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 April, WellBe-style.
MEDITATION CAN KEEP YOUR MIND SHARP AS YOU AGE
What: A long-term study of people who meditated found that they had improved attention and focus as they got older. As if we needed more reasons to start this practice!
The Details: In the study, a group of 60 people who were regular meditators were assessed at six months, 18 months, and 7 years. At the beginning of the study, researchers assessed the cognitive abilities of half of the group before they went on a three-month retreat. They found that the group made cognitive gains after the retreat and maintained those gains over the study period. Additionally, regular meditators didn’t show typical patterns of age-related decline in attention span, Integrative Practitioner reported.
In an unrelated study, Harvard researchers found that a group of 24 people who meditated over an eight-week period showed a meaningful decrease in their blood pressure. The technique they used was simple and involved deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and concentration on a one-word mantra while passively ignoring intrusive thoughts, WBUR reported.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Meditation isn’t just good for dealing with your short-term stress and worries, it may help you protect your brain as you age.
What: The virus that causes mononucleosis — yup, mono, the “kissing disease” —has been connected to totally unrelated diseases in a study published in Nature Genetics.
The Details: The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) causes mono. In their research, scientists found that a protein made by EBV binds to multiple locations along the human genome that are associated with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease, and type 1 diabetes, Science Daily reported. EBV hijacks the immune system and takes over how it functions, causing disease.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Figuring out that this one thing, EBV, is connected to so many previously unrelated (and mostly mysterious) diseases is HUGE! EBV is so common that more than 90 percent of the U.S. population gets infected by age 20. Mono is the most common illness caused by EBV. There’s no vaccine for EBV, but this finding is making scientists want to start developing one.
The WellBe Takeaway: Talk about getting to the root cause of disease– this finding could help develop genetic therapies that stop EBV from taking over and stop these diseases. It can also help patients with these diseases work specifically on getting rid of the virus. We recently talked to Soapwalla founder Rachel Winard about her sudden development of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) when she was in her 20s and it was a life-changing diagnosis. Ayurveda put it into remission. We say make sure you get tested for EBV at your next blood test and if you have it, work with an integrative practitioner to understand how to kill off (or at least keep dormant) viruses in your body so they can’t wreak havoc.
NEWFOUND ORGAN MAY EXPLAIN HOW ACUPUNCTURE WORKS
What: We thought the human body had 79 organs— but now researchers have found a new one that’s the biggest of them all. HOLD THE PHONE.
The Details: In a new study published in Scientific Reports, researchers identified a previously undiscovered organ, the interstitium. (OK, more research is needed before it’s officially an “organ,” but still!) It’s a thin layer of dense connective tissue that can be found throughout the body, sandwiched under the skin and within the middle layer of every visceral organ (think heart, liver, etc), The Daily Beast reported. So how did it get missed? The tissue layers are fluid-filled, so they don’t show up on standard microscopic slides, LiveScience reported.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Discovering a new organ doesn’t happen every day, and a “continuous organ” throughout the body could help explain some of modern medicine’s unknowns, like the exact mechanics of how acupuncture works and how cancer cells spread from their origin to far-away organs.
The WellBe Takeaway: More research needs to be done into this totally new concept of the interstitium, but we are excited and eager to learn more as discoveries are made! This also shows us how much the conventional medical community still doesn’t know about the human body, hence why we have learned to do lots of research from many different schools of thought when figuring out a health issue.
WOMEN WITH PCOS MAY HAVE INCREASED RISK OF MENTAL HEALTH DISORDERS, STUDY SUGGESTS
What: In the largest study of the mental health of women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), researchers found a potential connection between the two, suggesting affected women should be screened for mental health disorders.
The Details: The British study looked at data from nearly 17,000 women with PCOS and found that they were more likely to be diagnosed with conditions including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders, compared to women without PCOS. The study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, also observed that children born to women with PCOS may have a higher risk of developing ADHD and autism than other children. Researchers noted that neither finding shows cause and effect and further research is needed.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility in young women, affecting between 7 and 10 percent of those of childbearing age. It can cause symptoms such as weight gain, irregular menstrual cycles, and acne, according to Everyday Health. Knowing why it’s happening, or connecting the dots between other mental health issues is super important.
The WellBe Takeaway: Researchers didn’t have an explanation for the link between PCOS and mental health (one suggested women with PCOS may suffer depression and anxiety related to concerns about body weight and other symptoms), and their finding is a good reminder that so much of what’s going on in your body is connected. When we talked to Alisa Vitti, founder of FLO Living, she dealt with 60 pounds of added weight, cystic acne, and anxiety and depression for seven years before finding her PCOS diagnosis herself. Once she figured that out, she took things in her own hands and made changes that reversed her symptoms.
THE ENVIRONMENT + GENETICS TRIGGER FOOD ALLERGIES IN CHILDREN, STUDY SAYS
What: Food allergies have long been a mystery, but a new study by Northwestern Medicine found that a combo of environmental and genetic factors contributes to triggering allergies in infants and children.
The Details: Using an animal model, researchers observed that subjects exposed to food allergens, like peanuts, didn’t develop allergies unless the top layer of their skin was disrupted by baby wipes. The baby wipes left soap on the skin, which messes with the fats that make up that top layer and leaves skin vulnerable to allergens.
Another, unrelated study published in JAMA Pediatrics of over 790,000 babies (that’s a lot of babies) found that those given antibiotics or antacids (ex- Zantac, Pepcid) are more likely to develop childhood allergies, which may be related to gut bacteria changes, the Associated Press reported. Researchers concluded docs should be more cautious about prescribing these meds to babies who spit up because, um, that’s a pretty common thing for babies to do.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Food allergies affect an estimated 4 to 6 percent of kids in the U.S., according to the CDC. That figure is on the rise, with prevalence increasing 18 percent from 1997 to 2007. The good news from the Northwestern study is that modifying things in the home environment can help— after handling food, wash your hands before handling a baby, get rid of antibacterial soap in the home since it can wipe out good bacteria in the gut, and cut back on using infant wipes that might contain chemicals and leave soap on the skin (just use non-toxic soap and water!).
The WellBe Takeaway: We knew the food we eat and the environment around us affect our health, but these things have an especially big impact on babies’ developing systems. We’re glad researchers are finding these connections and the next time we’re cuddling with babies, we’re washing our hands with non-toxic soap first!
USDA ALLOWS CONTROVERSIAL CARRAGEENAN TO REMAIN IN ORGANIC FOODS
What: In spite of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) going out against controversial emulsifier carrageenan (Heard of it? It’s regularly used in food to thicken the texture.), the USDA just said the ingredient can still be used in organic foods. Come on, USDA, really…
The Details: Carrageenan is derived from seaweed and widely used in many packaged foods— it improves texture and mouthfeel for ice cream, baby formula, deli meats, and non-dairy milks. The NOSB voted to remove the ingredient from a list of approved ingredients in organic food, but this month the USDA went against that and said carrageenan is still OK.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Even though it’s derived from something natural, carrageenan has issues. Researchers say it causes inflammation and gastrointestinal distress, with some studies finding links between carrageenan and stomach pain, glucose intolerance, and type 2 diabetes, Food Dive reported. But other researchers weren’t able to replicate the findings, making it controversial.
The WellBe Takeaway: We’re erring on the side of caution and avoiding carrageenan. We’re annoyed that the USDA made this call, but we’re also hopeful because some brands were already working toward taking out carrageenan from their products, including Organic Valley, Stonyfield, and Eden Foods. Here’s a reminder to vote with your wallet and support companies like these and brands that don’t use carrageenan in their products. How do you figure that out? Turn the packaging around and read the ingredient label— it should be clearly listed. On some brands now you’ll see “carrageenan-free.” Look for: So Delicious Dairy Free Coconut Milk Beverage, Unsweetened ; Pacific Natural Foods Organic Oat Beverage; and West Soy Organic Unsweetened Soymilk.
COUGH DROPS WITH MENTHOL LINKED TO WORSE, PROLONGED COUGHS
What: If you usually turn to cough drops when you have a tickle in your throat, you may want to rethink that after the findings from a University of Wisconsin study.
The Details: Using a 10-question survey of 548 primary-care patients, researchers found that people who used cough drops, especially those with menthol, had longer duration of illness and a more severe cough, compared to non-users. They hypothesize that menthol may have negative side effects on cough symptoms, but say further research is needed.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Menthol is in a lot of cough drops and over-the-counter drugs, so you may be consuming more than you realize when you’re seeking relief. A study we looked at in November showed the OTC drugstore meds are no good for a cough, and this seems to reinforce that.
The WellBe Takeaway: Mentholated cough drops may feel soothing and cooling when you have a cough, but it’s an illusion. We ditched them in favor of soothing hot tea, lots of water, and immune-boosting foods.
TWO HEALTH ADVOCACY WINS: NATUROPATHIC DOCTORS AND A RISKY IUD
What: This month brought two health advocacy wins we had to share. The first was for naturopathic medicine in Maine and the second for patient advocates, with a FDA ruling restricting a controversial contraceptive after patient complaints.
The Details: In Maine, Governor Paul LePage tried to veto a new law that requires health insurance providers to cover naturopathic doctors’ services. The House and the Senate overruled him. Senator Justin Chenette, who introduced the bill, did so after a constituent with chronic Lyme approached him to make sure she could use insurance to pay for the alternative therapies she used, the Bangor Daily News reported. A study from the Maine Bureau of Insurance found that covering naturopathy won’t have a negative impact on monthly premiums.
On a national level, the FDA is restricting the sale and distribution of Essure, a contraceptive implant. Essure has been controversial— after hearing complaints from 5,000 women that the device caused unwanted pregnancies, miscarriages, stillbirths, and severe pain and bleeding, the FDA put a “black box” warning on it. That’s the strongest warning they issue. Now, the new restriction makes docs review a brochure with patients that lists the risks and both have to sign a document to confirm they’ve read it.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Getting non-conventional medicine covered by health insurance is huge, so props to Maine for bringing naturopathy into the fold. With Essure, this new layer of required accountability is a good move, but taking Essure off the market would be even better.
The WellBe Takeaway: Dealing with a health issues that requires integrative care and you aren’t getting covered? Talk to your state lawmakers, like Senator Chenette’s constituent did. She made that happen! The Essure news also shows the power of people when they speak up after a bad experience— if you’ve been harmed by a medical intervention, you’re probably not the only one, so find those advocates online and speak up and out together!