sun stays out so briefly. To counter that, we’re making sure we get outside in the fresh air during the work day, upping our Vitamin D supplement intake, and are looking into light boxes, in case we start feeling low this season.
7. Prenatal vitamins may reduce autism risk
What: A study of over 270,000 mother-child pairs found that taking a multivitamin during pregnancy may reduce a child’s risk of developing autism by as much as 30 percent.
The Details: Swedish researchers looked at data from the group— the kids were aged 4 to 15 by the end of the study —and found that prenatal vitamin use lowered the risk of developing autism associated with intellectual disabilities. It’s not new news, experts told Newsweek, and the causal relationship isn’t confirmed, but it’s a good sign. About 1 in 68 children is born on the autism spectrum.
“This research essentially adds to the growing body of literature saying that those factors that matter for general prenatal health have a number of additional benefits and are also important for the child neurologically,” Dr. Matthew Lerner, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at Stony Brook University, told Newsweek.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Mom being healthy before pregnancy is important for a baby’s health, too! But this is not actually widely known. In fact, an unrelated study found that only one-third of women are taking a multivitamin with folic acid (it prevents serious birth defects) before they know they’re pregnant.
“Half of all pregnancies are unexpected, which means women of childbearing age need to be doing all they can to be healthy in the event they do get pregnant,” Stacey Stewart, president of the March of Dimes Foundation, told HealthDay.
The WellBe Takeaway: We’re all technically old enough to have kids, but none of us are taking that (huge!) step now. But since we’re women, we’re trying to be more consistent about taking our multivitamin just in case!
8. Firefighters exposed to carcinogens when battling flames
What: Skin contact with carcinogens may play a big part in firefighters’ increased cancer risk.
The Details: Back in 2013, a study of 30,000 U.S. firefighters found that they have higher rates of cancer than the general population. In this new study, researchers looked into how much of a certain hazardous substance (and known carcinogen), PAH, they were exposed to when responding to fires.
Turns out, it was a lot. After responding to a fire, firefighters had PAH levels in their urine that were 2.9 to 5.3 times higher than pre-fire levels. PAH can cause genetic mutations. After a fire, their risk for genetic mutations increased 4.3-fold. PAH levels in urine are related to the levels of PAH on the skin, so study authors concluded that the skin is an important route to exposure.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Firefighters are an extreme example, but the study is a big reminder that our skin is our biggest organ and it takes in everything we’re being exposed to. Hello, air pollution, soap, lotion, etc. If you didn’t think it really mattered, this should help clear things up.
The WellBe Takeaway: Back at the Indie Beauty Expo, we were introduced to Action Wipes, the only EWG-approved body wipe designed to help firefighters wipe off toxins from their bodies. They even have a 12-step process for decontamination. We’re recommending them to rescue worker friends, but they’re also handy for any activity where you’re skin is exposed to heavy toxins (like bug spray). They’re organic, made with pure essential oils, and, bonus, the company is woman-owned, like WellBe! Check them out on Amazon.