- You Asked: Should I Take Nutrition Supplements?
- Superbugs Are a ‘Major Global Threat’
- If You Can’t Lose Weight, Don’t Blame Your Genes
- Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Ditching Your Fitbit
- Five Dirty Habits to Encourage in Your Kid
Posted: 21 Sep 2016 10:21 AM PDT
Knee acting up? Swallow some glucosamine. Brain a little foggy? Pop some omega-3. Worried about the flu? Reach for Echinacea, or ginseng or zinc—or all three.
You’ve likely heard recommendations like these, since the market for health supplements from vitamin D to ginkgo biloba has exploded in recent decades. Sales of supplements topped $27 billion in the U.S. last year and are expected to reach nearly $300 billion worldwide by 2024. Whether you’re suffering through an ailment or hoping to prevent one, there’s undoubtedly a pill, powder or probiotic that boasts the power to mend or defend your body.
But if you think picking up an over-the-counter supplement is a risk-free proposition, you’re mistaken, says Dr. Mark Moyad, director of complementary and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center. “The biggest problem I see is that consumers treat these [supplements] differently than they do prescription drugs, and they shouldn’t,” Moyad says. “Like drugs, supplements come with benefits and limitations, and like drugs there are serious risks involved.”
What sorts of risks? “We know that taking too much of certain vitamins can encourage tumor growth and cancer,” Moyad explains. Supplement contamination is another major issue, says Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of the division of preventative medicine at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Manson says lead, cadmium and other metals have turned up again and again in supplements. “Some of these metals have been linked to cognitive problems, heart disease and cancer,” she says. That’s to say nothing of more urgent supplement-related health issues, like the irregular heartbeats or chest pains that send an estimated 23,000 people to the emergency room each year, according to a New England Journal of Medicine study. “Supplement products for weight loss or increased energy were commonly involved in these visits,” says Dr. Andrew Geller, a CDC medical officer and first author of that study.
Supplement ingredients may also “interact or detract” from common prescription medications, Manson says. Ginseng, for example, can reduce the effectiveness of blood clotting drugs, according to University of Chicago researchers. But a 2013 Consumer Reports survey found a majority of people taking supplements don’t check with their pharmacist about potentially risky interactions.
All of this may come as a shock to those who assume anything natural and sold over-the-counter is harmless. But Manson says this assumption is misguided. “Cyanide, arsenic and tobacco are all natural and are also toxic,” she points out.
Earlier this year, she coauthored a global review of dietary supplements and their health impacts. While nutrients like iron and vitamin A undoubtedly help malnourished people in many developing countries, the evidence that healthy American adults benefit from supplements is much spottier, she says.
“The vast majority of supplements on the market today are not thoroughly tested for safety or efficacy,” she explains. Take one or several of them, and there’s the potential for “almost anything” to happen, she adds.
“I call it being a clinical trial of one,” Moyad says of many consumers’ willingness to self-prescribe a cocktail of different dietary supplements. The companies that make and market these products are also part of the problem, he adds. “When you look at the research, you might find good evidence that a single active ingredient can treat a specific condition,” he explains. “But then you go to the store and look at the back of your melatonin or whatever, and you see that one active ingredient along with six others.”
He says supplement manufacturers pack their pills with extra vitamins or herbs or nutrients so that they can raise the price or differentiate their products from all of the other supplements on the shelf. “But we have no idea what happens when you mix all those active ingredients together,” he says.
If you assumed some regulatory agency was monitoring the safety of supplements, you’re right. But that agency—the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—doesn’t treat diet and health supplements the way it treats prescription drugs, or even OTC medications like aspirin. Instead, diet and health supplements are regulated more like food products. That is, the FDA steps in when they receive reports of injury or illness resulting from a supplement. They also conduct surveys, product tests and label reviews, and engage in other monitoring practices to help ensure unsafe products are weeded out, says Lyndsay Meyer, a spokesperson for the FDA.
But most of what the FDA does is reactive—pulling unsafe products off the shelves—rather than ensuring the products are safe before they hit the market. “We have a regulatory framework that limits our authority,” Meyer says. “The [existing] law does not allow for supplements to be regulated like drugs or OTC medications.”
Manson says that’s a problem. “I absolutely think there should be increased regulatory oversight, and supplement makers should have to show that their products are safe,” she says.
Does this mean you should dump all your supplements? Not necessarily. Manson says there are many evidence-backed reasons to take health supplements. One example: Some prescription medications can mess with your body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients, and a supplement can help fill those shortfalls. “Women of child-bearing age, especially during pregnancy or before, should take additional folic acid to prevent neural tube defects [in their newborns],” Manson adds.
But as a general rule of thumb, “unless your physician has told you that you have a nutritional deficiency, or higher requirements than usual, it’s advisable not to take supplements,” she says.
Moyad says he partly agrees, but is sympathetic to patients who might not have easy access to a doctor’s guidance. He says supplements can be very beneficial, but you have to do your homework about the proper dosage and the potential side effects.
The National Institutes of Health has a comprehensive database with information on supplement side effects and risks. Moyad also recommends talking with your pharmacist about potential interactions, and checking for approval seals from reputable third-party product testers like NSF or U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP).
“Less is more” is a good adage to follow when it comes to supplements, Moyad adds. “Diet and exercise should always be your first paths taken,” he says, “and if those don’t work, you need to educate yourself about the products you’re considering.”
Posted: 21 Sep 2016 08:35 AM PDT
Global leaders gathered here at the United Nations headquarters on Wednesday for a high-level meeting on antimicrobial resistance, with multiple leaders speaking out about the growing threat of infections that no longer respond to the drugs used to treat them.
The meeting was part of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). It’s only the fourth time in history that the heads of state have met to discuss a health issue, but the urgency of the current crisis of drug-resistant bacteria is clear: It’s estimated that the number of people who die from antibiotic resistance infections will reach 10 million a year in 2050.
“It’s not that it may happen in the future, it’s a very present reality,” said UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon. He added that over 20,000 newborn children are expected to die each year from infections that do not respond to antibiotics. Resistance to HIV drugs is also on the rise, and leaders are concerned about the potential for malaria drug resistance.
Antimicrobial resistance, often referred to as AMR, “is a major global threat. Some scientists call it a slow-motion tsunami. The situation is bad and getting worse,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO). Chan says sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea are becoming increasingly resistant to treatment.
Leaders from Thailand, Belgium, Guyana, Switzerland, Zimbabwe and more spoke about the need for action that targets a variety of sectors including medicine, agriculture and drug and diagnostic developers. Chan underlined the lack of drug development and discovery by the pharmaceutical industry—which is not incentivized to develop said drugs because their margins are small.
As part of the meeting, leaders solidified their commitment to develop action plans for their countries. Whether those commitments will translate into tangible action is yet to be seen. Efforts may include bolstering surveillance systems that monitor drug-resistant infections as well as antibiotic use in medicine and farming. Nations can encourage the judicious use of antibiotic prescribing and urge antibiotics only be used in animals to treat infections. WHO’s Chan also called on the public to not demand antibiotics for ailments like colds, for which they are unnecessary.
Global health and agriculture groups like the WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) were called upon to collaborate on the issue with multiple stakeholders and report back on efforts at the UN General Assembly in 2018.
Posted: 20 Sep 2016 03:30 PM PDT
There are nearly 100 genes now connected to overweight and obesity, and there’s no question that genes can play an important role in how you break down calories and store fat. But to blame your DNA for the more difficult challenge of losing weight wouldn’t be right. That’s the conclusion of a study led by John Mathers at Newcastle University and published in the BMJ.
Obesity-related genes explain nearly 3% of the differences among people’s body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight and height. And among those, one stands out as having the strongest connection to weight among whites and African-Americans. First identified in 2007, a specific form of the FTO gene, which is involved in regulating how the body either burns calories for heat or turns them into fat, has been associated with being heavier.
Mathers and his team wanted to see how strongly the genetic variant affected weight by studying how the gene might hinder or help people’s ability to lose weight. Would having the obesity-related gene make it harder for people to shed pounds than people without the weight-gaining form of the gene?
Among a group of nearly 9,000 people who were enrolled in 11 studies in which they agreed to genetic analysis and were randomly assigned to a variety of weight loss methods, including diet, exercise or drug-based therapies, Mathers found the answer was a surprising no.
He found that whether or not they had the weight-inducing form of the FTO gene didn’t seem to matter when it came to how much weight the people lost. While previous studies found that people with that variant were on average six to seven pounds heavier than people with other forms of the FTO gene, when it came to losing weight, there was no effect. And there were no differences among people with and without the FTO variant and their weight loss whether they tried dieting, exercise or weight-loss drugs.
“We found no evidence at all that FTO genotype affected weight loss,” says Mathers. “It didn’t affect weight loss when we simply looked at kilograms of weight lost, or BMI or waist circumference; however we looked, the FTO genotype did not seem to matter. We think this is good news — carrying the high risk [form of the gene] makes you more likely to be a bit heavier but it shouldn’t prevent you from losing weight. That should encourage people.”
The results mirror those from previous studies of people with variants of the FTO gene, who were able to counteract the effects of their DNA and avoid excessive weight gain with exercise.
The study still doesn’t answer exactly how the FTO gene contributes to weight, but researchers suspect it has something to do with appetite and people’s ability to feel full. The fact that the researchers did not find differences in people’s waist circumference, a stand-in for the type of fat that a body holds, suggests that the gene isn’t strongly related to the build up of unhealthy visceral fat which can lead to weight gain.
That means that for now, the findings “reinforce some very straight forward public health messages,” says Mathers. “No magic genes change anything in that respect. You have to bite the bullet, and eat a bit less, or be more active [to maintain a healthy weight].”
Posted: 20 Sep 2016 10:53 AM PDT
If you’ve ever taken off your fitness tracker “for just a few hours” and found it months later in the back of a drawer, you can surely relate to this: Researchers are studying why people stop using Fitbits, and the emotions they experience—from guilt to freedom—when they give them up. The researchers hope their findings will show that there’s no “right” way to track health and fitness data, and help developers create devices that will ultimately be more useful for consumers.
For their new study, computer scientists at the University of Washington surveyed 141 people who had previously used Fitbit but had since stopped. Half said they felt guilty or frustrated about their lapsed use, and nearly all of those who felt that way said they’d like to return to tracking.
About half of those who felt guilty said they’d stopped tracking because they lost their Fitbit or did not replace it after it broke. The rest said they lacked motivation to stick with it, or kept forgetting to use their device.
As for the other half—those who didn’t feel guilty for abandoning their Fitbits—45 participants said they had “conflicting feelings” about stopping, and were ambivalent about the prospect of starting again. Five people said they’d learned enough about their habits in the time they used their Fitbits, and 21 said they got no value out of tracking, found it annoying, or struggled to connect the data to actual behavior changes.
When the researchers made various recommendations about going back to tracking, those who felt guilty were very receptive to them. But those who had already gotten what they had wanted out of self-tracking felt those same suggestions were judgmental and unhelpful.
A previous study from the same group of researchers found that many people who gave up fitness trackers experienced no real difference in their lives. Some, however, experienced guilt for not keeping up with their habit, while others felt “relief from the tyranny of self-tracking,” the researchers said.
The new results, presented at the Association for Computing Machinery’s 2016 International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing, show that one-size-fits-all tracker designs lead to missed opportunities for serving different types of users, the researchers say.
“Right now self-tracking apps tend to assume everyone will track forever, and that’s clearly not the case,” said co-author James Fogarty, PhD, an associate professor of computer science and engineering, in a press release. “Given that some people feel relief when they give it up, there may be better ways to help them get better value out of the data after they’re done, or reconnect them to the app for week-long check-ins or periodic tune-ups.”
Health.com: First Look: The New Fitbit Charge 2 and Flex 2
Most of the researchers’ advice is aimed at developers and marketers of these tracking tools. The study wasn’t set up to determine the best ways to use the tools that are currently on the market, says co-author Sean Munson, PhD, an assistant professor of human centered design and engineering. But, based on its findings, he does have some thoughts for consumers.
When shopping for a tracking technology, Munson encourages people to consider the balance of “benefits and burdens.” Some tools have fewer features, for example, but they’re easier to keep charged.
If you tend to forget to take extra devices with you (or don’t want to wear them as accessories) every day, smartphone apps—like the iPhone’s built-in step counter—may be a good choice for you. “This is especially true if you just want to check in on your activity level and don’t find that you need badges or social competitions to be motivated,” he says.
People looking to better understand and fine-tune their routines, on the other hand, might consider a tracking tool that combines activity data with other information, such as GPS location. (Munson recommends the smartphone app Moves to keep track of separate trips throughout the day.) “This is nice if you wonder things like, ‘How much do I walk in my commute?” or ‘How far do I walk to get between different buildings at work?’” he says.
And if you want to track more than just walking and running—or you don’t usually keep your phone on you while exercising—you’ll probably need a dedicated tracking device. From swimming to weight lifting, there are options on the market that track all kinds of movements, so consider what activities you’ll be doing before you buy.
Finally, Munson says, try not to feel bad about how—or how often—you use your tracker. “We can see that different strategies work for different people,” he says. For example, some people like to use trackers short-term until they’ve reached a goal, while others like to check in occasionally.
“I don’t typically pay a lot of day-to-day attention to my step data,” he adds, “but I benefit from checking in the fall, when my job gets busiest, the hiking season ends, and the rain returns to Seattle.”
Munson thinks people should feel free to try each of these approaches, rather than feeling like they’re “supposed to” use their devices in a certain way. And if you still feel guilty about all that time that tracker spent in your desk drawer? Go ahead, give it another shot.
Posted: 20 Sep 2016 10:33 AM PDT
Parents and caretakers today have an aversion to letting kids get dirty, in part because of the notion that children may get sick from germs they pick up. Sadly, children spend half as much time outside as they did only 20 years ago.
For millions of years, children grew up in constant exposure to the microbes around them. Consider a child’s normal behavior from the start: babies continually put their hands, feet, and every imaginable object in their mouths. Older kids love digging in the dirt, picking up worms, rolling on the ground, catching frogs and snakes, etc. This natural behavior is likely designed to encounter more microbes and subsequently train their immune system to react to it accordingly.
However, we have changed how we live, striving to eliminate as much as possible this microbial exposure. Recent research shows that this is detrimental for our children’s health, and there is a direct link between lacking diverse microbes in a child’s “gut” to potential chronic conditions like asthma, allergies, obesity, diabetes, and even healthy brain development.
As scientists, we’ve studied microbes that cause diseases for many years, and we understand how important it is for children to be exposed to a diverse array of bacteria. But as parents, knowing all that we know, it still hasn’t been easy to make decisions regarding microbial exposure. Here are a few habits that we should all encourage in children to promote good gut-health.
|You are subscribed to email updates from Health – TIME. |
To stop receiving these emails, you may unsubscribe now.
|Email delivery powered by Google|
|Google Inc., 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, CA 94043, United States|