This week’s roundup: liver disease, long COVID-19 recovery
You may think of a cat nap as a short snooze, but cats are actually super-sleepers, often slumbering for 12 to 18 hours a day. That’s healthy for them, but for humans, sleeping more than an hour while the sun shines can be a sign of developing liver problems, according to a study in BMC Gastroenterology. It found that compared with folks who don’t nap, those who slept for 60 minutes or more in the daytime have a 200 percent increased risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) — a potentially serious condition that afflicts an estimated 25 percent of U.S. adults and often goes undiagnosed. So, if you’re taking hour-long snoozes during the day, inform your doctor so she/he can check for NAFLD and, if needed, help you manage it.
From long naps to long COVID-19. Ten percent to 30 percent of folks who’ve had COVID-19 will develop long COVID-19. They have a 63 percent increased risk of heart attack and a 52 percent increased risk of stroke, compared with folks who never caught the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says breathing exercises; sitting aerobic and strength-building exercises, initially, and then walking and standing workouts; and the use of medications such as anti-hypertensives can help reduce your risks. Talk to your doc about an individually tailored rehabilitation routine.
Quick tip: A new study finds that mindfulness training helps relieve chronic pain and reduces misuse of opioids for almost half of folks who give it a try. Discover MORE (Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement) at socialwork.utah.edu. Also, try the free “Unwinding by Sharecare” app.
How chronic inflammation spreads like wildfire in your body
During the brutal wildfire season last year, California’s Dixie fire laid waste to more than 192,000 acres. The Bootleg/Log fire in Oregon was even larger, covering more than 400,000 acres. Like those wildfires, inflammation in your body can spread, leaving scorched (well, damaged) tissue behind, say researchers in a new study in the journal Cell.
When the researchers looked at inflammatory conditions like gum disease, arthritis and heart disease, they found that they can ignite inflammation in other, seemingly unconnected, parts of your body. That’s why people with gum disease often develop cardiovascular problems or arthritis, or those with arthritis are more likely to also end up with gum disease.
But how does that happen? It seems that your immune system — when revved up by one of those inflammatory conditions — gets turned on to such a degree that the newborns in your bone marrow’s immune cell nursery are supercharged when they emerge and enter your bloodstream. Instead of battling outside invaders (bacteria and viruses), they become troublemakers — causing inflammation in your cardiovascular system, joints, gums and elsewhere.
That’s why chronic inflammation needs to be avoided — or put out. To do that, you need a balance of enough (but not excessive) physical exercise, restful sleep, smart stress management and a diet loaded with colorful fruits and vegetables, omega-3-rich fish like salmon and 100 percent whole grains. Then your immune system can fight off potential disease and avoid becoming the cause of a bad fire season inside your body.
Muscle-building is a walk in the park or wherever you want to go
In the 1975 movie “Pumping Iron,” Arnold Schwarzenegger declared, “Milk is for babies.” Although he actually did use dairy in his regimen when he was young (he is, by his own reckoning, 80 percent vegan now), he was right on, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition.
When researchers looked at the muscle-building benefits of whole milk versus skim milk (7.6 grams protein vs. 7 grams protein in 8 ounces, respectively) for women around age 69, they found that neither helped increase protein synthesis in muscles. But, lo and behold, they stumbled upon evidence that walking did.
They started with the assumption that drinking milk twice a day would boost muscle protein synthesis and beef up muscle strength that tends to fade with age. They ended up admitting that whole and skim don’t help protect or build muscle. By contrast, they found that when participants’ daily walking habit was increased by 150 percent, that revved up protein synthesis in muscles and conveyed strength-building benefits.
So if you’re now getting (a measly) 2,500 steps most days, going up to around 6,200 daily will help fight age-related (and sedentary-related) loss of muscle. When that becomes your daily bottom line, boosting that another 150 percent will get you up over 9,000 steps. Plus, for max muscle-strength protection, do strength training two to three times weekly. I favor exercises using your own body weight, like squats, planks and jumping jacks. Then, no matter how weak you may have been when you started your new walking/training routine, you’ll be able to declare, “I’ll be back!”
Good news on statins outweighs negative news about aspirin
“There are always two sides to every story” is a famous saying that American philosopher-theologian Jonathan Edwards coined in his 1738 sermon “Charity & Its Fruits.” Recent news about the lack of effectiveness of aspirin in preventing “major cardiovascular events” for folks with a specific risk factor called non-obstructive coronary artery disease (they have plaque build-up, but it is causing less than a 50 percent narrowing of the coronary arteries) completely misses the other side of that story. Statins do a really good job of it!
A study in Radiology: Cardiothoracic Imaging looked a 6,300 folks around age 56 for just under six years and found that aspirin didn’t prevent heart attacks or stroke for those with that form of coronary artery disease — but statins did lower their risk by over 40 percent. Among the control group with no CAD, taking aspirin or statins didn’t affect their risk for heart attack or stroke at all.
If you’ve been diagnosed with non-obstructive CAD, taking a statin can be lifesaving. They cause muscle-related side effects in just 1 percent or fewer of treated patients (when accurately reported). Plus, you’ll gain additional benefits: Statins help improve oral health, by reducing the risk of chronic periodontitis and preventing bone loss; they help prevent cancers, such as early stage breast and colorectal cancer, multiple myeloma, and liver and oral cancers; and may even soothe autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. So if you have non-obstructive CAD, keep taking your statin or talk to your doctor about starting one.
Finally, an approved treatment for chronic yeast infections
When you think of yeast, you may imagine the microorganisms that make bread dough rise (there are more than 200 billion in a packet of dry yeast). But there are other forms that live in the human body, helping your digestive and immune systems function and assisting in the absorption of vitamins and minerals from your food. Sometimes they get thrown out of balance, and when that happens vaginally, a yeast called candida causes vaginitis. This infection is common — an estimated 1.4 million outpatient visits for vaginal candidiasis happen annually in the U.S. And sometimes, because of medications (oral and inhaled corticosteroids and immunosuppressive drugs), chronic health conditions (diabetes, for example) or lifestyle habits (wearing sweaty, tight gym clothes, douching), the infections become chronic — happening three or more times a year. That is called recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis. Nearly 75 percent of adult women experience one yeast infection in their lifetime; approximately half experience a recurrence; and up to 9 percent of those women develop RVVC.
Until now, there’s been no medication specifically targeting chronic candidiasis. Recently the Food and Drug Administration approved the first-ever drug that treats RVVC, oteseconazole. In two studies, 93.3 percent and 96.1 percent of women with RVVC who received the treatment didn’t see a recurrence during a 48-week maintenance period. But … and there’s always a but … it’s only for postmenopausal women or those who are permanently infertile, because it is embryo-fetal toxic. However, if you suffer with RVVC and meet those criteria, talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of this long-awaited treatment.
Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.