Our children are so starved of vitamin D, the 'sunshine vitamin', that doctors are handing out more supplements than ever before—and prescriptions for the vitamin have jumped 25-fold in the last 10 years.
Children deficient in the vitamin can suffer seizures and rickets, and high levels are needed to maintain healthy teeth, bones and muscles.
But a combination of 'safe sun' advice—where almost any exposure to sunlight is considered dangerous—and a life spent indoors has meant an entire generation of young children is deficient in the vitamin.
As a result, family doctors have stepped in and are prescribing the supplements. Reports that cover 723 surgeries in the UK have found that 12,277 children were given prescriptions for the first time, suggesting a 25-fold jump between 2008 and 2016.
However, only a third of the children had symptoms of vitamin D deficiency, which can also include aches and pain, tiredness and fatigue, and doctors hadn't tested for any deficiency in most of the cases.
Plastic teabags release nearly 12 billion micro-plastics into every cup we drink—and these could be interfering with our behaviour and neurodevelopment.
The teabags, which are often pyramid-shaped, also release 3.1 billion nanoparticles, which are even smaller.
The bags, which were introduced by tea manufacturers around 10 years ago, use polypropylene as a sealing plastic—but when heated with boiling water, they are releasing billions of particles of plastic into the cup, say researchers from McGill University in Canada.
They reviewed four commercial teas and tested the impact of the plastics on a water flea, or Daphnia. The fleas swam more erratically and even their body shape started to change.
But nobody is sure what effect they have on people's health, although the levels released by the teabags are thousands of times above current safety levels. The McGill researchers fear drinking numerous cups of tea made from plastic bags could cause behavioural and developmental problems.
"There's been very little research done on human health and toxicity of microplastics, especially on ingesting at these levels," said lead researcher Nathalie Tufenkji. The World Health Organization has estimated that two pints of water in plastic bottles has tens to hundreds of particles—far below those seen with plastic teabags.
(Source: Environ Sci Technol, 2019; 53, 21, 12300-12310)
Coffee is in our blood, and so too are pharmaceutical drugs—suggesting that 'pure' blood used in transfusions isn't so pure after all.
People having a transfusion are likely to also get a shot of caffeine and a variety of prescription drugs.
The chances of receiving contaminated blood are highly likely, say researchers who discovered that each of the 18 batches they analysed contained some contamination.
The most common contaminant was coffee, found in each of the 18 'pure blood' samples, but most of them also contained traces of cough medicine and an anti-anxiety drug.
Researchers from Oregon State University specifically tested for three drugs—Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug, dextromethorphan, an over-the-counter cough suppressant, and tolbutamide, a remedy for type 2 diabetes.
The researchers say there is a good chance that traces of other pharmaceuticals were also in the samples, but they hadn't tested for those.
Although caffeine was more a reflection of society than being a health risk, the fact that powerful drugs were found in 'pure' blood was more concerning, the researchers said. "The drugs in there could be an issue for patients," said researcher Luying Chen.
(Source: Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis, 2019; 112983)
Multiple sclerosis (MS) could be triggered by a viral infection, and specifically of several herpes viruses.
MS is an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system—but scientists have been mystified as to why it starts.
The Epstein-Barr herpes virus has been suspected as being a trigger, but new research has discovered it could be the result of several herpes viruses acting in concert, and with the herpes virus 6 strain playing a key role.
MS sufferers are carriers of the herpes 6A strain, and it could be this that kick-starts the disease, say researchers from the Karolinska Institute. If they had a herpes 6 infection when they were children, they were more than twice as likely to develop MS as adults, the researchers discovered after analysing blood samples taken from 8,700 MS sufferers and comparing them to 7,200 healthy controls. They also had a 55 percent higher risk of having antibodies against the 6 strain.
Although the Epstein-Barr virus still seems to be linked to MS, the risk is magnified when the sufferer is also a carrier of the herpes 6 virus.
(Source: Frontiers in Immunology, 2019; doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.02715
Cannabis halves the severity of headaches and migraine attacks, a major new study has discovered.
Sufferers reported a reduction of 47 percent in the severity of headaches and 49 percent in migraine pain.
Although many people use cannabis for pain relief, very few studies have researched it. One clinical trial concluded that cannabis was more effective than ibuprofen.
Researchers from Washington State University recruited 1,300 who suffer from frequent headaches and 653 migraine sufferers. They all used an app to report when they suffered an attack, when they took cannabis and the effect it had, in 'real time'. In all, the two groups lodged nearly 20,000 reports.
There was no reporting of 'overuse headache', where headaches can become more severe over time and is often seen with more conventional treatments, although the researchers noted that the participants were starting to take larger doses, suggesting they were developing a tolerance to the drug.
Although cannabis oil was a more effective pain-reliever than the cannabis flower, the researchers said the different levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) used by the participants wasn't a factor.
(Source: Journal of Pain, 2019; doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2019.11.001)
Falls and fractures are common problems among the elderly—but the real culprit isn't always old age, it can also be the drugs they're taking.
Many of the drugs routinely prescribed to the elderly—opioid painkillers, antidepressants, antacids and sleeping drugs—either weaken the bones or increase the chances of a fall or do both.
Researchers from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth analysed the records of around 2.5 million older people who had been prescribed any of the 21 most common fracture-associated drugs (FADs) to see how many of them subsequently suffered a hip fracture.
The rate was highest among those who were taken the most FADs, and the most commonly prescribed were opioid painkillers, which were taken by 55 percent of the group, followed by diuretics, prescribed to 40 percent of them.
Taking even one of these drugs doubles the risk of a fracture, the researchers estimate, and the risk increases exponentially for every other FAD being taken. Taking two FADs triples the risk and taking three quadruples it. The effects can be twice as bad in people who already have osteoporosis.
The most dangerous combinations—and the ones most likely to lead to a fall or fracture—were the opioids and sedatives, or opioids and diuretics, or opioids and PPIs (proton pump inhibitors), for indigestion.
If the drugs are optional, the elderly patient should seriously consider stop taking them, the researchers say, and it's a consideration that is even more pressing if two or more FADs are being prescribed.
There are seven factors that contribute to a healthy heart, according to the American Heart Association—and avoiding processed food could be the biggest.
People whose diets are made up mainly of processed foods—such as white bread, cake, chicken nuggets, soft drinks and instant soups—are 50 percent more likely to have heart problems.
The risk is greatest in those whose diet is 70 percent processed food, and it falls dramatically once the amount falls to 40 percent or less of total calorie intake.
As a simple measure, every additional 5 percent of processed food consumed had a corresponding damaging effect on the health of the heart and arteries, say researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They reviewed the diets of 13,466 adults that had been tracked between 2011 and 2016.
It's one of the key factors in maintaining a healthy heart, the researchers say. According to the American Heart Association, the other six are healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, avoidance of tobacco products, healthy body weight and adequate physical activity.
Eating too much processed food has an impact on three of the factors—blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, and body weight.
"There are things you can do every day to improve your health just a little bit. Try replacing a hamburger with fish once or twice a week, for instance. Making small changes can add up to better heart health," said researcher Donna Arnett.
(Source: The American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, November 16-18, 2019)
Around one in five children are allergic to sesame. Although they're usually seen as a healthy snack or seasoning, sesame seeds are one of the top 10 allergens for children.
It's often an unsuspected allergy, with other foods being blamed for serious reactions—but when researchers tested 119 allergic children, they discovered that it was the culprit in 17 per cent of cases.
Researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reckon that around 1.1 million Americans have a sesame allergy, and only around 30 percent of children ever outgrow it.
The allergy has always been controversial, not helped by worries that the tests were inaccurate—but the researchers reckon the various tests can be reliable.
The researchers gave the children with a food allergy the standard 'oral food challenge' where they eat increasing amounts of sesame to see if there's an allergic reaction. After there was some reaction, the researchers used the allergen-specific antibody test to determine whether sesame was to blame.
It's always been "a challenge" to establish a sesame allergy, said lead researcher Anthony S Fauci, but the antibody test is reliable and accurate.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering whether to include sesame as an allergen on food labelling.
When it comes to maintaining a healthy heart, all exercise isn't equal. Lifting heavy loads at work seems to be bad for our arteries and heart, while intense sporting activity has a positive effect, at least according to new research.
It all seems to do with the way different types of activity affect our heart rhythm. An abnormal rhythm suggests a problem with the walls of our arteries and this, in turn, can lead to cardiovascular disease.
It's a new way of looking at heart disease, say scientists at Inserm in France, who wanted to assess how different activities affect heart rhythms. Although we've been told that all forms of exercise are good for the heart, the Inserm research team wasn't so sure, and tracked the heart health and activity of 10,000 volunteers for 10 years to find out.
The participants completed regular questionnaires where they logged their activity in sport, in their leisure time, such as gardening, and at work, and the health of their arteries was also checked.
Although general movement at work is good for the heart, lifting heavy loads isn't, they discovered. Intense sporting activity is the best for maintaining a heavy heart.
(Source: Hypertension, 2019; published online, November 4, 2019: https://doi.org/10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.119.13461)
A steroid injection into the knee or hip may not always be the safe and easy option for the arthritis sufferer. Around 8 percent suffer complications, and the procedure can also speed the deterioration of the joints.
The injection is a routine procedure that is carried out thousands of times a day to reduce pain and improve mobility—and without causing any side effects, or so orthopaedic surgeons had thought.
But a new study has discovered that corticosteroid injections can be "very harmful to the joints with serious complications," said researcher Ali Guermazi from the Boston University School of Medicine.
The injections can cause osteonecrosis, when new bone is not being created, and speed the progress of osteoarthritis, when the joints are destroyed, he warns.
In a survey of patients who had hip or knee injections in 2018, eight percent reported having complications afterwards, and most of these were from a hip injection.
He warns that the injections aren't safe and routine, and the real pros and cons should be discussed before going ahead. "Critical considerations about the complications should be part of patient consent, and that isn't the case right now."
Products that easily control and kill weeds in crops, lawns, gardens and flower beds are a boon to gardeners and farmers. For many, these herbicides have dispatched to distant memory the tedious, backbreaking chore of pulling weeds from in and around plants, but we are all paying the price. As these weed killers find their way into our drinking water or our bloodstreams, depending on the nature of exposure, they have the potential to wreak havoc not only on the health of human beings but on that of all kinds of creatures.
(Image: PavelRodimov/iStock/Getty Images)
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The sixth most commonly used herbicide in the United States, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, or 2,4-D, is produced and distributed by many companies. According to Beyond Pesticides.org, 2,4-D has been linked to cancer, kidney and liver damage, reproductive toxicity and endocrine disruption. Its salt form is highly toxic when it gets in your eyes. Breathing it in causes coughing, dizziness and impaired muscle coordination. Ingesting the salt causes nausea, diarrhea and possible liver and kidney damage. Through these channels, 2,4-D also damages the nervous system. Effects include fatigue, inflamed nerves, arm and leg stiffness, lost coordination, inability to walk, coma and even death. Despite the Environmental Protection Agency's position that 2,4-D is not carcinogenic, a link between 2,4-D and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma has been established in studies conducted in the United States and Canada as well as several European countries. 2,4-D has also been linked to canine malignant lymphoma in dogs whose owners use the chemical on their lawns. In 1996 a study of children of pesticide appliers in Minnesota found to them to have a higher rate of birth abnormalities when compared with the general population. This trend to birth defects was found in birds as well. Many 2,4-D products also contain dioxins, which are very carcinogenic. Dioxins also reduce fertility, alter hormones, and cause miscarriage and birth defects.
Glyphosate, a general herbicide sprayed on food and nonfood plants, is used in 90 countries and on more than 150 crops, according to a report published by the U.S. Geological Survey. It is marketed under many names, including Roundup and Touchdown, for use on broadleaf weeds, soybeans, grasses, corn and roadsides. The report also states that in a test of 154 water sources in nine states, glyphosate was found in 36 percent of the samples. Use of this chemical has increased since crops such as soybeans and corn were genetically engineered to be resistant to Roundup. Now farmers need not be concerned when the mist from Roundup coats their food crops, but consumers should be very concerned. As studies are mounted and data reported, we are learning that glyphosate is not as safe as its producers claim. A Swedish study published in the journal Cancer reported a connection between non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and glyphosate use. An Ontario study of farmers found exposure to glyphosate was associated with a high rate of miscarriages.
Until recently studies have looked at the effects of glyphosate, the "active" ingredient in Roundup, while ignoring an "inert" ingredient, a surfactant called polyethoxylated tallowmine, or POEA. However, a new study published in Chemical Research in Toxicology 2009 demonstrated that POEA is even more toxic than glyphosate in its effects on cells in embryos, placentas and umbilical cords. So this seemingly inert ingredient, when used in combination with the active ingredient, greatly increases the toxic effects of the weedkiller.