Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Health

Ebola treatment breakthrough highlights Wall Street’s obsession with profit and indifference to saving lives

Barron’s reports: Monday brought a spot of good news in a bleak summer: Scientists testing Ebola drugs in the Democratic Republic of Congo found some that seemed to work. Wall Street shrugged. Scientists cut short a trial of four experimental Ebola drugs after two of them, including one developed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (ticker: REGN), showed extremely promising results. Ninety percent of patients who took the drugs soon after infection survived.

Metabolic health is inseparable from the health of our gut microbes

James Hamblin writes: The relationship between microbes and weight gain has long been overlooked in humans, but people have known about similar effects in animals for decades. After World War II, antibiotics became affordable and abundant for the first time. Farmers began giving the drugs to their livestock—for example, to treat a milk cow’s infected udder—and noticed that animals who got antibiotics grew larger and more quickly. This led to

While mothers are drinking more than ever, the sober-curious movement challenges ‘wine-mom’ culture

The Washington Post reports: The turning point came at an evening soiree in the middle of December, when Mai Trinh spotted a friend’s luminous face amid a crowd of cocktail-quaffing party­goers. “She stood out — she looked absolutely radiant,” recalls Trinh, 44, a corporate wellness consultant and mom of three in Alexandria. “So I asked her, ‘What’s your secret, what are you doing?’ ” The secret, it turned out, was

Mucus has a surprisingly wide array of beneficial biological functions

By Diana Kwon We know it best as a stringy slime dripping from noses and as viscous, discolored goop hacked up by sickened airways. But it’s so much more than that. Coating the surfaces of guts, eyes, mouth, nasal cavity and ears, mucus plays a range of important physiological roles — hydrating, cleaning, supporting good microbes and warding off foreign invaders. “I like to call it the unsung hero of

How American waste crosses the globe and overwhelms the poorest nations

The Guardian reports: What happens to your plastic after you drop it in a recycling bin? According to promotional materials from America’s plastics industry, it is whisked off to a factory where it is seamlessly transformed into something new. This is not the experience of Nguyễn Thị Hồng Thắm, a 60-year-old Vietnamese mother of seven, living amid piles of grimy American plastic on the outskirts of Hanoi. Outside her home,

Climate crisis seriously damaging human health, report finds

The Guardian reports: A report by experts from 27 national science academies has set out the widespread damage global heating is already causing to people’s health and the increasingly serious impacts expected in future. Scorching heatwaves and floods will claim more victims as extreme weather increases but there are serious indirect effects too, from spreading mosquito-borne diseases to worsening mental health. “There are impacts occurring now [and], over the coming

Lies pave the way for anti-abortion laws. To defeat the laws we must fight the lies

Rebecca Solnit writes: Anti-abortion laws are built on anti-abortion lies. Lies about things like who has abortions, how abortions work, how women’s bodies work and how fetuses develop. The lies pave the way for the laws. There are the old lies, like the ones suggesting that the women having abortions are careless hussies (51% of abortions are to women who were using contraception; 59% are to women who are already

People eat at least 50,000 plastic particles a year, study finds

The Guardian reports: The average person eats at least 50,000 particles of microplastic a year and breathes in a similar quantity, according to the first study to estimate human ingestion of plastic pollution. The true number is likely to be many times higher, as only a small number of foods and drinks have been analysed for plastic contamination. The scientists reported that drinking a lot of bottled water drastically increased

The myth of the eight-hour sleep

Stephanie Hegarty writes: We often worry about lying awake in the middle of the night – but it could be good for you. A growing body of evidence from both science and history suggests that the eight-hour sleep may be unnatural. In the early 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wehr conducted an experiment in which a group of people were plunged into darkness for 14 hours every day for a month. It

Fears grow that ‘nuclear coffin’ is leaking radioactive waste into the Pacific

Trevor Nace writes: The tropical blue skies over the southern Pacific Ocean were enveloped by towering mushroom clouds lingering over the Marshall Islands in 1954 as the United States continued its testing of nuclear weapons. The United States conducted 67 nuclear weapon tests from 1946 to 1958 on the pristine Marshall Islands. The most powerful test was the “Bravo” hydrogen bomb in 1954, which was about 1,000 times more powerful

World’s rivers ‘awash with dangerous levels of antibiotics’

The Guardian reports: Hundreds of rivers around the world from the Thames to the Tigris are awash with dangerously high levels of antibiotics, the largest global study on the subject has found. Antibiotic pollution is one of the key routes by which bacteria are able develop resistance to the life-saving medicines, rendering them ineffective for human use. “A lot of the resistance genes we see in human pathogens originated from

Trump’s EPA is ‘cooking the books’ to justify its attack on clean air rules

Think Progress reports: Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to distort the way it measures the benefits of some of the agency’s most impactful policies, regulations that safeguard human health by limiting air pollution. The primary beneficiary of such distortion? The coal industry. When the government evaluates the health and financial benefits of clean air, the calculation typically incorporates the number of lives saved and the scale of reduced

Poisoning America: EPA wants to triple level of rocket fuel chemical allowed in drinking water

Think Progress reports: The Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to raise the threshold for a chemical found in rocket fuel to triple the previous limit allowed in drinking water supplies. This is the first new drinking water rule introduced by the agency since the George W. Bush administration. In the EPA’s latest move to weaken environmental and health protections, it released a notice on Thursday requesting public comment on

Lax regulations expose Americans to 1,300 chemicals banned by Europe

The Guardian reports: A brief but telling piece of legislation was put forward in Connecticut in January. Just three lines in length, the bill calls for any cosmetics in the state to “meet the chemical safety standards established by the European Union”. The move, unlikely to be made law, is the latest signal of mounting anguish over the enfeebled regulation of everyday products in the US compared with European countries.

EPA plans to ignore thousands of deaths by changing its methods of risk assessment

The New York Times reports: The Environmental Protection Agency plans to change the way it calculates the future health risks of air pollution, a shift that would predict thousands of fewer deaths and would help justify the planned rollback of a key climate change measure, according to five people with knowledge of the agency’s plans. The proposed change would dramatically reduce the 1,400 additional premature deaths per year that the

Air pollution is deadlier than tobacco smoking

The Guardian reports: Air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the human body, according to a comprehensive new global review. The research shows head-to-toe harm, from heart and lung disease to diabetes and dementia, and from liver problems and bladder cancer to brittle bones and damaged skin. Fertility, foetuses and children are also affected by toxic air, the review found. The systemic damage is the