5 inflammation-fighting food swaps

Inflammation: if you follow health news, you probably hear about it often. When is inflammation helpful? How can it be harmful? What steps can you take to tone it down?

What is inflammation and how does it affect your body?

If you’re not familiar with the term, inflammation refers to an immune system reaction to an infection or injury. In those instances, inflammation is a beneficial sign that your body is fighting to repair itself by sending in an army of healing white blood cells. As the injury heals or the illness is brought under control, inflammation subsides. You’ve probably seen this happen with a minor ankle sprain: the initial swelling disappears within days as the injury heals.

But inflammation also occurs without serving any healthful purpose, such as when you experience chronic stress, have an autoimmune disorder, or obesity. And instead of solving a problem and receding, inflammation … Read more

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Sleep well — and reduce your risk of dementia and death

In a recent blog post I discussed how beneficial sleep is for memory function. But sleep isn’t just good for your memory; it can actually reduce your risk of dementia — and death. Although it has been known for some time that individuals with dementia frequently have poor, fragmented sleep, two new studies suggest that if you don’t get enough sleep, you are at increased risk for dementia.

Sleep six to eight hours each night

In the first study, researchers at Harvard Medical School studied more than 2,800 individuals ages 65 and older participating in the National Health and Aging Trends Study to examine the relationship between their self-report of sleep characteristics in 2013 or 2014, and their development of dementia and/or death five years later. Researchers found that individuals who slept fewer than five hours per night were twice as likely to develop dementia, and twice as … Read more

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Is IBD an underrecognized health problem in minority groups?

As many people know, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a complex condition affecting the intestine, which is the part of the digestive tract that helps digest food and remove water, salt, and waste.

But you might not know this: in recent years in the US, IBD is being diagnosed more often among people who are Black, Hispanic/Latinx, East and Southeast Asian, or from other minority groups than it was in past decades.

Is this a true rise in cases? Is IBD underrecognized in minority populations? While we don’t have all the answers yet, exploring health disparities in IBD and explaining its symptoms may encourage more people to get the health care they need.

What is IBD?

IBD is a chronic inflammatory condition in the intestine that may steadily progress, or repeatedly flare up (relapse) and calm down (remit).

The two main types of IBD are ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s … Read more

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Sickle cell disease in newborns and children: What families should know and do

If you’ve learned that your newborn or young child has sickle cell disease, you — and other family members and friends — may have many questions.

These days, most cases of sickle cell disease in the US are diagnosed through newborn screening. It’s important to make the diagnosis early, so that babies can be started on penicillin (or another antibiotic) to prevent infection. Getting connected early to a pediatrician for primary care — and to specialists in blood disorders who can work closely with the child as they grow, and with their families — can help prevent complications of the disease.

The basics

Hemoglobin is the part of the red blood cell that carries oxygen. In sickle cell disease, the hemoglobin can change the rounded shape of red blood cells into a C-shape that is crooked, like the tool called a sickle. When that happens, the cells get sticky and … Read more

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COVID-19 vaccines for children and teens: What we do — and don’t — know

Vaccines have been heralded as a key measure to slow the COVID-19 pandemic and one day bring it to an end. Every day, millions of American adults are receiving one of the authorized vaccines proven highly effective at preventing severe illness that might otherwise lead to hospitalizations and deaths. In the US, most people over 65 have now been fully vaccinated, protecting the most vulnerable in our population.

As an infectious disease specialist, my responses to the questions below are based on what we know so far about infection and vaccines in children and teens. We’ll need to continue filling in gaps as research is done and our understanding evolves.

What do we know about how COVID-19 affects children and teens?

Most COVID-19 infections in children are mild or cause no obvious symptoms. However, a small percentage of infected children

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Happy trails: Take a hike, now

While the COVID-19 pandemic is not over by any means, more people are getting vaccinated, and restrictions are gradually lifting. After too much time spent inactive and indoors, what better way to move your body and enjoy nature than by taking a hike? In many ways, hiking is the ideal antidote to a global pandemic, as it can heal both body and soul.

Enjoy the benefits of a hike

  • Like power walking, hiking offers a moderate-intensity cardio workout, provided your route includes some hills or inclines. Trekking on uneven surfaces engages your core muscles and improves your balance.
  • Hiking also is a mood booster. Research shows that spending time in green spaces, like nature trails and wooded areas, can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It doesn’t matter if you hike alone or with others.
  • The CDC still suggests people maintain social distancing during outdoor activities, including hiking, since it’s not
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COVID-19 vaccines and the LGBTQ+ community

I have a confession: in late 2020, when the first COVID-19 vaccines were approved by the FDA, I was hesitant to get one myself. Despite working in public health and believing strongly in vaccines to keep our community healthy, I was anxious about putting something in my body that seemed so new. I thought: “What if the vaccine is dangerous?” “What about long-term side effects?”

I am part of the LGBTQ+ community. Our history may help explain why I hesitated.

Are LGBTQ+ people more hesitant to get the vaccine?

In March a New York Times article reported that LGBTQ+ people are more hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. A research study from the Human Rights Campaign reported mixed findings: while LGBTQ+ people overall are more likely to get vaccinated, certain subgroups, such as LGBTQ+ people of color and bisexual women, are less likely to get vaccinated.

LGBTQ+ people have good … Read more

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Polycystic ovary syndrome and the skin

Often, the skin can be a window to what is occurring inside your body. For women with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, this this may mean acne, hair loss, excessive facial or body hair growth, dark patches on the skin, or any combination of these issues.

What is PCOS?

Skin and hair issues can be the most readily perceptible features of PCOS, and thus sometimes the reason for seeking medical care. However, features of PCOS also include menstrual irregularities, polycystic ovaries (when the ovaries develop multiple small follicles and do not regularly release eggs), obesity, and insulin resistance (when cells do not respond well to insulin).

The cause of PCOS is not entirely understood, but scientific evidence points to hormonal imbalances, specifically excess testosterone (also known as hyperandrogenism) and insulin resistance. PCOS is the most common cause of infertility in women. The hormonal imbalances in PCOS disrupt the process of … Read more

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Dental appliances for sleep apnea: Do they work?

Keeping your partner — or yourself — up at night with loud snoring? This might be more than a nuisance. About 25% of men and nearly 10% of women have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a serious sleep disorder characterized by explosive snores, grunts, and gasps. Tissue at the back of the throat temporarily obstructs the airway, leading to breathing pauses (apneas) throughout the night. Not only does OSA leave people tired and groggy, but it also puts them at risk for a host of health problems, including high blood pressure, depression, and heart disease.

The most effective and best-studied treatment is positive airway pressure (PAP), a small bedside machine that blows air through a mask to prevent your airway from collapsing. But people with mild or moderate OSA sometimes find PAP challenging to use, and often wonder about alternatives. Dental devices (also known as oral appliances) are an option … Read more

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Terrified of needles? That can affect your health

No one likes getting stuck by a needle. Whether for a blood test, vaccination, or blood donation, needle sticks are something most people would prefer to avoid.

Yet, judging only by schedules for routine vaccinations and tests, the average healthy person can expect at least 165 needle sticks over a lifetime. Get hospitalized? That might add dozens or even hundreds more. And the number of needle sticks experienced by people with diabetes, HIV, and some other illnesses hovers in the “don’t ask” range.

For many, this may be more of an annoyance than a real problem. But if you have a strong fear of needles or aversion to the sight of blood, getting a vaccination or any other needle stick is a big deal. If this sounds like you, you may have trypanophobia.

What is trypanophobia?

Fittingly, the name combines the Greek term trypano — meaning puncturing or piercing — … Read more

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Life expectancy: How can we address uneven declines?

Not long ago, during pre-pandemic 2019, the reported life expectancy at birth for non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic White, and Hispanic populations was approximately 75, 79, and 82 years, respectively. The higher life expectancy of Hispanic people compared to others in the United States may come as a surprise to some.

This phenomenon, known as the “Hispanic paradox,” was first noted in the 1980s, and its legitimacy has been debated since. A host of explanations have been proposed, including hypotheses about the “healthy immigrant” (people who migrate to the US are healthier than those who stay in their native countries) and “salmon bias” (less healthy US immigrants are more likely to return to their countries of origin). Other experts note that Hispanic communities have lower rates of smoking and greater levels of social cohesion, which certainly may contribute to their presumed higher life expectancy. In the end, this difference remains … Read more

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Edibles and children: Poison center calls rise

If a 3-year-old finds a cookie on the table, chances are they are going to eat it.

Even if it is made with marijuana or THC, CBD, or other components of cannabis.

As more states have legalized the use of marijuana and an ever-widening range of derivative products, it’s not surprising that more children are being exposed — including by eating marijuana edibles. A research brief published in the journal Pediatrics found that between 2017 and 2019, there were 4,172 calls to regional poison control centers about exposures to cannabis in babies and children through age 9. About half of the calls were related to edibles.

The frequency of these calls, and the percentage related to edibles, went up over the two-year period. Not surprisingly, the exposures were about twice as common in states where marijuana use is legal as in those where it is not.

More calls

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Pills and the planet: Environmentally-friendly steps for your medicine cabinet

Most people might not guess that pills (or creams, patches, and inhalers, for that matter) have a big impact on the environment — but they do.

Climate change is leading to noticeable effects on the environment, as well as to consequences for our health, such as rising rates of asthma and new patterns of infectious diseases. The key driver of climate change is greenhouse gas emissions. Our health care system plays a large role, contributing close to 10% of our nation’s greenhouse gases. The US is also responsible for more than 25% of the world’s total health care emissions.

Within our health care system, pharmaceutical drugs and chemicals are the largest line-item contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, pharmaceutical waste throughout the global supply chain can lead to environmental and animal toxicities, and in the case of antibiotic residues, to antimicrobial resistance (aka “superbugs”). In … Read more

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