The WellBe Wrap-up: December 2018 + January 2019

All the health and wellness news and health research you need to know from October + November 2019.
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 December and January, WellBe-style.


Johnson & Johnson Knew About Asbestos in Baby Powder — And Now They’re Paying for It
What: Hundreds of pages of memos revealed that Johnson & Johnson has been concerned about asbestos in their baby powder for decades, and the company is feeling the consequences both in court and in the stock market. Meanwhile, a company they recently acquired is under investigation for misusing charitable funds.
The Details: Last summer, 22 women with ovarian cancer successfully sued J&J, asserting that they knew about the connection between asbestos and talc (the primary ingredient in their famous baby powder), and were awarded $4.69 billion; meanwhile, there are 12,000 other pending lawsuits claiming that the powder causes cancer.
Amid these legal battles, newly revealed internal documents put J&J in an even more vulnerable position. In memos that were recently made public through litigation investigations and FOIA requests, executives openly acknowledge their concern that the baby powder could be contaminated by asbestos. What’s more, these memos go back as far as 1971, and nothing was ever done about it. That’s almost fifty years. Maybe even more troubling is the fact that J&J actively tried to deceive the public, including winning assurances from the FDA that certain findings wouldn’t be made public. Sorta gives you chills, no?
While the company still maintains that the baby powder is safe, these new documents make it harder for them to make that case — and for the public to trust them. Shares of J&J dropped 10% after it was first reported that they knew about asbestos concerns.
At the same time, Actelion Pharmaceuticals, which J&J acquired in 2017, has been ordered to pay $360 million to settle allegations that it used a nonprofit foundation to pay kickbacks encouraging Medicare patients to buy its drugs. While all of the alleged misconduct happened before J&J’s acquisition, this is still pretty bad press for the giant corporation.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Asbestos, as you probably know, is very, very bad. Even tiny amounts are considered dangerous and carcinogenic, as its “dagger-like” fibers can get inside your tissue and lead to cancer in the lungs, ovaries, and voice box, as well as mesothelioma.
The WellBe Takeaway: We’re reminded, once again, that just because something is on the shelves of every store, and just because the FDA says it’s okay, does not mean that it’s fine to use. As exhausting as it can be, at WellBe we’re committed to doing our research and only using brands we know and trust and then sharing those that are safe (and those that are not!) with you. This news certainly strengthens our commitment to doing that.



Kids’ Gut Health Linked to Autism, Leukemia, and Future Mental Disorders
What: Three new research breakthroughs drive home the central role that the gut plays in children’s health, specifically as it relates to leukemia, autism, and other mental disorders.
The Details: A researcher has found that leukemia in children is caused, in large part, by the fact that some babies aren’t exposed to germs and bacteria during their first year of life, leaving their immune systems “unprimed” and prone to chronic inflammation — which, in turn, leaves them susceptible to leukemia. This lack of exposure to important bacteria is due to trends in developed nations like using antibacterial soaps and antiseptic wipes, as well as a reduction in breastfeeding and less time playing outside. He believes that, based on these findings, childhood leukemia can be combated by rebalancing kids’ gut microbiomes with carefully formulated yogurt-based drinks.
Meanwhile, new research suggests that the gut may also harbor the potential cure for autism. It’s long been known that children with autism have different gut bacteria than neurotypical children, and that gut ecology has a major impact on the nervous system. A new study published in Neuron explored these connections, finding that mice that displayed autistic symptoms behaved more “sociable” and “normal” when exposed to a certain bacteria, Lactobacillus reuteri, which can be found as a probiotic in health shops. The researchers believe that this result is due to the gut sending signals to the brain via the vagus nerve.
Lastly, a huge study including over a million individuals in Denmark found a striking link between treatment for infections and subsequent mental disorders. Specifically, the study found that severe infections requiring hospitalization increased the risk of hospital contact due to mental disorders by 84%, and bumped up the risk of psychotropic medication use by 42%. These findings suggest that infections and the immune system — and, in turn, the gut — play a significant role in a wide range of mental disorders, from schizophrenia to OCD to ADHD and more.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Whether or not you have kids or are planning on doing so, you should still be startled by the rising rate of the diseases in question. Leukemia numbers have been steadily increasing by 1% for the past few decades, and autism and ADHD diagnoses are skyrocketing. Clearly there’s something off, and that should be concerning to everyone.
The WellBe Takeaway: We’ve been off antibacterial soaps for a while now, and all of these studies drive home the importance of maintaining a healthy microbiome. We’re going to keep taking our probiotics, avoid antibiotics whenever possible, use non-antibacterial soap, and eat a healthy dose of fermented foods — and, if and when kiddos enter the picture, make sure that they get plenty of playtime in the dirt.


Study Shows that the Placebo Effect Trumps Genes
What: A new study shows that being told you have a genetic predisposition for something not only changes your perception and behavior — it can have an effect on your body as well.
The Details: In a study out of Stanford, 223 participants were told totally random (and untrue) information about their genetic propensities for exercise and diet, and then had to perform various activities like running on a treadmill or drinking a smoothie. The researchers found that, as expected, what people were told about their genes influenced their performance: those who were told they had “worse” genes quit running earlier and reported feeling hungrier after drinking the smoothie. What’s more striking, and less expected, is that the changes were physiological as well: their lung function and hunger-hormone levels also appeared to change.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? As home DNA kits like 23andMe (and far less rigorous or regulated “wellness” DNA tests) become ubiquitous, we’re all likely to come across some “facts” about our genetic makeup. This can be interesting, but, as this study shows, we should take it all with a grain of salt. Putting too much stock in the fate of your genes can promote a victim mentality, and your supposed genetic destiny becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The WellBe Takeaway: This is a heartening and eye-opening reminder that our genes are not our destiny, and that our beliefs and actions really matter. All the more reason to get in the habit of adopting a positive outlook! Doing so will not only put you in charge of your mind, but also your body.


Report Finds That Seafood Mislabeling is “Rampant”
What: A report from the New York Attorney General found that 25% of seafood sampled at New York grocery stores were mislabeled.
The Details: As part of the first major U.S. government investigation of seafood fraud at supermarket chains, the report revealed that seafood mislabeling is “rampant” in grocery outlets across New York state. Most often, items labeled as premium varieties of fish were, in actuality, less desirable, cheaper, and less environmentally sustainable species. For example, 27.6% of species sold as “wild” salmon were mislabeled, often substituted with farmed salmon. The report says that some of the mislabeling was intentional — in particular, with regard to the wild vs farmed salmon substitution, in which grocers can jack up the price — but that a lot of it was likely accidental, due to byzantine regulations and confusing labeling guidelines. Still, seems pretty fishy to us. 😉
Why Does This Matter for My Health? The kind of fish you choose matters. Like, a lot. When choosing a fish species, a lot of us are concerned about things like content of mercury and other toxins, as well as any contaminants that might have made their way into the fish. When seafood is mislabeled, we can’t make informed choices — meaning you might end up with a contaminant-filled fillet of farmed salmon, even though what you bought was labeled as wild. This becomes even scarier with regards to toxins like mercury, which can do major damage, especially to kids. Usually, people buying fish at supermarkets intend on serving that fish to their families, so this is pretty serious.
The WellBe Takeaway: Just as with the J&J case, this reminds us that we can’t always trust labels — especially labels that come from big chains or corporations. To protect ourselves, we’re going to do our best to shop at small, local fish markets instead of big grocery chains. We’re also going to make sure we actually know what wild salmon is supposed to look like. It’s a super vibrant color, almost blood orange! So if you see a pale pink, sorry-looking piece of fish labeled “wild,” maybe make something else for dinner that night, and find a different store or a responsibly-sourced delivery service like ButcherBox to source your fish instead. And if you need to buy supermarket fish, keep an eye out for pricing that seems too good to be true: the AG’s office says this can be a sign that something is amiss.


U.S. Life Expectancy Declines for Third Year, While Suicide Rate Soars
What: New reports from the CDC show that U.S. life expectancy decreased for the third year in a row (the last decline was in the 1960s), while deaths from drug overdoses and suicides continue to rise dramatically.
The Details: The latest statistics from the CDC show that Americans live to an average age of 78.6, a slight decline from last year, making this the third year in a row that it’s gone down. This has been driven largely by two troubling causes — drug overdoses and suicide — both of which disproportionately affect young people: death rates increased by nearly 3% for people aged 25-34, and 1.6% for those 35-44.
The opioid epidemic plays a big role. In 2016, 20% of all deaths among Americans aged 24-35 were due to opioids, and the overdose rate rose by nearly 10% from 2016 to 2017. At the same time, suicides are up 3.7% this year alone, and suicides among women have increased by 53% since 1999 (for men, the number is 26%). Experts attribute this to economic troubles, physical ailments, deteriorating relationships, and mental health issues.
Making this all more upsetting is the fact that, as the economy grows, life-saving advancements are made, and we know more about what it takes to avoid premature death, longevity is supposed to be increasing.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Seeing the larger context of health in our country can be a helpful tool for thinking about what you’re struggling with and how you can improve your health. While you may not be addicted to opioids or struggling with suicidal thoughts, the fact is that we’re all dealing with similar challenges nationwide. Being aware of how those challenges can impact your health — and your lifespan — can equip you to better take care of yourself.
The WellBe Takeaway: What’s notable about these reports is that 90% of the major causes of death listed — which also included diabetes and obesity — are chronic-disease-related, and largely preventable. That gives us a small glimmer of hope, and motivates us to continue to do everything we can to #getwellbe: stay on top of our diet, maintain a healthy weight, heal our chronic health issues before they become diseases and, most important of all, pay close attention to our mental health and practice self-care.


JHU Researchers Say Plant Compounds Are Better at Treating Lyme Disease than Antibiotics
What: New research out of Johns Hopkins found that essential oils derived from plant compounds are more effective at killing persistent forms of the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Seriously?! Holy smokes!
The Details: In a study published in Antibiotics, JHU researchers performed lab-dish tests of 35 essential oils, and found that 10 of them (including oil from garlic, myrrh, cinnamon, allspice, and cumin) were able to kill certain persistent forms of Lyme disease bacterium. According to Ying Zhang, the study’s senior author, “we found that these essential oils were even better at killing ‘persister’ forms of Lyme bacteria than standard Lyme antibiotics.”
This study follows another one, in 2017, which found that essential oils from oregano, cinnamon, cloves, citronella, and wintergreen killed Lyme bacteria even more potently than the top-performing pharmaceutical, daptomycin. Based on both of these studies, researchers believe that essential oils could be especially helpful in alleviating Lyme symptoms that persist after antibiotic treatment.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? Each year, there are around 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. No matter how many steps you take to protect yourself against ticks, this should be concerning. The standard course of treatment involves antibiotics, but this presents three problems: first, antibiotics come with their own set of serious issues (see #2, above); second, if you don’t catch the tick bite early, antibiotics are not entirely effective; and third, even if caught early and given antibiotics, 10-20% of patients report persistent symptoms.
The WellBe Takeaway: Though these lab-test studies are still too preliminary to extrapolate results out to humans, they’re very promising. Essential oils represent a largely misunderstood and untapped trove of healing, and we’re excited to follow this line of research as it progresses and hopefully makes its way to the mainstream as an alternative to antibiotics. Go, JHU!


Type 2 Diabetes May Be A Cause of Erectile Dysfunction
What: A large-scale analysis conducted by the Universities of Exeter and Oxford suggests that type 2 diabetes may be a cause of erectile dysfunction. Guys: pretty good reason to put the junk food down right?
The Details: The study, which was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, examined the data of more than 220,000 men, 6,000 of whom experienced erectile dysfunction or “ED”. The findings show not only that erectile dysfunction may have a genetic cause, but also that there’s a correlation between body weight, type 2 diabetes, and ED. Specifically, they found that having a genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes was linked with ED, providing evidence that diabetes can be the cause of erectile issues — and that living a healthier lifestyle can reduce the risk.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? ED might seem pretty irrelevant to your life right now, but the fact is that the issue is widespread, affecting one in five men over the age of 60. And even if erectile issues have nothing to do with your life, these findings underscore the notion that your lifestyle choices have a major impact on every area of your health, even seemingly unrelated issues.
The WellBe Takeaway: We’re reminded, once again, of how important our diet choices are. Nourishing our bodies with the right foods means so much more than just looking good or even feeling good — it impacts our susceptibility to a huge range of conditions (including diabetes and, for men, ED), and, most importantly, can be used as a tool to treat those conditions, rather than turning to pharmaceuticals. I mean, how many ED drug commercials have you seen with a laundry list of side effects?! Luckily, there is a better, much simpler way!


Two Activist Wins: McDonald’s Drops Antibiotics from Beef & NIH Will Now Scrutinize Private Donations
What: Two giants — the NIH and McDonald’s — recently announced major positive policy changes, suggesting that public opinion and outrage really can make a difference.
The Details: Spurred by controversy over a study on moderate drinking that was underwritten by the alcohol industry, the NIH has made sweeping changes to the way that it will take and use donations, creating safeguards against future conflicts of interest. In December, NIH officials announced that going forward, its 27 institutes must evaluate all current research projects that receive private donor support for conflicts of interest, as well as examine the motives of private donors offering gifts.
Around the same time, McDonald’s announced a new policy to reduce the overall use of antibiotics in their beef, based on the WHO’s findings on antibiotic resistance. Their announcement acknowledged antibiotic resistance as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today,” and laid out a plan to measure current antibiotic usage, establish reduction targets, and publish progress reports on that reduction.
Why Does This Matter for My Health? The findings from NIH studies can have a major impact on our behavior, so knowing that their reports are unbiased and accurate is a huge deal. And until now…they were far from it. Meanwhile, we know that meat raised with antibiotics can have a seriously negative impact on our health, so this move by McDonald’s is very important — even if you don’t personally eat fast food. Still, let’s remember that we have a ways to go: the NIH will still be taking private donations, just scrutinizing them more; and McDonald’s will still be using antibiotics, just slowly reducing them over the course of the next few years.
The WellBe Takeaway: Neither of these big steps forward would’ve happened without activists and people being vocal about their opinions. McDonald’s shareholders got together to demand the company reduce antibiotic use in their beef, and consumer outrage after exposure of the NIH’s shady “pay for play” practices to fund their research led to these changes. We like to think that WellBe readers like you contributed to these changes by writing letters, making calls, posting online, or just spreading the word about important issues like unbiased research and antibiotics in meat! Most of all, keep reading the WellBe Wrap-ups so you can not only protect your own health, but also play a role in creating larger, systemic change.

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