- Obamacare Repeal: What Happens to Birth Control Coverage?
- Here’s When You’re Most Likely To Get the Flu
- Salmon in U.S. May Be Infected With Japanese Tapeworm, Study Says
- Turmeric May Not Be a Miracle Spice After All
- Sushi in L.A. Is Mislabeled Nearly 50% of the Time, Says Study
- Is It Safe to Eat Desserts Made Out of Snow?
- Wearables Can Tell When You’re Getting Sick
Posted: 13 Jan 2017 08:39 AM PST
It’s looking like women may have to go back to paying out-of-pocket for contraception if Obamacare gets gutted.
Senate Republicans took the first step toward repealing the Affordable Care Act during Thursday’s “vote-a-rama” — and while voting on a budget plan that would help dismantle Obamacare, the GOP-controlled Senate rejected an amendment that would have required insurance companies to continue to cover birth control.
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand had introduced the amendment, aiming to preserve a few ACA provisions tied to women’s health: Current rules prohibit insurers from charging women more for coverage based on gender, or using pregnancy as a pre-existing condition to deny coverage, and require coverage of of birth control, mammograms, and cancer screenings without a co-pay.
Republicans voted it down.
Of course, Republicans have not presented a replacement plan for Obamacare, so it is impossible to say if birth control will continue to be covered. Until the law is officially repealed — and there’s still a long way to go — you can still receive prescribed contraceptives without a co-pay. (For more, read What Women Should Know About Health Care Under Trump.)
Roughly 55 million women now receive contraceptives with no out-of-pocket costs, according to the National Women’s Law Center. And birth control costs can be significant: A 2015 study found that “the ACA is saving the average pill user $255 per year, and the average woman receiving an IUD is saving $248.”
Indeed, as MONEY has reported in the past, new birth control coverage is a key factor driving down average out-of-pocket spending on prescription drugs. According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, “oral contraceptive pills account for 63% of the drop in average out-of-pocket spending on retail drugs since 2012.”
Some state legislatures, including New York’s, have introduced measures to require insurers to cover birth control with no co-pay if Obamacare is indeed repealed and the benefit is not included in whatever new plan is passed. California, Maryland, Vermont, and Illinois have had similar state laws in place since 2014, according to Reuters.
Posted: 13 Jan 2017 06:51 AM PST
Cases of flu are on the rise, according to a recent statement from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and experts are warning that this year’s flu season will be worse than last. Now, a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Virology is shedding some light on exactly how cold weather and the spread of viruses are linked.
It turns out, seasonal flu outbreaks first appear each year about a week after the winter’s first cold spell—or at least that’s what happened in Sweden, over the course of three years when researchers tracked weather patterns and the prevalence of the virus.
During that time, researchers collected more than 20,000 nasal swabs from people seeking medical care in and around the city of Gothenburg, and analyzed them for influenza A and other respiratory viruses. Then they compared those findings with weather data from the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute.
A surprisingly consistent pattern emerged: Each year, the first really cold week—with low humidity and temperatures below freezing—seemed to trigger the spread of flu.
“We believe that this sudden drop in temperature contributes to ‘kickstart’ the epidemic,” said lead author Nicklas Sundell, a researcher at Sahlgrenska Academy and infectious diseases specialist at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, in a press release. “Once the epidemic has started, it continues even if temperatures rise. Once people are sick and contagious, many more may become infected.”
Airborne particles containing liquid and virus—from a sneeze, for example—can spread more easily in cold and dry weather, say the study authors. Dry air absorbs moisture from the particles, shrinking them and helping them stay in the air longer and travel longer distances.
The study found that some other common respiratory infections, such as respiratory syncytial virus and coronavirus, followed similar, temperature-driven patterns. But others, like rhinovirus (one cause of the common cold), did not seem to be affected by the weather or season.
Health.com: 10 Biggest Myths About the Flu
Sundell said that better knowledge of outbreaks based on weather may help doctors and public health experts know what’s coming—and communicate those risks to the public.
“If you can predict the start of the annual epidemics of the flu and other respiratory viruses, you can use this knowledge to promote campaigns for the flu vaccine,” he said. Hospital emergency departments could also prepare in advance, he added, for increased numbers of sick patients.
Of course, cold weather isn’t the only prerequisite for flu epidemics to take off. “The virus [also] has to be present among the population, and there have to be enough people susceptible to the infection,” Sundell explained.
And the flu obviously still spreads in climates that are warm year-round, says Nirav Patel, MD, assistant professor of infectious diseases at Saint Louis University, who was not involved in the new study.
“Clearly then, the temperature drop is important, but perhaps not the only factor,” Dr. Patel told Health via email.
He also points out that the study was only able to show a correlation between weather and flu timing in one particular region. “We’d need to see this replicated in other climate areas to assess whether this is a consistent phenomenon or is unique to influenza in Sweden,” he wrote.
Still, he says the findings are “definitely intriguing, and should be explored further.”
In the meantime, he’ll continue recommending the same things he’s always recommended for preventing the spread of flu—regardless of the temperature outside: covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, washing your hands frequently, and getting an annual flu shot.
Posted: 12 Jan 2017 02:54 PM PST
A Japanese tapeworm may be contaminating raw salmon in the U.S., a new study has found.
The broad tapeworm, Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense, has been detected in wild pink salmon from Alaska, leading researchers to believe that salmon from at least American and Asian Pacific coasts can be potentially dangerous to humans who eat the fish raw.
The new findings appear in the February issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Scientists say the tapeworm was first recognized as a human parasite in 1986. Initially believed to only infect fish in Asia, the tapeworm can affect humans who eat infected raw chum, masu, pink and sockeye salmon from Japan and eastern Russia, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.
The parasite has been reemerging because of “global importation and increased popularity of eating raw fish,” the study says. About 2,000 cases have been reported, mostly from northeastern Asia.
Posted: 12 Jan 2017 01:11 PM PST
Turmeric, the bright yellow spice often used in curries, mustards and golden milk lattes, has gained quite a reputation as a superfood. It’s been touted for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and hailed as a natural defense against cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
That reputation, however, may have just gone down a notch: A new review of scientific literature on curcumin, the most well-known chemical in turmeric, suggests that the compound has limited, if any, actual health benefits.
There may still be reason to include the “golden spice” in your diet, say the authors of the new review, published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. But as far as current evidence shows, its most famous compound doesn’t live up to its hype.
Ground turmeric root has been used in Indian and Chinese cooking (and traditional medicine) for centuries. But when the reviewers looked at several recent clinical trials and epidemiological studies on curcumin, they noticed that research findings often weren’t translated correctly in the media.
“Once something enters the popular press, it can be blown out of proportion,” says co-author Michael Walters, research associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Therapeutics Discovery and Development. “These studies have become a part of folklore, and their actual results don’t really measure up to what they’re quoted as.”
One big problem, the new report notes, is that curcumin is not easily absorbed by the body. And despite the thousands of research papers published on turmeric, the reviewers were unable to find any double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials (the gold-standard of medical research) to support its myriad health claims.
Many studies also involved conflicts of interest, Walters says—like researchers who owned supplement companies and could benefit from sales of curcumin extract. Overall, the research casts doubt on curcumin’s usefulness as a stand-alone supplement and its potential for future drug discoveries.
But don’t count out turmeric just yet, says registered dietitian Wendy Bazilian, who was not involved in the new research. She says it’s true that curcumin is no cure-all—“just like no other single nutrient isolated and extracted from a food, or for that matter, any one food itself.” But based on research in both animals and humans, she adds, “there’s no question that there are some health properties associated with the spice.”
Curcumin may not be a miracle ingredient, but Bazilian points out that compounds combined in food can often have synergistic effects. “That’s good news and worth ongoing consideration,” she says. “Because frankly, you wouldn’t eat turmeric as a meal alone.”
If nothing else, Bazilian adds, cooking with herbs and spices is a great way to make healthy food taste better—without excess salt, sugar, or fat.
Registered dietitian Cynthia Sass says she’ll also continue recommending turmeric to her clients. Curcumin’s absorption problem has been known for some time, she says, but it doesn’t rule out the spice’s health benefits. “One practical tip is to pair turmeric with black pepper,” says Sass. “A natural substance in the latter spice helps boost turmeric’s absorption from the digestive system into the bloodstream.”
And while she’d like to see double-blind studies on curcumin in the future, she says the compound still holds a lot of promise. Just don’t overdo it: high quantities have been linked to acid reflux, low blood sugar, and other unwanted side effects.
Walters and his co-authors agree that people shouldn’t stop eating turmeric, and that research on the spice should continue. In fact, they suggest that future studies should take a more holistic approach—looking at turmeric as a whole spice, or a component of entire meals—to account for all of its potential compounds.
“Turmeric is certainly not going to hurt you, and there may be something else in there that’s biologically active,” he says. “All we know right now is that curcumin itself is not the panacea that people think it is.”
Posted: 12 Jan 2017 01:06 PM PST
Sushi restaurants in Los Angeles mislabel the type of fish in their products nearly half of the time, according to the latest research to show fraud in marketing of food products.
Researchers behind the study, published in the journal Conservation Biology, tested the DNA of fish at 26 Los Angeles sushi restaurants between 2012 and 2015 and found that 47% of sushi was mislabeled.
Some types of fish were mislabeled more than others. Tuna, for instance, was never mislabeled and salmon was labeled correctly 90% of the time. Red snapper and halibut on the other hand were never labeled accurately in the samples collected.
Read More: The Growing Fight Against Food Fraud
Some of the mislabeling may be accidental but much of it was likely done intentionally to save money by providing customers with a cheaper type of fish than they thought they were buying, says study author Paul Barber, a UCLA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. Barber notes that restaurants may be buying mislabeled fish rather than doing the mislabeling themselves.
“If we don’t have accurate information on what we’re buying, we can’t make informed choices,” Barber said. “The amount of mislabeling is so high and consistent, one has to think that even the restaurants are being duped.”
Regulations that went into effect earlier this month provide for monitoring of the seafood industry to the annoyance of the industry. Food fraud more broadly has drawn increased attention in recent years as fraudulent products have resulted in health problems and even death.
Posted: 12 Jan 2017 11:29 AM PST
Pinterest and Instagram are full of recipes that use snow—things like snow cones, slushy cocktails, and DIY ice cream. And while frozen margaritas sure sound like an ideal way to make the best of a blizzard, is it even safe to consume those freshly fallen flakes?
The scientific answer: Maybe.
Snowflakes are born high up in the atmosphere when water vapor condenses and forms ice crystals around microscopic dust or pollen. By the time the flakes hit the ground, they’ve absorbed lots of other droplets and accumulated many more crystals—and what they contain is pretty disgusting. “Most atmospheric water and precipitation contains traces of gaseous and particulate contaminants,” explains Parisa A. Ariya, Ph.D., chair of the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at McGill University. Ariya coauthored a recent study that found snow absorbs toxic organic compounds in vehicle exhaust.
As gross as all that seems, it’s important to consider how much contamination we’re actually talking about—and how much is too much.
“It is well known amongst snow chemists that fresh Arctic snow goes very well with 15-year-old single malt whisky,” joked John Pomeroy, PhD, a water-resource and climate-change researcher at the University of Saskatchewan, in an interview with NPR last year.
In other words, if you don’t live in an urban area with pollution and a lot of vehicle traffic, then eating snow is probably fine, says Ariya. “I give snow to my children in remote Canadian sites even just outside the city,” she explains. “You should recognize that there is dilution of pollution from the emission source.”
Even if you live in a less-populated area, you still need to be careful about the snow you scoop up. We all know to steer clear of (cough) yellow snow; you should also avoid pink or “watermelon” snow as well. It owes its rosy hue to algae that live in melting snow, and those algae can have a laxative effect. Additionally, skip windblown (or “driven”) snow, which mixes with dirt and other ground-level contaminants. Plowed snow is another “don’t”—it often contains sand and picked up from the road.
Long story short: In some cases, you’re better off using a shaved-ice machine to make dessert or your next cocktail. Don’t worry: Your Instagram followers will love those treats, too.
Posted: 12 Jan 2017 11:01 AM PST
They’re popular, but wearable devices that track exercise or sleep are not always the most accurate predictors of health. Still, researchers see them as promising tools, and in a new study from Stanford University School of Medicine, they found that wearables can potentially let us know when we’re getting sick.
By equipping 60 people with several activity monitors—most people got a Basis smartwatch—the researchers collected close to 2 billion measurements, including heart rate, sleep, fitness, weight, skin temperature and blood oxygen levels. Using this information, they showed it is possible to identify abnormal changes in a person’s typical vital signs, which could signal a change in their health. The findings were published in the journal PLOS Biology.
Study author Michael Snyder, professor and chair of genetics at Stanford, learned that he was getting sick from the feedback he was getting from his own wearable devices. When he was flying to Norway for vacation, Snyder—who was wearing seven biosensors—noticed abnormal changes in his heart rate and blood oxygen levels. When his levels didn’t return to normal, he thought something might be wrong. He soon came down with a fever and was eventually diagnosed with Lyme disease.
“The doctor I visited in Norway was certainly surprised I was following myself that closely,” says Snyder. “I see a world where everyone is wearing these and your smartphone is like your car dashboard: lights go off when things are not quite right, like elevated heart rate or skin temperature.”
The researchers also found that when people had higher heart rates and skin temperatures, they also tended to have higher levels of C-reactive protein in their blood, a marker for inflammation. This can sometimes indicate the presence of disease. If wearables could determine baseline levels for certain health markers, algorithms could be designed to pick up on changes from that baseline—all information that could help reach a diagnosis, the study suggests.
With a few other measurements, algorithms may also be able to predict whether a person is likely to be insulin resistant, which is a precursor for diabetes, the researchers show.
Wearables don’t alert people to meaningful changes in their health yet, but they may in the future. “I see this information getting relayed straight to your doctor’s office,” says Snyder. “Right now, a physician sees you for 15 minutes and takes these measurements in less than a minute—usually when you are anxious, so they are not very accurate.”
If instead a physician could look at how a person’s stats changed over the past few weeks or months, they may be better able to identify any red flags and provide more tailored care.
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