Deregulation and climate change result in growing number of Americans breathing polluted air

CNN reports:

More Americans are breathing air that will make them sick, according to the American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air report.

The country had been making progress in cleaning up air pollution, but during the Trump administration, it has been backsliding, the report says. Deregulation and climate change are largely to blame.

President Donald Trump made a pledge in his 2017 State of the Union address to “promote clean air and water,” but his administration has reversed or proposed rollbacks to major air pollution protections, emissions standards and drilling and extraction regulations. He’s also slashed the EPA budget; the current proposal is to cut the budget by a third. [Continue reading…]

We need contact with nature for the sake of our sanity

Jonathan Lambert writes:

The experience of natural spaces, brimming with greenish light, the smells of soil and the quiet fluttering of leaves in the breeze can calm our frenetic modern lives. It’s as though our very cells can exhale when surrounded by nature, relaxing our bodies and minds.

Some people seek to maximize the purported therapeutic effects of contact with the unbuilt environment by embarking on sessions of forest bathing, slowing down and becoming mindfully immersed in nature.

But in a rapidly urbanizing world, green spaces are shrinking as our cities grow out and up. Scientists are working to understand how green spaces, or lack of them, can affect our mental health.

A study published Monday in the journal PNAS details what the scientists say is the largest investigation of the association between green spaces and mental health.

Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark found that growing up near vegetation is associated with an up to 55 percent lower risk of mental health disorders in adulthood. Kristine Engemann, the biologist who led the study, combined decades of satellite imagery with extensive health and demographic data of the Danish population to investigate the mental health effects of growing up near greenery. [Continue reading…]

On a continent wracked with epidemics, millions turn to traditional healers

The New York Times reports:

Across the African continent, according to the World Health Organization, there are about 80 times as many traditional healers as there are medical doctors. Millions of Africans consult healers but, studies suggest, usually do not admit it if they see doctors, too.

In Congo, doctors now fighting Ebola believe that many of their patients first get infected while visiting such healers. They may arrive at the home of someone like Mr. Muriisa [who the reporter visited in Uganda] with malaria, or even a cough or other minor problem, but then end up lying next to someone with undiagnosed Ebola.

In the 2014 West African outbreak, which infected more than 11,000 people, the death of a prominent healer was a crucial “super-spreader event,” linked to over 300 cases.

That healer, who lived in rural Sierra Leone, died after catching the virus from one of her patients. Hundreds of relatives and admirers came from many miles away for her funeral and helped wash her body, which was presumably teeming with virus.

They then returned to their homes in Guinea and Liberia, helping ignite the worst Ebola epidemic in history. [Continue reading…]

Smaller countries are becoming the healthiest

Bloomberg reports:

There’s more to life than money, and economists know it. As new assessments of global living standards proliferate, attempting to gauge how healthy, happy and successful humans are depending on where they live, a pattern is slowly emerging.

While slight variations in data can throw up different winners, smaller countries are increasingly dominating the top of the lists while big countries with booming economies fall behind.

A new analysis, the Global Wellness Index published by investment firm LetterOne, ranks Canada as the best country out of the 151 nations evaluated. The U.S. trails far behind, coming in at 37. In a tighter ranking of G-20 nations combined with the 20 most populous countries on the planet, South Africa comes in dead last, below Ukraine, Egypt and Iraq.

Based on a basket of metrics ranging from government healthcare spending to rates of depression, alcohol use, smoking, happiness and exercise, the new index is the latest attempt by economists to evaluate the world beyond economic growth. Last month, Bloomberg’s own research named Spain the world’s healthiest country. [Continue reading…]

Toxic neighbors: Taking action to solve the climate crisis

 

Evidence mounts that gut bacteria can influence mood, prevent depression

Science magazine reports:

Of all the many ways the teeming ecosystem of microbes in a person’s gut and other tissues might affect health, its potential influences on the brain may be the most provocative. Now, a study of two large groups of Europeans has found several species of gut bacteria are missing in people with depression. The researchers can’t say whether the absence is a cause or an effect of the illness, but they showed that many gut bacteria could make substances that affect nerve cell function—and maybe mood.

“It’s the first real stab at tracking how” a microbe’s chemicals might affect mood in humans, says John Cryan, a neuroscientist at University College Cork in Ireland who has been one of the most vocal proponents of a microbiome-brain connection. The study “really pushes the field from where it’s been” with small studies of depressed people or animal experiments. Interventions based on the gut microbiome are now under investigation: The University of Basel in Switzerland, for example, is planning a trial of fecal transplants, which can restore or alter the gut microbiome, in depressed people.

Several studies in mice had indicated that gut microbes can affect behavior, and small studies of people suggested this microbial repertoire is altered in depression. To test the link in a larger group, Jeroen Raes, a microbiologist at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, and his colleagues took a closer look at 1054 Belgians they had recruited to assess a “normal” microbiome. Some in the group—173 in total—had been diagnosed with depression or had done poorly on a quality of life survey, and the team compared their microbiomes with those other participants. Two kinds of microbes, Coprococcus and Dialister, were missing from the microbiomes of the depressed subjects, but not from those with a high quality of life. The finding held up when the researchers allowed for factors such as age, sex, or antidepressant use, all of which influence the microbiome, the team reports today in Nature Microbiology. They also found the depressed people had an increase in bacteria implicated in Crohn disease, suggesting inflammation may be at fault. [Continue reading…]

OxyContin maker explored expansion into ‘attractive’ anti-addiction market

By David Armstrong, ProPublica, January 30, 2019

Not content with billions of dollars in profits from the potent painkiller OxyContin, its maker explored expanding into an “attractive market” fueled by the drug’s popularity — treatment of opioid addiction, according to previously secret passages in a court document filed by the state of Massachusetts.

In internal correspondence beginning in 2014, Purdue Pharma executives discussed how the sale of opioids and the treatment of opioid addiction are “naturally linked” and that the company should expand across “the pain and addiction spectrum,” according to redacted sections of the lawsuit by the Massachusetts attorney general. A member of the billionaire Sackler family, which founded and controls the privately held company, joined in those discussions and urged staff in an email to give “immediate attention” to this business opportunity, the complaint alleges.

ProPublica reviewed the scores of redacted paragraphs in Massachusetts’ 274-page civil complaint against Purdue, eight Sackler family members, company directors and current and former executives, which alleges that they created the opioid epidemic through illegal deceit. These passages remain blacked out at the company’s request after the rest of the complaint was made public on Jan. 15. A Massachusetts Superior Court judge on Monday ordered that the entire document be released, but the judge gave Purdue until Friday to seek a further stay of the ruling.

The sections of the complaint already made public contend that the Sacklers pushed for higher doses of OxyContin, guided efforts to mislead doctors and the public about the drug’s addictive capacity, and blamed misuse on patients.

[Read more…]

Screen time has stunted the development of generations of children

The Guardian reports:

A study has linked high levels of screen time with delayed development in children, reigniting the row over the extent to which parents should limit how long their offspring spend with electronic devices.

Researchers in Canada say children who spent more time with screens at two years of age did worse on tests of development at age three than children who had spent little time with devices. A similar result was found when children’s screen time at three years old was compared with their development at five years.

“What is new in this study is that we are studying really young children, so aged 2-5, when brain development is really rapidly progressing and also child development is unfolding so rapidly,” Dr Sheri Madigan, first author of the study from the University of Calgary, told the Guardian. “We are getting at these lasting effects,” she added of the study.

The authors say parents should be cautious about how long children are allowed to spend with devices. [Continue reading…]

In hunter-gatherer societies, excellent metabolic health is sustained by very active ways of living and a wide range of diets

The New York Times reports:

Nutrition experts have long debated whether there is an optimal diet that humans evolved to eat. But a study published this month adds a twist. It found that there is likely no single natural diet that is best for human health.

The research, published in the journal Obesity Reviews, looked at the diets, habits and physical activity levels of hundreds of modern hunter-gatherer groups and small-scale societies, whose lifestyles are similar to those of ancient populations. They found that they all exhibit generally excellent metabolic health while consuming a wide range of diets.

Some get up to 80 percent of their calories from carbohydrates. Others eat mostly meat. But there were some broad strokes: Almost all of them eat a mix of meat, fish and plants, consuming foods that are generally packed with nutrients. In general, they eat a lot more fiber than the average American. Most of their carbohydrates come from vegetables and starchy plants with a low glycemic index, meaning they do not lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar. But it is also not uncommon for hunter-gatherers to eat sugar, which they consume primarily in the form of honey.

The findings suggest that there is no one “true” diet for humans, who “can be very healthy on a wide range of diets,” said the lead author of the study, Herman Pontzer, an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. “We know that because we see a wide range of diets in these very healthy populations.”

One thing hunter-gatherer populations have in common is a very high level of physical activity. Many walk between five and 10 miles a day. [Continue reading…]

New plant-focused diet would ‘transform’ planet’s future

The Guardian reports:

The first science-based diet that tackles both the poor food eaten by billions of people and averts global environmental catastrophe has been devised. It requires huge cuts in red meat-eating in western countries and radical changes across the world.

The “planetary health diet” was created by an international commission seeking to draw up guidelines that provide nutritious food to the world’s fast-growing population. At the same time, the diet addresses the major role of farming – especially livestock – in driving climate change, the destruction of wildlife and the pollution of rivers and oceans.

Globally, the diet requires red meat and sugar consumption to be cut by half, while vegetables, fruit, pulses and nuts must double. But in specific places the changes are stark. North Americans need to eat 84% less red meat but six times more beans and lentils. For Europeans, eating 77% less red meat and 15 times more nuts and seeds meets the guidelines.

The diet is a “win-win”, according to the scientists, as it would save at least 11 million people a year from deaths caused by unhealthy food, while preventing the collapse of the natural world that humanity depends upon. With 10 billion people expected to live on Earth by 2050, a continuation of today’s unsustainable diets would inevitably mean even greater health problems and severe global warming. [Continue reading…]