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Archive for September 13th, 2021

Diet may affect risk and severity of COVID-19

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Tracy Hampton writes in The Harvard Gazette:

Although metabolic conditions such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes have been linked to an increased risk of COVID-19, as well as an increased risk of experiencing serious symptoms once infected, the impact of diet on these risks is unknown. In a recent study led by researchers at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and published in Gut, people whose diets were based on healthy plant-based foods had lower risks on both counts. The beneficial effects of diet on COVID-19 risk seemed especially relevant in individuals living in areas of high socioeconomic deprivation.

“Previous reports suggest that poor nutrition is a common feature among groups disproportionately affected by the pandemic, but data on the association between diet and COVID-19 risk and severity are lacking,” says lead author Jordi Merino, a research associate at the Diabetes Unit and Center for Genomic Medicine at MGH and an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

For the study, Merino and his colleagues examined data on 592,571 participants of the smartphone-based COVID-19 Symptom Study. Participants lived in the U.K. and the U.S., and they were recruited from March 24, 2020 and followed until Dec. 2, 2020. At the start of the study, participants completed a questionnaire that asked about their dietary habits before the pandemic. Diet quality was assessed using a healthful Plant-Based Diet Score that emphasizes healthy plant foods such as fruits and vegetables.

During follow-up, 31,831 participants developed COVID-19. Compared with individuals in the lowest quartile of the diet score, those in the highest quartile had a 9 percent lower risk of developing COVID-19 and a 41 percent lower risk of developing severe COVID-19. “These findings were consistent across a range of sensitivity analysis accounting for other healthy behaviors, social determinants of health and community virus transmission rates,” says Merino.

“Although we cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings, our study suggests that individuals can also potentially reduce their risk of getting COVID-19 or having poor outcomes by paying attention to their diet,” says co-senior author Andrew Chan, a gastroenterologist and chief of the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit at MGH.

The researchers also found a synergistic relationship between poor diet and increased socioeconomic deprivation with COVID-19 risk that was higher than the sum of the risk associated with each factor alone.

“Our models estimate that nearly a third of COVID-19 cases would have been prevented if one of two exposures — diet or deprivation — were not present,” says Merino.

The results also suggest that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2021 at 4:52 pm

Plant-Based Diet Tied to Better Urological Health in Men

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The subtitle of this article will also be of interest to many men:

Eat more plants for your prostate and your erections

Mike Bassett, Staff Writer, writes in MedPage Today:

Men interested in preserving their urological health may benefit from eating more vegetables and fruits, researchers reported.

A trio of studies presented at the American Urological Association (AUA) virtual meeting suggested that plant-based diets were associated with a decreased risk of erectile dysfunction (ED), lower PSA rates, and possibly a lower rate of total and fatal prostate cancer among younger men.

“We can summarize this session succinctly,” said AUA press conference moderator Stacy Loeb, MD, of NYU Langone Health in New York City, who also presented one of the studies.

“Eat more plants for your prostate and your erections,” she advised.

Plant-Based Protection

Investigators at the University of Miami (UMiami) Miller School of Medicine used the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to evaluate the association between a plant-based diet and PSA levels. Using Food Frequency Questionnaire dietary data they calculated a plant-based diet index (PDI) and healthful plant-based diet index (hPDI).

Ali Mouzannar, MD, reported that in a cohort of 1,399 men, those with a higher consumption of healthy plant-based diet (high hPDI scores) had a decreased probability of having an elevated PSA (OR 0.47, 95% CI 0.24-0.95).

“It seems plant-based diets have protective effects against prostate cancer,” Mouzannar said during the press session. “We still need more insight and more clinical trials to establish the causative effect, but there have been multiple associations between lower risk of prostate cancer, lower risk of elevated PSA with a plant-based diet.”

He added that “it also works the other way around — meat has been shown to be associated with a high rate of aggressive prostate cancer, and high risk of recurrence.”

In a second UMiami-based study, Ruben Blachman-Braun, MD, Ranjith Ramasany, MD, and colleagues used NHANES data base to evaluate 2,549 men, 57.4% of whom had some degree of ED. He reported that risk factors, such as increased age, BMI, hypertension, diabetes, and history of stroke, were all strongly associated with the risk of ED.

“However, increasing plant-based consumption was associated with a decreased risk of erectile dysfunction,” Blachman-Braun pointed out (OR 0.98, 95% CI 0.96 0.99).

Loeb and colleagues conducted a prospective study involving 27,243 men, who were followed up to 28 years, in the Health Follow-up study.

They found that in men ages ≤65 at diagnosis, greater overall consumption of plant-based diet was associated with a lower risk of advanced prostate cancer (HR 0.68, 95% CI 0.42-1.10). Among younger men, greater consumption of a healthful plant-based diet was associated with lower risks of total prostate cancer (HR 0.81 95% CI 0.70-0.95), and fatal disease (HR 0.53, 95% CI 0.32-0.90).

“This is really encouraging given the many health and environmental benefits of plant-based diets,” Loeb said. “And we believe they should be recommended for men who are concerned about the risks of prostate cancer.”

‘A Win-Win’

On the issue of the environmental impact of following plant-based diets, Mouzannar noted that higher meat consumption is associated with greenhouse gas emissions, water issues, decreased biodiversity. “There is a significant effect in following plant-based diets,” he said. “Whether that’s in individuals by promoting a healthy lifestyle and decreasing the risk of multiple cancers — in addition to prostate cancer, specifically — or the environmental effects.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2021 at 4:06 pm

The role meat may play in triggering Parkinson’s disease, and the role fiber may play in protecting against it.

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Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2021 at 3:02 pm

Final drone strike by US in Afghanistan War kills blameless victims

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Who is the terrorist in this situation? Certainly not the victims. I think it is the US military. 

Read the whole Twitter thread at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2021 at 1:49 pm

The enormous costs and elusive benefits of the war on terror: 20 years, $6 trillion, 900,000 lives

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Dylan Matthews reports in Vox:

On the evening of September 11, 2001, hours after two hijacked airliners had destroyed the World Trade Center towers and a third had hit the Pentagon building, President George W. Bush announced that the country was embarking on a new kind of war.

“America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world, and we stand together to win the war against terrorism,” Bush announced in a televised address to the nation.

It was Bush’s first use of the term that would come to define his presidency and deeply shape those of his three successors. The global war on terror, as the effort came to be known, was one of the most expansive and far-reaching policy initiatives in modern American history, and certainly the biggest of the 2000s.

It saw the US invade and depose the governments of two nations and engage in years- or decades-long occupations of each; the initiation of a new form of warfare via drones spanning thousands of miles of territory from Pakistan to Somalia to the Philippines; the formalization of a system of detention without charge and pervasive torture of accused militants; numerous smaller raids by special forces teams around the world; and major changes to air travel and border security in the US proper.

The “war on terror” is a purposely vague term. President Barack Obama famously rejected it in a 2013 speech — favoring instead “a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists.”

But 9/11 signaled the beginning of a distinct policy regime from the one that preceded it, and a regime that exists in many forms to the present day, even with the US exit from Afghanistan.

Over the past 20 years, the costs of this new policy regime — costs in terms of lives lost, money spent, people and whole communities displaced, bodies tortured — have become clear. It behooves us, then, to try to answer a simple yet vast question: Was it worth it?

A good-faith effort to answer this question — to tally the costs and benefits on the ledger and not just resort to one’s ideological priors — is more challenging than you’d think. That’s largely because it involves quantifying the inherently unquantifiable. If, as proponents argue, the war on terror kept America safe, how do you quantify the psychological value of not being in a state of constant fear of the next attack? What about the damage of increased Islamophobia and violent targeting of Muslims (and those erroneously believed to be Muslims) stoked by the war on terror? There are dozens more unquantifiable purported costs and benefits like these.

But some things can be measured. There have been no 9/11-scale terrorist attacks in the United States in the past 20 years. Meanwhile, according to the most recent estimates from Brown University’s Costs of War Projectat least 897,000 people around the world have died in violence that can be classified as part of the war on terror; at least 38 million people have been displaced due to these wars; and the effort has cost the US at least $5.8 trillion, not including about $2 trillion more needed in health care and disability coverage for veterans in decades to come.

When you lay it all out on paper, an honest accounting of the war on terror yields a dismal conclusion: Even with an incredibly generous view of the war on terror’s benefits, the costs have vastly exceeded them. The past 20 years of war represent a colossal failure by the US government, one it has not begun to reckon with or atone for.

We are now used to the fact that the US government routinely bombs foreign countries with which it is not formally or even informally at war, in the name of killing terrorists. We are used to the fact that the National Security Agency works with companies like Facebook and Google to collect our private information en masse. We are used to the fact that 39 men are sitting in Guantanamo Bay, almost all detained indefinitely without trial.

These realities were not inevitable. They were chosen as part of a policy regime that has done vastly more harm than good.

What America and the world might have gained from the war on terror

Before going further, it’s important to define our terms. . . 

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s a harsh indictment. One of several charts in the article:

Why Americans Die So Much

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Derek Thompson writes in the Atlantic:

America has a death problem.

No, I’m not just talking about the past year and a half, during which COVID-19 deaths per capita in the United States outpaced those in similarly rich countries, such as Canada, Japan, and France. And I’m not just talking about the past decade, during which drug overdoses skyrocketed in the U.S., creating a social epidemic of what are often called “deaths of despair.”

I’m talking about the past 30 years. Before the 1990s, average life expectancy in the U.S. was not much different than it was in Germany, the United Kingdom, or France. But since the 1990s, American life spans started falling significantly behind those in similarly wealthy European countries.

According to a new working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Americans now die earlier than their European counterparts, no matter what age you’re looking at. Compared with Europeans, American babies are more likely to die before they turn 5, American teens are more likely to die before they turn 20, and American adults are more likely to die before they turn 65. At every age, living in the United States carries a higher risk of mortality. This is America’s unsung death penalty, and it adds up. Average life expectancy surged above 80 years old in just about every Western European country in the 2010s, including Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, the U.K., Denmark, and Switzerland. In the U.S., by contrast, the average life span has never exceeded 79—and now it’s just taken a historic tumble.

Why is the U.S. so much worse than other developed countries at performing the most basic function of civilization: keeping people alive?

“Europe has better life outcomes than the United States across the board, for white and Black people, in high-poverty areas and low-poverty areas,” Hannes Schwandt, a Northwestern University professor who co-wrote the paper, told me. “It’s important that we collect this data, so that people can ask the right questions, but the data alone does not tell us what the cause of this longevity gap is.”

Finding a straightforward explanation is hard, because there are so many differences between life in the U.S. and Europe. Americans are more likely to kill one another with guns, in large part because Americans have more guns than residents of other countries do. Americans die more from car accidents, not because our fatality rate per mile driven is unusually high but because we simply drive so much more than people in other countries. Americans also have higher rates of death from infectious disease and pregnancy complications. But what has that got to do with guns, or commuting?

By collecting data on American life spans by ethnicity and by income at the county level—and by comparing them with those of European countries, locality by locality—Schwandt and the other researchers made three important findings.

First, Europe’s mortality rates are shockingly similar between rich and poor communities. Residents of the poorest parts of France live about as long as people in the rich areas around Paris do. “Health improvements among infants, children, and youth have been disseminated within European countries in a way that includes even the poorest areas,” the paper’s authors write.

But in the U.S., which has the highest poverty and inequality of just about any country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, where you live is much more likely to determine when you’ll die. Infants in the U.S. are considerably more likely to die in the poorest counties than in the richest counties, and this is true for both Black and white babies. Black teenagers in the poorest U.S. areas are roughly twice as likely to die before they turn 20, compared with those in the richest U.S. counties. In Europe, by contrast, the mortality rate for teenagers in the richest and poorest areas is exactly the same—12 deaths per 100,000. In America, the problem is not just that poverty is higher; it’s that the effect of poverty on longevity is greater too.

Second, even rich Europeans are outliving rich Americans. “There is an American view that egalitarian societies have more equality, but it’s all one big mediocre middle, whereas the best outcomes in the U.S. are the best outcomes in the world,” Schwandt said. But this just doesn’t seem to be the case for longevity. White Americans living in the richest 5 percent of counties still die earlier than Europeans in similarly low-poverty areas; life spans for Black Americans were shorter still. (The study did not examine other American racial groups.) “It says something negative about the overall health system of the United States that even after we grouped counties by poverty and looked at the richest 10th percentile, and even the richest fifth percentile, we still saw this longevity gap between Americans and Europeans,” he added. In fact, Europeans in extremely impoverished areas seem to live longer than Black or white Americans in the richest 10 percent of counties.

Third,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including this interesting factoid:

Air pollution has declined more than 70 percent since the 1970s, according to the EPA, and most of that decline happened during the 30-year period of this mortality research.

Related, via a post this morning by Kevin Drum:

Drum notes:

The US death rate from COVID-19 is no longer skyrocketing, but it’s still going up. Our mortality rate is 150% above Britain and more than 1000% higher than Germany.

I imagine the primary causes are widespread refusal (especially in Red states) to wear masks, to avoid crowds, and to be vaccinated, all obvious steps that significantly reduce the likelihood of infection and thus reduce the likelihood of death.

Note this headline in the NY Times this morning: “The U.S. is falling to the lowest vaccination rates of the world’s wealthiest democracies.” From that article:

. . . Canada leads the G7 countries in vaccination rates, with almost three-quarters of its population at least partially vaccinated as of Thursday, according to Our World in Data. France, Italy and Britain follow, with percentages between 70 and 73. Germany’s rate is just ahead of Japan’s, at around 65 percent.

The U.S. vaccination curve has leveled dramatically since an initial surge in the first half of this year, when the vaccine first became widely available. In a push to vaccinate the roughly 80 million Americans who are eligible for shots but have not gotten them, President Biden on Thursday mandated that two-thirds of American workers, including health care workers and the vast majority of federal employees, be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2021 at 1:11 pm

An unfortunate choice of shaving cream, with a shave rescue from a shave stick

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The shave cream shown unfortunately did not do the job. Perhaps I just used not enough, but the amount I used was the amount of shaving cream I normally would squeeze from a tube. (I’m going to use a different shaving cream tomorrow, one that’s also in a tube, to compare.)

The first pass, using my wonder iKon #102, went well, but there was just not much lather in the brush for the second pass. So I took the La Toja shaving stick that was on the counter, rubbed it against the grain of the reduced stubble and scraped off enough to produce a good lather, thanks to stubborn stubble under my jawline and on my chin and upper lip. 

With the brush now fully loaded, the rest of the shave went well, but I think this shaving cream goes to the back of the shelf. After 3 passes with the #102 my face was remarkably smooth, and a splash of Bulgari EDT moderated by a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel worked quite well as an aftershave. 

And it’s a nice day, so a walk is coming up.

Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2021 at 10:56 am

Posted in Shaving

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