02.27.20 Newsletter: Interesting Health News has Sprung Forth!

To My Patients and Friends,

As we prepare for a long-awaited spring, stay warm and enjoy these medical news highlights:

Is the sun finally setting on daylight savings?

Change may be afoot.  According to a 2019 research poll conducted by the Associated Press-NOEC Center for Public Affairs, 71% of people would prefer to stop “springing forward” and “falling back.”   Although these preferences may largely be based on convenience or logistics, there is very good science to suggest that, especially as related to moving clocks forward in springtime, meaningful health implications can result.  Although politicians, scientists, farmers and other business entities may be at odds on the matter, the evidence clearly suggests that these recurrent artificial manipulations the “human clock” can lead to increased incidences of heart dysfunction, obesity and cancers.  According to one commentator, being exposed to light in the morning “not only makes you feel more alert but helps you go to bed at the right time night.”  Lawmakers may finally be coming to terms with these realities, so stay tuned.

Weighing the need for a good night’s sleep

Swedish researchers studying the impact of sleep quality upon kids’ health have recently found that, along with the inadequate duration of sleep, later bedtimes (particularly after 9 PM) are associated with an increased risk for obesity in young children.  This study adds to the preponderance of existing scientific evidence correlating poor sleep quality and/or quantity with obesity as well as with other poor health measures.  And the study reinforces a causal connection, rather than just an association.  Furthermore, this study suggests that, for children whose parents are also obese, the risk is even higher.  So for all parents and parents-to-be: please stay on track with healthy lifestyle habits, and get those little ones to bed!

Detrimental misinformation in social media

This is likely not the first time you’ve read my rants regarding misinformation about the benefits of vaccines.  Vaccines are safe and save lives, full stop.  We’ve borne witness to enumerable needless deaths from diseases like measles and influenza due to vaccine fears resulting from the dissemination of bad information promoted by “anti-vaxxers.”  In this latest study published by the Annenberg public policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, the researchers were able to determine that those who rely more on social media than on more traditional media outlets for medical information are more likely to be misinformed about the risks and benefits of vaccines.

While social media serve some purposes, they are by no means meritocracies; everyone has equal say, regardless of facts or science.  So read carefully, expose yourself to as many reliable, evidence-based resources as possible, and think before you 👍!

Zodiac 2.0

Research being conducted at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine is uncovering some fascinating correlations between date and location of birth and an infant’s long-term health.  The article linked above is worth reading; some highlights include the following:

  • There is a link between a mom’s exposure to carbon monoxide during her first trimester of pregnancy and an increased future risk of depression in the child.  Particularly for urban dwellers, this may have implications.
  • Exposure to fine air particulates during the first trimester can lead to an increased risk for heart rhythm disturbances in the child later in life.   Urban dwellers (and perhaps female firefighters or auto mechanics, for instance) should take note of this as well.
  • Decreased maternal exposure to sunlight during the third trimester results in an increased long-term risk for type II diabetes in the offspring.
  • In certain parts of the world, a mom’s birth date can impact fertility later in life.  For instance, when a woman is born during a rainy season in higher altitude regions such as New Zealand, Romania and northern Vietnam, her future fertility seems to increase.

This work is ongoing, but current evidence does seem to reinforce the notion that environmental exposures while in utero can meaningfully impact health later in life.

Not Milk?

An excellent review just published in the New England Journal of Medicine details some health impacts of milk and other dairy products.  It’s a great read, but access to the article requires a subscription.  If you choose to read it in more detail, you can subscribe here for free.  These are some of the highlighted pros and cons of dairy intake:

  • When breastfeeding is not an option, milk-based infants’ formulas are often used.  However, normal growth and development can be achieved without dairy products, assuming dietary quality is good and appropriate supplements such as vitamin B 12 and vitamin D are utilized.
  • Milk enhances growth in children.  The reasons for this remain unclear but likely have to do with a number of nutrients contained within dairy products. We know that accelerated growth and greater height in adulthood can be associated with a lower risk for heart disease but with a higher risk for certain cancers, hip fractures and lung clots.
  • Increased dairy consumption does not have a meaningful impact on bone density, and it may be associated with an increased risk of hip fracture.
  • Although milk and cheese do not seem to have a significant impact on weight, fermented dairy products such as yogurt can be associated with less weight gain.  However, those who consume yogurt tend to have a healthier lifestyle in general, so direct causality cannot be easily ascertained. Whole milk and low-fat milk seem to have similar impacts on weight.
  • Replacement of saturated fats, such as those found in dairy products, with plant-based monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats improves cholesterol profiles, with a reduction of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides, and with an increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
  • Dairy fat intake is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.  The risk is not as high as that associated with intake of red meats, but higher than that associated with fats from fish, nuts or plant-based oils.
  • Dairy intake has been associated with increased rates of endometrial cancer and more aggressive forms of prostate cancer.  There’s no clear association with breast cancer, but there seems to be an association with a reduced risk for colon cancer.
  • Up to 4% of infants are allergic to cow’s milk; this may predispose children to eczema, other food allergies and asthma (the increased risk for which can extend into adulthood).
  • In one analysis, intake of whole milk was associated with a higher rate of overall mortality than low-fat milk or cheese.  However, dairy in general is associated with a lower mortality rate when compared with eggs and processed meats, a similar mortality rate when compared with unprocessed meat, poultry and fish, but with a significantly higher mortality rate when compared with plant-based protein sources.
  • Organic milk from grass-fed cows contains higher amounts of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and reduced quantities of pesticides and antibiotics.
  • Industrial dairy production results in significant increases in greenhouse gas production, the rate of climate change, water use and pollution, and antibiotic resistance.
  • The authors suggest that intake of dairy foods for adults should be 0 to 2 servings per day (and in my opinion-  based on this and a multitude of other studies and for reasons not discussed here- less is best).  They further suggest that there is insufficient evidence to support traditional recommendations to choose reduced-fat milk over whole milk.  Lastly and importantly, in order to reduce rates of obesity, they discourage the use of sweetened dairy foods.

Coronavirus update

The current outbreak of coronavirus is not news to anybody.  There’s far too much news on the topic to include here, but I’ve added this useful link that provides the latest updates.  Although public health officials are working tirelessly to contain this illness, we as individuals need to do our share.  It’s important to keep in mind the following:

  • Wash hands thoroughly and regularly, even when you feel well.
  • When coughing or sneezing, do so into the crook of your elbow and not into your hand or in the direction of others.
  • Remember that contaminated surfaces can be vectors for transmission of disease; coronaviruses can live for up to a week on surfaces such as door handles, kitchen and bathroom hardware such as sink faucets, writing utensils, keyboards, etc.
  • Please try to avoid contact with others when you’re sick.  We need to look out for the frailest among us… it takes a village.

That’s all for this installment… stay well and remember that flu season is far from over, so keep those hands clean (and it’s not too late to get a flu shot)!