The Coronavirus outbreak has affected virtually everyone on earth in some way or another, redefining social interaction, work productivity and our capacity to enjoy something as simple as the outdoors. With nationwide lockdown expected to go on for some time in countries inflicted severely by the outbreak, such as the UK and US, many people are looking at their governments and public health organisations as a source of complete truth and accountability.
Whilst research into the relationship of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 has been somewhat cloudy and inconclusive, the real facts and evidence on the virus are constantly being discovered and debated. Scientists and health professionals all over the globe are working across the clock to not just try and find a vaccine but to explore the intricate details of the virus and why it has become so deadly. Whilst this has been resoundingly applauded across society, the release of findings, guidelines and stance of governments have been an embarrassing mismatch of contradictory information.
We examine some of the claims voiced by experts and government officials regarding COVID-19 over the course of the last few months, whilst shedding light on certain lifestyle choices which could impact contracting the virus.
Clear As Mud
Let’s rewind back to the start of the year, when regular routine was operated across the globe, except in China where a newfound virus threatened to damage normality in all senses. With news bulletins partially mentioning the outbreak of this unknown virus, government officials played down the prospect of it having a catastrophic effect.
Whilst the initial hypothesis that this disease affects older people far greater than younger age groups, there’s no denying that governments miscommunication on the severity of the virus on all age groups has potentially costs thousands of lives.
Furthermore, isolation and social distancing guidelines have become an increasingly contentious and confusing issue. In the UK under the sanctioned lockdown, citizens are required to self-isolate except to:
Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home).
If you go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times.
Despite the resounding nature of these measures, the clarity of rhetoric used can be construed in many ways. For example, it’s stressed that a person can go out to exercise once daily alone or with members of their household, but no time measures are attached. This essentially means under law, a person or family could stay outside for as long as they wish over a 24 hour period as long as they’re staying active.
As well as this, the fact that most unessential businesses have been forced to close highlights the seriousness of the situation, however construction workers are deemed to be key workers and obviously cannot conduct their work from home in the majority of circumstances. This has led many labourers having to go to work to make ends meet, whilst the 2m social distancing measure implied is nigh on impossible for many who have to work in close proximity. This complete lack of disregard for a huge sector of the economy has again put thousands of people at risk of contracting the virus.
Up In Smoke
Whilst governments and public health officials have been inconsistent in their approach to tackling the pandemic, in regards to smokers (who make up over 1 billion worldwide), the message has been resoundingly clear.
The WHO states, ‘Smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips which increases the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth. Smokers may also already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity which would greatly increase risk of serious illness.’
It’s also highly evidenced that smoking causes the immune system to weaken, whilst the fact that Coronavirus is a respiratory disease clearly highlights that smoking can have huge effects on those who have contracted the virus or developed symptoms.
This resonant assertion whilst respected, doesn’t cover the borderline product of e-cigarettes. Vaping is seen by many, including PHE, NHS, Cancer Research and The British Lung Foundation as a viable harm-reducing alternative to nicotine consumption. Yet many believe vaping could transmit COVID-19, especially through vape clouds.
In line with this, Leading academic Physician and Professor of Medicine at the University of California, Dr Neal Benowitz states,” It is my understanding that exhaled e-cigarette vapor consists of very small particles of water, propylene glycol and glycerin and flavor chemicals, not droplets of saliva. The vaping aerosol evaporates very quickly, while particles that are emitted when coughing or sneezing are large particles that persist in the air for a relatively long period of time. Thus, I would not think that vapers present any risk of spreading COVID-19, unless they are coughing when they exhale the vapor.”
Whilst vaping is only recommended for smokers looking to make the switch over, now could be the ideal time for those who smoke cigarettes to change over their habit. Vape Club’s dedicated guide section provides an extensive knowledge on all aspects of vaping for those unsure of the harm-reducing benefits when compared to tobacco.
Of course, many of us can feel like we’re left out in the cold with all of the differing opinions and claims floating around. It’s essential to be able to use common sense in the majority of social situations, with a large proportion of the population across the world adhering to guidelines and ultimately taking pressure of health services.
Wine, glorious wine. From a cold, crisp glass of white on a sunny day to a hearty red by the fire in winter, this is the connoisseur’s tipple of choice. The only trouble is, although many people enjoy the complex flavors and aromas that this grape-based beverage boasts, enthusiasts often feel guilty when they pop a cork and pour themselves a glass. After all, everyone knows the health risks associated with consuming too much alcohol.
However, when drunk in moderation, wine can in fact be good for people. So, next time you reach for your favorite bottle or take advantage of the impressive wine deals now available, you needn’t feel bad!
Warding Off Dementia
Everyone knows that too much booze can result in short-term memory loss. However, when consumed sensibly, it seems wine can actually have the opposite effect and preserve people’s memories. A team from Loyola University Medical Center analyzed data from scientific papers on red wine since 1977. They found a statistically significantly lower risk of dementia among regular, moderate red wine drinkers in 14 of 19 countries.
According to those behind the research, the resveratrol in wine keeps blood vessels open and flexible since it reduces the stickiness of blood platelets. As a result, this maintains a good supply of blood to the brain.
Boosting the Immune System
We all want to avoid getting sick and, who knows, maybe there are some of us out there that want to live forever. Wine can’t help us with the latter, but it can certainly lend a hand with the former. A British study found that people who drink roughly one glass of wine per day reduced their risk of infection by Helicobacter pylori bacteria by 11%. This nasty little bacterium is a major cause of stomach ulcers, gastritis, and stomach cancer. Meanwhile, Spanish research has uncovered as little as half a glass to help to protect people from food poisoning caused by bacteria such as salmonella.
Building the Bones
Then there are the benefits for the bones. According to research, on average, women who drink moderately have a higher bone mass than non-drinkers. This may be because alcohol appears to boost estrogen levels, this hormone slowing the body’s destruction of old bone more than it slows the production of new bone.
Keeping Diabetes at Bay
Diabetes is becoming increasingly common in developed countries. However, experts have discovered that resveratrol (there it is again!) improves people’s sensitivity to insulin, thus lowering their risk of developing this blood sugar problem. Meanwhile, a ten-year study conducted by a team at Harvard Medical School discovered that premenopausal women who drink one or two glasses of wine a day are 40% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than women who don’t drink.
Now that you can feel that bit better about sipping a glass of your favorite wine, you might be looking for some healthy foods that go perfectly with the beverage. Red wine is a great accompaniment to a range of meals, including wholesome soups and stews. A light red, such as a pinot noir, works superbly with fish.
If you fancy something sweet, why not enjoy red wine with dark chocolate? This tasty treat is also known to have various health benefits.
Stronger bones, a more robust immune system and a mind that can stand up to the threat of dementia … just some of the wonders that a glass or two of wine can work. Then there’s the fact that it can decrease your exposure to potential diabetes. Maybe instead of an apple a day, it will be a glass of wine that keeps the doctor away!
Fiona Griffin is a wine connoisseur who loves a drop of merlot. Along with her glasses of wine, she likes to enjoy the crime fiction of Lynda La Plante.
British scientists have discovered how allergic reactions to cats are triggered, raising hopes of preventative medicine.
A University of Cambridge team has identified how the body’s immune system detects cat allergen, leading to symptoms such as coughing and sneezing.
New treatments to block this pathway raise hopes of developing medicines to protect sufferers, they say.
British scientists have discovered how allergic reactions to cats are triggered, raising hopes of preventative medicine
Researchers led by Dr. Clare Bryant of the University of Cambridge studied proteins found in particles of cat skin, known as cat dander, which is the most common cause of cat allergy.
They found that cat allergen activates a specific pathway in the body, once in the presence of a common bacterial toxin.
This triggers a large immune response in allergy sufferers, causing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, sneezing and a runny nose.
Dr. Clare Bryant said: “We’ve discovered how the cat allergy proteins activate the host immune cells.
“By understanding the triggering mechanism, there are now drugs that have been designed that are in clinical trials for other conditions, such as sepsis, that could potentially then be used in a different way to treat cat allergy and to prevent cat allergy.”
Allergic reactions happen when the immune system overreacts to a perceived danger.
Instead of responding to a harmful virus or bacteria, it misidentifies allergens, such as cat dander, and mounts an immune response.
The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council.
Vast numbers of cells that can attack cancer and HIV have been grown in the lab, and could potentially be used to fight disease.
The cells naturally occur in small numbers, but it is hoped injecting huge quantities back into a patient could turbo-charge the immune system.
The Japanese research is published in the journal Cell Stem Cell.
Experts said the results had exciting potential, but any therapy would need to be shown to be safe.
The researchers concentrated on a type of white blood cell known as a cytotoxic T-cell, which can recognize telltale markings of infection or cancer on the surfaces of cells. If a marking is recognized, it launches an attack.
Teams at the University of Tokyo and the Riken Research Centre for Allergy and Immunology used advances in stem cell technology to make more T-cells.
One group extracted T-cells which targeted a patient’s skin cancer. Another group did the same for HIV.
These T-cells were converted into stem cells, which could dramatically increase in number when grown in the laboratory. These were converted back into T-cells which should also have the ability to target the cancer or HIV.
The groups have proved only that they can make these cells, not that they can be safely put back into patients or that if would make a difference to their disease if they did.
Vast numbers of cells that can attack cancer and HIV have been grown in the lab, and could potentially be used to fight disease
Dr. Hiroshi Kawamoto, who worked on the cancer immune cells at Riken, said: “The next step will be to test whether these T-cells can selectively kill tumor cells, but not other cells in the body.
“If they do, these cells might be directly injected into patients for therapy. This could be realized in the not-so-distant future.”
Dr. Hiromitsu Nakauchi from the University of Tokyo said it was “unclear” whether this technique would help in treating HIV and that other infections and cancer may be a better place to start.
Experts in the field said the findings were encouraging.
Prof. Alan Clarke, the director of the European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute at Cardiff University, said: “This is a potentially very exciting development which extends our capacity to develop novel cell therapies.”
He said it was important that cells could be tailored for each patient so there would be no risk of rejection.
Other experts said the findings were still at an early stage, but were still very promising and represented a strong foundation for future research. However, Cancer Research UK said it was still too early to know if any therapy would be safe.
Prof. Sir John Burn, from the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Newcastle University, said: “This is a very appealing concept and the research team are to be congratulated on demonstrating the feasibility of expanding these killer cells.”
However he added: “Even if these T cells are effective, it could prove very challenging to produce large quantities safely and economically.
“Nevertheless, there is real promise of this becoming an alternative when conventional therapies have failed.”
The end of summer doesn’t only mark the end of sunshine, sunbathing and warm temperatures and thus the return of poor weather, but also a necessary change in everyone’s wardrobe. Gone are the days of shirt, top and skirt. Instead we should get ready to dress in coats and waterproof boots again and keep in mind not to forget an umbrella. Apart from dressing according to the bad weather there are some other important things one should keep in mind to prevent falling ill.
Balanced and healthy nutrition
Especially during the cold months of the year eating health conscious is important. The reasons are diverse: Firstly, eating fresh and healthy food can prevent people from becoming depressed and sad. Fats, fast food and ready-to-eat-meals on the other hand can amplify negative feelings. Secondly, vitamins are essential for strengthening the body’s immune system, which in autumn and winter is under constant attack from various viruses, and for supporting the nervous system. A very pleasant side-effect is that Vitamin C also protects and softens the skin. This directly leads to the next point.
Catering to the skin
Since wind, cold, rain and snow are threatening the skin during the cold season it is vital to protect it and give it some extra treatment. There are several products like BB cream available which do not only protect and nourish the skin but also cover impurities and reddened areas.
Getting some fresh air
Although it might be tempting to stay at home when it’s cold and wet outside, it is advisable to go out for a walk for at least 15 minutes per day. That way, the body gets used to the rougher climate and the immune system is strengthened. One should just make sure that the clothes are warm enough and one’s limbs are protected since most of the body heat is lost over the head, the arms and the feet. A cap, gloves and warm shoes are therefore mandatory to stay healthy.
Keep yourself warm
Keeping oneself warm doesn’t only have to do with one’s clothes. It is equally important to have the right temperature in one’s flat. However, one should pay attention that the air doesn’t become too warm and dry. Otherwise the risk of getting a cold once one goes outside rises. Taking a warm bath every now and then also helps to give body and mind time to relax.
Antioxidants enhance the immune system’s defense against the diseases caused by free radicals. They include Vitamins A, C and E and selenium, and we have been told they may help prevent cancer, heart disease and even such neurological conditions as Alzheimer’s.
Naturally occurring chemicals, antioxidants are found in fruits and juices, made into supplements, and even added to make-up.
But adding extra antioxidants to our diet gives no benefit. You can eat as many blueberries – or whatever the antioxidant-containing food du jour is – as you like and it won’t stop you getting these illnesses. And loading up with supplements may be bad for your health.
Some antioxidants are produced by the body and some by plants, and so they can be derived from the diet. Their job is to combat free radicals – highly reactive molecules formed as a natural by-product of cellular activity. Free radicals are also created by exposure to cigarette smoke, strong sunlight, and breathing in pollution.
These aggressive chemicals present a constant threat to cells and DNA. We know they can lead to cell damage, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Free radicals have also been implicated in everything from strokes to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Antioxidants stop the chain reactions triggered by free radicals that can damage and destroy cells. So it may seem entirely reasonable that it would be a good thing to eat and drink more antioxidants to boost the supply – or even rub them into your skin. But this is by no means the case.
You might have seen some antioxidant- containing products labeled with a number, usually in the thousands. This is the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) number.
It compares the antioxidant with a standard substance called trolox – itself an antioxidant. Cranberries, for example, have an ORAC level of 8,983, which is related to the number of molecules of trolox that would have the same antioxidant strength. Taken in isolation, the number is pretty meaningless, but it makes it possible to compare different foods. So theoretically, the higher the ORAC number, the better the food.
Although there is evidence that antioxidants may have an effect on cancers, much of it is based on experiments on free radicals in cells cultured outside the body, in labs
In reality, beyond a certain point, there is no benefit. In 2008, a study of nearly 15,000 men showed no benefits from Vitamin C and E supplements. There is no recommended daily amount of antioxidant consumption. And although there is evidence that antioxidants may have an effect on cancers, much of it is based on experiments on free radicals in cells cultured outside the body, in labs.
So if antioxidants are good for us, why doesn’t eating more of them have an even more beneficial effect? We know that people with poor diets are more prone to a host of diseases, and that those who eat a balanced diet with at least five fruits and vegetables a day, take exercise, and other very mundane things such as that, have the best chance of not becoming ill. But trials where people have consumed higher than usual levels of antioxidants by taking supplements have found that, if anything, they have a negative impact on health.
A Cochrane Review published last month, which looked at the results of hundreds of individual studies, found that current evidence does not support the use of antioxidant supplements in the general population or in patients with various diseases.
And when the review looked at the mortality rate over 78 randomized clinical trialsfor a range of conditions and using various antioxidants, those consuming antioxidants were 1.03 times more likely to die early.
Another clinical trial last month showed that antioxidant supplements don’t slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s. Two 1994 clinical studies showed a possible increase in lung cancer when taking antioxidants.
Almost all things are poisonous in large enough quantities – even water, though you would have to drink an awful lot to kill you. Similarly, the amounts of antioxidants found in foods are relatively small, so it would be difficult to overdose. Fruit has plenty of other benefits – vitamins that are crucial for healthy functioning and fibre for good digestion, but, like everything, you can consume too much. Excessive consumption may cause damage to the enamel of the teeth or stomach problems.
It is only the excessive consumption of antioxidants through unnecessary diet supplements that could cause any concern.
Using antioxidants on the skin, rather than eating them, may have benefits. Clinical trials have shown that they provide considerable protection against the formation of free radicals in the outer layers of skin when added to sunscreens.
How can we avoid cancer, heart disease, diabetes and the like? Don’t smoke, don’t drink to excess, eat a sensible, balanced diet, including a good mix of fruit and vegetables, and don’t get fat. It’s boring, but true. We know for a fact that the big killer diseases are caused by unhealthy lifestyles.
It would be lovely if eating blueberries or popcorn would somehow counteract a lifetime of abuse, but it’s just not going to happen. And no matter what you do, you can get ill anyway.
Stem cells given alongside a kidney transplant could remove the need for a lifetime anti-rejection treatment with immune-suppressing drugs, say scientists.
Early tests of stem cells injection alongside a kidney transplant at US hospitals were successful in a small number of patients.
According to the journal Science Translational Medicine, the majority no longer need anti-rejection medication.
Researchers said it could have a “major impact” on transplant science.
One of the key problems associated with organ transplantation is the risk that the body will “recognize” the new organ as a foreign invader and attack it.
To prevent this, patients take powerful drugs to suppress their immune systems, and will have to do this for life.
The drugs come at a price, preventing organ rejection but increasing the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and serious infection.
Stem cells given alongside a kidney transplant could remove the need for a lifetime anti-rejection treatment with immune-suppressing drugs
The study, carried out at the University of Louisville and the Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, involved eight patients.
Their transplant came from a live donor, who also underwent a procedure to draw stem cells, the building blocks of their immune system, from the blood.
The transplant recipient’s body was prepared using radiotherapy and chemotherapy to suppress their own immune system.
Then the transplant went ahead, with the stem cells put into their body a couple of days later.
The idea is that these will help generate a modified immune system that no longer attacks the organ or its new owner.
Although the patients started off with the same anti-rejection drugs, the aim was to reduce these slowly, hopefully withdrawing them completely over time.
Five out of the eight patients involved in the trial managed to do this within a year.
One of those is 47-year-old Lindsay Porter, from Chicago.
Lindsay Porter said: “I hear about the challenges recipients have to face with their medications and it is significant.
“It’s almost surreal when I think about it because I feel so healthy and normal.”
Dr. Joseph Leventhal, associate professor of surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said: “The preliminary results from this ongoing study are exciting and may have a major impact on organ transplantation in the future.”
He said that, as well as kidney patients, the technique might improve the lives of those receiving other organs.
While stem cells from organ donors have been used before, this is the first time it has been used for “mismatched” transplants, in which donors and recipients do not have to be related and immunologically similar.
A research team found that some bacteria can evade efforts to vaccinate against them by wearing a new disguise.
The study, published in Nature Genetics, tracked how pneumococcus bacteria responded to the introduction of a vaccine in the US in 2000.
Specialists said the evasion would make some vaccines less successful in the long term.
An updated pneumococcus vaccine is already in use.
A research team found that some bacteria can evade efforts to vaccinate against them by wearing a new disguise
Vaccines train the immune system to attack something unique to an infection. In the case of tetanus, it results in the body making antibodies which target the toxin produced.
Dr. Rory Bowden, one of the researchers from the University of Oxford, said: “There are plenty of vaccines out there that look stable and continue to work because they target bacteria or viruses that are not changing.”
Pneumococcus bacteria, however, comes in more than 90 varieties or serotypes. Each variety looks different to the immune system so would each need separate vaccines.
Infection can result in pneumonia and meningitis. Across the globe, more than 800,000 children under five die as a result each year.
A vaccine against more than 90 types would not be possible, but in 2000 the US authorities began immunizing against seven of the most common varieties.
Cases rapidly dropped. By 2007, there was a sustained 76% drop in cases of septicemia, pneumonia and meningitis in children under five.
However, some bacteria managed to change their outer coat – known as capsule switching – to avoid the immune response.
They did it by collecting pieces of DNA from other pneumococcus bacteria which had died.
By analyzing bacterial genes, the researchers identified five cases of capsule switching. They said one of the new strains, called P1, “quickly became established spreading from east to west across the United States”. It had “becomes one of the most prevalent” varieties by 2007, the report said.
An updated vaccine which protects against 13 types has since been introduced. Dr. Rory Bowden said the “holy grail” would be a universal vaccine which would target something common to all types of pneumococcus.
Prof. Derrick Crook, from Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “Understanding what makes a vaccine successful and what can cause it to fail is important.
“Our work suggests that current strategies for developing new vaccines are largely effective but may not have long term effects that are as successful as hoped.”
Dr. Bernard Beall, from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, added: “The current vaccine strategy of targeting predominant pneumococcal serotypes is extremely effective, however our observations indicate that the organism will continue to adapt to this strategy with some measurable success.”
The Wellcome Trust’s Dr Michael Dunn said: “New technologies allow us to rapidly sequence disease-causing organisms and see how they evolve. This will provide useful lessons for vaccine implementation strategies.”