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Aug. 4, 2022 – Most vaccines don’t come as one-shot deals. You need a series of boosters to step up your immunity to COVID-19, tetanus, and other infectious threats over time. That can mean multiple visits with a health care provider, costing you time and sometimes money.

But what if you could receive just one shot that boosts itself whenever you need a bump in protection?

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed microparticles that could be used to create self-boosting vaccines that deliver their contents at carefully set time points. In a new study published in the journal Science Advances, the scientists describe how they tune the particles to release the goods at the right time and offer insights on how they can keep the particles stable until then.
How Self-Boosting Vaccines Could Work

The team developed tiny particles that look like coffee cups – except instead of your favorite brew, they’re filled with vaccine.

“You can put the lid on, and then inject it into the body, and once the lid breaks, whatever is in there is released,” says study author Ana Jaklenec, PhD, a research scientist at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

To make the tiny cups, the researchers use various polymers (synthetic plastic-like materials) already used in medical applications, such as dissolvable stitches. Then they fill the cups with vaccine material that is dried and combined with sugars and other stabilizers.

The particles can be made in various shapes and fine-tuned using polymers with different properties. Some polymers last longer in the body than others, so their choice helps determine how long everything will stay stable under the skin after you get the shot and when the particles will release their cargo. It could be days or months after the injection.

One challenge is that as the particles open, the environment around them becomes more acidic. The team is working on ways to curb that acidity to make the vaccine material more stable.

“We have ongoing research that has produced some really, really exciting results about their stability and showing that you’re able to maintain really sensitive vaccines, stable for a good period of time,” says study author Morteza Sarmadi, PhD, a research specialist at the Koch Institute.

The Potential Public Health Impact

This research, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, started with the developing world in mind.

“The intent was actually helping people in the developing world, because a lot of times, people don’t come back for a second injection,” says study author Robert Langer, ScD, the David H. Koch Institute professor at MIT.

But a one-shot plan could benefit the developed world, too. One reason is that self-boosting vaccines could help those who get one achieve higher antibody responses than they would with just one dose. That could mean more protection for the person and the population because as people develop stronger immunity, germs may have less of a chance to evolve and spread.

Take the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. Only 67% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and most people eligible for first and second boosters haven’t gotten them. New variants, such as the recent Omicron ones, continue to emerge and infect.

“I think those variants would have had a lot less chance to come about if everybody that had gotten vaccinated the first time got repeat injections, which they didn’t,” says Langer.

Self-boosting vaccines could also benefit infants, children who fear shots, and older adults who have a hard time getting health care.

Also, because the vaccine material is encapsulated and its release can be staggered, this technology might help people receive multiple vaccines at the same time that must now be given separately.

What Comes Next

The team is testing self-boosting polio and hepatitis vaccines in non-human primates. A small trial in healthy humans might follow within the next few years.

“We think that there’s really high potential for this technology, and we hope it can be developed and get to the human phase very soon,” says Jaklenec.

In smaller animal models, they are exploring the potential of self-boosting mRNA vaccines. They’re also working with scientists who are studying HIV vaccines.

“There has been some recent progress where very complex regimens seem to be working, but they’re not practical,” says Jaklenec. “And so, this is where this particular technology could be useful, because you have to prime and boost with different things, and this allows you to do that.”

This system could also extend beyond vaccines and be used to deliver cancer therapies, hormones, and biologics in a shot.

Through new work with researchers at Georgia Tech University, the team will study the potential of giving self-boosting vaccines through 3D-printed microneedles. These vaccines, which would stick on your skin like a bandage, could be self-administered and deployed globally in response to local outbreaks.

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Even before the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision on June 24, the ability to use health insurance to pay for an abortion depended on many things, including the insured woman’s state, the type of insurance involved, and where the procedure took place.

Lack of coverage means that most Americans who get an abortion pay out of pocket for it, says Katie Keith, JD, a research faculty member at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms.

“That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to use insurance if you have it,” she says. “The average cost for abortion is above $500, and if you add in travel and everything else, the cost can be a huge barrier.”

Here are answers to common questions about whether health insurance covers abortion:

How do you know whether your plan covers abortion?

As with any medical procedure or medication, you can find out whether your plan covers abortion by looking at your plan documents (available through your online portal) or by calling your insurer and asking directly. If you have health insurance through your job and you feel OK asking your HR department about coverage, they likely could also answer the question or direct you to someone who can.

Even if your insurer covers abortion services, you’ll need to find a provider who accepts your insurance and is in network for your plan. In 2020, about 80% of abortion providers accepted insurance, down from 89% in 2017, according to a Health Affairs study.

Your company will not know if you have an abortion from your medical bills or health records.

Even self-insured employers usually have a different entity handling the health benefits. “They get reports on the aggregate level about the types of procedures funded, but they wouldn’t identify the individual who used them,” says Joelle Abramowitz, PhD, a health policy economist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. “That information is protected by HIPAA.”

HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is a law that protects the privacy of your health records.

Does insurance treat mifepristone (RU-486), the so-called abortion pill, differently from abortion procedures?

A medication abortion from a provider would likely fall under the same rules as the medical procedure. But that’s not always the case if it’s done through telehealth.

“The question would be whether telehealth generally, and a telehealth medication abortion specifically, would be covered,” Abramowitz says. “It is best to check with the insurance plan.”

If you do have coverage, is it protected by law, or does that vary by state?

It varies widely by state. Eleven states have limits on whether private insurers can cover abortion, and seven states require that insurance plans cover abortion.

That said, state laws only apply to fully insured employers, meaning those in which the employer pays an insurer to provide policies to workers on its behalf. Only about one-third of workers are in these types of plans.

Most large employers are self-insured, which means that they assume all the financial liability for people in the plan.

“Even in states where the law says you’re not allowed to cover an abortion, a self-insured plan would not be bound by those types of laws,” Abramowitz says.

The rules also vary for those who do not get their insurance from employer-provided plans.

An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that 34 states and Washington, DC, limit Medicaid coverage of abortion to only cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, while about half of states have limits on plans available through the state health insurance Marketplace. You can check out the rules in your state here.

If your plan covers abortion, but you are in a state that doesn’t offer what you need, are you covered if you must travel to get one?

It’s unclear. Health insurance plans may cover abortions performed out of state (most likely at out-of-network rates), but they may not cover the travel expenses – or they could cover both. Check your plan’s details or contact your health insurance company.

Some employers have promised to help cover the costs of employees who need to travel to get an abortion. But legal experts say that companies’ ability to do so will depend on the rules in their state.

In Texas, for example, anyone who helps someone travel across state lines for an abortion could face civil penalties for “aiding and abetting” them, and employers and insurers may need to consider their potential liability for doing so.

Flexible spending accounts (FSAs) may be a way to cover some of the travel costs. “Even if the travel expenses are not covered by the insurance plan, they could be reimbursable through accounts like FSAs,” Abramowitz says.

If your plan changes mid-year, do they have to notify you?

Yes, although it’s rare that insurers would make such changes.

“They could change coverage for abortion before a new year, so when people are looking at their plans during open enrollment, that might be something to think about or inquire about at that point,” Abramowitz says.

If the pregnant woman has a medical condition that could be life-threatening, does that affect coverage?

Yes. Even in some states that now prohibit abortion, there is often an exception to save the life of the mother. In most cases, if providers perform the abortion as part of a live-saving medical intervention, insurance will cover it.

“Any kind of emergency procedure is medically necessary, so there shouldn’t be any questions about coverage,” Keith says. “If someone is in the emergency room and needs care because they have an ectopic pregnancy or something else, that should be covered.”

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By Amy Norton
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Aug. 4, 2022 (HealthDay News) — If your diet is low in fiber, you can do your gut some good by adding more — regardless of the fiber source, new research suggests.

Many people know fiber as the nutrient that keeps you regular. But it’s also a key player in the makeup of the gut microbiome — the vast collection of bacteria and other microbes that reside in the digestive tract.

When bacteria in the gut break down the fiber, they produce certain short-chain fatty acids that are the main source of nutrition for cells in the colon. Research also suggests the fatty acids play a role in regulating functions as vital as metabolism and immune defenses.

But it hasn’t been clear whether any one type of fiber supplement is better for people’s gut bacteria than others.

In the new study, researchers tested three common fiber-powder supplements: inulin (an extract of chicory root), wheat dextrin (in this case, the brand Benefiber), and galactooligosaccharides (Bimuno).

They recruited 28 healthy adults and gave them each of the supplements to use for one week, with one week off in between each product.

Overall, the study found, no one supplement outperformed the others in changing consumers’ gut microbiome. Each supplement boosted the production of butyrate — an important fatty acid that helps control inflammation.

If a study participant churned out more butyrate after using one fiber supplement, they responded just as well to the other two, said Jeffrey Letourneau, a doctoral student at Duke University in Durham, N.C., who was part of the research team.

But while the fiber supplement didn’t matter, the person did: Supplements revved up butyrate production only in participants who normally ate few fiber-rich foods, the study found.

That does make sense, according to Letourneau: It’s the “low fiber consumers” who would be making a substantial change by adding a daily fiber supplement.

But that term also describes most Americans, he pointed out.

Experts generally recommend that women strive for 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should aim for 38 grams. The average U.S. adult, however, consumes only in the neighborhood of 30% of those amounts.

And in the grand scheme of human history, Letourneau said, even the recommended fiber amounts probably fall far short of what our ancestors downed. He pointed to research showing that members of the Hadza tribe, in Tanzania, still consume a whopping 100 to 150 grams of fiber a day — owing to diets high in foods like berries, honey and tubers.

So the new research — published July 29 in the journal Microbiome — emphasizes the importance of getting more fiber, whatever the source.

The study focused on supplements, in part, because they are easy to study, Letourneau said. Researchers gave each participant pre-measured individual doses of the fiber supplements, so they simply had to dump the powder into a drink once a day.

Those doses amounted to 9 grams of either inulin or wheat dextrin, or 3.6 grams of galactooligosaccharides, per day.

Fiber from food, however, would be preferable, according to a registered dietitian who was not involved in the study.

Plant foods provide not only various forms of fiber, but also a range of vitamins, minerals and beneficial “phytochemicals,” said Nancy Farrell Allen, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and an instructor at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in North Chicago, Ill.

“I believe that food is the best way to meet fiber needs,” she said.

Farrell Allen pointed to a long list of fiber-rich foods, including an array of vegetables and fruit; bran cereals and whole grains like farro; “pulses” such as lentils and chickpeas, and legumes like soybeans and peanuts.

She also had a caution on fiber supplements: They can cause unpleasant gas, bloating and prolonged indigestion.

Letourneau agreed that whole foods have “real benefits” that cannot be captured in a supplement. But given the importance of fiber — and the dearth of it in Americans’ diets — he supports getting more of it, however you can.

“My attitude is: Whatever you can fit into your life, in a sustainable way, is good,” Letourneau said.

In some more good news, it doesn’t take long for any added fiber to make a difference to your gut bacteria. In a separate study, the Duke researchers found that fiber supplements began to alter people’s gut bacteria within a day — changing the microbiome makeup and activity.

“Things do seem to change really quickly,” Letourneau said.

The research was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and other government and foundation grants.

More information

Harvard University has more on fiber and health.

SOURCES: Jeffrey Letourneau, BS, doctoral student, molecular genetics and microbiology, Duke University, Durham, N.C.; Nancy Farrell Allen, MS, RDN, spokeswoman, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Chicago, and nutrition instructor, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, North Chicago, Ill.; Microbiome, July 29, 2022, online; ISME Journal, July 23, 2022

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Aug. 4, 2022 – The Biden administration declared monkeypox a public health emergency on Thursday. There have been over 6,600 reported cases of the disease in the United States, up from less than 5,000 cases reported last week.

“This public health emergency will allow us to explore additional strategies to get vaccines and treatments more quickly out in the affected communities. And it will allow us to get more data from jurisdictions so we can effectively track and attack this outbreak,” Robert Fenton, who was named as the national monkeypox response coordinator this week, said at a news briefing Thursday.

Monkeypox is a virus like smallpox. Those who catch the virus usually have fever-like symptoms, followed by red lesions on the body that can raise and develop pus. Those at highest risk of monkeypox are gay and bisexual men, as well as men who have sex with other men. There are between 1.6 million and 1.7 million Americans in this high-risk group, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said at the briefing.

The Jynneos vaccine is being distributed to protect against monkeypox and can prevent severe symptoms. It’s mostly going to those with the greatest risk of catching the virus.

Last week, the Biden administration made over 1.1 million doses of the Jynneos vaccine available – of which over 600,000 doses have already been distributed across the country – and have secured over 6.9 million Jynneos doses altogether.

Around 786,000 vaccines have already been allocated, and the first doses were shipped this week. States will be able to order more doses beginning Aug. 15. If a state has used 90% or more of its vaccine supply, it will be eligible to order more doses before Aug. 15, according to Dawn O’Connell, JD, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

An additional 150,000 doses will be added to the national stockpile in September, with more doses to come later this year, O’Connell says. 

The administration is also stressing the importance of monkeypox testing and says it can now distribute 80,000 monkeypox tests per week.

An antiviral drug – known as TPOXX – is also available treat severe cases of monkeypox. Around 1,700,000 treatments are available in the Strategic National Stockpile, public health officials say.

“We are prepared to take our response to the next level, and we urge every American to take this seriously and to take responsibility to help us tackle this virus,” Becerra told reporters.

The White House says it will continue reaching out to doctors, public health partners, LGBTQ advocates, and other impacted communities.

“The public health emergency further raises awareness about monkeypox, which will encourage clinicians to test for it,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD said at the briefing. 

This week, President Joe Biden appointed a new White House monkeypox response team. Besides Fenton as the response coordinator, Demetre Daskalakis, MD, will serve as the White House national monkeypox response deputy coordinator. He is the director of the CDC’s Division of HIV Prevention.

“This virus is moving fast. This is a unique outbreak that is spreading faster than previous outbreaks,” Fenton told reporters Thursday. “That’s why the president asked me to explore everything we can do to combat monkeypox and protect communities at risk.”

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Aug. 4, 2022 – CDC researchers report that children and teenagers with long COVID have about twice the risk of getting serious outcomes, compared to others without COVID.

Heart inflammation; a blood clot in the lung; or a blood clot in the lower leg, thigh, or pelvis were the most common bad outcomes in a new study. Even though the risk was higher for these and some other serious events, the overall numbers were small.

“Many of these conditions were rare or uncommon among children in this analysis, but even a small increase in these conditions is notable,” a CDC new release stated.

The investigators said their findings stress the importance of COVID-19 vaccination in Americans under the age of 18.

The study was published online Thursday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

Less Is Known About Long COVID in Kids

Lyudmyla Kompaniyets, PhD, and colleagues noted that most research on long COVID to date has been done in adults, so little information is available about the risks to Americans ages 17 and younger.

To learn more, they compared post-COVID symptoms and conditions between 781,419 children and teenagers with confirmed COVID-19 to another 2,344,257 without COVID-19. They looked at medical claims and laboratory data for these children and teenagers from March 1, 2020, through January 31, 2022, to see who got any of 15 specific outcomes linked to long COVID.

Long COVID was defined as a condition where symptoms that last for or begin at least 4 weeks after a COVID diagnosis.

Compared to kids with no history of a COVID-19 diagnosis, the long COVID-19 group was:

  • 101% more likely to have an acute pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung)
  • 99% more likely to have myocarditis (heart muscle inflammation) or cardiomyopathy (when the heart is weakened and has a hard time pumping blood)
  • 87% more likely to have a venous thromboembolic event (blood clot in a vein)
  • 32% more likely to have acute and unspecified renal failure (when the kidneys can’t filter waste from your blood)
  • 23% more likely to have type 1 diabetes

“This report points to the fact that the risks of COVID infection itself, both in terms of the acute effects, MIS-C, as well as the long-term effects, are real, are concerning, and are potentially very serious,” says Stuart Berger, MD, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery.

MIS-C is multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, a condition where many parts of the body become inflamed, that has been linked to COVID-19.

“The message that we should take away from this is that we should be very keen on all the methods of prevention for COVID, especially the vaccine,” says Berger, who is also chief of cardiology in the Department of Pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

A ‘Wake-Up Call’

The study findings are “sobering” and are “a reminder of the seriousness of COVID infection,” says Gregory Poland, MD, an infectious disease expert at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

“When you look in particular at the more serious complications from COVID in this young age group, those are life-altering complications that will have consequences and ramifications throughout their lives,” he says.

“I would take this as a serious wake-up call to parents [at a time when] the immunization rates in younger children are so pitifully low,” Poland says.

Still Early Days

The study is suggestive but not definitive, says Peter Katona, MD, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases expert at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

It’s still too early to draw conclusions about long COVID, including in children, because many questions remain, he says: Should long COVID be defined as symptoms at 1 month or 3 months after infection? How do you define brain fog?

Katona and colleagues are studying long COVID intervention among students at UCLA to answer some of these questions, including the incidence and effect of early intervention.

The study had “at least seven limitations,” the researchers noted. Among them was the use of medical claims data that noted long COVID outcomes but not how severe they were; some people in the no COVID group might have had the illness but not been diagnosed; and the researchers did not adjust for vaccination status.

Poland notes that the study was done during surges in COVID variants including Delta and Omicron. In other words, any long COVID effects linked to more recent variants like BA.5 or BA.2.75 are unknown.

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Aug. 5, 2022 – Are you among the hundreds of millions of people worldwide with low back pain? If so, you may be familiar with standard treatments like surgery, shots, medications, and spinal manipulations. But new research suggests the solution for the world’s leading cause of disability may lie in fixing how the brain and the body communicate.

Setting out to challenge traditional treatments for chronic back pain, scientists across Australia, Europe, and the U.S. came together to test the effectiveness of altering how neural networks recognize pain for new research published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The randomized clinical trial recruited two groups of 138 participants with chronic low back pain, testing one group with a novel method called graded sensorimotor retraining intervention (RESOLVE) and the other with things like mock laser therapy and noninvasive brain stimulation.

The researchers found the RESOLVE 12-week training course resulted in a statistically significant improvement in pain intensity at 18 weeks.

“What we observed in our trial was a clinically meaningful effect on pain intensity and a clinically meaningful effect on disability. People were happier, they reported their backs felt better, and their quality of life was better,” the study’s lead author, James McAuley, PhD, said in a statement. “This is the first new treatment of its kind for back pain.”

Brainy Talk

Communication between your brain and back changes over time when you have chronic lower back pain, leading the brain to interpret signals from the back differently and change how you move. It is thought that these neural changes make recovery from pain slower and more complicated , according to the Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), a nonprofit research institute in Sydney, Australia.

“Over time, the back becomes less fit, and the way the back and brain communicate is disrupted in ways that seem to reinforce the notion that the back is vulnerable and needs protecting,” said McAuley, a professor at the University of New South Wales and a NeuRA senior research scientist. “The treatment we devised aims to break this self-sustaining cycle.”

RESOLVE treatment focuses on improving this transformed brain-back communication by slowly retraining the body and the brain without the use of opioids or surgery. People in the study have reported improved quality of life 1 year later, according to McAuley.

The researchers said the pain improvement was “modest,” and the method will need to be tested on other patients and conditions. They hope to introduce this new treatment to doctors and physiotherapists within the next 6 to 9 months and have already enlisted partner organizations to start this process, according to NeuRA.

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Aug. 5, 2022 – Thanks to science, we know the world isn’t flat, that the Earth revolves around the sun (and not the reverse), and that microbes cause infectious diseases. So why is scientific skepticism a global phenomenon – and one that appears to be getting worse, if the crazy stuff you saw your friend post on social media this morning is any indication?

In a newly released paper, social psychology researchers sought to answer exactly these types of questions. What leads some people to reject science? And how can trust in science be restored?

Aviva Philipp-Muller, PhD, one of the co-authors of the paper, says finding answers and restoring widespread trust in science may be more important now than ever.

“If you come to conclusions through gut instincts or listening to people that have no knowledge on a topic, you can come to believe just about anything,” she says. “And sometimes it can be dangerous for society when people believe things that are wrong. We’ve seen this in real time, as some people have rejected COVID-19 vaccines not for any scientific reason, but through nonscientific means.”

Backing up Philipp-Muller’s point: A recent analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that about 234,000 COVID deaths could have been prevented if vaccination rates were higher.

Four Reasons People Reject Science

In their assessment, Philipp-Muller and her team sought “to understand why people may not be persuaded by scientific findings, and what might make a person be more likely to follow anti-science forces and voices.”

They identified four recurring themes.

1. People refuse to believe the messenger.

Call this the “I don’t listen to anything on CNN (or Fox News)” explanation. If people view those who are communicating science as being not credible, biased, lacking expertise, or having an agenda, they will more easily reject the information.

“When people learn anything, it’s going to come from a source,” says Spike W.S. Lee, PhD, a social psychologist based at the University of Toronto and a co-author of the paper. “Certain properties of the source can determine if a person will be persuaded by it.”

2. Pride creates prejudice.

You might consider this the opposite of the belief of famed 17th century French mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes. Where he famously said, “I think, therefore I am,” this principle indicates that, for some, it’s: “I am, therefore I think …”

People who build their identity around labels or who identify with a certain social group may dismiss information that appears to threaten that identity.

“We are not a blank slate,” Lee says. “We have certain identities that we care about.” And we are willing to protect those identities by believing things that appear to be disproven through data. That’s especially true when a person feels they are part of a group that holds anti-science attitudes, or that thinks their viewpoints have been underrepresented or exploited by science.

3. It’s hard to beat long-held beliefs.

Consciously or not, many of us live by a famous refrain from the rock band Journey: “Don’t stop believin’.” When information goes against what a person has believed to be true, right, or important, it’s easier for them to just reject the new information. That’s especially true when dealing with something a person has believed for a long time.

“People don’t typically keep updating their beliefs, so when there is new information on the horizon, people are generally cautious about it,” Lee says.

4. Science doesn’t always match up with how people learn.

An eternally debated thought experiment asks: “If a tree falls in the forest, but no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Reframed for science, the question might ask: “If really important information is buried within a book that no one ever reads, will it affect people?”

A challenge that scientists face today is that their work is complicated, and therefore often gets presented in densely written journals or complex statistical tables. This resonates with other scientists, but it’s less likely to influence those who don’t understand p-values and other statistical concepts. And when new information is presented in a way that doesn’t fit with a person’s thinking style, they may be more likely to reject it.

Winning the War on Anti-Science Attitudes

The authors of the paper agree: Being pro-science does not mean blindly trusting everything science says. “That can be dangerous as well,” Philipp-Muller says. Instead, “it’s about wanting a better understanding of the world, and being open to scientific findings uncovered through accurate, valid methods.”

If you count yourself among those who want a better, science-backed understanding of the world around you, she and Lee say there are steps you can take to help stem the tide of anti-science. “A lot of different people in society can help us solve this problem,” Philipp-Muller says.

They include:

Scientists, who can take a warmer approach when communicating their findings, and do so in a way that is more inclusive to a general audience.

“That can be really tough,” Philipp-Muller says, “but it means using language that isn’t super jargony, or isn’t going to alienate people. And I think that it is incumbent upon journalists to help.” (Duly noted.)

The paper’s authors also advise scientists to think through new ways to share their findings with audiences. “The major source of scientific information, for most people, is not scientists,” says Lee. “If we want to shape people’s receptiveness, we need to start with the voices people care about, and which have the most influence.”

This list can include pastors and political leaders, TV and radio personalities, and – like it or not – social media influencers.

Educators, which means anyone who interacts with children and young minds (parents included), can help by teaching kids scientific reasoning skills. “That way, when [those young people] encounter scientific information or misinformation, they can better parse how the conclusion was reached and determine whether it is valid.”

All of us, who can push back against anti-science through the surprisingly effective technique of not being a jerk. If you hear someone advocating an anti-science view – perhaps at your Thanksgiving dinner table – arguing or telling that person they are stupid will not help.

Instead, Philipp-Muller advises: “Try to find common ground and a shared identity with someone who shares views with an anti-science group.”

Having a calm, respectful conversation about their viewpoint might help them work through their resistance, or even recognize that they’ve fallen into one of the four patterns described above.

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By Sydney Murphy HealthDay Reporter
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Aug. 5, 2022 (HealthDay News) – Social isolation and loneliness put people at a 30% higher risk of heart attack, stroke or death from either, a new scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) warns.

The statement also highlights the lack of data on interventions that could improve heart health in isolated or lonely people. It was published Aug. 4 in the Journal of the American Heart Association .

“Over four decades of research has clearly demonstrated that social isolation and loneliness are both associated with adverse health outcomes,” said Dr. Crystal Wiley Cené, who headed the team that wrote the statement. “Given the prevalence of social disconnectedness across the U.S., the public health impact is quite significant.”

Nearly a quarter of U.S. adults aged 65 and older are socially isolated, and as many as 47% may be lonely, according to AHA. The risk rises with age due to such factors as retirement and widowhood.

But a Harvard University survey suggests the loneliest generation is Gen Z — 18- to 22-year-olds — which also may be the most isolated. A possible reason: They spend more time on social media and less time engaging in meaningful in-person activities.

And the pandemic appears to have made matters worse among younger and older adults, as well as women and the poor.

“Although social isolation and feeling lonely are related, they are not the same thing,” said Cene, chief administrator for health equity, diversity and inclusion at the University of California San Diego Health. “Individuals can lead a relatively isolated life and not feel lonely, and conversely, people with many social contacts may still experience loneliness.”

Social isolation is having infrequent in-person contact with people for social relationships, such as family, friends, or members of the same community or religious group. Loneliness is when you feel like you are alone or have less connection with others than you desire.

To investigate the relationship between social isolation and heart, blood vessel and brain health, the writing group reviewed research on social isolation published through July 2021. The review found:

  • Social isolation and loneliness are frequent but under-appreciated factors that affect the heart, blood vessels and brain.
  • Lack of social connections is associated with a higher risk of premature death from any cause, particularly in men.
  • Folks who were less socially connected were more likely to exhibit physical symptoms of chronic stress. Isolation and loneliness are linked to increased inflammation.
  • When evaluating risk factors for social isolation, it is important to remember that depression may cause isolation, and isolation may make depression more likely.
  • Social isolation in childhood is linked to increased heart health risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar levels.
  • Transportation, housing, family discontent, the pandemic and natural disasters are a few social and environmental factors that have affect social interactions.

“There is strong evidence linking social isolation and loneliness with increased risk of worse heart and brain health in general; however, the data on the association with certain outcomes, such as heart failure, dementia and cognitive impairment is sparse,” Cené said.

The strongest evidence points to a connection between social isolation, loneliness, and death from heart disease and stroke, with a 32% higher risk of stroke and death from stroke and a 29% higher heart attack risk.

“Social isolation and loneliness are also associated with worse prognosis in individuals who already have coronary heart disease or stroke,” Cené said.

Along with behaviors that have a detrimental effect on heart and brain health, isolation and loneliness are linked to lower levels of self-reported physical activity and a lower intake of fruits and vegetables. Additionally, numerous large studies have found significant links between loneliness and a higher likelihood of smoking.

“There is an urgent need to develop, implement and evaluate programs and strategies to reduce the negative effects of social isolation and loneliness on cardiovascular and brain health, particularly for at-risk populations,” Cené said in an AHA news release.

She said clinicians should ask patients about their social activity and whether they are satisfied with their level of interaction with friends and family.

“They should then be prepared to refer people who are socially isolated or lonely — especially those with a history of heart disease or stroke — to community resources to help them connect with others,” she added.

The authors said more research is required to understand how isolation affects heart and brain health in children and young adults; people from under-represented racial and ethnic groups; LGBTQ people; people with physical or hearing disabilities; those in rural areas; and people with limited resources.

The statement noted that studies in senior citizens have found that interventions addressing negative thoughts and low self-worth, as well as fitness programs and recreational activities at senior centers, have shown promise in reducing isolation and loneliness.

“It is unclear whether actually being isolated [social isolation] or feeling isolated [loneliness] matters most for cardiovascular and brain health because only a few studies have examined both in the same sample,” Cené said, adding that more research is needed.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about the health risks of loneliness.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Aug. 3, 2022

Source



Vitamin D is well-known for being important for bone health. It’s also been studied for its possible link to a lower risk of a wide variety of conditions. But even though you can get vitamin D from food, supplements, or spending time in the sunshine,  many people don’t get enough of it.

Why? Maybe you don’t get enough of it from your diet. Other things that affect your body’s ability to make vitamin D include the season, time of day, where you live,  air pollution, cloud cover, sunscreen, body parts exposed, skin color, and age. Dermatologists recommend using sunscreen and getting vitamin D from food and supplements rather than risk the harmful rays of the sun.

Role of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is naturally present in few foods. But it’s in many fortified foods.

Since 1930, virtually all cow’s milk in the U.S. has been fortified with 100 IU of vitamin D per cup. Food makers fortify other foods such as yogurt, cereal, and orange juice.

Ideally, vitamin D is added to a food or beverage that contains calcium. Vitamin D is needed for maximum absorption of calcium from the intestine, helping to build strong bones and teeth.

“Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low bone mass and osteoporosis, which is estimated to affect 10 million adults over the age of 50 in the U.S.,” says Atlanta rheumatologist Eduardo Baetti, MD. He says many of his patients – especially elderly and dark-skinned people – have low levels of vitamin D because the sun is not a reliable source.

How Much Vitamin D Do You Need?

The National Institutes of Health recommends that people get this much vitamin D daily:

  • Birth to 12 months: 10 micrograms (mcg) or 400 international units (IU)
  • Ages 1-70 years: 15 mcg (600 IU)
  • Ages 71 and older: 20 mcg (800 IU)

Older adults need more vitamin D because as they age, their skin does not produce vitamin D efficiently, they spend less time outdoors, and they tend to not get enough vitamin D.

Best Sources of Vitamin D

The sun is an excellent source of vitamin D, but it is hard to quantify how much vitamin D you get from time in the sun, and the risk of skin cancer may outweigh the benefits.

Food first, says Baylor College of Medicine dietitian Keli Hawthorne. “Supplements can fill in the gaps, but it is always better to try to meet your nutritional needs with foods that contain fiber, phytonutrients, and so much more,” she says.

Unless you enjoy a diet that includes fatty fish or fish liver oils, it may be hard to get enough vitamin D naturally without eating fortified foods or taking a supplement. “The major dietary source of vitamin D comes from fortified dairy, along with some yogurts and cereals,” Hawthorne says. Mushrooms, eggs, cheese, and beef liver contain small amounts.

How Much Is Too Much?

Because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it can build up in the body. So it is possible to get too much of it. 

The National Institutes of Health says these are the upper limits per day for vitamin D:

  • Birth to 6 months: 25 mcg (1,000 IU)
  • Babies 7-12 months: 38 mcg (1,500 IU)
  • Children 1-3 years: 63 mcg (2,500 IU)
  • Children 4-8 years: 75 mcg (3,000 IU)
  • Children 9-18 years: 100 mcg (4,000 IU)
  • Adults 19 and older: 100 mcg (4,000 IU)
  • If pregnant or breastfeeding: 100 mcg (4,000 IU)

 

“There is a potential to cause harm if you overdose on supplements above 4,000 IU/day, but there is no fear of overdosing from the sun, because your skin acts like a regulatory system, only allowing production of the amount of vitamin D you need,” says Patsy Brannon, PhD, a Cornell University professor of nutritional sciences who served on an Institute of Medicine committee that reviewed vitamin D recommendations.

Acceptable Vitamin D Blood Levels

Your health care provider can check your vitamin D blood level with a simple blood test.

Part of the confusion about whether or not you are getting enough vitamin D may be the definition of the acceptable blood level of vitamin D, clinically measured as 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D].

Using vitamin D blood levels is the best estimate of adequacy that accounts for dietary intake and sunshine, yet experts differ on what that level should be.

“A 25(OH)D blood level of at least 20 nanograms/ml was used by the IOM committee to set the recommendations for vitamin D because this level showed adequacy for a wide variety of bone health indicators” says Brannon.

The Endocrine Society Practice Guidelines, as well as many laboratories and experts, recommend a minimum vitamin D blood level of 30 nanograms/ml as an acceptable level.

Source


1800x1200_immune_cell_gene_therapy_explained_ref_guide-1200x800.jpg

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, June 7, 2022 (HealthDay News) — A blood test could save some colon cancer patients from getting unnecessary chemotherapy following surgery, while making sure that those who would benefit from the treatment get it, researchers report.

The circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) test looks for minute amounts of genetic material that are released by cancerous tumors, explained co-researcher Dr. Anne Marie Lennon, director of gastroenterology and hepatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in Baltimore.

The presence of cancer DNA in the blood is a sign that someone likely needs follow-up chemotherapy, Lennon said.

The test nearly halved the number of people with stage 2 colon cancer who got follow-up chemotherapy after surgery – 15% versus 28% for a control group that received standard cancer care, the researchers found.

At the same time, both groups had essentially the same chance of two-year recurrence-free survival, 93% for the blood test group and 92% for the group that got regular care.

“Its bottom line was no difference. This is the first study of its kind to use ctDNA to guide patient therapy,” Lennon said. “This is the first study that has shown you can use circulating tumor DNA to really personalize cancer care.”

About 151,000 new colon cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed in the United States in 2022, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology. An estimated 52,580 deaths will follow.

For this clinical trial, researchers recruited 455 patients with operable stage 2 colon cancer in Australia and New Zealand. At stage 2, colon cancer has gone through the lining of the bowel but hasn’t spread into the lymph nodes, Lennon said.

It’s known that about 80% of stage 2 colon cancer patients will be cured solely by surgical removal of their tumor, while 20% will have the cancer come back unless they get follow-up chemo, Lennon said.

In the study, two-thirds of patients were randomly assigned to get the ctDNA blood test about four weeks after undergoing surgery. The rest had their need for follow-up chemo assessed in the current manner, by making a judgment call after looking over the removed cancer and assessing how it had spread in the colon.

Patients with a positive ctDNA result who underwent post-surgery chemotherapy wound up with a three-year recurrence-free survival rate of 86%, according to the investigators.

The researchers presented this study on Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), held in Chicago. The results of the clinical trial were also published in theNew England Journal of Medicine.

This study likely will change the way that stage 2 colon cancer is treated, said ASCO Chief Medical Officer Dr. Julie Gralow.

“If I were a patient, I would want to know what my ctDNA showed, for sure,” Gralow said. “And I do think this is really pretty solid data, so I think that it has a high likelihood of impacting standard of care in the U.S.”

The test would spare many people from the debilitating effects of chemo, including nausea, vomiting, fatigue and potential nerve damage, Lennon noted.

At the same time, it would increase the chance that high-risk people get chemo even if doctors would be otherwise hesitant to have them undergo it.

“Often there’s a hesitancy to give older people chemotherapy,” Lennon said. “We’re going to be able to say, look, if you’re ctDNA positive, we know your risk of recurrence is very high. Even if you are older, you should take the chemotherapy.”

Gralow and Lennon added that this is a process that could be put into place immediately for colon cancer patients anywhere in the United States.

While only major cancer centers could perform such a blood test in-house, there are specialized labs to which the blood could be sent for the same analysis, the researchers added.

“They do high volume and do it extremely well, and the cost of it has come down dramatically,” Lennon said. “It’s something that everybody should be able to have access to.”

The next steps will be to take the ctDNA test and see if it can be applied to later stages of colon cancer, as well as other types of cancer, to help judge who might benefit from chemotherapy, Lennon said.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about colon cancer.

SOURCES: Anne Marie Lennon, MD, PhD, director, gastroenterology and hepatology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore; Julie Gralow, MD, chief medical officer, American Society of Clinical Oncology; New England Journal of Medicine, June 4, 2022

Source


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