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 August + September 2019, WellBe-style.
1. Diagnosing Lyme Disease Is Challenging — But A New FDA-Approved Test Could Help
What: The conversation about lyme disease and chronic lyme disease continue to draw national attention, and the FDA approved a new testing process to help people get diagnosed earlier.
The Details: Lyme disease has been in the public eye as of late, with many news outlets — most notably the New York Times — running many articles on the complicated issue of chronic Lyme disease. Most recently, they came out with an in-depth article that explored why, precisely, diagnosing Lyme disease is so complicated. Though the issue is thorny and complex, the main takeaway is this: there’s no way to definitively test for the bacteria that causes the disease. Most often, Lyme is diagnosed through its characteristic target-shaped rash or other symptoms, such as headache and joint pain. This method is problematic, as the same symptoms could be caused by a different infection, and many people with Lyme don’t get the tell-tale rash (Adrienne didn’t).
Unfortunately, the available tests can do much better, since none of the current blood tests look directly for the Lyme-causing bacteria, but rather for the body’s antibody response. The issue with this method is that it takes a while for the body to produce an antibody response, at which point the Lyme disease has already progressed. In an ideal world, tests could detect Lyme at the earliest stages of infection, when treatment is most effective.
In light of this, the recent Lyme-related news from the FDA is particularly hopeful. In July, the agency gave the OK to a new streamlined process for diagnosing Lyme disease, which makes uses of tests that already exist and are in wide use. The usual tests for diagnosing Lyme involve two sequential steps for finding the antibodies — the new one allows both to be run concurrently, allowing them to get more accurate results more quickly. Because this new process is also easier to interpret, it will give doctors greater confidence in early Lyme diagnoses, allowing people to get treatment sooner.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? In 2017, the CDC found 42,743 confirmed and probable cases of Lyme disease, which is up 17% from the year before. Though there’s no data for later years, it’s clear that the condition is on the rise, so it’s something we should all be aware of. Plus, this news should remind us all that ticks carry all sorts of scary infections and viruses that we need to arm ourselves against.
The WellBe Takeaway: We’re glad that Lyme disease is getting more national attention (we’ve been talking about it for a while now!), and that actual progress is being made in terms of diagnosing and treating the condition. It remains to be seen how effective this new process is in practice, but we’re cautiously optimistic.
2. Pregnancy Health Roundup: Exercise, Sleep Position, Drinking Alcohol, and Vitamin D
What: Late summer saw a whole lot of news related to health and pregnancy, with studies showing that: vitamin D during pregnancy improves babies’ dental health; aerobic exercise while pregnant is beneficial for babies’ neuromotor development; sleep position during pregnancy doesn’t affect your baby’s health; and even a little bit of alcohol while pregnant can up the risk of miscarriage. Yikes!
The Details: Let’s take these one by one, shall we? First up, vitamin D. The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, looked at 623 women, all of whom began taking two pills per day at week 24 of pregnancy. For half of those women, the pills included 400 and 2,400 units of vitamin D, respectively; for the other half, one pill contained 400 units of vitamin D, while the other was a placebo. After six years, dentists looked at the children’s teeth, and found that those whose moms took the full vitamin D dose had a 47% lower rate of enamel defects in both permanent and baby teeth. That’s a lot. While we already knew that vitamin D plays an essential role in enamel development, the senior author calls this “an extremely robust finding.”
Another study that randomly divided pregnant women into two groups looked at the impact of exercise. The researchers assigned 71 healthy pregnant women to either perform 50 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise three times a week, or not perform any exercise (besides light daily activities). Then they looked at the women’s babies at one month of age, measuring their neuromotor skills with an assessment called the Peabody Developmental Motor Scales. They found that infants whose mothers exercised during pregnancy scored higher on four out of five variables in the assessment, leading researchers to conclude that exercising while pregnant leads babies to be better at moving around in the world, and thus likely to be more active in life.
All that recommended activity (plus, y’know, just growing a human inside them) means moms-to-be need a lot of sleep. For a long time, the recommendation has been that pregnant women sleep on their left side to reduce the risk of stillbirth, as this position maximizes blood flow to the placenta and minimizes the risk that the uterus will compress blood vessels, leading to lowered circulation. But a new study suggests that women can sleep in whatever position they like best up through their 30th week of pregnancy. The study looked at 8,700 women, all of whom reported their sleep positions and one third of whom underwent a sleep study. When researchers compared pregnancy positions to adverse outcomes, like stillbirth, there was no link. No research was done into how sleep positions after 30 weeks affects baby health outcomes.
Lastly, alcohol: conventional wisdom has long been that a glass of wine is totally okay when you’re pregnant; in fact, it’s the norm in many European countries. But a new meta-analysis that looked at 24 studies conducted between 1970 and 2019 suggests that you may need to hold off on happy hour while pregnant. The analysis, which included more than 231,000 pregnant women, found that drinking even small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy increases the odds of miscarriage by 19%. For women who drink fewer than five alcoholic beverages per week, each additional drink upped the risk of miscarriage by 6%. Kind of a buzzkill, huh?
Why Does This Matter for My Health? While pregnancy doesn’t last all that long (though it may feel like it lasts FOREVER), these studies make it clear that what you do during those nine months or so can have a major impact on your child’s health and well-being throughout their entire life.
The WellBe Takeaway: Pregnant women get a lot of advice from the outside world, and it can be tough to sift through what’s legit and what’s not, but all four of these findings are based on real science and come from reputable sources. Even if we’re not pregnant currently, we’re going to take all of this research seriously, and keep an eye on follow-up studies.
What: The EPA announced its decision not to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide widely used in agriculture that has been linked to serious developmental and health problems in kids.
The Details: In 2015, the Obama administration announced its decision to ban chlorpyrifos in the wake of scientific studies showing that it harmed children’s health. But by the time Scott Pruitt took the helm of the EPA in 2017, the ban hadn’t yet gone into effect, and he reversed course. This set off a lengthy legal dispute, with environmental groups like the NRDC and Earthjustice leading the charge to get the pesticide banned.
In July of this year, the EPA made a final ruling not to ban chlorpyrifos, stating that they couldn’t find sufficient reliable evidence linking it to health issues (despite the fact that some of the initial studies came from the EPA itself). The decision is almost certainly a result of lobbying on the part of the chemical industry and farmers, who argued that the pesticide was necessary for protecting crops. It’s worth noting that chlorpyrifos is already banned for household use nationwide (so it’s not safe to use in our homes but it’s cool to put it on our food? Um, ok…) and banned completely in Hawaii. New York and California are considering similar complete bans, while the European Commission is getting pressure from consumers and environmental groups to make a similar move.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? The pesticide is linked to VERY SERIOUS problems in kids. It’s been shown to impair brain development, leading to things like learning disabilities, lower IQ, developmental delays, and ADHD. Even if you don’t have kids, the fact that it can do that kind of damage means it’s definitely not good for you. It’s also virtually inescapable when it comes to conventionally-grown produce: it’s used in more than 50 common crops, including things like apples, oranges, and berries, as well as nuts and cereal.
The WellBe Takeaway: While this is (very) discouraging and insanely infuriating, we’re resolved to take action rather than despair. First off, this gives us yet one more reason to always buy organic, and to support businesses that carry organic products. And second, the fact that Hawaii has taken action and that New York, California, and Europe might do the same, strengthens our resolve to make our opinions known to local government and push for real change.
What: Google’s recent algorithm update utilizes new page ranking criteria that buries alternative health websites in the search result pages.
The Details: The first thing to understand is that Google, like Facebook and Amazon and other digital giants, periodically updates the algorithm it uses to deliver you information. In the most recent update, Google shifted from using crowdsourced relevance as the primary ranking factor — ie, a page that gets a lot of clicks will rank higher than a page with few clicks — to using human “quality” raters. The second thing to understand is that Google lumps a whole bunch of websites into a category it calls “Your Money Your Life” (YMYL), which includes web pages important enough that, if they contained low-quality information, they could have a negative impact on a person’s life.
Because alternative health sites fall under the YMYL umbrella, and because the human raters were instructed to give low ratings to potentially dangerous or inaccurate medical advice, and because anything that goes against conventional medical wisdom is generally deemed inaccurate or dangerous, this has been a major blow to alternative health sites. Websites like Mercola, MindBodyGreen, and Prevention have all seen a major dip in traffic since the algorithm change (you can see a more comprehensive list of who was affected by the change here).
Why Does This Matter for My Health? When it comes to your health, you deserve — and need — to have all of the information available to you. Sometimes the best health advice will come from a conventional doctor and adhere to the medical orthodoxy…but sometimes it won’t! People like Carrie Jones, who approaches laboratory tests differently and more comprehensively than an MD, or Jill Blakeway, who helps people transform their lives with energy healing — NEITHER of them would be available to you if you just went off Google’s search results (well, they would be, but you’d have to click through a bunch of pages, and let’s be real, nobody is clicking past page 2).
The WellBe Takeaway: Just another reason that we’re not turning to Google for diagnoses or treatment! We know how hard it is to get science-based, holistic, trustworthy medical advice that gets to the root of your health issues and considers your long-term health (um, hello, that’s why we exist), but we believe it’s worth working for. We’re going to keep looking to evidence-based health and wellness advice, and speaking to knowledgeable experts without dogmatic points of view, and digesting all that information into usable, holistic advice that relies on science, not a search engine, to help you get well. In fact, our latest launch, WellBe Spark Health, includes a WellBe concierge service that helps you completely avoid the search engine chaos and get custom research answering your exact questions.
5. Large Study Shows That A Eating Flavonoid-Rich Diet Greatly Reduces Death From Cancer or Heart Disease
What: A large study out of Denmark concludes that eating foods rich in flavonoids protects against death from cancer and heart disease.
The Details: Researchers in Denmark assessed the diets and health outcomes of 53,048 Danes over the course of 23 years, and found that those who regularly consumed moderate to high amounts of flavonoid-rich foods were less likely to die from cancer or heart disease. Those who had about 500 mg per day of flavonoids (which are compounds found in plant-based food and drink) had the lowest risk of death, and the protective effect was strongest among those who smoked or had more than two alcoholic drinks per day. Flavonoids, like other antioxidants, help our bodies fight inflammation by corralling cell-damaging free radicals and metallic ions.
The researchers aren’t totally sure why flavonoids reduce the risk of death by cancer or heart disease, but they think it could be a few things. Flavonoids are anti-inflammatory as we mentioned, which helps counteract cancer, and they also improve blood vessel function, which helps the heart.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Making lifestyle changes like quitting smoking or drinking — or reducing stress, sleeping better, exercising more…anything! — can be super challenging. Eating 500mg of flavonoids a day, however, is totally manageable. This new research offers actionable advice that all of us, no matter our current health habits, can use to protect ourselves against fatal disease.
The WellBe Takeaway: Well, this one seems pretty cut-and-dried: we’re going to be eating more flavonoids!! Luckily, flavonoids come in some very delicious forms, and most of them are also anti-inflammatory foods. You can get 500mg of flavonoids from all sorts of yummy fruits, veggies, and more. For example: a cup of tea, one apple, one orange, 100g or 1 cup of blueberries, or 100g or 1 cup of broccoli all contain around 500mg of flavonoids. Fruit salad with tea, anyone?
What: Children who eat a large amount of gluten during their first five years of life have a higher risk of developing gluten intolerance or celiac disease, according to a new study.
The Details: The study, which was published in JAMA, spanned affiliations and nations: it involved 19 researchers from different universities and looked at more than 6,600 children born between 2004 and 2010 in Sweden, Finland, Germany, and the United States, all of whom had a genotype associated with celiac disease. The researchers evaluated their gluten intake over three-day periods at 6 months, 9 months, and 12 months, then twice a year until they turned five.
After that point, they tracked the health outcomes of the children as they grew up, and found that children who consumed higher-than-average levels of gluten during their early years were 7.2% more likely to have celiac disease, and 6.1% more likely to have celiac disease autoimmunity (the presence of antibodies that signal the development of celiac disease).
Why Does This Matter for My Health? About 3 million Americans have celiac disease, and it’s on the rise around the world. While only people with a genetic predisposition are susceptible to the condition, its prevalence is increasing, which has left people looking for possible environmental causes of the increase. The findings of this study offer a clue, and say quite a lot about the power of what we eat to impact our health, especially early in life.
This research may impact the guidelines doctors give to parents of newborns when it comes to what foods to introduce — but even if it doesn’t, it’s useful information for parents and parents-to-be to know themselves. The study authors suggest that, for a child with a predisposition to celiac disease, parents should make sure that they aren’t exposed to a large amount of gluten-containing food during the first 2-3 years of life. This means no more than 5 grams of gluten daily (for reference, gluten is about 11-12% the weight of wheat, so 45 grams or about ½ a cup of a wheat product = 5 grams of gluten).
The WellBe Takeaway: The fact that eating gluten has such a powerful and lifelong effect on kids tells us a lot about its power to impact our bodies in potentially negative ways. While some people can eat gluten with no problem, others — even those without celiac disease or gluten intolerance — find that they feel much better when they cut it out (Adrienne mostly cut it out last year, and finds that works well for her!). We’re going to continue to monitor our gluten intake, observe how we feel when we eat it, and adjust accordingly!
What: New research shows that a class of widely-used heartburn drugs known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) may raise the chance of death and Novartis recalls all generic Zantac in the US, another popular heartburn drug, after confirmed contamination with a carcinogenic is found.
The Details: The study tracked people who took prescription PPIs (such as Prilosec and Nexium) over the course of 5 years, and compared them to people who took H2 blockers, a different type of heartburn medication (such as Zantac or Pepcid). They found that, compared to those who took the H2 blockers, people who took PPIs had a 25% higher risk of death. Twenty. Five. Percent. Let that sink in.
They also found that the odds of dying continues to increase the longer people used the drugs, especially if they used them for more than a year — which is significant, since people often end up taking these kinds of things for months or years, even though the recommended treatment regimen is short. So if you have heartburn and you’re thinking, ok fine, I won’t take a PPI, I’ll take an H2 blocker, beware: the large drug manufacturer Novartis recalled all generic Zantac (called Ranitidine) in the US on September 23rd after confirming several product batches were contaminated with a human carcinogenic substance.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? PPI drugs are SUPER common — in 2015, there were 15 million monthly prescriptions for Nexium alone — so even if you don’t take one, chances are someone you love does. Plus, they’ve been linked to all sorts of health issues in the past, things like kidney problems, dementia, and bone fractures. And H2 drugs are pretty popular too, and are sold over the counter. Make no mistake, taking both PPIs and H2 drugs can have serious consequences.
The WellBe Takeaway: While this latest study is only an association, not proof of cause and effect, it’s definitely enough to make us want to steer clear of PPIs. But even without this research, we’re all about avoiding prescriptions and instead looking to the root cause of our issues. And we know from our interview with Dr. Jonathan Aviv that there are lifestyle- and diet-based interventions that can help heal the conditions that PPIs are used to treat (things like ulcers, GERD, and heartburn).
8. Depression Bad News/Good News: Taking Antidepressants Long-Term Linked to Health Risks, But One Supplement Offers Hope For Natural Treatment
What: Recent studies are raising concerns about the risks of taking antidepressants for a prolonged period of time (as more and more Americans do just that), while a new meta-analysis suggests that omega-3 fatty acids (think fish oil) can be beneficial for treating depression and other mental health disorders.
The Details: The Wall Street Journal published an in-depth exploration of new concerns arising among medical professionals related to long-term use of antidepressants. The article comes in the wake of several studies with pretty scary findings. For instance, a meta-analysis of 17 studies found that among people who used antidepressants, there was a 14% increased risk of heart attacks and strokes and a 33% increased risk of death. In older adults, SSRI medications (the most common type of antidepressant) have been linked to falls, fractures, and a heightened risk of dementia. SSRIs — which stands for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors — affects the body’s level of serotonin, which is critical in immune function, growth, and digestion, so it’s highly likely that long-term use of these drugs would have an impact on these processes as well.
What’s more, as of 2017, almost 13% of Americans are on antidepressants, and a quarter of them have used them for a decade or more. In a lot of cases, taking the drugs for that long isn’t necessary — a person simply gets put on something, their initial symptoms diminish, and nobody ever revisits it. In fact, one study found that the longer someone was on a medication, the less likely they were to have their prescription reviewed to see if they still needed it.
On a more positive note, World Psychiatry recently published the world’s largest review of quantitative studies looking at dietary supplements and mental health, and found some promising results from omega-3 fatty acids for depression. The review included 33 meta-analyses, which encompassed 10,951 people with mental health disorders including depression, stress and anxiety disorders, bipolar, personality disorders, schizophrenia, and ADHD. They found that across the board, omega-3s reduced symptoms of depression beyond antidepressants alone. They also found emerging evidence that omega-3 supplements could have benefits for people with ADHD.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Use of antidepressants is skyrocketing, and they’re widely overprescribed: in 73% of healthcare visits where antidepressants were prescribed, there was no psychiatric diagnosis reported. Given those things, it’s highly likely that you or someone you know (or a lot of someones you know) is taking one. That means the negative effects of long-term antidepressant use is not something we can ignore. On the other hand, untreated depression is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, early death, and suicide. So, of course it’s important not to ignore depression symptoms. Luckily there is a lot you can do to figure out the root causes and use natural antidepressants such as the omega 3 fatty acids mentioned in the second study.
The WellBe Takeaway: This new research makes us keen to try every natural, side-effect-free option available to reduce depression symptoms, so we can avoid having to take antidepressant drugs and get to the root cause of why we might be feeling depressed. Depression symptoms or not, we’re going to try even harder to take our fish oil supplement consistently, and work more (wild) salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, cod liver oil, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts — which all have high levels of omega 3 fatty acids — into our diet.
Other News Worth Noting:
Exercising in the Morning Is Better for Weight Loss (New York Times)
Johns Hopkins Opens a New Center for Psychedelic Research (Baltimore Sun)
Frogs in Your Bagged Lettuce? (Washington Post)