Vitamin K May Kickstart Healthy Lungs

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Spinach on  white
THURSDAY, Aug. 10, 2023 (HealthDay News) — It may not get the publicity of some better-known vitamins like D, but vitamin K — found in leafy green vegetables — may boost lung health.

A new, large study — published Aug. 10 in ERJ Open Research — suggests that people who have low levels of this vitamin also have less healthy lungs. They are more likely to report having asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and wheezing.

“Our results suggest that vitamin K could play a part in keeping our lungs healthy,” said researcher Dr. Torkil Jespersen of Copenhagen University Hospital and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. “

On their own, our findings do not alter current recommendations for vitamin K intake, but they do suggest that we need more research on whether some people, such as those with lung disease, could benefit from vitamin K supplementation,” Jespersen said in a journal news release. In addition to leafy greens, vitamin K is found in vegetable oils and cereal grains. It has a role in blood clotting, helping the body heal wounds, but researchers know very little about its role in lung health.

To study this, the Danish researchers recruited more than 4,000 Copenhagen residents, ages 24 to 77.

Study participants underwent lung function testing, called spirometry, which measures the amount of air a person can breathe out in one second (forced expiratory volume or FEV1) and the total volume of air they can breathe in one forced breath (forced vital capacity or FVC).

Participants also gave blood samples and answered questionnaires on their health and lifestyle. The blood tests included a marker of low levels of vitamin K in the body. People with markers of low vitamin K levels had lower FEV1 and lower FVC on average. Those with lower levels of vitamin K were also more likely to say they had COPD, asthma or wheezing. The study only found an association between vitamin levels and lung function; it couldn’t prove cause and effect.

“This study suggests that people with low levels of vitamin K in their blood may have poorer lung function. Further research will help us understand more about this link and see whether increasing vitamin K can improve lung function or not,” said Dr. Apostolos Bossios, from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and secretary of the European Respiratory Society assembly on airway diseases, asthma, COPD, and chronic cough. He was not involved in this research.

“In the meantime, we can all try to eat a healthy, balanced diet to support our overall health, and we can protect our lungs by not smoking, taking part in exercise and doing all we can to cut air pollution,” Bossios said in the release.  

More information   The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on vitamin K.   SOURCE: EJR Open Research, news release, Aug. 10, 2023


Sleep a Key Defense for Black Americans at Genetic Risk for Alzheimer’s  

Consumer news
sleep black senior
THURSDAY, July 6, 2023 (HealthDay News) — A lot of experts advise getting a good night’s sleep. For Black Americans who have a gene variant linked to Alzheimer’s disease, that rest could be protective, a new study says. 

“This new finding suggests that someone with a high-risk variant might be able to overcome their genetic inheritance by improving their sleep habits,” said lead author Bernadette Fausto, a member of the research faculty at Rutgers University-Newark in New Jersey.

“The findings were striking,” she said in a Rutgers news release.

Black Americans are both at greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease and get less sleep on average, Fausto said. 

Some of the contributors are city dwelling with population density and more night-time noise and light pollution, which can impact the body’s ability to release the hormone melatonin, Fausto said.

Black individuals are also more likely to have severe cases of the disorder sleep apnea, according to a previous study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

“There’s a growing awareness that sleep is crucial for brain health and this may be a significant contributor to the high rates of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias among African Americans,” said co-author Mark Gluck, director of the Aging & Brain Health Alliance at Rutgers-Newark. “Sleep disruption of any sort can accelerate the progression of Alzheimer’s.” 

Established research has found a connection between poor sleep and Alzheimer’s disease. Also previously discovered is an association with the high-risk ABCA7 gene variant and the disease, the researchers said in background notes.

For this study, researchers explored the interplay between those factors, enrolling 114 cognitively healthy Black people from the Newark area. 

The researchers divided the participants into two groups: Those with the high-risk version of the ABCA7 gene and those with a lower-risk variant. All underwent tests related to thinking and memory (cognition).

Participants also assessed their own sleep quality. 

Researchers found that people with the risky genotype who reported getting enough quality sleep were protected from developing an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease. This is the inability to apply, or generalize, previous learning to a new problem. 

Those who also had the high-risk gene variant but who reported poor quality sleep showed impairments in generalization of previous learning.

Sleep is a time for the brain to undertake basic maintenance tasks, according to the study.

“Every cell is like a home — it generates garbage. This only becomes a problem if that garbage doesn’t get picked up,” Gluck said in the release. 

That “garbage” gets collected during the specific type of sleep that occurs in the pre-dawn hours. When it doesn’t get collected, toxins can accumulate in the brain.

“We spend about a third of our life sleeping or trying to sleep, so that’s a pretty significant amount of our lives that’s easy to overlook,” Fausto said.

“In many areas of medicine we are seeing the growth of what is known as ‘personalized medicine’ in which the treatments for a disorder are determined, in part, by a patient’s genetic profile,” Gluck said. 

In the future, Gluck added, it may be that a prescription for someone who has the ABCA7 risk factor is not a drug, but the advice, “You really, really need to improve the quality of your sleep.”

Study results were published recently in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.  

More information   The Alzheimer’s Association has more on Alzheimer’s disease and genetics.  

SOURCE: Rutgers University-Newark, news release, June 29, 2023  

How to Care for Your Heart During a Pregnancy

Jerome Federspiel, MD, PhD Asst. Prof. of Obstetrics/Gynecology, Duke University School Of Medicine   pregnancy pregnant obstetrician
WEDNESDAY, July 5, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Pregnancy triggers many changes to the body, but there’s one that may surprise many women.

A hidden change is that the heart has to pump, on average, nearly 50% more blood by the end of pregnancy than it did before pregnancy, and then it has to quickly go back to “normal operations” after delivery. While most pregnant women’s hearts tolerate these changes well, pregnancy can serve as a “stress test” on the heart that can cause new heart disease in patients who have not had heart problems previously, and can make existing heart issues more difficult to manage.

What types of heart conditions may arise?

The most common heart conditions seen in pregnancy are related to high blood pressure conditions in pregnancy (preeclampsia and gestational hypertension), irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias), and the heart muscle not squeezing strongly enough (heart failure). At the Duke Birthing Center, doctors care for patients who enter pregnancy with high blood pressure, heart defects that were present since birth and acquired heart disease (people who have developed heart disease such as an irregular rhythm or heart attacks).

What do these conditions may mean in the long-term?

While heart conditions can make pregnancy more complex to manage, high-quality care from experts in caring for pregnant people with heart disease can make all the difference in ensuring a safe, happy ending for mother and baby. After pregnancy, people who have experienced heart-related pregnancy complications are oftentimes at higher risk of heart issues later in life. Knowing this risk can help a patient receive preventive care after pregnancy, to reduce the risk of heart problems for decades to come. 

Tip #1: If you have had heart problems and are thinking about pregnancy, speak to your health care provider and consider meeting with a cardiologist and a maternal-fetal medicine specialist before becoming pregnant. 

Many patients who become pregnant with an existing heart condition can have safe, successful pregnancies, but meeting prior to pregnancy with experts will allow them to review any potential complications with pregnancy, ensure that the medications you take would be recommended in pregnancy, and preview how your pregnancy care might proceed.

Tip #2: Ask your health care provider if low-dose aspirin therapy is right for you. For many patients with risk factors for high blood pressure-related complications of pregnancy such as preeclampsia, taking a baby aspirin every day has been shown to prevent complications. Your health care provider can review your health history with you and recommend whether low-dose aspirin should be part of your pregnancy care plan.

Tip #3: If you are pregnant and concerned about your heart, let your health care provider know! Symptoms of pregnancy and symptoms of heart disease sometimes overlap — for example, many pregnant people experience shortness of breath and swollen legs at the end of pregnancy. While most patients who have symptoms during pregnancy do not have heart disease, it is important to let your health care provider know about new symptoms and concerns, so that they can help you decide together whether further treatment is needed. Some symptoms to look out for include suddenly worse fatigue, fainting, chest pain, shortness of breath, trouble breathing when lying down, palpitations and sudden swelling in the legs.     

Hey, Dads: You Play a Big and Important Role in Your Kid’s Health

AHA News: Hey, Dads: You Play a Big and Important Role in Your Kids' Health
THURSDAY, June 15, 2023 (American Heart Association News)

Dads get plenty of attention on Father’s Day, but they’ve sometimes been overlooked in research about how they affect their children’s health.

But from the start, fathers shape their children’s health in significant ways, said James Muchira, an assistant professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing in Nashville, Tennessee.

“Fathers, especially on Father’s Day, need to know that they have a big part to play in modeling healthy behaviors,” said Muchira, who studies how heart disease risks are transmitted across generations. “Their involvement is key.”

A father’s influence is unique, complementing but not being redundant with a mother’s role, said pediatrician Dr. Michael Yogman, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Yogman was lead author of a 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics report on fathers’ roles that said although mothers still handle most child care, fathers are more involved than ever before and are big influences on how their children eat, exercise and play.

Here’s what Yogman and Muchira said about how fathers shape the health of their offspring.

It goes beyond biology

When discussing fathers, “we’re talking about a pretty diverse set of male caregivers, not all of whom are biological fathers,” Yogman said.

Adoptive fathers, foster fathers and nonresident fathers all count. “We also shouldn’t neglect grandfathers,” said Yogman, who has two daughters and two granddaughters.

Muchira said the way children pick up behaviors from their parents is complex. But overall, most of the risk of chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, is not genetic. The bulk of the risk comes from factors such as where a child is growing and what they are eating, along with education and other socioeconomic factors.

“All these combined would have a higher impact to cardiovascular disease than just inheritance,” Muchira said.

It starts early

Mothers-to-be have a dominant influence before birth, when her body is sustaining the developing child. But the earlier that fathers get involved, the better the pregnancy outcome, Yogman said.

A report he co-wrote in 2021 cited research that has correlated a father’s involvement during pregnancy with a greater likelihood of prenatal care and less smoking by the mother.

A father’s style of play with infants may differ from a mother’s, he said. Dads may do more tapping games and more bicycling of the legs, and they’re likely to toss their babies in the air more. When children are 18 to 24 months old, fathers engage in more rough-and-tumble play, which might help children become more independent, develop better emotional control and reduce behavioral problems, studies say.

Being a role model matters

Yogman said that when a father engages in healthy behaviors related to fitness, or even staying off the phone at the dinner table, the model can permeate through the family. “A lot of these lifestyle issues are really critical for good health,” he said.

Muchira’s research has looked at how parents’ lifestyles can affect cardiovascular health risk factors – such as cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose, smoking and body mass index – over a lifetime. Because of mothers’ influence during pregnancy, they have a stronger effect than fathers over the years, he said. But his research also suggests that the better a father’s cardiovascular health is, the lower the risk of heart disease and stroke for his children.

Muchira said the connections between what a parent is doing and their child’s health aren’t immediately obvious. But problems such as stiffening of the arteries can begin even before birth, and in his work, he’s shown that a parent’s lifestyle is associated with their offspring’s health more than 50 years later.

Parents have that long-lasting influence because of how they model behavior, healthy and unhealthy, Muchira said. If a father takes a child for a walk, that child may learn to enjoy walks. If a father encourages healthy eating, a child may learn from that as well. Studies have shown that children of fathers who are active are more likely to be active themselves.

As the father of a 4-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son, Muchira is aware that his own modeling and guidance affect his children in ways he can’t always see, and he knows there will be times as they grow up when they might ignore his advice. But he thinks of an older friend who vividly remembers when their parents taught them to avoid sugary foods and still thinks about that lesson when making choices today.

A child or teenager might not always eat the way a well-informed adult would, Muchira said. “But the point is, they know. And once they know, it is very different from someone who doesn’t know.”

Muchira emphasized, however, that some things are out of a father’s control. A father can’t model healthy eating if the family can’t afford food, and he can’t take kids on a walk if there is no safe place to do so.

Fathers can buffer against toxic stress

Childhood adversity and prolonged stress can lead to multiple health and psychological problems. But even one supportive, trusting relationship can go a long way toward buffering against it, Yogman said. Researchers have shown, for example, that a healthy father’s engagement “can be enormously adaptive and protective for the child” when a mother has postpartum depression, he said.

Other research done among low-income Hispanic immigrant families showed that when a father was involved in caring for an infant, the child later had lower levels of a stress-related hormone and performed better on memory tests as 8- or 9-year-olds.

Muchira said fathers can help kids manage their stress through exercise or just spending time together. “These kinds of habits release the healthful chemicals in the body that will reduce some of these mechanisms of transmission of disease risk to their kids,” he said.

What a father has to understand

It’s not enough to just tell a child what to do, Muchira said. “They also need to know why they are doing what they’re doing. If the parents are just doing things without the kids knowing, then the kids will not see the point of doing it.”

Which means a father has to understand his own heart-related numbers – BMI, blood pressure and cholesterol – and other risk factors. “The father will have to know those things so that he can communicate them to the kids,” Muchira said.

Fathers also should be aware that they, too, can suffer from postpartum depression that can affect the whole family, Yogman said. And they should be active participants in their child’s pediatric visits. (The AAP report says that pediatricians, who traditionally have emphasized communication with moms, need to be more welcoming to dads.)

Dads, it’s OK if you don’t always know best

There’s no such thing as perfect parenting,” Yogman said. “All of us are guilty of all kinds of weaknesses and infractions.”

Guilt and impossible standards don’t help anybody, he said. But a father’s goal, he said, is simply to do what he can. “You want your kids to do better than you did.”

It may not be possible to prevent a child from ever having heart disease, Muchira said. But instilling healthy values can lengthen the time they live without it. “We want them to be able to enjoy life longer.”
American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Not all views expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved.

By Michael Merschel, American Heart Association News  

FDA Panel to Vote on First RSV Vaccine Given in Pregnancy to Protect Infants

THURSDAY, May 18, 2023 (HealthDay News) — The first RSV vaccine designed to protect infants is under consideration by a panel of advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

An independent committee of experts will vote Thursday on whether to recommend the shot for pregnant mothers at 24 to 36 weeks gestation.

“Before the pandemic, RSV was the No. 1 cause of infant hospitalization in the United States, so this is a big deal,” Dr. Ofer Levy, director of the precision vaccines program at Boston Children’s Hospital, told NBC News. Levy is a temporary voting member of the panel, but not one who will vote on this vaccine.

If the panel recommends the vaccine, the FDA would still need to approve it, a process that could take months. The agency is not obligated to follow its advisers’ recommendations, but it usually does.

The Pfizer-made vaccine would only be the second one ever approved in the United States for RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). A vaccine made by pharmaceutical company GSK was approved for adults ages 60 and up earlier this month. However, 11 RSV vaccines for various age groups are being tested in ongoing clinical trials.

When a mother-to-be receives the vaccine, protective antibodies transfer to infants through the placenta.

Safety data for the infant vaccine is “generally favorable,” according to the FDA. 

Trial participants had a slightly elevated rate of preterm births compared to the control group, according to the news report. However, that rate was still lower than that seen in the general population. The rate of preterm births among the 7,400 trial participants was 5.7% for those who received the vaccine compared to 4.7% of those who received a placebo and 10% in the general population. A trial by GSK for an infant vaccine was halted last year because of a higher preterm birth rate.

RSV generally causes mild, cold-like symptoms. It is a minor illness in healthy adults, but can be severe in more vulnerable groups, including babies and older adults.

Up to 300 children younger than 5 years die from RSV in the United States each year. Up to 10,000 people age 65 and older also die from the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a clinical trial for the vaccine, infants had an 82% lowered risk of severe disease in the first three months after birth, NBC News said. That dropped to 69% by six months. Infants also had 51% lowered risk of developing respiratory disease so severe that it required a doctor’s visit.

“Maternal immunization looks like an important piece of the puzzle, but we’re going to need more to shield into the second half of the first year [of infancy] and beyond,” Levy said.

Vaccines given in pregnancy are always concerning, he said.

“There’s always the background concern: Are you inducing some inflammation that could be a problem? Because the body reads inflammation as, ‘The woman’s no longer safe, let’s get the baby out.’ So you want a fairly bland vaccine,” Levy said.

Pfizer also has a proposal for an RSV vaccine used by older adults before the FDA panel this month. That is for the same vaccine, but for use in people ages 60 and up.

Another option, a monoclonal antibody injection, has already been approved in Canada, Europe and the United Kingdom for infants. An application for that shot is also being reviewed by the FDA. 

Vaccine side effects including fatigue, headache, muscle pain and injection site pain in pregnant women.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on RSV.


Seven questions to ask during well-child checkups

Following the recommended schedule for well-child visits can help protect your child’s long-term health and well-being. These appointments also give you an opportunity to talk to your pediatrician about growth, development, and behavior.

Here are seven questions to help you get the most out of your appointments:

1. Is my child growing and developing at a healthy rate?

At each visit, your pediatrician will measure your child’s height and weight. Babies and toddlers often experience rapid growth, while gaining too much weight may be an issue for older children and teens.

2. Are my child’s vaccines up to date?

Recommended vaccinations protect children from serious diseases, including hepatitis, measles, tetanus, and polio. It’s important to get vaccines on schedule because sometimes it can take multiple doses before a child is fully protected. Make sure you understand what each vaccine protects against, and remember that children age six months and older should receive an annual flu shot.

3. What foods and beverages should my child eat?

Good nutrition is essential for healthy growth and development. For babies and toddlers, you might have questions about breastfeeding or when to introduce solid foods. As children grow up, it’s important to establish healthy eating habits. Ask your doctor about foods and beverages your child should avoid and what to do if you have a picky eater.

4. How can I keep my child safe?

Talk to your pediatrician about steps you can take to child-proof your home, protect kids from exposure to the sun, and protect against infectious diseases. Depending on the age of your children, you might have questions about when it’s time to graduate from a car seat or how much screen time is appropriate.

5. Do you have any concerns about my child’s mental health?

Mental health is important at every age. Whether your child is struggling at school or having trouble making friends, identifying an issue gives your pediatrician a chance to address it. Depression and anxiety are common among children and adolescents, so don’t be afraid to bring up these issues.

6. Ask about any specific concerns you have.

Make a list of your questions before the appointment, and put the most important ones at the top. That way, you won’t forget to ask about something that has been on your mind.

7. When should I schedule our next well-child visit?

Book your next appointment before you go home. You can change the date later, if needed, but scheduling your next visit while you’re at the doctor’s office can help you stay on track.

Text neck: How to avoid neck pain when using your mobile phone

We spend a lot of time on our mobile phones these days, sending texts, checking email, and accessing the web. Looking down at a phone for long periods of time can put added stress on the muscles in the neck, resulting in chronic pain known as text neck. Following a few simple tips can help you improve your posture and prevent pain and stiffness in your neck.

Your mobile phone may be causing your neck pain

On average, Americans spend almost three hours on their mobile devices each day, texting, playing games, checking email, watching movies, and accessing the internet. All of that time adds up to about 44 days per year.

When you look down at your mobile phone and tilt your head forward, it changes the natural curve of your neck and causes the muscles in your neck and back to become fatigued. In addition, your back becomes rounded and your shoulders roll inward. Over time, this can lead to the development of early osteoarthritis in the spine—a condition called text neck.

What is text neck?

Text neck is a repetitive stress injury caused by prolonged use of a mobile phone, tablet, or handheld electronic device. While text neck is not an official medical diagnosis, it refers to the symptoms a growing number of people experience due to overuse of their mobile devices.

The condition is associated with texting, but any activity you do a phone or tablet while looking downward, such as playing a game or responding to email, can result in poor posture and cause trauma to the soft tissues in the neck.

How does text neck cause pain?

A mild ache in the neck or upper back is often the first sign of text neck. In some cases, it causes a sharp pain or stiffness in the neck. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t right.

Other symptoms of text neck include:

  • Neck pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Back pain
  • Headaches
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning in the arms

Left untreated, text neck can lead to more pain and reduced mobility in the neck, upper back, and shoulders.

More teens show signs of text neck pain

Text neck is of particular concern among teenagers and young adults whose spines are still developing. Doctors and chiropractors have seen an increase in neck pain and poor posture among young patients due to frequent use of mobile devices. Researchers continue to study the link between long-term neck pain and the overuse of mobile devices.

Tips to prevent text neck and relieve neck pain

1. Check your posture in a mirror. When you stand with good posture, you should be able to draw a vertical line from your ear to your shoulder.

2. Minimize the bend in your neck. Rather than looking down at your mobile phone, raise it to eye level and look forward. Avoid using a tablet on your lap, and instead prop it up with a pillow. This will reduce the stress on the muscles in your neck and upper back, causing less pain.

3. Limit your device use to 20-minute sessions. Keep text messages short on mobile devices and use a computer for longer messages. If you’re planning to have a long conversation, use the hands-free function on your phone.

4. Stretch your muscles. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider to recommend exercises to improve your posture and strengthen your shoulders, neck, and back.

5. Take breaks. Pay attention to how much you use your phone. Remember to take breaks, and try using it for shorter periods of time.

Another Study Links ‘Ultra-Processed’ Foods to Higher Cancer Risk

food processed junk
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 1, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Fizzy sodas, microwaveable meals and packaged cookies are convenient for people on the go, but these folks might not go as far as they’d like if that’s all they eat.

Ultra-processed foods appear to increase the risk of developing and dying from a variety of cancers, a new large-scale study says.

Every 10% increase of these foods in your diet increases your overall risk of cancer by 2% and your risk of a cancer-related death by 6%, researchers reported Jan. 31 in eClinical Medicine.

The risk is even higher for specific cancers, particularly those that primarily affect women.

For example, every 10% increase in a woman’s consumption of ultra-processed foods makes her 19% more likely to develop and 30% more likely to die from ovarian cancer, the investigators found.

The researchers describe ultra-processed foods as “industrial formulations made by assembling industrially derived food substances and food additives through a sequence of extensive industrial processes.”

Industrially derived ingredients include things like high-glucose corn syrup, modified starch, protein isolates, emulsifiers, stabilizers and preservatives, the study authors said.

“Our bodies may not react the same way to these ultra-processed ingredients and additives as they do to fresh and nutritious minimally processed foods,” lead researcher Kiara Chang, a research fellow with Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, said in a college news release.

“However, ultra-processed foods are everywhere and highly marketed with cheap price and attractive packaging to promote consumption,” Chang continued. “This shows our food environment needs urgent reform to protect the population from ultra-processed foods.”

Ultra-processed foods make up 57% of the average American’s daily calories, up from 53% in 2001, noted Marjorie McCullough, senior scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society.

For this study, Chang and her colleagues analyzed records for nearly 200,000 participants in the UK Biobank, an ongoing health study of people in England, Scotland and Wales.

Part of the Biobank research involved people filling out questionnaires regarding their diet. Records also were kept on who developed and died from 34 types of cancer.

The researchers tracked participants for 10 years and found out that the more people chowed down on ultra-processed foods, the higher their risk of cancer.

This could be because highly processed foods are calorie-dense and therefore are more likely to make a person fat, McCullough said. “Eating highly palatable ultra-processed foods is linked to excess body weight, itself a risk factor for at least 13 cancer types,” McCullough said. “These foods are usually higher in sugar, refined grains and fat, and may impact metabolism differently than whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods.”

These foods — and their packaging — also contain loads of chemicals that could contribute to cancer risk, said Dr. Emanuela Taioli, co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Mount Sinai’s Tisch Cancer Institute, in New York City.

“They are treated with preservatives, with chemicals that preserve their freshness. And most of the time, they are in containers that are plastic or other material that is known to be one of these environmental cancer risks from endocrine disruptors,” Taioli said. “Then when they are warmed up, we don’t really know what happens to the chemistry of the preservatives, which with the heat can become other compounds that are carcinogens.”

The presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals like BPA and PFAS could explain, in particular, the increased risk in women’s cancers, Taioli said.

“These compounds modify hormone patterns or behave as hormonal,” Taioli said. “The body sees more hormones because these chemicals look like hormones, so they affect cancers that are very hormone-sensitive. From these results it seems like the role of endocrine disruptors should be explored further.”

Excess fat is also a known risk factor for both breast and ovarian cancer, McCullough said.

To lower their cancer risk, as well as their risk of heart disease and other ailments, people should opt for fresh foods as much as possible, McCullough and Taioli said.

“The American Cancer Society recommends following a healthy diet that includes a variety of colorful vegetables and whole fruit, fiber-rich legumes, whole grains and limiting or not including red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages and highly processed foods and refined grains,” McCullough said.

Nations should take steps to protect their citizens from the health effects of these foods, Chang said, urging the use of front-of-pack warning labels for ultra-processed foods to aid consumer choices.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about the cancer risk from obesity.

SOURCES: Kiara Chang, MSc, research fellow, Imperial College London’s School of Public Health; Emanuela Taioli, MD, PhD, co-leader, Cancer Prevention and Control Program, Mount Sinai’s Tisch Cancer Institute, New York City; Marjorie McCullough, ScD, RD, senior scientific director, epidemiology research, American Cancer Society; eClinical Medicine, Jan. 31, 2023, online  

1 in 5 Young Women Has No Plans to Get a Mammogram

Consumer news
THURSDAY, Sept. 29, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Terlisa Sheppard knows the value of tracking changes in her body.

The Orlando Health patient was eight and a half months pregnant and just 31 years old when she felt a lump under her arm. She left work to get it checked out and “didn’t return back to work because that is the evening that I found out I had breast cancer,” Sheppard said.

Now, 23 years later — and long after delivering that healthy baby — Sheppard wants young women to understand the benefits of screening for breast cancer.

“I know for sure that that mammogram saved my life and my baby’s life,” Sheppard said.

Early detection of breast cancer is critical to help women avoid a late-stage diagnosis that is harder to treat. Yet a new survey finds many younger women have no plans to get a mammogram in the near future.

Researchers also found that many of these women are unaware of their individual risks for breast cancer. 

The national survey by a health provider in Florida found that more than one-fifth — 22% — of women 35 to 44 had no plans to get a mammogram that could detect cancer and potentially save their lives.

“That to me is really concerning because we recommend mammograms starting at age 40 and these women are saying, ‘Nope, I don’t plan to,'” said Dr. Nikita Shah, medical oncology team leader for the Breast Cancer Center at the Orlando Health Care Institute. The survey of more than 1,100 adult women was conducted online Sept. 8-12. 

Breast cancer specialists at Orlando Health aren’t sure why women might feel this way. But Shah believes it’s a combination of lack of awareness, concerns about the cost of a mammogram and worries that the screening procedure will hurt.

While cost can be a factor for some, most private insurers cover screening mammograms under the Affordable Care Act. Also, during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many organizations offer them for free or at a low cost, such as $20 to $30, Shah said. 

“The other thing I hear is the compression hurts and, yes, it does hurt, it’s a little uncomfortable, but it literally lasts for a few minutes and then it goes away,” Shah said. “Don’t let that be a reason why you don’t do a mammogram, which can save your life.”

Women of average risk of breast cancer can get a mammogram annually beginning at age 40, according to guidelines. Those who have a family history of breast cancer should start earlier as should those with prior biopsies, atypical cells and dense breast tissue. While 22% of women ages 35 to 44 have never had a mammogram and have no plans to get one, only about 43% of women knew their family history, the survey found.

“We kind of just assume that people know, but sometimes patients don’t have good relationships with family members or they don’t know or they don’t ask or people may not talk about it,” Shah said. “Knowing family history is important.”

About 42,000 women in the United States die of breast cancer each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but survival is over 90% if the tumor is caught early. Mammograms can spot tiny tumors, making it more likely to catch the disease at an earlier stage.

Orlando Health recommends women talk with their primary care physician or gynecologist beginning in their 20s to help assess their risks. The health organization also recommends monthly self-exams to feel for any changes.

The risks for women are not uniform, and Black women are 40% more likely to die from breast cancer compared to whites. This may be in part because Black women often are diagnosed with a more aggressive type of cancer. Social biases may also play a role, Shah said, including possibly delays in initial diagnosis and in treatment.

Susan Brown, senior director of health information and publications at cancer resource organization Susan G. Komen, said the reasons for disparities in outcomes by race aren’t fully known. 

“We think it may be related to the biology of breast cancer. Black women are more likely to have an aggressive form of breast cancer,” Brown said. “They’re also more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age. Then there are also questions about the quality of health care that Black women receive.”

Brown expressed disappointment at the survey results, but not surprise.

“That tells me that we have more work to do to provide some education so that women understand that finding breast cancer early and getting effective treatment if it is diagnosed has been shown to save lives,” she said. “We’ve had mortality decrease because of early detection and effective treatment from 1989 to 2019.”

Mammograms are a widely available tool, Brown said. “I think we have an opportunity to try to just reinforce that message that mammograms today are the best tool we have for finding breast cancer early,” she said.

When cancer is found early and confined to the breast, the five-year relative survival rate is about 99%, Brown said.  However, “if it’s found later, obviously the treatments are more difficult, the side effects are more difficult, the costs are greater and the outcomes are poorer,” Brown said. 

Shah pointed out that about 1% of breast cancers happen in men, and so they should also be familiar with what’s normal in their bodies. 

“If they feel a lump or nipple discharge, don’t ignore it. That’s not normal,” Shah said. “They need to also have it looked at if they feel something.”

More information     The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on breast cancer.   SOURCES: Nikita Shah, MD, medical oncology team leader, Breast Cancer Center, Orlando Health Care Institute, Florida; Susan Brown, MS, RN, senior director, health information and publications, Susan G. Komen, Dallas, Texas; Terlisa Sheppard, Orlando Health patient; Orlando Health survey, Sept. 8-12, 2022  

What Is Monkeypox, and How Worried Should Americans be?


Consumer news MONDAY, May 23, 2022 (HealthDay News) —

A worrisome international outbreak of monkeypox, a less harmful cousin of the smallpox virus, has now reached the United States and Canada. As of Saturday, 92 confirmed cases of the illness, and 28 more suspected cases, have been reported across 12 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

Between 1 and 5 confirmed cases are currently under investigation in the United States, WHO said. 

Monkeypox was first seen in the United Kingdom, Portugal, Spain and other parts of Europe in early May. On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was monitoring six people in the United States for possible infection. They sat near to one infected traveler on a flight from Nigeria to the United Kingdom in early May. 

CDC officials are also investigating a confirmed case of monkeypox in a Massachusetts man who recently traveled to Canada, according to CNN. And the New York City Health Department is probing a possible infection in a patient at Bellevue Hospital there.

Despite all of these recent infections in areas where the virus is uncommon, and newfound concern that the disease may spread through sexual contact, health experts are warning against overreacting. Unlike newly emerging diseases like COVID-19, monkeypox is well understood and effective treatments are available.

“Nobody should be panicking,” said Anne Rimoin, chair of infectious diseases and public health at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Monkeypox is a known virus that is being introduced into a new population.”

The illness begins with fever, swollen lymph nodes and other flu-like symptoms, followed by a telltale rash on the face that spreads to other areas, including genitals, hands and feet.

Sexual transmission a possibility

The symptoms are similar to those of smallpox but milder, Rimoin said. 

“It can last for several weeks, and people can feel fairly ill,” she said. Effective treatments are available, however. Monkeypox is primarily spread from animals to humans — and less often from person to person because close contact with bodily fluids is needed, added Hannah Newman, director of epidemiology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

“Anyone experiencing an unusual rash or lesion and who has risk factors [or had sexual encounters with someone who has] should seek care immediately,” she said.

Many of the newer cases worldwide have occurred among gay and bisexual men.

On Monday Enrique Ruiz Escudero, senior health official in the Spanish capital of Madrid, said the city has recorded 30 confirmed cases of monkeypox so far. He said authorities are investigating potential links between a recent Gay Pride event in the Canary Islands, which drew some 80,000 people, and cases at a Madrid sauna.

According to Newman, “it appears that there may be a sexual transmission component to the current outbreak, which we haven’t seen in previous outbreaks.” Gay or bisexual men may be at special risk during the current outbreak, she noted.

However, “I feel like this is a virus we understand, we have vaccines against it, we have treatments against it, and it’s spread very differently than SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19),” Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, told ABC News on Sunday. 

“It’s not as contagious as Covid. So I am confident we’re going to be able to keep our arms around it,” Jha said. “But we’ll track it very closely and use the tools we have to make sure we can continue to prevent further spread and take care of the people who get infected.”

New questions

Risk factors for past outbreaks included contact with live or dead animals and consumption of wild game or bush meat from wild animals, Newman said.

Once the virus jumps from an animal to a human, human-to-human transmission can occur through direct contact with respiratory droplets, bodily fluids or skin lesions.

In Africa, anywhere from 1% to 15% of people with monkeypox will die from the virus. “Severe disease and [death] is higher among children, young adults, and immunocompromised individuals,” Newman said.

The virus was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in monkeys. The first known human case occurred in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and it has since been reported in humans in other central and western African countries, according to the CDC.

While it does not occur naturally in the United States, this is not the first time monkeypox has been seen in the nation. A 2003 outbreak was linked to infected prairie dogs imported as pets.

Many questions about the new outbreak remain. 

“We need to monitor it and understand how it is behaving and how it has been introduced into the new population,” Rimoin said. This outbreak appears to be linked to the West African strain of monkeypox, which Rimoin said is less transmissible and tends to cause milder symptoms than the central African strain. 

“Once these details become available, we will know a lot more,” she said.

The outbreak isn’t totally surprising, she added. In recent years, cases of once-eradicated smallpox virus have also popped up. 

“It is not surprising that we see other poxviruses occurring through the world as a result,” Rimoin said.

Vaccines already here

Fortunately, the smallpox vaccine can protect people from monkeypox. 

In fact, the U.S. government has already placed a $119 million order for the vaccine with an option for more. British health authorities are offering smallpox shots to some health care workers and others who may have been exposed to monkeypox.

The good news is that outbreaks of monkeypox are rare and usually short-lived, Newman said.

The 2003 U.S. outbreak, for example, was quickly contained through extensive testing, deployment of smallpox vaccine and treatments, and guidance for patients, health care providers, veterinarians and other animal handlers. 

“All 47 people recovered, and none of the 47 cases spread the illness to another person,” she said.

Cases of monkeypox had previously been seen only among people with links to central and West Africa, according to the Associated Press. But in the past week, the United States was among seven countries reporting infections, mostly in young men who hadn’t previously traveled to Africa.

France, Germany, Belgium and Australia confirmed their first cases on Friday, the APreported.

“I’m stunned by this. Every day I wake up and there are more countries infected,” said virologist Oyewale Tomori, who sits on several World Health Organization advisory boards. 

“This is not the kind of spread we’ve seen in West Africa, so there may be something new happening in the West,” he told the AP.

More information   The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on monkeypox.   SOURCES: Hannah Newman, MPH, director, infection prevention, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Anne Rimoin, PhD, MPH, professor, epidemiology, and director, Center for Global and Immigrant Health, University of California, Los Angeles; Associated Press, May 20, 2022; CNN, May 20, 2022