The WellBe Health Research & Wellness News Wrap-Up: January to March 2021

The WellBe Health Research & Wellness News Wrap-Up: January to March 2021

Welcome to the first health research and wellness news wrap-up of 2021! After a full year of Covid-dominated coverage, we seem to finally be nearing the end of the pandemic. That means that for this wrap-up, we’re happy to be able to cover a wide range of different topics (with a bit of Covid coverage, of course). 

So without further ado, we present the 10 most important health and wellness news stories from January, February, and March 2021 (click to skip to one):

1. Corruption Roundup: New USDA Guidelines Reject Science, Monsanto Pushes Back Against Glyphosate Ban in Mexico, and Evidence That Money Influences Medical Journals

What: The USDA has released its newest dietary guidelines, which omit recommendations from an independent scientific advisory board, and leaked emails show that Monsanto executives and U.S. government officials pressured the Mexican government not to pass a proposed glyphosate ban. Meanwhile, a new report outlines the financial relationships between industry and neurologists conducting research. 

The Details: To put together the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which won’t be revised again until 2025, the USDA enlisted the health of an independent committee, which provided them with a scientific report outlining their recommendations. While the USDA heeded some of these recommendations, they notably rejected two: first, that they reduce added sugar intake from less than 10% to less than 6%, and second, that the recommended maximum number of alcohol drinks per day be reduced from two to one. While the USDA’s statement explained that it rejected these recommendations because there wasn’t enough supporting evidence, the department has long been criticized for bending to industry influence.

Over in another agency, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, industry is also shaping policy. Leaked internal emails show that U.S. officials have been working with executives at Bayer, the parent company of Monsanto, to pressure Mexico to abandon its proposed ban on the pesticide glyphosate — and all of this was happening while Monsanto was paying out $11 BILLION in a settlement with Americans who claim they developed cancer because of the chemical! Thankfully, the pressure doesn’t seem to be working, as the Mexican government has been going ahead with its plan to phase out use of the pesticide by 2024.

Unfortunately, the reach of corruption extends beyond the walls of government agencies and big industry. In a new report, published in the academic journal Neurology, researchers looked at how money from industry was influencing the papers published by physicians in major neurology journals. They found that 10% of authors had received payments from various industry players, some of them netting upwards of $1 million. They also found that these payments weren’t always disclosed, or were disclosed incompletely.

Why This Matters for Your Health & Our Takeaway: It would be nice if we could trust the authorities out there to have our best interests at heart. And while many government officials and clinical researchers genuinely do prioritize public health above all, the sad truth is that much of science and health policy is actually dictated by corrupt industry influences. What this means for us is that we should always do our own research, seek out truly trusted and transparent sources of information (and several different kinds!), and always remember that YOU are the one who gets to make the choices about how to treat, feed, and protect your body and health.


2. Worse Covid-19 Outcomes Associated with Obesity — And We’re Gaining Weight

What: Research shows that being obese can not only make cases of Covid-19 more severe, but also decrease the efficacy of vaccines and make it more likely that a person spreads the virus. Plus, a recently released report asserts that hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 deaths could have been avoided if fewer people were obese, and the CDC added being overweight as a risk factor for Covid-19, while at the same time a global study shows that we’re gaining weight during the pandemic

The Details: A new study looked at data from 908,849 Covid-related hospitalizations in the U.S., and found that the majority of them were caused by one of four cardiometabolic conditions: obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and heart failure. Obesity held sole responsibility for the most cases, at 30%, but it’s worth noting that the three other conditions listed are often caused by or associated with being overweight or obese as well. 

Obesity not only heightens the obese person’s risk from Covid, but may also increase the risk of the people around them, according to another study. In this one, researchers examined the respiratory particles of both obese and non-obese subjects, and found that the obese people exhaled more respiratory droplets. Because the virus is airborne, this has a big impact on transmission risk — more droplets being exhaled by an infected person means it’s more likely for a person near them to contract the virus. 

Unfortunately, even a vaccine may not solve both of the problems listed above, because it seems that being obese may make vaccines less effective. In a recent study, researchers looked at the immune response of 248 healthcare workers who had been vaccinated, taking into account age, sex, and BMI. Their results showed that all of these factors had an impact on the immune response of an individual, but that being older or obese had the biggest impact. The reduced immune response of obese people could even make it likely that this cohort would need to get an additional dose of the vaccine in order to get comparable protection. 

Given all of the above, it’s perhaps not surprising that an analysis from the World Obesity Federation found that of the 2.5 million people who have died from Covid-19, almost 90% were in countries where more than half of the population is overweight. In countries with a low obesity rate, the likelihood of death from the virus is less than 10% of the likelihood in countries with a high obesity rate. Based on these numbers, they estimate that hundreds of thousands of deaths could have been prevented if people were not obese. Meanwhile, the CDC added being overweight as a high-risk factor for Covid-19, suggesting that even if you don’t technically classify as obese, you could still be at risk for more severe cases of the virus. 

All of that makes it particularly sobering to learn that the pandemic has caused people worldwide to turn to junk food and gain weight, according to a global survey. The survey gathered information from 8,000 adults across the globe, spanning 50 different countries and every state in the U.S. The researchers found that, across the board, people had become more sedentary, either stopping exercise altogether or exercising less intensely, and had increased their consumption of sugary and processed foods. These changes in behavior have had an impact, with 27% of people surveyed reporting weight gain in the past year — and the effect has been the strongest for those classified as obese, with 33% of this group gaining weight as compared to 24.7% of average weight people.

Why This Matters for Your Health & Our Takeaway: We can’t control whether or not a historic virus sweeps the globe and shuts down the world for more than a year. In fact, we can’t really control viruses in general. But we can control how our body will react if we come in contact with that virus, and everything we’ve learned tells us that getting rid of any chronic conditions is the best way to support your immune system and fight off disease effectively. All of this research is a reminder that obesity isn’t just a weight classification, it’s a chronic condition with a huge list of negative health effects. Maintaining a healthy weight isn’t about fitting into a certain size; it’s about keeping your body functioning properly and protecting yourself from disease. 


3. New Nutrition Research: Fried, Sugary Foods Hurt Your Heart and Plant-Based Eating Improves Health Markers & Longevity 

What: There’s been a slew of recent research on which types of food hurt your health, and which improve it: both fried foods and foods with a high glycemic index (aka foods that raise your blood sugar quickly) are tied to cardiovascular issues and death; a healthy, Mediterranean diet low in red meat and alcohol is linked with lower risk of colorectal cancer as well as a healthier body weight and lower risk of heart issues; and eating a certain amount of fruits and vegetables each day lowers risk of mortality

The Details: To understand the impact of fried food on health, researchers conducted a meta analysis of 19 studies that included more than 1.2 million adults from around the world (that’s a lot!). They looked at the subjects’ consumption of fried foods — things like French fries, fried fish, and other fried snacks — and compared eating habits to cardiovascular health. They found that there was a significantly increased risk of heart issues among those who ate the most fried food compared to those who ate the least: people who ate a lot of fried food had a 22% increased risk of coronary heart disease, a 37% increased risk of stroke, a 2% increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and a 3% increased risk of death from any cause.  

While this first study looked at how fatty foods impact cardiovascular risk, another looked at the impact of sugar. Specifically, researchers wanted to understand how heart health is impacted by foods with a high glycemic index, meaning they raise your blood sugar quickly (think things like refined sugar, sweet snacks, white bread). The study included 137,851 participants around the world, and compared their eating habits with their health outcomes. They found that, compared to those with a low glycemic index diet, those who ate foods with the highest glycemic index had an increased risk of a major cardiovascular event and of dying from cardiovascular causes. 

Moving on from what not to eat, a number of new studies shed light on the types of diet that can improve your health and prevent disease. In one study, researchers set out to see the effect of following a Mediterranean or vegan diet on body weight and risk of heart conditions. They randomly assigned 62 overweight adults to follow either a Mediterranean or vegan diet for 16 weeks, and took various measurements both before and after. Their results showed that following a vegan diet improved body weight and insulin sensitivity and slightly decreased blood pressure, while the Mediterranean diet decreased blood pressure the most.

Next up, a review of several studies analyzed how diet affects risk of colorectal cancer, and found a strong link between the two. Specifically, they found that eating a semi-vegetarian diet that is low in red meat and alcohol is associated with a significantly lower risk. They also found that certain types of foods were particularly helpful in reducing risk, including fiber, yogurt, whole grains, fruit, and vegetables (all of which are foods that support your gut health, so it makes perfect sense that they’d protect against colorectal cancer!).

So fruits and vegetables are good for your health (groundbreaking, we know!), but how many servings do you need to eat to get the benefits? Two studies that included more than 100,000 participants total found that eating five servings per day — two of fruit, and three of vegetables — lowered mortality risk the most. Eating less than this meant a less reduced risk, while eating more than five servings didn’t have any additional benefit. 

Why This Matters for Your Health & Our Takeaway: As we always say, your healthcare is the 100 little choices you make each day, and food should be your first (and hopefully only) medicine. What you put into your body matters, a LOT, for your health outcomes, both in the short- and long-term, and these studies just reinforce that fact. We’re going to continue to focus on eating a diet that’s mostly plant-based and full of gut-supporting foods, while avoiding processed and inflammatory foods as much as possible.


4. Overprescription of Antibiotics for UTIs and Covid-19

What: A new study shows that a majority of women with UTIs were overprescribed antibiotics, while another found that doctors were unnecessarily prescribing antibiotics to Covid-19 patients during the early months of the pandemic. Meanwhile, several recent studies show that gut health is a factor in determining the severity of a person’s Covid-19 symptoms.  

The Details: A review of almost 700,000 cases of women with uncomplicated UTIs found that most of them were overprescribed antibiotics. Almost half of them — 46.7% — received prescriptions for inappropriate antibiotics, while 76.1% were put on antibiotics for an overly long amount of time. 

Doctors were also overprescribing antibiotics during the early days of the pandemic, another report shows. The study found that from February through July 2020, when there were still many unknowns about the novel coronavirus and treatment options were limited, doctors were frequently prescribing antibiotics to patients hospitalized with Covid-19, even if they hadn’t found a bacterial infection. It looked at 5,838 hospital admissions, and found that 52% of them resulted in at least one antibiotic being prescribed, and in 98% of these cases, patients received their first antibiotic within 48 hours of being admitted. 

Overuse of antibiotics has been a concerning issue for many years, but these two findings are rendered particularly worrisome given the fact that gut health appears to play a significant role in determining the severity of Covid-19 symptoms. Two new studies looked at the microbiome composition of people with the virus, and found that people with poor gut health were more likely to develop severe symptoms. They found that patients struck with particularly bad cases of the virus had depleted levels of certain types of bacteria that are involved in a healthy immune response, and concluded that the health of the gut microbiome plays an important role in determining how a person responds to the virus if they’re infected.

 Why This Matters for Your Health & Our Takeaway: In certain very specific cases, antibiotics can be truly miraculous and life-saving. But they also have immense side effects, and should only be used where appropriate and necessary. Not only can overuse of antibiotics contribute to antibiotic resistance and potentially lead to “superbugs” that we can’t fight off, they also have a lasting negative effect on your gut health. And given how crucial gut health is to your immune system, and specifically your ability to fend off Covid-19, this is something we should all be concerned about. We’re going to continue to support our gut health through our diet and lifestyle choices, and make sure that we only take antibiotics if we truly need them. 


5. Esophageal Cancer Rising Among Young People, But Diet Could Curb Risk 

What: A large study shows that the rate of esophageal cancer among people under 50 has been rapidly rising, potentially caused by more widespread GERD, while another study shows that making certain lifestyle adjustments can treat GERD symptoms more effectively than acid reflux medication.

The Details: Researchers looked at cases of esophageal cancer in the U.S. from 1975 to 2015, and found that the number of people under 50 diagnosed with the disease has been steadily increasing. They found an average annu