“Natural” Doesn’t Mean Good For You –Potential Risks of “Dietary Supplements”

dietary supplements and vegetables
dietary supplements and vegetables

The wife of a California Congressman died last year after ingesting White Mulberry – a plant that is used as an herbal remedy for a variety of conditions including diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol according to Kaiser Health News (https://khn.org/news/article/tom-lori-mcclintock-death-herbal-remedy-diabetes-weight-loss-white-mulberry/

How can something “natural” and available over-the-counter be harmful?

Because they’re not regulated by the FDA as medicine – they are regulated as “food”.  The FDA does not have the authority to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed.  Further, the FDA can’t even inspect a company’s manufacturing process unless it has reasonable evidence that its products are harming people.

People often equate natural with safe because it came from the earth, “but so does cocaine and heroin” points out Dr. Fatigma Stanford, MD from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. 

Recommendations can be found everywhere, and its hard to know which can benefit your health and which may be harmful.  The scientific evidence isn’t always clear.  And the products you buy in stores or online may be different than those used in studies.

In this article from Penn Medicine, they discuss what many supplements do and some common risks.  https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2020/february/the-truth-about-supplements. And my favorite part of the article is the final point – ‘That nothing beats the nutrient power of a healthy diet”!

Debunking First Aid Myths

When you’re scrambling to make a burn feel better or stop bleeding, knowing what to do can make a big difference.  There are many myths about First Aid, some of which can actually can do more harm than good.  Should you put butter on a burn?  Apply a cold steak to a black eye? 

Myth #1: Put Butter on a Burn

Mild burns can be treated at home, but don’t grab for the butter!  Butter unfortunately adds foreign particles and increases the risk of infection.  But what should you do instead?  Scripps has a blog post that answers that and many more questions: Debunking 7 First Aid Myth’s.

New COVID Boosters

Many people have questions about the new COVID vaccine boosters.  Keep reading for answers to some of the most common ones here.

What’s new in this latest round of COVID vaccine boosters? 

The original COVID vaccines were effective at preventing infection and very successful in preventing complications from the Alpha and Delta strains.  But they are less effective against the Omicron variants which are more transmissible and immune-evading.

On September 1, 2022 the CDC approved new boosters from Pfizer (for ages 12 and up) and Moderna (for ages 18 and up).  These updated boosters add Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 to the original vaccine composition. 

Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, Bivalent is the name for Moderna’s new booster.  Pfizer’s new booster is called Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Bivalent.  Bivalent just means there are two strains in the vaccine (alpha and omicron).  I think we should call it COVID vaccine 2.0.

Is it better than the original?

As COVID has mutated into different strains and subvariants, it has gotten better at evading the vaccine.

For the original strain (Alpha) and the later strain (Delta), Pfizer and Moderna initial two-shot series were about 75% effective at preventing infection and 90-95% effective at preventing serious complications.  But the vaccines were less effective against Omicron – only 30-40% protection against infection and 70% protection against hospitalization.  A 3rd booster shot boosted effectiveness against infection to 75% and 88% for severe disease.

Unfortunately, it’s unclear exactly how much protection the new booster shots will provide, but models suggest 80% protection from infection and around 90% for prevention of complications. 

How could they approve the new booster without large clinical trials?

Believe it or not, this is something that has been done for decades with the flu shot.  The flu shot is reformulated every year based on an educated guess of what the circulating strains will be in the coming year.  They might take 1 or 2 strains out and put in different ones. 

Flu shots are made using eggs and take 9 months to produce.  Because large clinical trials require time (a minimum of 3-6 months, often longer), it’s not feasible to run clinical trials each year.  They have decades of data showing the vaccine is safe and effective (some years more than others), so they approve the latest formulation based on that history.  This has been a very effective strategy allowing the flu shot to adapt each year just in time for the next flu season.

They have adopted a similar process for the new COVID vaccine booster.  They have extensive safety and effectiveness data for the original COVID vaccines (over 600 million doses given in US).  Additionally, they have safety and immunogenicity data from a clinical study of a bivalent COVID-19 vaccine that contained mRNA from the Alpha strain and mRNA from the original Omicron strain (not BA.4 or BA.5 subvariants).

Should I get one?

Yes.  I plan to get mine and will give it to my 87-year-old mother.  I’ve encouraged my children (in their 20’s) to get it as well.

When should I get it?

Although you can get it as early as 2 months after your previous booster, I recommend waiting 4 months after your last booster.  That’s the point where the vaccine efficacy seems to drop. 

Another consideration is the current amount of COVID infections.  Currently cases are relatively low.  We are anticipating a surge in December/January, like what we’ve had for the past two years.  So, you might want to get the booster in October or November to have good immunity in December and January.

Does the new booster have side effects?

They are expected to be similar to the original vaccine – soreness in arm, body aches, fever, etc.

Improve Your Sleep Schedule? Go Camping

I read a great article in Popular Science (Feb 2017) about how going camping can improve your sleep.

Yes, camping! 

We know that modern environments with all their electronic gadgets (and bright screens) hurt sleep patterns. When we look at bright lights, our bodies stay in “daytime” mode, so we stay up later and wake up groggier.  

If we get away from those bright lights (e.g. when camping), our melatonin levels rise when the sun goes down which signals it’s time for sleep. When the sun rises, the melatonin levels fall which signals our body that it’s time to wake up. Additional exposure to natural light throughout the day reinforces the “daytime” mode. The study showed that even a short weekend camping can “largely reset a person’s internal clock”.

Read more: Camping to Improve Sleep

Health Benefits of a Massage

A massage is great for helping you relax, but it also has more therapeutic benefits.

  • Relieve Depression Anxiety
  • Sleep More Soundly
  • Improve Circulation
  • Fight Fatigue
  • Manage Pain
  • Boost Focus
  • Reduce Stress
  • Heal Injuries
  • Improve flexibility
  • Decrease Headaches
  • Relieve Back & Neck Pain

How can massage do all that?

“The skin is moved during a moderate pressure massage, which results in a calming and slowing of the nervous system,” says Tiffany Field, PhD at the University of Miami School of Medicine. “And that slowing of the nervous system leads to other physiological effects too, like a decrease in heart rate, lowered blood pressure, and changes in EEG patterns (electrical activity in your brain)”, says Field. And you can get these great effects after only 20 minutes!