EXPERTS predict that while the United States was basically spared from influenza the past two years, the lower flu vaccination rate that resulted in low levels of immunity and the relaxation of COVID-19 mitigating strategy could trigger a harsher flu season this winter as the cold weather makes people stay indoors. The lower flu incidence was due to the masking and distancing measures employed against COVID-19.
Since new strains of the flu virus evolve season to season, the flu vaccines are reformulated each year to target the predominant strains based on monitoring data before the actual season. So, vaccines are updated and precisely created regularly for specific flu viruses.
Federal statistics as of September 26, 2022, show that about 15 percent of adults who were infected with COVID-19 are now having symptoms of Long COVID. About 81 percent of these individuals suffer (a quarter of them significantly) from reduced ability to do day-to-day chores, with the limitations more among 18-29 and less for those 40-49 years old. This translates to mean that more than 18 million adults in the U.S. who are experiencing Long COVID and 15 million having difficulty performing their daily functions. Long COVID is one more reason why waiting to get COVID-19 infection to achieve natural immunity, instead of getting vaccinated, is foolhardy and dangerous, with some people dying in the process.
COVID and flu shots
The bivalent COVID-19 vaccines, reformulated to target Omicron and its various subvariants currently in play, are most helpful in preventing the infection, minimizing the symptoms if one still gets infected, and reducing the hospitalization and death rates. COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna) could be mixed-and-matched, both equally good. In spite of what naysayers say, vaccines are safe and effective. More than 5.3 billion have been administered around the globe. And with the flu season predicted to be worse, it behooves all of us to get the flu shot also. The two vaccines could be administered one in each arm at the same seating, if desired.
One of the most painful conditions one can experience is that of having shingles, a dreaded disease caused by varicella zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. The virus stays dormant in the body from previous chickenpox infection and suddenly erupts among the unvaccinated. About 30 percent of the U.S. population will have shingles at some point in their life. The very painful rash with blisters could affect one side of the face or one side of the body, along the rib cage, which could take 2 to 4 weeks to go away. Other symptoms could include fever, chills, headache, and upset stomach. About 10-18 percent of these patients develop postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), nerve pains on the site of the infection after the rash has gone away even weeks later. The vaccine, Shingrix, is greater than 90 percent effective, even for those who had shingles before, given in 2 doses, two to six months apart. This is one vaccine to seriously consider having. Consult your physician about it.
Blankets and sleep
Studies have revealed that weighted blankets increase the body’s production of melatonin by 30 percent, a natural hormone that helps sleep. The research was done at Uppsala University, which also shows there was no increases in the levels of other hormones, like cortisol, oxytoxin, or sympathetic nervous system function. In the meantime, sales of weighted blankets are expected to reach $1.17 billion in 4 years.
Eating late and obesity
Eating late appears to increase the risk for weight gain and obesity, reports a new study. Late dinner, nearer bedtime, “impacts energy expenditures, appetite, and molecular pathway in adipose (fat) tissues.” It also doubles the odds of being hungry. The conventional wisdom or advice is to avoid eating late at night. Eating late could also lead to lesser weight loss among dieters, and even among those who had “weight-loss” surgery. Eating at least 4 hours before bedtime and being physically active after eating instead of sitting on the couch, helps in energy expenditures. Obviously, midnight snacks are discouraged.
Are artificial sweeteners safe? This has been a decades-old question in the minds of people. These health concerns are confirmed by a new finding that links their intake to increased risk of heart disease and stroke events. This prospective French study was published in the British Medical Journal on September 7, 2022. This new research is different from previous studies on artificial sweeteners used in soft drinks. The startling and scary finding is that the amount of artificial sweetener in one can of soft drink is enough to increase the risk for such cardiovascular events. The use of artificial sweeteners is clearly linked to weight gain and heart disease. Obesity, for one, increases the risk for cancer also.
The current study involved 103,388 French adults. The sweeteners studied were aspartame (58 percent of intake), acesulfame potassium (29 percent) and sucralose (10 percent), with the other 3 percent were various other sweeteners like cyclamates and saccharin. Natural sweeteners made from Stevia leaves (Truvia, Stevia Zero, Splenda Natural Stevia, etc.) were not included in this study.
Bedtime and dementia
Sleep is vital to health, and 8 hours of a restful sleep is essential to life. But studies show that too early a bedtime (before 8 PM) and sleeping more than 8 hours may increase the risk for dementia, as shown by a clinical study of 1,982 older adults in China. This initial finding needs more independent and larger studies of various people in different countries to confirm this observation.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) is a condition where the person repeatedly goes into breath-holding, even more than 100 times a night, depriving the whole body of oxygen during each of those moments. Untreated OSA increases the risk for heart attacks, diabetes, stroke, and even cancer. The gold standard of therapy is the use of Continuous Positive Air Pressure machine during sleep. The positive pressure keeps the tongue and the soft (palate) tissue in the tonsillar area from collapsing and blocking the airway. Even snoring stops. Various nose and mouth gadgets being marketed as anti-snore devices are all useless and a waste of money. Not to mention dangerous because of the false sense of security they provide, delaying genuine medical diagnosis and treatment. Some people have died in bed from OSA. A Sleep Study confirms the diagnosis and is needed for Medicare coverage for a CPAP machine every five years.
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The main objective of this column is to educate and inspire people live a healthier lifestyle to prevent illnesses and disabilities and achieve a happier and more productive life. Any diagnosis, recommendation or treatment in our article are general medical information and not intended to be applicable or appropriate for anyone. This column is not a substitute for your physician, who knows your condition well and who is your best ally when it comes to your health.
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Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, Health Advocate, newspaper columnist, and Chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian foundation in the United States. Websites: FUN8888.com, Today.SPSAtoday.com, and philipSchua.com; Email: [email protected].