Nearly every US state is battling high levels of flu-like illness, public health authorities warned Monday as multiple respiratory viruses threaten to overwhelm the health-care system while people travel for the holidays and gather indoors with friends and family.
Spicing Up Your Meals Could Be One Simple Way to Build a Healthier Gut : ScienceAlert
A handful of peanuts and a few pinches of herbs and spices could possibly give your gut a healthy boost, according to two separate studies from Penn State University in the US.
There are trillions of individual microorganisms living in the human stomach and intestines, comprising hundreds to thousands of species of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Collectively, they are known as the gut microbiome, and their importance is so great to our health, scientists think of it as a supporting organ.
Diet, exercise, and medication are just some of the factors that can influence the makeup of a person’s gut, which means each individual’s gut community is unique.
If your gut microbiome isn’t fed and appropriately nurtured, harmful microbes can proliferate, while symbiotic ones have more trouble with tasks such as dealing with our immune system and breaking down our food.
Scientists are still trying to figure out what features mark the healthiest gut communities, but as research progresses, they are starting to get a better idea.
“Research has shown that people who have a lot of different microbes have better health, and a better diet, than those who don’t have much bacterial diversity,” explains nutritional scientist Penny M. Kris-Etherton.
While we commonly think of diets in terms of their fundamentals, like greens and meats, a considerable amount of variation in our cultural and personal preferences comes down to the way we add some zing to our meals.
Kris-Etherton and her colleagues at Penn State are among the first to study the effect of herbs and spices on the composition of the human gut.
In their study, 54 adult participants at risk of cardiovascular disease took part in a four-week randomized controlled-feeding experiment.
During the trial, everyone stuck to the same general menu, which was designed to reflect the average American diet. Some participants were asked to add 0.5 grams (about 0.2 ounces) of spices to their meals, while others were asked to add 3.3 grams or 6.6 grams.
The spice blend includes cinnamon, ginger, cumin, turmeric, rosemary, oregano, basil, and thyme. A control group, meanwhile, were asked to put none of these spices on their food.
Fecal samples taken before and after the experiment reveal that diets with more spices tend to show greater bacterial diversity.
“It’s such a simple thing that people can do,” says Kris-Etherton.
“The average American diet is far from ideal, so I think everyone could benefit by adding herbs and spices. It’s also a way of decreasing sodium in your diet but flavoring foods in a way that makes them palatable and, in fact, delicious!”
The new findings support recent research that suggests herbs and spices are a natural prebiotic that feeds healthy bacteria in the human gut.
In 2019, a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded pilot study found that a 5-gram capsule of a spice blend, containing cinnamon, oregano, ginger, black pepper, and cayenne pepper, triggered changes to the gut microbiome that were seen within weeks.
In the more recent study, however, the spice blend was slightly different and was directly incorporated into participants’ daily meals.
Those who ate meals with medium and high amounts of spice, equivalent to about a 3/4 teaspoon per day and about 1 1/2 teaspoon per day, showed a greater abundance of gut bacteria called Ruminococcaceae. This family of microbes is generally found in higher numbers in healthier human adults, although its exact role in the gut is uncertain.
Those participants who ate spices in the study also showed lower numbers of proinflammatory molecules in the gut, indicating a possible anti-inflammatory effect.
More research is needed to figure out exactly which spices are affecting gut microbes and why, but that’s not the only dietary supplement that seems to boost certain gut bacteria.
A recent randomized controlled trial, also from Penn State, recently investigated the effect of peanuts on the microbiota for the first time.
The study took place over six weeks and included 50 adults all on the same daily diet. At the end of each day, after dinner but before bed, participants ate either 28 grams of dry roasted, unsalted peanuts, or they ate a small sample of cheese and crackers.
In the group snacking on nuts, as with the spices in the previous study, Ruminococcaceae bacteria were significantly more abundant in the gut of participants at the end of the study.
There’s still so much about the gut microbiome that scientists don’t understand, but for now, adding a pinch of spice to your diet probably won’t hurt – and it might even help. If nothing else, it’ll add some flavor.
The spice study was published in The Journal of Nutritionand the peanut study was published in Clinical Nutrition.
5 exercises that women over 60 can do
Most women are either tied up with balancing their professional life with their personal one or are busy with never-ending household chores. Many don’t even get time for themselves and indulge in activities like exercise. As they grow older and they know that their kids will do alright without them, they decide to get involved in things that they’d probably never thought of. For instance, focusing on their physical fitness. The first step is to think that yes, you will start working out today. The next thing to think about is which exercises women over 60 can do!
Exercising is not easy regardless of age, but it can be especially intimidating for women over the age of 60 who have never worked out before. This can be especially true for those who have underlying health issues or have only led a sedentary lifestyle.
Worry not as exercising can be an incredibly beneficial and enjoyable experience. You just need to know the right approach. So, Health Shots connected with fitness trainer Varun Rattan, Co-founder of The Body Science Academy, Noida, Uttar Pradesh, to find out what women over 60 need to keep in mind before taking up exercising.
Benefits of regularly exercising
If you are new in the world of exercising or didn’t take it up as you have an interest in it then you’ll think of ways to skip it once or twice a week. But it’s best not to do that and exercise regularly as it can help improve physical and mental health, increase mobility, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Rattan added, “It also empowers them as they can maintain their independence. Exercising also provides a sense of well-being.”
Exercises for women over 60
Here are five most beneficial exercises women over 60 can do:
You don’t have to hit the gym straight away. Senior citizens can enjoy walking, which is one of the least demanding forms of exercise, according to the expert. It is also one of the most accessible exercisesso you can’t come up with an excuse not to do it.
2. Water aerobics
Like to swim? Then try this. Water is known for supporting your joints, so water exercises are “perfect for those with arthritis or other joint problems,” said the trainer. Among various things, water aerobics help in building strength, flexibility, and balance. You can get all these benefits without putting excessive strain on your body.
3. Strength training
Once you grow older, you might face muscle atrophy, which happens when muscles waste away.
According to Rattan, strength training is one of the best methods for countering the effects of muscle atrophy in older people. It can help increase bone mineral density, insulin sensitivity, and help them manage weight.
A lot has been researched on yoga and its health benefits, and Rattan said that studies have shown that yoga can provide neurological and mental health benefits. It can also maintain physical mobility as well as functional independence in seniors.
5. Balance exercises
Tai chi might look complicated as it is an internal Chinese martial art that is often practiced for defense training. But the expert said that it is one of the excellent choices for older adults who want to improve balance.
Exercises to be avoided by women over 60
As women age, their bodies become more fragile and prone to injury. While it is important to stay active as we grow older, it is also necessary to know which exercises are a big no-no.
1. Rock climbing
It demands exceptional grip in addition to strong arms, back, and legs. Finger injuries and tears in the rotator cuff and meniscus are common in rock climbing, shared Rattan.
It might cause low back pain, or might accidentally smash their knees on the floor.
3. Jumping rope
There’s an increased risk of tripping over the rope or suffering an ankle or knee injury or low back pain.
Repeated flexion and extension of the lumbar region can cause low back pain while performing crunches.
They put a lot of stress on the wrists and neck. Since the risk here is higher than the reward, it is best to avoid it, suggested the trainer.
Is population growth cause for hope or concern?
“The 360” shows you different perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.
The world’s population reached an estimate 8 billion people on Tuesday, according to estimates from the United Nations.
It took just 12 years for the global population to increase from 7 billion to 8 billion, a period of unprecedented growth made possible by advances in public health, nutrition and economic development that have increased survival rates for children and allowed older generations to live longer than in the past.
“The milestone is an occasion to celebrate diversity and advancements while considering humanity’s shared responsibility for the planet,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said.
The boom wasn’t distributed evenly around the world. Countries across Asia have accounted for the majority of the world’s growth since 2011. India alone added 180 million people and is projected to surpass China as the most populous nation sometime next year. Growth rates in most of Europe and North America have stagnated, with some countries even seeing their populations shrink.
Despite the speed with which the world added another billion people, demographers say the rate of population growth is actually slowing down. The UN projects that we’ll reach 9 billion people in 15 years and that the global population will ultimately peak at around 10.4 billion in the 2080s.
Why there’s debate
The question of how many people the Earth can sustain has been a source of heated debate for centuries. But our growing understanding of human-caused climate change has altered the stakes of that discussion in just a few years.
In the eyes of many experts, reaching what the UN is calling the “day of 8 billion” should be cause for major concern. They argue that a rapidly expanding population will only make it more difficult to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the level that is needed to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. More people will also put extra strain on critical resources like food and water, which are primed to become more scarce amid extreme droughts and severe weather — especially in the parts of the world that are expected to grow most rapidly in the coming years. Some add that the most effective steps for reducing population growth, namely increased economic stability and improved reproductive autonomy for women, are worthy goals in and of themselves.
But others say these concerns are unfounded. They argue that focusing on the size of the population obscures the actual causes, and potential solutions, for climate change. The biggest driver of global emissions, they say, is the rate of consumption in rich countries — not the fact that low-income nations are adding more people. Some demographers also believe that an expanding population should be celebrated because it will help developing nations thrive economically and create more opportunities for innovation, collaboration and prosperity.
There may not be enough resources to sustain so many people
“Rapid population growth also means more people vying for scarce water resources and leaves more families facing hunger as climate change increasingly impacts crop production in many parts of the world.” — Dan Ikpoyi and Chinedu Asadu, Associated Press
Billions of additional people will put an enormous strain on the climate
“The hard fact is that in an age of climate breakdown, human numbers matter. And the ecological impact of another 2-3 billion humans will be immense.” —John Vidal, Guardian
A prosperous future is impossible without a sustainable population
“For if our stated goals of protecting the environment and leaving a better society for our children are truly sincere it is incumbent on us then to summon the courage to, openly and unapologetically, call out the greatest threats to both — human overpopulation and overconsumption. ” —Robert P. Johnson, Santa Barbara Independent
We can curb population growth and advance women’s rights at the same time
“What if we could see our population peak earlier than projected and avoid ever having to know whether the planet can provide for 10 billion, 11 billion or 12 billion people? Achieving this wouldn’t necessitate inventing new technology or making massive monetary investments (relatively speaking). It would simply require making modern contraception available to everyone who wants it so that people are able to decide for themselves whether and when to become pregnant and give birth.” — Nicole Martin, San Diego Union-Tribune
The world isn’t doing enough to prepare for all these extra people
“No matter who is winning the debate about growth, we clearly aren’t planning for that growth particularly well.” — Howard V. Hendrix, San Francisco Chronicle
The most vulnerable places are also the least equipped to care for booming populations
“Often, the most vulnerable people in these countries face the greatest harm from climate change without having the resources to protect their health and environment. Population growth can deepen these inequities.” —Maureen Lichtveld, Conversation MarketWatch
Climate change is the result of overconsumption in rich nations, not a growing population
“Consumption of the resources that lead to carbon emissions matters more to climate change than population growth on its own, and those resources are primarily consumed by a relatively small number of wealthy people around the world. Change those consumption patterns — through a mix of better efficiency and new technologies that don’t emit carbon — and there’s room enough to keep growing the population without cooking the planet.” —Bryan Walsh, Vox
We already have the tools we need to sustain billions more people
“Declining biodiversity with increasing human numbers does not have to be a foregone conclusion. There are sustainable solutions out there for energy, agriculture, and how we build things. It’s just a matter of shifting perspectives, attitudes, and policies.” —Lauren Leffer, Gizmodo
The speed of population growth matters as much as the size itself
“When economists think about it, a large population is great for many different outcomes, but do you achieve that large population in 10 years or 100 years or 1,000 years? The longer it takes to get there, you can put in place the right structures in the system that will support that population.” — Alex Ezeh, global health expert, to BBC
More people equals more opportunity
“Every new human being comes to the world not only with an empty stomach, but also a pair of hands, and, more importantly, a brain capable of intelligent thought and new knowledge creation. In the process of economic development, human beings cause a lot of environmental damage, but the new wealth and knowledge that we create during that process also allow us to become better stewards of the planet.” — Marian Tupy, The Hill
Prosperity is always worth celebrating
“No one gets through life without sorrow, struggle, and disappointment, yet it is indisputably true that life on earth keeps getting better and better. In the aggregate, human beings have never been healthier, wealthier, safer, better fed, or better educated than they are right now.” —Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe
Is there a topic you’d like to see covered in “The 360”? Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images
Flu hospitalizations soar as triple viral threat looms ahead of holidays
That ferocious return of influenza is coinciding with the start of a third pandemic winter — with a novel coronavirus that never left.
“It’s a perfect storm for a terrible holiday season,” said the chair of the American Medical Association board, Sandra Fryhofer, an Atlanta infectious-diseases physician who joined a Monday briefing by the CDC.
Levels of flu-like illness, a measure of medical visits with respiratory symptoms that could also be caused by RSV or covid-19, were high or very high in 47 jurisdictions during Thanksgiving week, up from 36 the previous week, said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. Hospitals admitted nearly 20,000 influenza patients, almost double the number from the previous week. Officials also reported two new pediatric flu fatalities, bringing this season’s death toll in children to 14.
In all, the CDC has recorded at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations and 4,500 deaths from flu since October.
Meanwhile, coronavirus hospitalizations are also risingwhile cases of respiratory syncytial virus, commonly known as RSV, remain high, although they appear to have peaked in some regions.
“The past several years have certainly not been easy, and now we face another surge of illness, another moment of overstretched capacity, and one of tragic and often preventable sadness,” Walensky said at the briefing.
Walensky urged Americans to get their flu shots and updated coronavirus vaccine boosters, which are tailored to omicron subvariants. She said that early data suggests this year’s flu shot formula appears to be well matched against the circulating strains, and that shots drive down hospitalizations even when they do not stop infections.
Public health authorities have been worried about flu vaccination rates that have been lower than in previous years, including in groups at high risk of hospitalization, including young children, pregnant people, and adults 65 and older.
“We all have booster fatigue, but understand you could get really, really sick this year and ruin your holiday celebrations if you don’t get vaccinated,” Fryhofer added of the new coronavirus booster shots.
Officials also offered some good news about RSV, which has no authorized vaccine yet.
Surges of that virus appear to have peaked in the South and Southeast and may be leveling off in the Mid-Atlantic, New England and the Midwest, Walensky said.
“While this is encouraging, respiratory viruses continue to spread at high levels nationwide, and even in areas where RSV may be decreasing, our hospital systems continue to be stretched with high numbers of patients with other respiratory illnesses,” she added.
Walensky urged those with symptoms of flu or covid to see doctors early to get prescription antivirals that greatly reduce the likelihood of severe illness if taken within the first days of illness.
Health officials have also prioritized administering flu and coronavirus vaccines to reduce the strain on hospitals, at a time when no major jurisdiction has imposed a mask mandate to limit transmission.
On Monday, Walensky said that the CDC recommends masking on public transportation and that “we also encourage you to wear a high quality, well-fitting mask to help prevent the spread of respiratory illness, especially for the 5 percent of the population currently living in counties with high covid-19 community levels.”
The CDC is not a regulatory agency, so it can recommend masking but not mandate it.
The agency adopted a new system earlier this year to link masking recommendations to a formula that emphasized the strain on hospitals rather than just the number of infections. That formula is being tested as hospitals fill up with people infected by other respiratory viruses, meaning new coronavirus infections can threaten hospital capacity even at lower volumes.
Walensky said the CDC was re-examining its metrics but noted that Americans who are concerned about the triple viral threat can act to protect themselves immediately.
“One need not wait for CDC action in order to put a mask on,” she said.
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