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Many People With High Blood Pressure May Take a Drug That Worsens It: Study

MONDAY, Nov. 29, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Nearly 1 in 5 people with hypertension may be unintentionally taking a drug for another condition that causes their blood pressure to climb even higher, a new study suggests.

Left untreated or undertreated, high blood pressure will increase your risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and vision problems by damaging blood vessels. Lifestyle changes such as weight loss, restricting salt intake, and/or medication can help move your blood pressure numbers back into the normal range. But asking your doctor whether any drugs you are taking for other conditions might be pushing those numbers up is worth the effort, the researchers said.

"The risk of [drugs] raising blood pressure may be simply overlooked, particularly for patients using these additional medications for many years," said study author Dr. Timothy Anderson. He is a clinician investigator and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

"We hope our article helps change this, as in many cases there are effective therapeutic alternatives to medications that may raise blood pressure or strategies to minimize risk, such as having patients monitor their home blood pressures when starting a new medication that may raise blood pressure," Anderson said.

For the study, the researchers reviewed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2009 to 2018. They looked at the use of the drugs known to raise blood pressure, including antidepressants, prescription-strength non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids, hormonal medications, decongestants and weight-loss pills among people with high blood pressure.

The study found that 18.5% of adults with high blood pressure reported taking a medication that increased their blood pressure, and those who did were more likely to have uncontrolled high blood pressure if they weren't also on blood pressure-lowering medications.

And people who were on blood pressure drugs were more likely to need higher doses to control their blood pressure if they also took drugs for other conditions that raise blood pressure, the study showed.

What should you do if you have high blood pressure?

Ask your doctor if any of your medications will affect your numbers, Anderson suggested.

"It is always wise to ask your doctor about possible interactions between new medicines [including over-the-counter medicines] and existing conditions and treatments," he said. "This is particularly true for patients who see multiple doctors who may not always be up to date on their medication lists."

Sometimes alternatives are available, Anderson said. For example, acetaminophen doesn't raise blood pressure, but NSAIDs do. Both of these drugs can treat pain and reduce fever.

The new findings were published recently in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Dr. Michael Goyfman is chief of cardiology at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in New York City. He understands how these sorts of things can happen inadvertently.

"Various physicians and specialists do not necessarily talk to each other, and frequently their electronic health records do not communicate with each other," said Goyfman, who wasn't part of the study. "As a result, patients can be placed on a lot of medications by different providers, some of which are counterproductive to specific medical issues."

There are ways to prevent these scenarios. "Always bring the most updated medication list to each doctor's visit," Goyfman recommended.

Dr. George Bakris, director of the American Heart Association's Comprehensive Hypertension Center in Chicago, also reviewed the findings and agreed. "I would urge patients who are prescribed medications known to increase blood pressure to check their blood pressure at home after a few days," he said.

If your blood pressure is elevated, contact your doctor to find out what to do next, Bakris advised.

More information

Learn more about how to manage high blood pressure at the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: Timothy Anderson, MD, clinician investigator, assistant professor, medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Michael Goyfman MD, chief, cardiology, Long Island Jewish Forest Hills, New York City; George Bakris, MD, professor, medicine, and director, American Heart Association's Comprehensive Hypertension Center, University of Chicago Medicine; JAMA Internal Medicine, Nov. 22, 2021

COVID May Trigger Heart Condition in Young Athletes

MONDAY, Nov. 29, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- A heart condition, myocarditis, has been found in a number of U.S. college athletes who have had COVID-19, a new study finds.

Myocarditis has also been linked in some young people to the COVID vaccine. But the odds are far greater that this inflammation of the heart muscle will occur in those who get COVID infection itself, experts said.

"We're still learning about how the virus attacks the heart," said lead researcher Dr. Jean Jeudy, a professor of radiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "Myocarditis is part of the body's reaction to fighting the infection, but it's also in response to the virus trying to attack the heart."

Myocarditis is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It can affect the heart’s rhythm and ability to pump. It can also cause lasting scarring of the heart muscle, Jeudy's team noted.

The risk for myocarditis among people with COVID-19 is 16 times higher than among those without the infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Jeudy and his colleagues said that myocarditis has been linked to up to 20% of sudden deaths in young athletes.

Concern had been raised that myocarditis can occur after being vaccinated for COVID-19, especially among young males like those in this study. According to the CDC, however, there are approximately 50 cases of myocarditis for every 1 million young men vaccinated, far below the risk of myocarditis from COVID-19 itself. Based on its data, the CDC says the benefit from the vaccine far outweighs the risk of getting myocarditis.

"We know that COVID can affect the heart, and we know there's no reason to risk the potential for the kind of long-term effects of COVID," Jeudy said.

"So getting vaccinated is probably the No. 1 thing to think about," he stressed.

For this study, Jeudy's team took advantage of the Big Ten Athletic Conference's ability to get data on the frequency of myocarditis in student athletes recovering from COVID-19.

The conference required all athletes who had COVID to get a series of heart tests before returning to play. Tests included cardiac MRIs, echocardiograms, ECGs and blood tests.

Jeudy reviewed the results of nearly 1,600 cardiac MRIs from 13 participating universities. Thirty-seven of these athletes (2.3%) had myocarditis related to COVID-19. What was surprising, however, was that few had symptoms.

Twenty of these patients with COVID-19 myocarditis (54%) had no cardiac symptoms or heart abnormalities seen on other tests. Only MRIs found the problem.

For some of the athletes studied, myocarditis was limited and went away within a month, but others continued to show abnormalities on MRIs, Jeudy said.

MRIs are expensive, and most patients hospitalized for COVID-19 don't get them, so it's likely that many cases of myocarditis go undiagnosed, he said.

The long-term consequence of myocarditis among those infected with COVID-19 will only become clear over time, Jeudy said. He noted that persistent inflammation or heart scarring can increase the risk of an irregular heartbeat known as arrhythmia.

When can athletes resume play?

"At the very least, this athlete is going to be out for six months, with evaluation, making sure that they have a gradual return to play," Jeudy said. "It's largely connected with symptoms. If there are signs of decreased function or underlying arrhythmia, that would be a concern for that particular athlete."

The findings were released Monday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. Findings presented at medical meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Dr. Marc Siegel, a clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, said COVID-19 can affect many parts of the body.

"It's a virus that sets off a lot of alarms around the body, inflammatory alarms that go off," said Siegel, who was not involved with the study.

"Those inflammatory alarms occur in organs where the virus isn't even present," he said. "It's the body fighting back against the virus systemically. We're seeing it in the brain. We're seeing it in the heart. We're seeing it in the lungs. It's a multi-system organ risk of inflammation."

Siegel said the best way to prevent getting COVID-19 and its complications is to get vaccinated.

"This study is yet another motivation to get vaccinated before you ever get COVID," he said.

More information

For more on COVID-19, see the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Jean Jeudy, MD, professor, radiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore; Marc Siegel, MD, clinical professor, medicine, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York City; presentation, Radiological Society of North America, Nov. 29, 2021

More Years Playing Football, More Brain Lesions on MRI: Study

MONDAY, Nov. 29, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Repetitive head hits are common in football, and they're also linked to debilitating brain injuries.

But rendering a definitive diagnosis typically means waiting for autopsy results after the player has died.

Now, a new study suggests that brain scans can reliably spot troubling signs of sports-inflicted neurological damage while a person is still alive.

The research also showed that more brain lesions show up on the scans the longer football players have engaged in the sport.

"A routine [MRI] scan might be able to capture long-term harm to the brain in people who have been exposed to repetitive hits to the head, like those from American football and other contact sports," concluded study author Michael Alosco.

Alosco is co-director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center Clinical Core with Boston University's School of Medicine.

He and his colleagues explained that what such MRIs are looking for are bright spots on the brain known as "white matter hyperintensities."

"They literally appear as bright white spots," said Alosco. "Anyone can see them. And they signal injury to the white matter of the brain."

Outside the context of contact sports, such spots typically are a sign of aging, he noted, "and it is common to see them in people who are older than 65."

Among the elderly, heart disease is often the root cause, Alosco said, because when the heart fails to deliver enough blood to the brain, the resulting oxygen deficit ends up injuring the person's small blood vessels and white matter.

"However, these hyperintensities can have many causes, and research also links them with progressive brain diseases like Alzheimer's disease," he added.

So, he and his team set out to see whether the same bright spots might be linked to repetitive hits to the head among athletes involved in contact sports.

In all, the study focused on 67 football players, along with eight others who were either soccer players, boxers or military veterans.

On average, the football players had 12 years of play under their belts (including 16 professionals and 11 semi-professionals).

By the time the study got underway, all the athletes had already died (at an average age of 67). And all had donated their brains for research into head injuries.

But all had also undergone brain scans while alive (at an average age of 62).

When Alosco and his colleagues reanalyzed those scans, they found that the longer a football player had played the sport, the more bright spots he had while alive.

In addition, for every additional "unit" of white matter spots, the risk for having serious small vessel disease and general white matter damage in the brain doubled.

Each additional unit of such markers was also linked to a tripling of the presence of a specific protein ("tau") that has long been linked to both Alzheimer's disease and a neurodegenerative disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

In fact, autopsies confirmed that roughly seven in 10 of the athletes in the study had CTE, a precursor for dementia. And family members of the athletes in the study further confirmed that roughly two-thirds suffered from dementia.

The findings were published online Nov. 24 in the journal Neurology.

Alosco said the results are "exciting," given that they offer "a very practical way to study brain harm" in real time, rather than after the fact.

But a more sobering assessment was offered by Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and a former sideline physician for the New York Jets. The study "adds to the argument to ban tackle football altogether," he said.

"The implications of the study are quite clear: repetitive head and body impacts over time — whether concussive or subconcussive — increase the risk for developing brain injury, indicating a long-term or cumulative effect," Glatter said.

And the problem is that, despite some effort to reduce risk, "playing contact football is inherently dangerous and unpredictable at best," raising the risk of CTE, cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

Still, another expert cautioned against overinterpreting the results until more research is completed.

The study only looked at athletes who had already developed brain injuries, noted Dr. Julie Schneider, associate director of the Alzheimer's Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago. And that, she said, makes it impossible to conclude that the bright spots in question actually predict such injuries.

What's now needed, said Schneider, are "studies starting with players prior to having symptoms." That will be the only way to "figure out the sequence of brain changes, and their relationship with dementia during life."

More information

There's more on the link between football and brain injuries at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

SOURCES: Michael Alosco, PhD, associate professor, neurology, and co-director, Alzheimer's Disease Research Center Clinical Core, and investigator, CTE Center, department of neurology, Boston University School of Medicine; Julie A. Schneider, MD, MS, professor of pathology and neurological sciences, and associate director, Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago; Robert Glatter, MD, emergency medicine physician, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City, and former sideline physician, New York Jets; Neurology, Nov. 24, 2021, online

AHA News: Former NFL Players With Lots of Concussions May Have Higher Stroke Risk

MONDAY, Nov. 29, 2021 (American Heart Association News) -- The National Football League over the past decade has launched concussion protocols in response to scientific studies showing repeated head injuries during play could cause serious neurological disorders. Now, a new study funded by the NFL finds the odds of having a stroke are much higher for former players with 10 or more concussions.

The study looked at 979 men ages 50 and older who played at least one year in the NFL. The players self-reported incidents of concussion and stroke.

The group's overall frequency of strokes – 3.4% – was lower than the general male population of comparable age. But for the 27% of participants who reported at least 10 concussions in their lifetime, the odds of having a stroke was 5.5 times higher than for players with no concussions.

The authors of the study, published Monday in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, say it is the first to investigate repeated concussions and risk of stroke in former professional football players.

"There's been an emphasis on concussion and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), but less attention to concussion and other neurologic conditions such as stroke," said the study's lead author Benjamin Brett. He is a clinical neuropsychologist and assistant professor in neurosurgery and neurology at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked or ruptures. It accounts for 1 in 19 deaths in the U.S. and is considered a leading cause of serious long-term disability, according to statistics from the American Heart Association.

The study does not prove concussions cause stroke, but it does lay the groundwork for future research, said Dr. Farzenah A. Sorond, a vascular neurologist and expert in brain injury and aging. Sorond, who was not involved in the study, is chief of stroke in the department of neurology at Northwestern University in Chicago.

"It leaves us with more questions, such as does concussion cause vascular problems independent of other risk factors? There are signals that concussion could be a modifiable risk factor if we understood it better."

The study concludes that clinical management of heart and brain health could be pertinent for players with a history of multiple concussions. Brett said more follow-up exams and advanced imaging could help physicians develop individualized care plans for those players.

"I hope these findings mobilize people to do something about modifiable factors and get treatments that will help," he said. Modifiable risk factors for stroke include diet, smoking, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Sorond also hopes the study's findings translate into clinical practice.

"We can provide more screening and vascular evaluation for those with more concussions," she said. "Better neurological profiles are the key to really teasing outcomes and mechanisms, ultimately for prevention."

The 979 players in this study are a subset of a larger group that researchers are continuing to evaluate for long-term effects of concussion and neurological problems, including stroke. Brett said these latest findings cannot be generalized to other groups, such as college or high school players.

The next group of players they study could help them compare different decades of play in the NFL to see if improved management of concussion affects long-term outcomes, Brett said. "The next cohort of NFL players involved in our study probably had different protocols surrounding concussion and it will be interesting to see if they have different results."

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. If you have questions or comments about this story, please email editor@heart.org.

By Catherine S. Williams

What Experts Know About the Omicron 'Variant of Concern'

MONDAY, Nov. 29, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Hopes for an easing of the pandemic were dealt a major setback over the Thanksgiving weekend, with news that a variant first spotted in South Africa carries a multiplicity of mutations that might make it resistant to approved vaccines.

At an emergency meeting convened Friday by the World Health Organization, the agency dubbed the variant, first labeled B.1.1.529, with the name Omicron, the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.

The agency also designated Omicron a "variant of concern." That's the most serious category the agency uses as it tracks new variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Global reaction has been swift, as detection of Omicron cases in Africa, as well as isolated cases elsewhere, sent markets tumbling and nations banning flights from southern African countries.

So far, flights from the region have been put on hold by the United States, the European Union, Israel, Britain and Canada, as well as other nations, in hopes of at least stalling the variant's arrival.

It may already be too late: Cases have been recorded in the United Kingdom and the European Union, and two cases of infection with Omicron were reported in North America on Sunday. According to a statement released Sunday by Ottawa Public Health in Ontario, Canada, "two individuals in Ottawa tested positive for the COVID-19 Omicron variant with recent travel from Nigeria."

On Saturday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement stressing that, so far, "no cases of this variant have been identified in the U.S. to date." The agency added that "CDC is continuously monitoring variants and the U.S. variant surveillance system has reliably detected new variants in this country. We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the U.S."

According to a statement from the White House, President Joe Biden met Sunday with Dr. Anthony Fauci and members of the COVID Response Team to be briefed on the Omicron variant.

"Dr. Fauci informed the President that while it will take approximately two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity, and other characteristics of the variant, he continues to believe that existing vaccines are likely to provide a degree of protection against severe cases of COVID," the statement read.

'Significance uncertain'

In the meantime, there's little that's clear about just how big a threat Omicron might pose to people, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated. But the sheer number of mutations on the virus' spike protein -- a crucial piece of anatomy used by the virus to infect cells -- caught scientists off guard.

"This variant did surprise us, but the full significance is still uncertain," Dr. Tulio de Olivera, who directs the Centre for Epidemic Response & innovation in South Africa, said in a media briefing on Thursday. His team said it found more than 30 mutations on the spike protein, which lies on the surface of the coronavirus.

That's potentially worrisome, since it is the makeup of the spike protein that's the prime target of antibodies that the immune system produces to recognize and attack the coronavirus. If the protein becomes too different from prior versions, there's the chance Omicron might evade antibodies produced by either prior infections or vaccines, experts noted.

Still, research on the new variant is in its infancy, scientists stressed. Omicron was first spotted in Botswana, where a team at the Botswana Harvard HIV Reference Laboratory in Gabarone sequenced its genetic code in coronavirus samples that tested positive for the variant, The New York Times reported. At that point, the samples shared about 50 mutations not seen in such a mix before.

According to the Times, de Olivera said Thursday that "close to two or three hundred" genetic sequences of South African cases involving Omicron would be released to researchers in the coming days. At least six cases have been detected in Botswana, and isolated cases among travelers have been spotted in the United Kingdom, Belgium and Hong Kong, according to media reports.

Still, one expert in virology and infectious disease urged that people not immediately expect the worst from Omicron. Might the variant trigger more serious disease? Could it evade current vaccines? Those are all unknowns, cautioned Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

"It's too early to know what level of threat B.1.1.529 constitutes as there is not enough information -- particularly clinical information -- about the cases that have been identified," Adalja said. He said there was one early sign for hope: "It appears that the hospitalized patients in South Africa were largely unvaccinated, arguing vaccines protect against what matters." Only about one-quarter of South Africa's population is vaccinated.

Unusual symptoms

As reported by the British newspaper The Telegraph on Saturday, one of the South African doctors who first raised the alarm about Omicron said she was initially puzzled by the unusual -- but mild -- symptoms of some COVID-19 patients arriving at her practice in Pretoria.

Many patients arrived feeling exhausted, Dr. Angelique Coetzee told the newspaper, but none had the loss of smell and taste that is typical of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Many were otherwise healthy young men, she said, and about half were unvaccinated.

"We had one very interesting case, a kid, about six years old, with a temperature and a very high pulse rate, and I wondered if I should admit her [to hospital]. But when I followed up two days later, she was so much better," Coetzee said. Still, she wonders how the new variant might impact older, unvaccinated patients.

There are early signs that Omicron may transmit quickly throughout a population. According to the Times, a test designed to detect the variant has found it is surging throughout South Africa. That suggests that it might be overtaking the Delta variant, which has been the dominant variant there and elsewhere.

Will current vaccines or antibody-based treatments protect against Omicron? Again, not enough data is available to say for sure, Adalja said.

"The presence of these mutations in a strain merit a lot of investigation to characterize what it may mean for immunity [vaccine- and infection-induced], as well as monoclonal antibodies," he said.

More than antibodies

According to Dr. Theodora Hatziionannou, a virologist at Rockefeller University in New York City, the unusual number and combination of mutations detected on Omicron suggest that it might have arisen in someone with a compromised immune system, such as a person living with HIV. In such cases, SARS-CoV-2 could linger in the body for weeks or months, giving it time to develop multiple mutations, she told the Times.

"This virus has seen a lot of antibodies," Hatziionannou said, raising the specter that its spike protein might give it resistance to antibodies produced by prior infection or the current crop of vaccines.

But she also stressed that the human immune systems rely not just on antibodies, but on other players such as immune cells to quell infection. So, experts believe that vaccines are still likely to have some effect against Omicron.

Booster shots might also help, as they increase the variety of antibodies available, she added. "We will see, because studies are still ongoing," Hatziionannou told the Times.

Experts note that other variants -- Beta and Mu, for example -- showed a worrying ability to evade immune defenses, but then fizzled out because they weren't good at spreading between people. And although Omicron does seem to be spreading in South Africa, reasons other than its innate ability to do so could explain that.

Dr. William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health told the Times that "it's too early to be definitive," noting that the overall rate of new daily infections in South Africa remains very low.

He also believes that travel bans may buy countries unaffected by Omicron a little time, but it's not a long-term solution.

Adalja agreed. He said believes travel bans might even be counterproductive.

"The travel bans will do little to prevent spread but penalize countries that are being diligent with reporting variants," he said. He noted that the Omicron case spotted in Belgium "is not linked to South Africa or south African countries."

More information

Find out more about SARS-CoV-2 variants at the CDC.


SOURCES: Amesh Adalja MD, senior scholar, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Baltimore; news release, Nov. 26, 2021, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; statement, Nov. 28, 2021, The White House; statement, Nov. 28, 2021, Ottawa Public Health; statement, Nov. 26, 2021, World Health Agency;The New York Times, The Telegraph

Vaccine Makers Already Testing Their Shots Against Omicron Variant

MONDAY, Nov. 29, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- As concerns about the new Omicron variant grow, vaccine makers say they're already working on ways to protect people against the potential new threat.

Pfizer said it and its partner BioNTech could develop and produce a "tailor-made vaccine" in about 100 days if a "vaccine-escape" variant emerges, NBC News reported.

Meanwhile, Moderna said it was employing a three-pronged strategy against the Omicron variant.

“From the beginning, we have said that as we seek to defeat the pandemic, it is imperative that we are proactive as the virus evolves. The mutations in the Omicron variant are concerning and for several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, said in a statement.

“We have three lines of defense that we are advancing in parallel: we have already evaluated a higher dose booster of mRNA-1273 [100 µg], second, we are already studying two multi-valent booster candidates in the clinic that were designed to anticipate mutations such as those that have emerged in the Omicron variant and data is expected in the coming weeks, and third, we are rapidly advancing a Omicron-specific booster candidate [mRNA-1273.529],” Bancel added.

So far, existing vaccines have proven effective against prior coronavirus variants, including the Delta variant, but it's wise to be preparing for updated vaccines, said Deepti Gurdasani, clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London.

It's also important to try to contain the new variant's spread.

“It’s possible that Pfizer might come up with this vaccine in three or four months’ time and by the time it becomes available, there’s a new globally dominant variant,” Gurdasani told NBC News. “So, vaccine development and re-engineering has to go hand in hand with efforts to contain transmission, which is the only way that we’re going to be able to get on top of the virus adaptation.”

The limited amount of data from South Africa and elsewhere has raised legitimate concerns about the Omicron variant, according to Pennsylvania State University's David Kennedy, who studies the evolution of infectious diseases.

“It’s enough to make me think we should watch this and be concerned but not enough to make me panic -- yet,” he told NBC News.

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on safe travel during the pandemic.


SOURCE: Moderna, news release, Nov. 26, 2021; NBC News

Your Plant-Based Diet Could Really Help the Planet

MONDAY, Nov. 29, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Worried about climate change? You can do something about it every time you lift your fork, a new study suggests.

Folks can reduce their personal carbon footprint by eating less red meat, nibbling fewer sweets and cutting back on tea, coffee and booze, according to the findings.

"We all want to do our bit to help save the planet," said senior researcher Darren Greenwood, a senior lecturer in biostatistics at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. "Modifying our diet is one way we can do that."

And the nice part — the foods that are best for the Earth are also really good for your health, in general.

"Most food that's healthy for us is likely to be better for the planet, too," Greenwood said.

It's a timely message as we enter the holiday season of big meals with family and friends.

For the study, Greenwood and his colleagues performed a detailed analysis of more than 3,000 different foods, assessing the greenhouse gas emissions generated during the production of each source of sustenance.

Meat was linked to 32% of diet-related greenhouse gas emissions, which didn't surprise environmental experts.

Fossil fuels are utilized in the pesticides and fertilizer used to grow animal feed, and waste gases and manure from livestock also add to meat's carbon footprint, said Sujatha Bergen, health campaigns director for the Natural Resources Defense Council's health and food division.

"Animals like cows and sheep produce a lot of methane, which is a very powerful greenhouse gas," Bergen said. "Beef is actually the biggest source of emissions in the U.S. diet. If every American cut on average one burger a day from their diet, it would be like taking 10 million cars off the road a year. It's a huge climate impact."

But the researchers also found that other foods had a large impact on the climate:

  • Drinks like tea, coffee and alcohol contribute 15% of diet-related greenhouse gases.
  • Dairy products account for 14% of food's carbon footprint.
  • Cakes, cookies and sweets contribute almost 9%.

Overall, nonvegetarian diets had greenhouse gas emissions 59% higher than vegetarian diets, the researchers found.

Men's diets produce 41% higher greenhouse gas emissions than women's diets, primarily due to greater meat intake, the study authors said.

Lastly, people who limited their intake of saturated fats, carbohydrates and sodium to recommended daily amounts contributed less greenhouse gas emissions than people with less healthy diets.

The study was published online Nov. 24 in the journal PLOS ONE.

"Reducing our meat intake, particularly red meat, can make a big difference," Greenwood said. "But our work also shows that big gains can be made from small changes, like cutting out sweets, or potentially just by switching brands."

Tea, coffee and chocolate are linked to deforestation, which reduces the planet's ability to process excess atmospheric carbon, said Bergen and Geoff Horsfield, government affairs manager for the Environmental Working Group.

The foods identified by the researchers also tend to require lots of water, degrade the soil, need refrigeration and transportation to market, and are sold in packaging that adds to their carbon footprint, Greenwood said.

Agriculture is actually undermining the success we're having in reducing carbon emissions from other industries, Horsfield explained.

"U.S. methane emissions have decreased 18% since 1990, but methane emissions from agriculture have increased by over 16% over that same time period," Horsfield said. "While we address methane from things like natural gas and oil, methane from agriculture is only increasing."

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more about greenhouse gas sources.

SOURCES: Darren Greenwood, senior lecturer, biostatistics, University of Leeds, United Kingdom; Sujatha Bergen, MPH, director, health campaigns, Natural Resources Defense Council's health and food division; Geoff Horsfield, government affairs manager, Environmental Working Group; PLOS ONE, Nov. 24, 2021, online

Health Highlights: Nov. 29, 2021

What experts know about the Omicron variant. After news broke on Thursday that a fast-spreading variant contained mutations that possibly make it resistant to vaccines, scientists urged caution and patience until more data arrives. Read more

Your plant-based diet could help the planet. People can shrink their personal carbon footprint by eating less red meat, nibbling fewer sweets and cutting back on tea, coffee and booze, new research shows. Read more

Vaccine makers already racing to develop shots against Omicron. Whether the new variant will resist current vaccines is unknown, but companies like Moderna and Pfizer say they're already at work on new versions if the need arises. Read more

FDA says Merck COVID pill is effective. The latest data shows that molnupiravir reduces the odds for hospitalization and death by 30%, less than the 50% previously reported. But the agency also noted potential risks, most especially during pregnancy. Read more

Merck's COVID Pill Appears Effective, But May Pose Pregnancy Risks: FDA

MONDAY, Nov. 29, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Merck's experimental COVID-19 antiviral pill appears effective, but may pose risks for pregnant women, including birth defects and toxicity to developing fetuses, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

On Friday morning Merck announced updated results from its molnupiravir study that showed a smaller benefit than first thought: Among more than 1,400 adults in a company study, the drug reduced the combined risk of hospitalization and death by 30 percent, less than the 50 percent first reported.

Nearly 7 percent of patients who received Merck’s drug within five days of COVID-19 symptoms ended up in the hospital and one died. That compared to 10 percent of patients hospitalized who were taking a placebo and nine deaths.

Potential risks were also identified in animal studies of molnupiravir, according to an analysis by FDA scientists. The agency's report was posted in advance of a meeting Tuesday of the FDA's outside experts who will weigh emergency use of the pill.

Based on its findings, the FDA will ask its expert panel whether the pill should never be given during pregnancy or if it could be used in certain situations where the benefits outweigh the risks. Given the safety concerns, FDA scientists said Merck agreed the drug would not be used in children.

The agency isn't required to follow the advice of its advisory panels, but it typically does.

Data from a small human clinical trial assessing the pill showed "no major safety concerns," according to the FDA review. About 2% of patients experienced diarrhea.

If authorized, the pills would be the first that U.S. patients could take at home to ease symptoms and speed recovery. It is already authorized for emergency use in the U.K.

Molnupiravir works by inserting tiny mutations into the coronavirus’ genetic code to stop the virus from reproducing.

The FDA scientists did note that the drug causes small changes in the spike protein used by the coronavirus to penetrate human cells, and theoretically those changes could lead to dangerous new variants, the AP reported.

More information

Visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for more on COVID treatments.


SOURCE: Associated Press

Red Light in Morning May Protect Fading Eyesight: Study

MONDAY, Nov. 29, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- A weekly dose of deep red light in the morning may protect fading eyesight as people age, U.K. researchers say.

"Using a simple LED device once a week recharges the energy system that has declined in the retina cells, rather like recharging a battery," according to Glen Jeffery, lead author of a small, new study.

In previous work, the researchers found that daily three-minute exposure to long-wave deep red light switched on energy-producing mitochondria cells in the retina, giving a boost to naturally declining vision.

In this new study, the investigators wanted to assess the effect of a single three-minute exposure once a week, and whether exposure in the morning or afternoon made a difference.

The study included 13 women and seven men, aged 34 to 70, who had no eye disease and normal color vision. The participants were exposed to three minutes of 670 nanometer (nm) LED deep red light in the morning between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.

Their color vision was tested again three hours after that exposure, and 10 participants were also tested one week after exposure.

On average there was a "significant" 17% improvement in color vision, which lasted a week. Some of the older participants had a 20% improvement that lasted a week, the findings showed.

When the same experiment was conducted in the afternoon, there was no improvement in color vision, according to the University College London (UCL) study.

"We demonstrate that one single exposure to long-wave deep red light in the morning can significantly improve declining vision, which is a major health and well-being issue, affecting millions of people globally," Jeffery, a professor at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, said in a university news release.

"This simple intervention applied at the population level would significantly impact on quality of life as people age and would likely result in reduced social costs that arise from problems associated with reduced vision," he added.

Jeffery said the technology is "simple and very safe." He also believes an easy-to-use device can be made available at an affordable cost to the general public.

"In the near future, a once a week three-minute exposure to deep red light could be done while making a coffee, or on the commute listening to a podcast, and such a simple addition could transform eye care and vision around the world," he said.

The results were published Nov. 24 in the journal Scientific Reports.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Aging has more about aging and your eyes.

SOURCE: University College London, news release, Nov. 24, 2021

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