Welcome to the health research and wellness news wrap-up for Q2 of 2022! In it, we cover all the most important pieces of health research and wellness news from April – June 2022.
As always, there’s a little bit of Covid news (still, we know), but also a whole lot more. Read on to learn about some fascinating new research on the gut-brain connection, really exciting developments in cancer treatment, a super easy way to sleep better and reduce your risk of heart disease, and much, much more.
So without further ado, we present the 8 most important health and wellness news stories to know about in June 2022 (click to skip to one):
- Covid Vaccine News: Health Concerns with Two Vaccines and How the Vax Affects Long-Haul Covid
- Abbott Allegedly Knew About Problems At Formula Plant Long Before They Were Public
- Risks of Two Older Cancer Treatments, and Promising Results of a New One
- Two Studies on Depression Underscore the Gut-Brain Connection
- Moderate Light Exposure During Sleep Can Damage Heart Health
- Cold Water Hydrotherapy Reduced Illness and Infection in Young Kids
- Adolescent Obesity Can Lead to Type 1 Diabetes, and Lifestyle Can Reverse Type 2
- Reducing Smartphone Use Is Better for Your Health than Total Abstinence
1. Covid Vaccine News: Health Concerns with Two Vaccines and How the Vax Affects Long-Haul Covid
What: The AstraZeneca vaccine has been linked to a rise in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, and the FDA has severely limited use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Meanwhile, a new study shows that being vaccinated does reduce the risk of long-haul Covid, but only modestly.
The Details: Using data from the National Health Service, scientists at the University College London have identified a small but significant association between the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a serious neurological condition that attacks the peripheral nervous system, causing numbness, weakness, and pain in limbs. The researchers didn’t find a similar association for the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and are unclear on what the link might be.
After an updated analysis of cases of thrombosis (blood clots) with thrombocytopenia syndrome (low platelet count), the FDA announced in May that Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine should be limited only to adults who have no way of accessing other vaccines. Their analysis found that the condition (referred to as TTS) typically occurs one to two weeks after vaccination, and women between the ages of 30 and 49 are at highest risk. The FDA’s decisive statement is driven by the fact that the risk factors for TTS are unknown, people with TTS can deteriorate rapidly even if treated promptly, and the condition can have “long-term and debilitating” health consequences.
Lastly, a new Veterans Affairs study showed that while the vaccines do reduce the risk of long-haul Covid symptoms, the risk reduction isn’t very significant. In their research, they found that vaccinated people with breakthrough Covid infections had a 15% reduction in persistent or long-term symptoms, as compared to those who weren’t vaccinated. Vaccination provided better protection for some symptoms than others (for instance, vaccinated people were 50% less likely to develop pulmonary or blood-clotting disorders, and 28% less likely to experience long-lasting fatigue, but they only had a 12% reduced risk of neurological disease). Most of the people in the study had received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. However, it’s important to note that the people in the study had not received booster shots, which may have altered their risk of long-haul Covid.
Why This Matters for Your Health & Our Takeaway: Both Guillain-Barré syndrome and thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome are very serious conditions, and can be irreversible. Given the elevated risk of these conditions associated with the AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines — as well as various other pieces of negative press these two vaccines have gotten — it seems smart to avoid both of these shots. The risks appear to outweigh the benefits.
The research on long-term Covid after a breakthrough infection is also an important reminder that vaccinations — even those with fewer risks and less negative press, like Moderna and Pfizer — are not a perfect shield against the virus. As immunity-avoiding variants like Omicron continue to emerge, this is even more true. So, as always, your first and most reliable form of defense is to keep your immune system strong!
2. Abbott Allegedly Knew About Problems At Formula Plant Long Before They Were Public
What: A federally filed OSHA complaint shows that Abbott knew about issues at its Sturgis, Michigan formula plant for months before it was previously known, and newly released documents show that the FDA investigated more infant deaths than they initially reported.
The Details: We’ve all heard about the baby formula shortage. It came about because Abbott Laboratories, one of the biggest manufacturers of baby formula in the U.S., shut down its plant in February of this year after potentially contaminated products led to several infant deaths. But according to an employee complaint filed with OSHA, Abbot actually knew about issues at the plant long before we previously thought, and simply failed to act. The complaint, which alleged a long list of issues, from failing equipment to lax inspections of products, was filed in February of 2021 — a full year before the plant shut down — and nothing was done at the time. The same person who filed that complaint filed another one in October of 2021, which Abbott officials and the FDA acknowledged during their recent congressional hearings. They failed to mention the earlier complaint.
The story gets even worse. According to newly released documents made public through a FOIA request, the FDA reportedly investigated seven more child deaths due to the consumption of contaminated formula than was previously reported. The documents show that the FDA investigated reports that nine children had died since 2021, but they only publicly reported two deaths. Both the FDA and Abbott have made statements asserting that they were unable to link those other deaths to contaminated formula, and stand by their initial findings that the contamination led to two deaths and two cases of illness.
Why This Matters for Your Health & Our Takeaway: This type of news is always infuriating, but it just shows us what we already know to be true: these big corporations do not have your best interests at heart. The bottom line always comes first. We know that breastfeeding is not accessible to everyone and that every mother should make the choice that works for her body, baby, and life, but the recent formula shortage (and these revelations about Abbott’s intentional deception) underscores the importance of not relying on big, profit-hungry corporations when it comes to the health and safety of you and your loved ones. We know alternatives are not always possible, but when they are, there are more reasons than ever to choose them.
3. Risks of Two Older Cancer Treatments, and Promising Results of a New One
What: An industry expert is blowing the whistle on the fact that doctors are not required to report when radioactive material leaks into patients’ tissue during imaging scans and a new study shows that more than half of women receiving radiotherapy for breast cancer experience symptoms of toxicity that go unnoticed by their doctor. In good news, a trial for an immunotherapy drug had a 100% success rate in rectal cancer patients.
The Details: Imaging advances are an integral part of cancer treatment, and one essential part of imaging is injecting radioactive isotopes into the patient to gauge their response to therapy. This technique can significantly improve survival rates. However, sometimes the radioactive material meant to go directly into the bloodstream ends up in the tissue around the injection site, an occurrence known as “extravasation.” One expert in the field is speaking up about the fact that extravasation is not required to be reported, regardless of the dose of radioactive material, and calling for regulations to be updated. If you’re not familiar with the negative health effects of having radioactive material in your body, refer back to the Chernobyl disaster!
Radiotherapy is another common and integral part of cancer treatment, and a new analysis shows that women undergoing this treatment for breast cancer commonly experience toxic side effects that go unrecognized. In the study, researchers found that more than half (53.2%) of the women undergoing radiotherapy experienced at least one symptom of toxicity — including pain, itchy skin, swelling, and fatigue — that went under-recognized by their doctor. This was particularly true among younger patients and those belonging to racial and ethnic minority groups.
In the drug trial, out of Memorial Sloan Kettering, 18 rectal cancer patients were given an immunotherapy drug, called dostarlimab, every three weeks for six months. Their treatment alternatives included chemotherapy or invasive surgery that could have led to bowel or urinary dysfunction. At the end of the trial, the cancer had been completely eliminated in all 18 patients, something that the lead author of the study said has never before happened in the history of cancer. In follow-up appointments from six to 25 months after the trial ended, there were no instances of cancer recurrence.
Immunotherapy is a novel kind of cancer therapy that utilizes a drug to stimulate a person’s own immune system to kill the cancer or attack the cancerous tumor. While we don’t often report on the result of drug trials in WellBe wrap-ups, we love that the most effective outcome from a cancer drug trial in history is one that harnesses the power of the immune system. If that’s not evidence that your immune system is your best defense against even the most fatal diseases, we don’t know what is!
Why This Matters for Your Health & Our Takeaway: Toxic effects of cancer therapy can seriously impair a person’s life and health, and these first two studies show that these effects may be occurring far more than we know. While treatments like radiation and chemo can be truly lifesaving, their risks are real. Which is why the drug trial out of MSK is so exciting: it shows that immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of your own immune system to attack disease, may be an incredibly effective and much safer alternative.
4. Two Studies on Depression Underscore the Gut-Brain Connection
What: Vagus nerve (the nerve that connects your gut to your brain) stimulation has been shown to be an effective treatment for therapy-resistant chronic depression, and switching to the Mediterranean diet alleviated depression symptoms in men.
The Details: A recent German journal article highlights the effectiveness of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) for treatment-resistant chronic depression and the fact that very few people know about or take advantage of this treatment. This is despite the fact that, since 2005, it’s been approved for treatment of depression in adults for whom at least four antidepressant therapies did not help (that’s huge!). There are several studies on the effectiveness of VNS for depression, the largest of which showed that both the response to therapy and remission rate were higher in the group that received VNS as compared to a control group that received only therapy.
Meanwhile, a randomized control trial of young men showed that switching to a Mediterranean diet significantly improved symptoms of depression in young men. The study followed 72 men aged 18 to 25 who suffered from depression and had half of them switch to a Mediterranean diet focused on eating colorful vegetables, legumes, whole grains, oily fish, olive oil, and nuts, and avoiding sugar, red meat, and processed foods. Participants on the Mediterranean diet saw a significant reduction in depression symptoms as well as improved quality of life.
Why This Matters for Your Health & Our Takeaway: Both of these studies show just how important your gut health is for your mental health. Around 90% of your body’s serotonin — the neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy and calm — is made by your gut microbes, and these microbes communicate with your brain. How do they communicate, you ask? You guessed it, through the vagus nerve, via the gut-brain axis. Given that depression affects over 16 million Americans — and that many antidepressants have serious side effects — these studies are really important, underscoring that one of the most important things you can do for your mental health is to take care of your microbiome. If you need help doing that, download our free guide to gut health.
5. Moderate Light Exposure During Sleep Can Damage Heart Health
What: A new study shows that sleeping with even moderate ambient light exposure can impair glucose and cardiovascular regulation, which contribute to the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
The Details: In the study, researchers compared the effects of sleeping with 100 lux (moderate light) compared with 3 lux (dim light) over a single night. They found that after just one night, people with moderate light exposure increased both heart rate and insulin resistance. Light exposure during the daytime increases heart rate and heightens alertness by activating the sympathetic nervous system, but this research shows that it has the same effect even when you’re asleep. This isn’t a good thing, since your body needs to kick on its parasympathetic nervous system (aka the “rest and digest”) nervous system during sleep in order to repair and restore your body and mind.
They also found that people who slept with moderate light had increased insulin resistance, which is when your cells don’t respond well to insulin and can’t use glucose from your blood to make energy. This causes your pancreas to make more insulin, and your blood sugar to go up over time.
Why This Matters for Your Health & Our Takeaway: Many people sleep with some amount of light exposure, whether from indoor light-emitting sources (TV, electronics), outside sources (street lights, cars, etc), or a bedside lamp, night lights, etc. Insulin resistance and increased heart rate are contributing factors to diabetes and heart disease, which are some of the most prevalent chronic diseases (and causes of death) in the U.S. Sleeping in a dark room is an easy way to decrease your risk. Brb, off to buy some blackout shades and an eye mask!
6. Cold Water Hydrotherapy Reduced Illness and Infection in Young Kids
What: A new study showed that at-home cold water hydrotherapy helped to reduce lower respiratory tract infections and missed school days in kids aged 3 to 6.
The Details: The study followed 38 kids, divided into two groups. One group underwent “Kneipp arm affusions” (aka applying cold water to their arms) every day for six weeks; the other group had no intervention. The hydrotherapy was done at home by the parents.
The results showed that kids in the hydrotherapy group had fewer missed kindergarten days, fewer fever days, and fewer infections of the lower respiratory tract (which include bronchitis and pneumonia). The idea behind this kind of cold water therapy relies on the “hormesis principle,” or the idea that exposure to some sort of stressor that would be damaging in large amounts (like ice cold water) can have benefits when experienced in small amounts.
Why This Matters for Your Health & Our Takeaway: Cold water therapy is very hot right now (see what we did there?) but it does appear to have real, evidence-backed benefits. If you have kids, this is a great way to give their immune system a boost. And if you don’t, there’s a lot of current and emerging research on the benefits of cold water therapy for adults! Polar plunge, anyone?
7. Adolescent Obesity Can Lead to Type 1 Diabetes, and Lifestyle Can Curb Type 2
What: A new study links adolescent (aka tween and teen) obesity with type 1 diabetes, contradicting the commonly held notion that this type of diabetes is caused only by genetics, while another study shows the power of lifestyle to put type 2 diabetes into remission.
The Details: In a retrospective nationwide cohort study of almost 1.5 million 17-year-olds in Israel, researchers found that obesity was linked with an increased risk for type 1 diabetes. They found that for every five unit increment in BMI, there was a 35% greater incidence of type 1 diabetes. This upends the notion that genetics are the only thing that matter for type 1 diabetes risk, and that lifestyle only plays a role in type 2 diabetes. It also negates the idea that type 1 diabetes always emerges in children; in actuality, about half of all type 1 diabetes cases arise in adulthood, and this study shows that lifestyle choices during younger years can affect the risk of that happening. According to the researchers, genetics are still the main factor in developing type 1 diabetes, but their findings show that if you’re at genetically high risk for developing type 1 diabetes (aka it runs in the family), then carrying excess weight will further increase your risk. They believe this is because carrying too much weight makes the pancreas work even harder to produce insulin, which can cause the whole system to fail. The concept of how your lifestyle turns “on” or “off” bad genes is called epigenetics.
Another new study shows the power of lifestyle choices for type 2 diabetes. The study followed 199 adults with type 2 diabetes in India, providing them with app-delivered lifestyle and nutrition guidance via an app. The intervention gathers various pieces of data from each individual — including heart rate, activity, sleep time, blood pressure, food intake, weight, body fat, and glucose values from a continuous glucose monitor — and then real, highly trained and supervised coaches provide precise nutrition and health guidance that is tailored to each person. The coaches in the study are trained dieticians who make manageable, mini-adjustments to the food a person is already eating to get glucose under control and avoid glucose spikes.
The results were striking. A whopping 84% of patients saw a remission of their diabetes after 6 months. They also lost weight, saw their waist circumference decrease, and had their A1c levels drop from a mean of 9% to 5.7% (the A1c percentage measures how much sugar is attached to your blood’s hemoglobin protein, effectively giving a measure of how well your body has controlled the sugar in your blood). The study authors emphasized that remission is not a reversal or a cure, and that, just like cancer, type 2 diabetes can return after going into remission. However, they say, remission can be made to last by continuing to follow the healing lifestyle.
Why This Matters for Your Health & Our Takeaway: One in ten Americans have type 2 diabetes, and the incidence of type 1 diabetes has been increasing by 2-3% annually over recent decades. Both diseases are life-changing and can lead to serious medical complications. They also often require many medications and cumbersome monitoring. These two studies shine a hopeful light, showing not only that your risk of both types of diabetes is within your control, but also that lifestyle choices continue to have a major effect even after you develop the disease. We’re going to continue to ensure we are not carrying extra weight, eating a balanced and nutrient-dense diet, and staying active.
8. Reducing Smartphone Use Is Better for Your Health than Total Abstinence
What: A study out of Germany shows that reducing your smartphone use might actually be better for you than ditching it completely.
The Details: The study followed 619 smartphone users, and divided them into three groups. One group stopped using their smartphones completely for a week; one group reduced their daily use by one hour for a week, and the last group used their smartphone as usual.
The findings showed that both the smartphone abstinence and smartphone reduction groups saw improvement in life satisfaction, physical activity, and symptoms of depression and anxiety. However, the effects were stronger and more stable over four months in the group that reduced their use by one hour versus the abstinence group. The reduction group also saw a greater decrease in cigarette smoking (among those who smoked).
Why This Matters for Your Health & Our Takeaway: Instagram lovers, rejoice! Complete smartphone abstinence is not necessary. However, as this study shows, reducing your use can have real and lasting benefits for your health and well-being. This is motivation to get a baseline of our current screen time and try to cut it by an hour a day. Who’s up for a “smartphone diet” challenge?
An update: In our last wrap-up, we covered the newfound link between the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and multiple sclerosis (MS). Now, new promising research on the topic has emerged: scientists discovered that by transplanting immune cells that fight EBV, they were able to actually stop the progression of MS — exciting news!