Category Archives: Health

Want to live longer? Just eat those hot peppers


As a child growing up in a small Kansas farm town, our died consisted in large part of something we came to call holy food, because mom boiled the hell out of all the vegetables, reducing everything from cauliflower to green beans to something of the consistency of mush.

As for spices, almost none was used, save for small sprinkles of salt and black pepper.

But then we discovered Mexican food, comestibles with real flavor, and a love of piquant spices ensued, the more eye-watering the better, leading our mother to conclude humorously that we must’ve been switched at birth.

But now a new study [open access] confirms that our love of the hot pepper has some real real value [emphasis added]:

In this large prospective study, we observed an inverse relationship between hot red chili pepper consumption and all-cause mortality, after adjusting for potential confounders. Adults who consumed hot red chili peppers had a 13% lower hazard of death, compared to those who did not.

More from the University of Vermont:

Like spicy food? If so, you might live longer, say researchers at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, who found that consumption of hot red chili peppers is associated with a 13 percent reduction in total mortality – primarily in deaths due to heart disease or stroke – in a large prospective study.

The study was published recently in PLoS ONE.

Going back for centuries, peppers and spices have been thought to be beneficial in the treatment of diseases, but only one other study – conducted in China and published in 2015 – has previously examined chili pepper consumption and its association with mortality. This new study corroborates the earlier study’s findings.

Using National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) III data collected from more than 16,000 Americans who were followed for up to 23 years, medical student Mustafa Chopan ’17 and Henry and Carleen Tufo Professor of Medicine Benjamin Littenberg, M.D., examined the baseline characteristics of the participants according to hot red chili pepper consumption. They found that consumers of hot red chili peppers tended to be “younger, male, white, Mexican-American, married, and to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and consume more vegetables and meats . . .  had lower HDL-cholesterol, lower income, and less education,” in comparison to participants who did not consume red chili peppers. They examined data from a median follow-up of 18.9 years and observed the number of deaths and then analyzed specific causes of death.

“Although the mechanism by which peppers could delay mortality is far from certain, Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels, which are primary receptors for pungent agents such as capsaicin (the principal component in chili peppers), may in part be responsible for the observed relationship,” say the study authors. There are some possible explanations for red chili peppers’ health benefits, state Chopan and Littenberg in the study. Among them are the fact that capsaicin is believed to play a role in cellular and molecular mechanisms that prevent obesity and modulate coronary blood flow, and also possesses antimicrobial properties that “may indirectly affect the host by altering the gut microbiota.”

“Because our study adds to the generalizability of previous findings, chili pepper – or even spicy food – consumption may become a dietary recommendation and/or fuel further research in the form of clinical trials,” says Chopan.

Healthcare plan deductibles hit chronically ill


The current healthcare regime doesn’t look so grand either, when seen from the perspective of those of hit hit by lingering maladies.

We are in that number, afflicted by rheumatoid arthritis, a heart attack [maybe two], cancer surgery and its lingering health effects [multiple], and another condition or two [the list of long-term ailments on our healthcare record actually totals nine].

So we can couch for the accuracy of the new report

From the University of Michigan Medical School:

For tens of millions of Americans, the start of a new year means the counter has gone back to zero on their health insurance deductible. If they need health care, they’ll pay for some of it out of their own pockets before their insurance takes over.

As insurance plans with deductibles grow in popularity, a new study takes a national look at what those plans mean for people with common chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, joint problems and heart disease.

The short answer: Those who choose plans with a deductible and have such conditions should be prepared to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars of their own money on their care, beyond what they spend to buy the insurance plan in the first place.

The results, reported in JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers from the VA Ann Arbor Health Care System, University of Michigan Medical School, and Penn State University, especially show the impact of high-deductible health plans – which now cover 40 percent of Americans who buy their own health insurance or get it through an employer.

Using data from a national survey of Americans under age 65, the researchers find that having a high-deductible plan makes it more likely that health-related costs will take up more than 10 percent of a chronically ill person’s total income. They also find huge variation between patients who have the same condition in the amount of out-of-pocket spending they had, even for those in low-deductible plans.

Despite these out-of-pocket costs, the study finds that few people with chronic illnesses said that costs or insurance coverage issues had gotten in the way of getting the care or prescriptions they needed.

“Increasingly, these plans have become woven into fabric of health insurance in America, so it’s important to look at the impact of deductibles on people who need care on an ongoing basis,” says senior author Jeffrey Kullgren, M.D., M.S., M.P.H., a research scientist in the VA Center for Clinical Management Research of the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and an assistant professor of general medicine at the U-M Medical School. “Not only on how they spend their money on care for their day in, day out health needs, but also how that affects spending in the rest of their lives.”

Changes to the insurance market

The findings are based on data from 2011 through 2013, during a time when many more employers started offering high-deductible health plans.

It was also before individuals who needed to buy their own insurance could do so on the Healthcare.gov Marketplace. Since the launch of the Marketplace, more than 90 percent of people shopping there have chosen high-deductible plans.

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Headline of the day: Hang on to your hats, folks


From the New York Times:

18 Million May Lose Insurance After Repeal, Study Finds

  • The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that repealing major provisions of the Affordable Care Act would cost 18 million people their insurance in the first year.
  • The number of uninsured Americans would increase to 32 million in 10 years, while causing insurance premiums to double over that time.

From the study, a report on investigations by the Congressional Budget Office [CBO] and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation [JCT]:

Estimated Changes Before the Elimination of the Medicaid Expansion and Subsidies

Following enactment but before the Medicaid expansion and subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces were eliminated, the effects of H.R. 3762 on insurance coverage and premiums would stem primarily from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate.

Effects on Insurance Coverage. CBO and JCT expect that the number of people without health insurance coverage would increase upon enactment of H.R. 3762 but that the increase would be limited initially, because insurers would have already set their premiums for the current year, and many people would have already made their enrollment decisions for the year. Subsequently, in the first full plan year following enactment, by CBO and JCT’s estimates, about 18 million people would become uninsured. That increase in the uninsured population would consist of about 10 million fewer people with coverage obtained in the nongroup market, roughly 5 million fewer people with coverage under Medicaid, and about 3 million fewer people with employment-based coverage.

Most of those reductions in coverage would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. However, CBO and JCT also expect that insurers in some areas would leave the nongroup market in the first new plan year following enactment. They would be leaving in anticipation of further reductions in enrollment and higher average health care costs among enrollees who remained after the subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces were eliminated. As a consequence, roughly 10 percent of the population would be living in an area that had no insurer participating in the nongroup market.

Effects on Premiums. According to CBO and JCT’s analysis, premiums in the nongroup market would be roughly 20 percent to 25 percent higher than under current law once insurers incorporated the effects of H.R. 3762’s changes into their premium pricing in the first new plan year after enactment. The majority of that increase would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. Doing so would both reduce the number of people purchasing health insurance and change the mix of people with insurance—tending to cause smaller reductions in coverage among older and less healthy people with high health care costs and larger reductions among younger and healthier people with low health care costs. Thus, average health care costs among the people retaining coverage would be higher, and insurers would have to raise premiums in the nongroup market to cover those higher costs. Lower participation by insurers in the nongroup market would place further upward pressure on premiums because the market would be less competitive.

Estimated Changes After the Elimination of the Medicaid Expansion and Subsidies

The bill’s effects on insurance coverage and premiums would be greater once the repeal of the Medicaid expansion and the subsidies for insurance purchased through the marketplaces took effect, roughly two years after enactment.

Effects on Insurance Coverage. By CBO and JCT’s estimates, enacting H.R. 3762 would increase the number of people without health insurance coverage by about 27 million in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies and by 32 million in 2026, relative to the number of uninsured people expected under current law. (The number of people without health insurance would be smaller if, in addition to the changes in H.R. 3762, the insurance market reforms mentioned above were also repealed. In that case, the increase in the number of uninsured people would be about 21 million in the year following the elimination of the Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies; that figure would rise to about 23 million in 2026.)

The estimated increase of 32 million people without coverage in 2026 is the net result of roughly 23 million fewer with coverage in the nongroup market and 19 million fewer with coverage under Medicaid, partially offset by an increase of about 11 million people covered by employment-based insurance. By CBO and JCT’s estimates, 59 million people under age 65 would be uninsured in 2026 (compared with 28 million under current law), representing 21 percent of people under age 65. By 2026, fewer than 2 million people would be enrolled in the nongroup market, CBO and JCT estimate.

According to the agencies’ analysis, eliminating the mandate penalties and the subsidies while retaining the market reforms would destabilize the nongroup market, and the effect would worsen over time. The

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Nicotine-based pesticides, bees, and the deniers


Nicotine, as we all know by now, is a powerful poison.

blog-black-leafSo powerful that on 22 November 1963 [yes, that day] the Central Intelligence Agency once sent an agent to kill Fidel Castro with a syringe disguised as a fountain pen and filled  Black Leaf 40, a powerful nicotine-based insecticide that our father used the stuff to kill mites on his roses.

Black Leaf 40 is no longer with us, following a 1992 ban on its use by the Environmental Protection Agency — you know, the department Trump wanted to eliminate — because of its widespread long-term environmental hazards as well as it’s propensity to poison people.

But the ban on Black Leaf 40 didn’t stop the widespread current use of nicotine-based insecticides, using nicotine-based chemicals called neonicotinoids.

How widespread is their use here in the U.S.?

Consider this chart from How Neonicotinoids Can Kill Bees — The Science Behind the Role These Insecticides Play in Harming Bees, a very informative new report from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation:

Estimated Annual Agricultural Use of Neonicotinoids in the United States: 1994–2014

Estimated Annual Agricultural Use of Neonicotinoids in the United States: 1994–2014

More from the report’s Executive Summary:

Neonicotinoids have been adopted for use on an extensive variety of farm crops as well as ornamental landscape plants. They are the most widely used group of insecticides in the world, and have been for a decade. Developed as alternatives for organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, neonicotinoids are compounds that affect the nervous system of insects, humans, and other animals. Although less acutely toxic to mammals and other vertebrates than older insecticides, neonicotinoids are highly toxic in small quantities to many invertebrates, including beneficial insects such as bees.

The impact of this class of insecticides on pollinating insects such as honey bees and native bees is a cause for concern. Because they are systemic chemicals absorbed into the plant, neonicotinoids can be present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to pollinators that feed on them. The potentially long-lasting presence of neonicotinoids in plants, although useful from a pest management standpoint, makes it possible for these chemicals to harm pollinators even when the initial application is made weeks before the bloom period. In addition, depending on the compound, rate, and method of application, neonicotinoids can persist in the soil and be continually taken in by plants for a very long periods of time.

Across Europe and North America, a possible link to honey bee die-offs has made neonicotinoids controversial. In December 2013, the European Union significantly limited the use of clothianidin, imiadcloprid, and thiamethoxam on bee-attractive crops. In the United States, Canada, and elsewhere, local, state, and federal decision makers are also taking steps to protect pollinators from neonicotinoids. For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service phased out all uses of neonicotinoids on National Wildlife Refuges lands starting in January 2016.

The European Union has banned the used of three neonicotinoids —  clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid — and restricted the use of a fourth, fipronil.

Given that bees are responsible for pollinating much of the food we eat, impacts on apians is a cause for deep concern.

A Colorado city bans nicotine-derivative insecticides

More on the good reasons for concern, as summarized in the following, taken from  Boulder, Colorado city government website section on protecting pollinators:

One group of pesticides, the neonicotinoid insecticides (also called neonics), stand out as a major contributing factor to the catastrophic loss of bees and other animals. Neonicotinoid insecticides are extremely toxic to pollinators at very low doses. They are absorbed and taken up by the plant, ending up in all plant tissues, including the nectar and pollen collected by pollinators and the seeds, fruits, and leaves eaten by other animals. These products are often applied as soil treatments in the form of granules or drenches, where they can persist for many years and continue to contaminate plants, kill earthworms and other important beneficial soil organisms, and run off into surface water where they can kill aquatic invertebrates. An  analysis by a consortium of independent scientists from around the globe reviewed more than 800 peer-reviewed studies and concluded that neonicotinoid insecticides pose a significant risk to the world’s pollinators, worms, birds and other animals and that immediate action is needed. Studies conclude that pesticide application rates that regulatory agencies consider protective to the environment actually harm aquatic organisms found in surface waters (dragonflies mayflies, snails and other animals that form the base of the food chain and a healthy, clean watershed) and build up in soils to levels that can kill soil organisms.

The city was so concerned that in May 2015, the city banned use of the chemicals on city land and urged similar actions by individuals, corporations, and state and federal government as well.

Canada to ban a popular neonicotnoid

One of the most widely used neonicitinoids in imidacloprid, and back in November CBC News reported that the Canadian government’s health agency is proposing a nationwide band on the substance based on its impacts on bees:

“Based on currently available information, the continued high-volume use of imidacloprid in agricultural areas is not sustainable,” the assessment states.

It proposes phasing out all agricultural uses of imidacloprid, and a majority of other uses, over the next three to five years.

“I’m really surprised,” said Mark Winston, a professor of apiculture at Simon Fraser University and senior fellow at the university’s Centre for Dialogue.

“To take an action to phase out a chemical that is so ubiquitous, and for which there is so much lobbying pressure from industry, I think that’s a really bold move.”

After the jump, impacts from use on one crop, the industry denial machine, and bee behavioral impacts. . . Continue reading

Map of the day: U.S. poor hit as water bills soar


Census tracts where water rates are endangering the poor, From PLOS One.

Census tracts where water rates are endangering the poor, From PLOS One.

While lead-tainted water in some of America’s poorest neighborhoods has garnered a lot of attention in recent months, another water water is plaguing the nation’s poor: Soaring home water bills.

The problem is a direct result of the ruthless waves of government downsizing and privatization of public resources, and it’s bound to get much worse as cash-strapped cities finding themselves unable to repair aging infrastructure.

Consider this from the abstract of a sobering review in the open access scientific journal PLOS One:

If water rates rise at projected amounts over the next five years, conservative projections estimate that the percentage of U.S. households who will find water bills unaffordable could triple from 11.9% to 35.6%. This is a concern due to the cascading economic impacts associated with widespread affordability issues; these issues mean that utility providers could have fewer customers over which to spread the large fixed costs of water service. Unaffordable water bills also impact customers for whom water services are affordable via higher water rates to recover the costs of services that go unpaid by lower income households.

More on the study from Michigan State University:

If water rates continue rising at projected amounts, the number of U.S. households unable to afford water could triple in five years, to nearly 36 percent, finds new research by a Michigan State University scholar.

Elizabeth Mack said a variety of factors, ranging from aging infrastructure to climate change to population decline in urban areas, are making residents’ ability to afford water and wastewater services a burgeoning crisis.

Funded by the National Science Foundation and published online in the journal PLOS ONE, her study is one of the first nationwide investigations of water affordability.

“In cities across the United States, water affordability is becoming an increasingly critical issue,” said Mack, an assistant geography professor who analyzed water consumption, pricing and demographic and socioeconomic data for the study.

Spending on water and wastewater services combined should make up no more than 4.5 percent of household income, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends. Based on that criteria, some 13.8 million U.S. households (or 11.9 percent of all households) may find water bills unaffordable – a hardship that hits poor families particularly hard, Mack said.

Water rates have increased 41 percent since 2010, and if they continue at that pace over the next five years the number of households that cannot afford water and wastewater services could soar to an estimated 40.9 million, or 35.6 percent of all households.

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Advertising works when it comes to kids drinking


Back when esnl was a kid, hard liquor advertisements simply didn’t appear on television, though beer ads were prominent in the evenings and hard liquor ads were featured in adult general interest magazines.

The reason was simple: Alcohol [at least in the forms that didn’t come in cans] was a drug and children shouldn’t be exposed to enticements to use the stuff.

But the old rule has been breached, and ads for whiskey, vodka, and tequila are now prominent on the television screen alongside those beer ads, thanks to millions of lobbying dollars and boozy dinners with regulators and legislators.

But a new review [open access] of studies of the impact of alcohol ads on children confirms that rationale, as reported in the article’s abstract:

Twelve studies (ranging in duration from 9 months to 8 years), following nine unique cohorts not reported on previously involving 35 219 participants from Europe, Asia and North America, met inclusion criteria. All 12 found evidence of a positive association between level of marketing exposure and level of youth alcohol consumption. Some found significant associations between youth exposure to alcohol marketing and initiation of alcohol use (odds ratios ranging from 1.00 to 1.69), and there were clear associations between exposure and subsequent binge or hazardous drinking (odds ratios ranging from 1.38 to 2.15). Mediators included marketing receptivity, brand recognition and alcohol expectancies. Levels of marketing exposure among younger adolescents were similar to those found among older adolescents and young adults.

More on the study and its findings from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

A new analysis of 12 long-term studies published since 2008 from across the globe finds that young people under the legal drinking age who are more exposed to alcohol marketing appear more likely to start drinking early and also to engage in binge drinking.

A 2008 analysis established a link between exposure to alcohol marketing and drinking behavior in young people. This new systematic review — the first in nearly a decade — identifies 12 additional studies, broadening and strengthening the science in this area. All of the new studies found an association between level of marketing exposure and youth drinking behavior and found that exposure to ads was even more strongly associated with progression to binge drinking than with initiation of alcohol use.

The research was led by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and published in a special issue of the journal Addiction focused entirely on alcohol marketing and public health.

“This latest review of the scientific literature adds stronger evidence to the claim that exposure to alcohol marketing among youth is linked to more underage youth drinking and, in particular, binge drinking,” says study leader David Jernigan, PhD, the director of CAMY and an associate professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Bloomberg School. “Studies are documenting this exposure, which includes marketing and ads on television, the internet and social media, as well as on the radio, in magazines and at sporting and other events.”

Binge drinking, defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as consuming four or more drinks within two hours for women and five or more drinks for men, is associated with a long list of negative public health consequences, including sexual assaults, violence, attempted suicide and illicit drug use.

Alcohol is the leading cause of death and disability for males ages 15 to 24 in nearly every region of the world, and females of the same age in the wealthy countries and the Americas. In the United States, excessive alcohol use is responsible for an average of 4,350 deaths every year among people under the legal drinking age of 21.

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Trumplandia ™ surrealism: She said/he said


Merle Streep, an actress who has received three Oscars, nine Golden Globes, and so many other honors for her acting prowess that it would be impossible to list them all in the modest space we have, won the Cecil B. DeMille Award [basically a lifetime achievement honor] at last night’s Golden Globes ceremony.

And she used the occasion to make a memorable speech, an indictment of President-elect Donald John Trump.

Here it is:


Needless to say, President Pussybrgrabber [already inaugurated to that position], did what he always does,

He tweeted his response this morning [and we’ve added a bonus tweet at the end]:

blog-trump-tweets
So is he lying?

Well, consider the reason Trump had to discredit New York Times reporter Serge F. Kovaleski.

Back in November 2015, Trump said “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”

But that was a lie. Police in New Jersey did disperse a few small rallies, none involving more than 20 to 30 people. Hardly the “thousands and thousands” Trump claimed.

Kovaleski, a reporter for the Washington Post back in 2001, wrote an article for that paper four days after the 9/11 attack, which included this paragraph:

In Jersey City, within hours of two jetliners’ plowing into the World Trade Center, law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.

What drew Trump’s ire was Kovaleski’s daring to question the “thousands and thousands” claim, and Trump claimed that Kovaleski has been forced to retract his original report — a lie.

Here’s a 25 November 2015 clip of the mocking which had drawn Streep’s outrage, via CNN:

Trump mocks reporter with disability

And here’s how the Washington Post reported on 2 August 2016 of Littlefingers’ denial that he mad mocked their former reporter:

Trump now suggests he was just imitating a grovel, but that’s not what he was actually doing.

Instead, Trump is clearly imitating Kovaleski’s disability — the reporter has arthrogryposis, which visibly limits the functioning of his joints. Trump claims he did not know Kovaleski, but the reporter closely covered Trump’s troubled business dealings while he was a reporter for the N.Y. Daily News between 1987 and 1993.

“Donald and I were on a first-name basis for years,” Kovaleski told the Times in November. “I’ve interviewed him in his office,” he added. “I’ve talked to him at press conferences. All in all, I would say around a dozen times, I’ve interacted with him as a reporter while I was at The Daily News.” In particular, Kovaleski covered the launch of the Trump Shuttle, spending the day with Trump in 1989 when the airline launched with typical Trump brashness. (Within a year, Trump had to unload the debt-burdened airline because of a cash crunch in his business interests.)

{Trump tweeted umbrage in response.] “All of a sudden, I get reports that I was imitating a reporter who was handicapped. I would never do that.”

Actually, he clearly did, protestations notwithstanding.

A poll and a personal aside

Clearly, Trump is furious, not for his own gross insensitivity, but for the fact that the news media reported on it.

And a week after the August denial, Bloomberg pollsters asked voters what bothered them most about Littlefingers:

More than six in 10 say they are bothered a lot that Trump mocked a reporter’s physical disability, the highest level of displeasure among the issues challenging Trump that were tested.

In the interest of fairness, we should note that we ourselves are afflicted with a malady that has deformed our hands and arms and afflicted joints in the hips and feet, rheumatoid arthritis.

You can judge the effects from this snap of our right hand, in which we tried to hold our fingers straight [they’re normal length; it’s just the best show we could get shooting left-handed]:

blog-hand

In decades of reporting since the malady’s symptoms had become evident, only a few interview subjects commented on it, invariably with sympathetic remarks.

And a parting thought

Say, doesn’t the Constitution require the President to be at least 35 years of age?

Judging by his words and actions, the President-elect can’t be more than 10.