Excess weight may accelerate brain aging

  • Obesity and overweight increase the risk of many health conditions.
  • A new study from Canada has found that excess body weight may also affect cognitive function, with inflammation possibly playing a role.
  • People with excess fatty tissue gained lower scores for processing speed in cognitive tests.
  • Physical exercise, which increases blood flow to the brain, may help limit cognitive impairment even in those with a high body mass index (BMI).

It is widely known that excess body weight is associated with many health conditions. Now, researchers have found an association between adiposity — having too much fatty tissue in the body — and cognitive impairment.

At the start of a new study, which appears in JAMA Network Open, Canadian researchers determined the adiposity of more than 9,000 participants. They measured both total body fat and visceral adipose tissue (VAT) — the fat that predominantly sits around organs in the abdominal cavity.

Previous studies have associated VAT, or visceral fat, with increased morbidity and a higher mortality risk. Visceral fat increases the risk of many conditions, such as:

  • heart disease, including heart attacks
  • type 2 diabetes
  • raised blood pressure
  • stroke
  • breast and colorectal cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease

This latest study suggests that excess fat may have mental as well as physical effects.

Cognitive tests

All participants undertook two cognitive tests — the Digital Symbol Substitution Test (DSST) and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) — to assess a range of cognitive functions.

The researchers adjusted the scores for cardiovascular risk factors, educational level, and MRI-detected vascular brain injury, which is known to be associated with cognitive impairment.

The researchers found that higher total body fat and higher VAT were both significantly associated with lower DSST and MoCA scores. The association was greater on the DSST, which assesses processing speed, than on the MoCA, which is a multidimensional cognitive test.

Compared with those in the lowest quartile (25%) of adiposity, the performance of those in the highest quartile was equivalent to an additional 3 years of cognitive aging.

These results are not unexpected, as Dr. Anton Porsteinsson, professor and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Care, Research and Education Program (AD-CARE) at the University of Rochester Medical Center, told Medical News Today:

“It is well-known that greater adiposity and body fat are associated with increased cardiovascular risk factors and that those are associated with increased risk of cognitive decline. This cross-sectional study found that excess adiposity was a risk factor for reduced cognitive scores, independent of cardiovascular risk factors, educational level, and MRI-detected vascular brain injury.”

This study reinforces findings from a previous study of older adults in Dublin, which found an association between adiposity, particularly central adiposity, and reduced cognitive function.

Possible causes

This study cannot prove a causative link between adiposity and cognitive impairment, as Dr. Eamon Laird, a senior research fellow at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. 

“It is cross-sectional, and it can be hard to tease out the associations and identify if visceral adiposity is causative and not just correlated with reduced cognitive scores. But the association is clear.”

The researchers controlled for cardiovascular risk and vascular brain injury, both of which research has shown to cause cognitive impairment. So, what else might be responsible for the link?

Effect of inflammation

The authors suggest that inflammation may play a role in cognitive impairment in those with overweight or obesity. One recent study involving more than 15,000 individuals found high levels of plasma C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker, in those with a high BMI and a high waist-hip ratio.

Dr. Porsteinsson agreed with this suggestion, saying, “Systemic inflammation and glucose intolerance emerge as lead suspects.”

Dr. Laird also supports inflammation having a role. He said, “Pro-inflammatory cytokines from adipose tissue could also potentially be contributing to tissue damage via inflammation.”

Hypertension and reduced blood flow

There are also other potential mechanisms. For example, “Adiposity can often go hand in hand with other chronic conditions, such as hypertension, which could be a separate mechanism,” Dr. Laird told MNT.

“Obesity could be associated with reduced blood flow to the brain, which may increase the risk of vascular microcellular damage, which could lead to [a] reduction in cognitive test score,” he added. In another study, which Dr. Laird co-authored, scientists found that a 1-centimeter increase in waist size gave the same reduction in blood flow as 1 year of aging.

Combating cognitive decline

This study confirms previous findings that overweight and obesity are associated with cognitive impairment, so what can people do to help combat this?

Dr. Porsteinsson suggested several measures that may help: “Weight loss, exercise (both aerobic and resistance training), control of diabetes/glucose intolerance, or speed of processing cognitive training are a few that come to mind.”

Citing study findings that those with a high BMI or high waist-hip ratio who did little physical activity had significantly lower cerebral blood flow, Dr. Laird added:

“Since physical activity could potentially moderate obesity/blood flow associations, this [increasing physical activity] may be a cost effective and relatively easy way to help mitigate the negative impact of obesity.”

“There are still many unanswered questions here, such as why a task of processing speed (DSST) is more impacted than a multidimensional cognitive test, so this study begs for further research.”

– Dr. Anton Porsteinsson

In summary, maintaining a moderate weight could benefit the brain as well as the body.

Magnesium may prime the immune system to fight cancer and infections

  • Magnesium deficiency has links to a wide range of diseases.
  • Researchers have now shown in mice how magnesium improves the ability of the immune system to eliminate infected and cancerous cells.
  • Their analysis of data from clinical studies also suggests that low serum levels of the substance are associated with worse outcomes in cancer treatment.
  • They plan to investigate the possible benefits of magnesium supplementation during cancer therapy in future clinical trials.

Experts define magnesium as an “essential macromineral,” meaning people need to consume it in relatively large amounts to remain healthy.

Rich dietary sources of the mineral include almonds, cashews, peanuts, and spinach. Walnuts also contain a particularly high amount of magnesium, with 100 grams containing 63% of the recommended daily allowance.

Adequate dietary intake of magnesium has associations with healthy bones, lower risk of type 2 diabetes, and better cardiovascular health.

The mineral also plays a key role in muscle contraction, nerve transmission, regulating blood pressure, and immunity.

Previous research has found that cancer spreads faster in mice on a low-magnesium diet. In addition, the animals have weaker immune defenses against influenza viruses.

However, there has been little research into exactly how magnesium supports healthy immune systems.

Scientists in Switzerland have now discovered that a type of immune cell, called a cytotoxic or “killer” T cell, can only eliminate cancerous or infected cells in the presence of magnesium.

Their study appears in Cell.

Docking site

The authors found that magnesium activates a protein called LFA-1 on the surface of cytotoxic T cells, which they use to lock on to their target cells.

“In the inactive state, this docking site is in a bent conformation and thus cannot efficiently bind to infected or abnormal cells,” explains senior author Dr. Christoph Hess, Ph.D., from the University of Basel in Switzerland and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

“If magnesium is present in sufficient quantities in the vicinity of the T cells, it binds to LFA-1 and ensures that it remains in an extended — and therefore active — position,” he adds.

When the researchers analyzed data from past clinical trials of cancer immunotherapies, they found that low serum levels of magnesium were associated with more rapid disease progression and shorter survival.

“In light of our experimental data and the retrospective analyses we performed on two clinical trials, magnesium deficiency is very likely to be responsible for at least a proportion of the insufficient efficacy seen in cancer patients receiving immune therapy,” Dr. Hess told Medical News Today.

Magnesium and enzyme reactions

“The results don’t surprise me,” said Taylor C. Wallace, Ph.D., of the new study.

Dr. Wallace is senior fellow at the Center for Magnesium Education & Research in Hawaii, and adjunct professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.

“Magnesium is involved with over 600 enzymatic reactions in the body, many of which are involved with immune system function,” he told MNT.

However, he questioned whether serum magnesium concentration, which scientists often use to measure an individual’s status with regard to the mineral, is a reliable marker.

He pointed out that in serum, most magnesium is bound to the protein albumin and, therefore, not as freely available for the body as another form known as blood ionized magnesium.

“How extracellular magnesium affects immunity is an exciting and promising area of science,” he told MNT.

“However, the research community needs to be concurrently assessing whole blood ionized magnesium (not common in research) to fully understand how diet [or] supplements can influence status,” he added.

Boosting magnesium in tumors

Dr. Hess and his colleagues are now looking at ways to boost the concentration of magnesium in the tumors of patients.

He said that they aim to test whether they can use tiny parcels of fat — either lipid nanoparticles or liposomes — filled with magnesium and coated with antibodies to improve the efficacy of immune therapy.

“In our paper, we show that this is a successful strategy in mice,” he added.

They will also test whether giving magnesium supplements — either in pills or injections — to individuals with cancer can improve outcomes with two immune therapies: CAR T cell and PD1/PDL1 therapies.

“We have clinical trials in an advanced planning stage,” he said.

Their newly published study analyzed data on serum magnesium levels from previous clinical trials, so it was only able to establish an association rather than a causal link between magnesium and treatment outcomes.

It is also unknown whether regular magnesium intake, either through diet or supplements, can reduce the risk of developing cancer in healthy people.

Natural ways to cleanse your lungs

Lung cleansing techniques may benefit people who smoke, people who get regular exposure to air pollution, and those with chronic conditions that affect the respiratory system, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cystic fibrosis.

Breathing in air pollution, cigarette smoke, and other toxins can damage the lungs and even cause health conditions. Maintaining the health of the lungs is essential for keeping the rest of the body healthy.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to air pollution results in 4.2 million deaths worldwide each year. Cigarette smoking is the cause of death for one in every five people in the United States.

In this article, we discuss some of the methods that people can use to try to cleanse their lungs.

Is it possible to cleanse your lungs?

Lung health is vital for a person’s overall health. The lungs are self-cleaning organs that will begin to heal themselves once their exposure to pollutants stops, for example, when someone quits smoking.

After the lungs have had exposure to pollution, such as cigarette smoke, a person’s chest may feel full, congested, or inflamed. Mucus gathers in the lungs to catch microbes and pathogens, which contributes to this feeling of heaviness.

People may be able to use specific techniques to help clear the lungs of mucus and irritants to relieve chest congestion and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Some of these methods may also open up the airways, improve lung capacity, and reduce inflammation, which can help reduce the effects of pollution and smoke in the lungs.

Ways to clear the lungs

Below, we look at breathing exercises and lifestyle changes that can help remove excess mucus from the lungs and improve breathing.

1. Steam therapy

Steam therapy, or steam inhalation, involves inhaling water vapor to open the airways and help the lungs drain mucus.

People with lung conditions may notice their symptoms worsening in cold or dry air. This climate can dry out the mucous membranes in the airways and restrict blood flow.

Conversely, steam adds warmth and moisture to the air, which may improve breathing and help loosen mucus inside the airways and lungs. Inhaling water vapor can provide immediate relief and help people breathe more easily.

A small study involving 16 males with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung condition that makes it harder to breathe, found that steam mask therapy led to significantly lower heart rates and respiratory rates than non-steam mask therapy.

However, the participants did not report lasting improvements in their respiratory function.

This therapy may be an effective temporary solution, but researchers need to do more research before they fully understand the benefits of steam therapy on lung health.

2. Controlled coughing

Coughing is the body’s way of naturally expelling toxins that it has trapped in mucus. Controlled coughing loosens excess mucus in the lungs, sending it up through the airways.

Doctors recommend that people with COPD perform this exercise to help clear their lungs.

People can follow the steps below to cleanse their lungs of excess mucus:

  • sit down on a chair with the shoulders relaxed, keeping both feet flat on the floor
  • fold the arms over the stomach
  • slowly inhale through the nose
  • slowly exhale while leaning forward, pushing the arms against the stomach
  • cough 2 or 3 times while exhaling, keeping the mouth slightly open
  • slowly inhale through the nose
  • rest and repeat as necessary

3. Drain mucus from the lungs

Postural drainage involves lying in different positions to use gravity to remove mucus from the lungs. This practice may improve breathing and help treat or prevent lung infections.

Postural drainage techniques differ depending on the position:

1. On your back

  • Lie down on the floor or a bed.
  • Place pillows under the hips to ensure that the chest is lower than the hips.
  • Slowly inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Each exhale should take twice as long as the inhale, which is called 1:2 breathing.
  • Continue for a few minutes.

2. On your side

  • Lie on one side, resting the head on an arm or pillow.
  • Place pillows under the hips.
  • Practice the 1:2 breathing pattern.
  • Continue for a few minutes.
  • Repeat on the other side.

3. On your stomach

  • Place a stack of pillows on the floor.
  • Lie down with the stomach over the pillows. Remember to keep the hips above the chest.
  • Fold the arms under the head for support.
  • Practice the 1:2 breathing pattern.
  • Continue for a few minutes.

4. Exercise

Regular exercise can improve people’s physical and mental health, and it decreases the risk of many health conditions, including stroke and heart disease.

Exercise forces the muscles to work harder, which increases the body’s breathing rate, resulting in a greater supply of oxygen to the muscles. It also improves circulation, making the body more efficient in removing the excess carbon dioxide that the body produces when exercising.

The body will start to adapt to meet the demands of regular exercise. The muscles will learn to use oxygen more efficiently and produce less carbon dioxide.

Although exercising may be more difficult for people with chronic lung conditions, these individuals can also benefit from regular exercise. People who have COPD, cystic fibrosis, or asthma should consult a healthcare professional before starting a new exercise regimen.

5. Green tea

Green tea contains many antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation in the lungs. These compounds may even protect lung tissue from the harmful effects of smoke inhalation.

A recent study involving more than 1,000 adults in Korea reported that people who drank at least 2 cups of green tea per day had better lung function than those who drank none.

6. Anti-inflammatory foods

Inflammation of the airways can make breathing difficult and cause the chest to feel heavy and congested. Eating anti-inflammatory foods can reduce inflammation to relieve these symptoms.

Foods that help fight inflammation include:

  • turmeric
  • leafy greens
  • cherries
  • blueberries
  • olives
  • walnuts
  • beans
  • lentils

7. Chest percussion

Percussion is another effective way to remove excess mucus from the lungs. A healthcare professional or respiratory therapist will use a cupped hand to rhythmically tap the chest wall to dislodge trapped mucus in the lungs.

Combining chest percussion and postural drainage can help clear the airways of excess mucus.


Toxins from cigarette smoke or air pollution that enter the lungs can affect the whole body. These toxins eventually become trapped inside mucus.

Good respiratory health depends on whether or not the body effectively removes mucus from the lungs and airways.

People who have damaged lungs may have a harder time than others clearing mucus from their system. Chronic conditions, such as COPD, asthma, and cystic fibrosis, cause excess mucus production or unusually thick mucus that can clog the lungs.

Lung cleansing techniques, including postural drainage, chest percussion, and breathing exercises, can help dislodge mucus from the lungs and airways. Steam therapy may offer temporary relief to people who suffer from congestion or chronic respiratory conditions.

Regularly exercising, drinking green tea, and eating anti-inflammatory foods are lifestyle changes that may improve lung health and decrease the risk of health conditions.

COVID-19 live updates: Is ‘Deltacron’ a real variant?

  • The coronavirus outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. 
  • Known as SARS-CoV-2, the virus has resulted in more than 307 millioninfections and over 5.4 million deaths.
  • Keep up to date with the latest research and information about COVID-19 here.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently monitoring five variants of concern: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron.

01/10/2022 15:00 GMT — Is ‘Deltacron’ a real variant?

According to recent media reports, a scientist from the University of Cyprus claims to have identified a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, which they have dubbed “Deltacron.”

The researcher claims to have identified this variant in 25 cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection. The name is a combination of “Delta” and “Omicron,” since, according to the scientist, this variant exhibits genetic similarities to both Delta and Omicron.

“We will see in the future if this strain is more pathological or more contagious” than previous variants, Prof. Leondios Kostrikis — who is a professor of biological sciences at the University of Cyprus and head of the Laboratory of Biotechnology and Molecular Virology — told Sigma TV.

Other researchers, however, have cast doubts on the legitimacy of these claims, saying that the so-called combination variant is likely the result of a laboratory error.

“This is almost certainly not a biological recombinant of the Delta and Omicron lineages,” says Dr. Jeffrey Barrett, director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

“The apparent Omicron mutations are located precisely and exclusively in a section of the sequence encoding the spike gene […] affected by a technological artifact in certain sequencing procedures,” he says.

Nevertheless, Prof. Kostrikis has defended his initial claim, noting that the samples where the Deltacron variant appeared had undergone genetic sequencing in multiple laboratories from multiple countries.

For the time being, Deltacron’s existence remains subject to continued debate.

01/10/2022 14:46 GMT — COVID-19: Did Omicron evolve in mice?

A recent study published in the Journal of Genetics and Genomics investigates the origin of the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

According to the study authors, this variant presents a pattern of mutations that is also typical of a virus that has infected mice. This suggests that Omicron may have evolved in rodents.“

We believe that Omicron likely evolved in a wild mouse population,” the senior author of the study, Wenfeng Qian, Ph.D., told Medical News Today.

Read the story in full here.

01/10/2022 12:47 GMT — Covaxin booster offers long-term protection, Bharat Biotech claims

Bharat Biotech — a biotechnology company based in India — reported on Saturday, January 8, that a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin, offers long-term protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

According to the Bharat Biotech press release, a phase 2, double-blind, randomized controlled trial demonstrated that, at 6 months after receipt of the second Covaxin dose, a booster dose increased neutralization titres against wild-type and Delta variants of SARS-CoV-2 fivefold.

Read more about Covaxin here.

01/10/2022 12:20 GMT — Pfizer vaccine can prevent multisystem inflammatory syndrome in 12–18-year-olds

recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine can prevent multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) aged 12–18 years.

MIS-C is a serious inflammatory condition reported in some children and teens who have had COVID-19 or who have been exposed to the virus that causes this disease.

The exact causes of this condition remain unknown, but since it can affect many organs — including the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain — and can require hospitalization, researchers are keen on finding ways to prevent it.

According to the CDC study, “Receipt of two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is highly effective in preventing MIS-C in persons aged 12–18 years.” The effectiveness rate was 91%.

Read about the long-term effects of COVID-19 here.

01/07/2022 09:54 GMT — Some gut bacteria may protect against SARS-CoV-2 infection

Scientists recently investigated whether bacteria from the human microbiome could inhibit the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They identified three bacterial metabolites that inhibited infection. Remarkably, these natural bacterial metabolites resemble drugs that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved and that clinical research is exploring as treatments for COVID-19.

Read more about the research here.

01/07/2022 09:28 GMT — IHU variant probably not cause for concern

A new coronavirus variant — the IHU variant, or B.1.640.2 — has been widely covered in the media. In a recent press briefing, Dr. Abdi Mahamud, incident manager for the World Health Organization (WHO), explained that they are monitoring the variant but do not believe it is a cause for concern.

preprint published last month brought attention to the IHU variant, following its discovery in France. However, it had first been identified weeks before Omicron. Despite this head start, the variant remains rare among the population.

The IHU variant is a “phylogenetic sister group” of B.1.640, which the WHO designated a “variant under monitoring” in November 2021. However, it could not compete with the Delta variant.

01/06/2022 14:43 GMT — More evidence of SARS-CoV-2 presence in white-tailed deer populations

In a recent study, scientiststested nasal swabs from 360 wild white-tailed deer in six locations within Ohio state. They detected SARS-CoV-2 in 129 animals (35.8%). The results, which appear in Nature, back up earlier research suggesting that white-tailed deer might become a reservoir for the virus.

“No spillback to humans was observed, but these findings demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 viruses have the capacity to transmit in [United States] wildlife, potentially opening new pathways for evolution,” the authors write.

“There is an urgent need to establish comprehensive ‘One Health’ programs to monitor deer, the environment, and other wildlife hosts globally.”

Read more about SARS-CoV-2 and white-tailed deer here.

01/06/2022 10:43 GMT — Italy: COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for those 50 or older

As Italy experiences a surge in SARS-CoV-2 infections, the government has made it compulsory for people aged 50 or older to get vaccinated.

Additionally, as of February 15, people over 50 who work must present a health pass proving immunization or recovery from COVID-19.

“We are making these choices in order to restrict the unvaccinated as much as possible, as this is what is causing the burden on our hospital system,” says Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza.

The country’s death toll — more than 138,000 to date — is the second highest in Europe, after the United Kingdom. Italy registered 189,109 new SARS-CoV-2 infections yesterday.

Find more live updates here.

01/06/2022 09:52 GMT — Can mental health experts help improve vaccine hesitancy?

Given that uptake of vaccines is low among young adults — and young adulthood is the age of onset for many mental health problems  mental health experts are uniquely suited to help overcome resistance to COVID-19 vaccination. This is the message of a recent opinion column that appears in JAMA Psychiatry.

Read more here.

01/05/2022 13:48 GMT — COVID-19 vaccines do not trigger preterm births, CDC study finds

Having a COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy is not associated with an increased risk of delivering babies prematurely or giving birth to atypically small babies, according to a large study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Researchers analyzed the records of 46,079 pregnant women, of whom over one-fifth had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine dose, typically during their second or third trimester. Most had received an mRNA vaccine, either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.

There were no significant differences in preterm or underweight birth rates between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

The study adds to evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe for pregnant women. Furthermore, developing COVID-19 during pregnancy has been linked to a higher risk of hospitalization, intubation, and death.

Read more about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in pregnancy here.

01/05/2022 11:06 GMT — US, UK break daily COVID-19 case records amid Omicron surge

The United States recorded over a million new COVID-19 cases on Monday, marking the highest figure for any country in the world since the pandemic broke out.

Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University showed 1,082,549 people tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 on that day —around double the previous U.S. record.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Omicron variant accounted for 95.4% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. last week.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, the number of confirmed daily COVID-19 cases also hit another record high on Tuesday, with 218,724 people testing positive.

The news comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the government would not impose lockdowns and would continue with its “plan B,” which involves mask mandates, daily testing, and working from home when possible.

Read more COVID-19 updates here.

01/04/2022 12:11 GMT — FDA authorizes Pfizer booster for 12–15-year-olds

On Monday, January 3, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shot for 12–15-year-olds.

The federal agency also ruled that preteens and teens in this age group would be eligible to receive their booster shot after a 5-month interval from their second vaccine dose.

Furthermore, the FDA approved third COVID-19 vaccine doses for children aged 5–11 years who have a weakened immune system.

According to Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, “Based on the FDA’s assessment of currently available data, a booster dose of the currently authorized vaccines may help provide better protection against both the Delta and Omicron variants.”

01/04/2022 11:37 GMT — Israel reports its first case of COVID-19 and flu coinfection

An unvaccinated pregnant woman has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and seasonal influenza at the same time, according to a report from the Times of Israel.

The patient was discharged from the hospital on Thursday, and her doctors said that she was in good condition.

“The disease is the same disease. They’re viral and cause difficulty breathing, since both attack the upper respiratory tract,” said Prof. Arnon Vizhnitser, the director of the hospital’s gynecology department.

This coinfection has been dubbed “flurona,” and there have likely been other cases elsewhere in the world, as several studies have suggested.

Read more here about the safety of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.

01/04/2022 11:11 GMT — New B.1.640.2 variant with 46 mutations discovered in France

A new SARS-CoV-2 variant, identified as B.1.640.2, has been detected in at least 12 patients in southern France, according to reports.

pre-print paper that has not yet undergone peer review found that the variant has 46 mutations compared to the original variant. Data so far suggest the variant could be Cameroonian in origin and spread via travel to Forcalquier, in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region.

Researchers say it is too early to speculate about the variant’s severity or transmissibility.

Experts, such as Prof. Francois Balloux, have said the variant does not explain the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the same region, nor is it associated with ICU cases.

Health experts have not yet detected the variant in other countries, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has not classified it as a variant of concern (VOC).

Read more here about how we may be contributing to new SARS-CoV-2 variants.

12/23/2021 12:49 GMT — Young people less likely to have long COVID than early studies suggested

meta-analysis of studies has indicated that long COVID might be less of a risk for young people than previously thought.

Although children and young people often report persistent symptoms after SARS-CoV-2 infection, researchers found similar symptoms in those who had tested positive and negative for the virus.

However, children who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 were slightly more likely to have some lingering symptoms.

Read more about the study here.

12/23/2021 12:07 GMT — COVID-19 may have a molecular link with Parkinson’s

study has found that the N-protein of SARS-CoV-2 can speed up the formation of the amyloid fibrils responsible for Parkinson’s.

The study joins a few case studies suggesting a link between COVID-19 and Parkinson’s after three relatively young people were diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease following a COVID-19 infection.

However, as this was a test-tube study, there is no evidence that this can happen in the human brain. Researchers remain skeptical.

If future studies support this finding, it could have implications for the development of next-generation vaccines against the virus.

Read more about it here.

12/23/2021 11:54 GMT — 3 in 10 COVID-19 patients not fully recovered after 1 year

A recent study found that fewer than 3 in 10 people felt they had fully recovered 12 months after leaving hospital following treatment for COVID-19.

Furthermore, researchers found that females and people with obesity, systemic inflammation, and more severe symptoms during the initial infection had an increased risk of having long COVID and related health impairments.

Read MNT‘s coverage of the study here.

If you would like to read a first-hand account of a doctor’s struggle with long Covid, head here.

12/23/2021 11:45 GMT — UK daily COVID-19 cases top 100K for the first time

The United Kingdom recorded 106,122 cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection on Wednesday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The surge has been largely fueled by the more infectious Omicron variant.

The figure showed a 35% increase, compared with the past week. The previous record came on December 17, with
93,045 cases.

On Thursday, the Office for National Statistics said 1 in 45 people in England had COVID-19 last week, a rate that rose to 1 in 30 in London.

The case data comes a day after the country had administered a record 968,665 boosters and third doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

This week, the U.K. also moved to offer clinically vulnerable 5–11-year-olds a lower, pediatric dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. A final decision awaits approval by ministers.

Read more about vaccines and Omicron here.

12/23/2021 11:27 GMT — US authorizes first COVID-19 pill for at-home treatment

On Wednesday, the United States authorized Pfizer’s antiviral pill Paxlovid — its first oral COVID-19 treatment — for at-home use for people aged 12 years and older at risk of severe illness.

Paxlovid had an efficacy of almost 90% in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients deemed high risk. Pfizer has also said its trials suggest the pill remains effective against Omicron. 

The move comes as the U.S. is experiencing a surge in Omicron cases, which now make up over 73% of all infections.

Health experts also predict Merck’s antiviral pill will get approval for use soon.

Read more about Paxlovid here.

12/22/2021 10:47 GMT — Israel set to give 4th vaccine dose to over-60s in world first

Israel could become the first country to trial a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines, after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Tuesday that the booster would be offered to anyone over the age of 60 and at-risk groups, including medical teams and people with weakened immune systems.

Eligible people will be able to receive their booster 4 months after their third dose.

“The citizens of Israel were the first in the world to receive the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and we are continuing to pioneer with the fourth dose, as well,” he said.

The move comes after the country’s first reported death from the Omicron variant and its rapid global spread.

Data so far do not indicate a necessity for a fourth dose, though research is ongoing.

Read more here about how vaccines stand the test against Omicron.

12/22/2021 10:27 GMT — England drops self-isolation from 10 days to 7 for those who test negative

People who have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and are currently in self-isolation in England will be able to get out of their quarantine up to 3 days early if they test negative twice, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has announced.

To be able to end self-isolating, people will have to provide negative lateral flow test results from days six and seven.

This will apply to all people, whether they are fully vaccinated or not. Those who tested positive on Friday or started showing symptoms last week can also benefit from this change in guidance.

Javid said the government was introducing the measure to minimize disruption caused by the rapid surge and spread of the Omicron variant across the country.

Read more COVID-19 updates here.

12/21/2021 14:10 GMT — Omicron now accounts for almost 75% of COVID-19 cases in the US

Omicron, the new SARS-CoV-2 variant, now accounts for 73% of COVID-19 cases in the United States. This is according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The new variant is responsible for even more cases in some parts of the country. About 90% of infections in New York, the Southeast, the industrial Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest are due to Omicron. 

The CDC also notes that approximately 650,000 Omicron infections occurred in the U.S. last week, according to data released on Monday.

Find out more here.

12/21/2021 13:30 GMT — EU authorizes Novavax vaccine

The European Union has authorized the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine for use across its 27 nations. The vaccine received conditional marketing authorization for people aged 18 years and over on Monday. 

The United States-based manufacturer announced that it is currently testing the vaccine’s effectiveness against Omicron. 

Read the full story here

12/20/2021 13:55 GMT — Moderna preliminary data suggest booster effective against Omicron

On Monday, December 20, pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Moderna published preliminary data about the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine booster against the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

According to Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, “These data [show] that the currently authorized Moderna COVID-19 booster can boost neutralizing antibody levels 37-fold higher than pre-boost levels.” Bancel calls these results “reassuring.”

The United States has authorized a 50-microgram Moderna booster, which contains half the dose of a baseline Moderna COVID-19 shot.

12/20/2021 13:50 GMT — Sinopharm booster may provide little protection against Omicron

Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine booster, BBIBP-CorV — authorized for use in China and the Philippines — provides very little if any protection against the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

The research has not yet undergone peer review, and these results are available online in preprint form.

According to the study, the Sinopharm booster’s neutralizing antibody activity against Omicron “reduced 20.1-fold compared with its activity against a wild-type strain of the coronavirus.”

“In conclusion, a third booster dose of BBIBP-CorV [led] to a significant rebound in neutralizing immune response against SARS-CoV-2, while the Omicron variant showed extensive but incomplete escape of the booster elicited neutralization,” the study authors write. 

12/20/2021 12:21 GMT — New U.K. report claims Omicron more likely to reinfect

A newly published report from Imperial College London in the United Kingdom claims that the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is more likely to reinfect than the Delta variant.

The researchers who authored this report estimate that there is a “5.41 […] fold higher risk of reinfection [with Omicron compared with Delta,” which suggests that an initial infection with the Omicron variant results in weak immune protection.

While this report used real-world data to calculate this estimate, there are nevertheless some caveats regarding these data.

Prof. Penny Ward — an independent pharmaceutical physician and visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London, not involved with the report — explains that “the majority of confirmed Omicron infections reported in the dataset are from young adults, many of African descent, primarily in the London region, which is a pattern very different to that observed with Delta variant infections.”

“In particular,” she adds, “the current clustering of cases of Omicron infection in younger age adults, who are inherently less likely to be hospitalized or to die from COVID, limits the extent to which differences in severity of illness following the infection caused by these two variants can be assessed.”

12/17/2021 10:59 GMT — CDC recommends mRNA COVID-19 vaccines over J&J

In a recent statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that, where possible, individuals should choose an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine — Moderna or Pfizer — over Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. This advice is based on the conclusion that mRNA vaccines offer greater protection and fewer risks.

In the statement, the CDC writes:

“The U.S. supply of mRNA vaccines is abundant — with nearly 100 million doses in the field for immediate use. This updated CDC recommendation follows similar recommendations from other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom.”

“Given the current state of the pandemic both here and around the world, the ACIP reaffirmed that receiving any vaccine is better than being unvaccinated. Individuals who are unable or unwilling to receive an mRNA vaccine will continue to have access to Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine.”

Read how mRNA vaccines work here.

12/17/2021 09:46 GMT — Projected impact of Omicron on elective surgery in the UK

A research letter that appears in The Lancet calculates the affects that the Omicron wave might have on surgical backlogs. It concludes that if Omicron causes a spike similar to the one in April 2020, it could lead to the cancellation of an additional 100,273 elective operations in England from December 2021 to February 2022.

One of the authors, Dr. Aneel Bhangu, a clinician scientist in global surgery at the National Institute for Health Research and senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham, in the United Kingdom, comments:

“Cancellations may mean that patients wait even longer for operations like hip replacements, resulting in deterioration of their symptoms and increased disability. Ringfenced elective hubs are urgently needed to protect elective surgery this winter.”

12/17/2021 09:12 GMT — Autoimmunity may help explain long COVID

A recent paper discusses how antibodies that the body produces after the initial immune response to SARS-CoV-2 may also bind the same target cells as the virus. This, the authors theorize, might help explain why individuals experience long COVID symptoms months after infection.

Read more about the study here.

12/16/2021 11:45 GMT — Omicron multiplies 70 times faster than Delta

According to a recent laboratory study, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, Omicron replicates 70 times faster than the Delta variant in cells from the upper respiratory tract. However, the scientists also found that Omicron replicates 10 times less efficiently in lung tissue than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.

These findings may help explain why Omicron is particularly transmittable — more virus particles in the upper airways make it more likely to move from one individual to another.

The fact that it replicates less well in lung tissue might hint that it causes less severe disease. However, laboratory studies on cells do not always translate to humans.

Dr. Muge Cevik, a clinical lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology at the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom, discussed the findings on Twitter. She explains:

“Less efficient replication in the lungs may suggest lower severity, but severity in humans is not determined only by virus replication but also the host immune response.”

“For those asking whether this is good [or] bad news, simple answer: I don’t know. While Omicron may infect the lung cells less efficiently, a higher viral load may worsen immune response,” she concludes.

12/16/2021 10:28 GMT — “No need for a variant-specific booster,” according to Dr. Fauci

Yesterday, at a White House press briefing, the president’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, announced that scientists would not need to change current COVID-19 vaccines to tackle the Omicron variant. “Our booster vaccine regimens work against Omicron. At this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster,” he said.

Read more about Omicron here.

12/15/2021 12:10 GMT — Scientists create experimental antiviral against SARS-CoV-2 from ‘deadly carrot’

A Mediterranean plant called Thapsia garganica, more commonly known as deadly carrot, may become a promising alternative way to combat COVID-19, recent research suggests.

In experiments testing the antiviral performance of thapsigargin, a compound in the roots and fruits of the plant, researchers discovered that it blocked all infection with Alpha, Beta, or Delta variants of SARS-CoV-2 in human cells.

The compound has been used in folk medicine as a herbal remedy for rheumatic pain and infertility in females.

Read more about the study here.

12/15/2021 11:55 GMT — Fighting COVID-19 with a lettuce-based chewing gum

Researchers have developed a chewing gum derived from lettuce that can neutralize SARS-CoV-2 in saliva, and therefore believe it may help reduce transmission of the virus.

Their study showed that the chewing gum lowered the levels of viral RNA in saliva to almost undetectable levels.

The researchers are now seeking to test the chewing gum in clinical trials.

Read MNT’s coverage of the study here.

12/15/2021 11:45 GMT — Research unmasks the environmental impact of PPE

New research has found that in 11 countries, the number of masks that ended up as litter is as high as 2 million. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was almost no litter related to masks, the study points out.

Similar increases were recorded for other types of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and wipes.

Read more here about the extent of PPE litter during the early months of the pandemic.

12/14/2021 16:01 GMT — Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill has 89% efficacy

In a study including 2,246 high-risk individuals, Pfizer’s antiviral pill — Paxlovid — had an efficacy of 89% at preventing hospitalization and death from COVID-19. However, it is worth noting that the study has not been peer-reviewed.

These data are timely for Pfizer. Yesterday, Merck announced the full clinical trial data for its COVID-19 antiviral drug, molnupiravir. Unlike Paxlovid, molnupiravir had a lower-than-expected efficacy. Initial results showed a 50% reduction in hospitalization, but the latest results show just a 30% reduction.

Andrew Pekosz, M.D., vice chair of microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health 

in Baltimore, hopes that Paxlovid is “a really important weapon in our arsenal to fight COVID-19, particularly as we see more variants that are going to be chipping at that efficacy number.”

Read more about molnupiravir here.

12/14/2021 14:47 GMT — COVID-19: ‘Deadly carrot’ compound may be effective antiviral

A new study suggests that an antiviral compound called thapsigargin is able to block coinfection with two variants of SARS-CoV-2 in cell cultures.

Thapsigargin comes from Thapsia Garganica, a Mediterranean plant commonly known as deadly carrot. The study paper appears in the journal Virulence.

Read our full coverage of this story here.

12/14/2021 11:08 GMT — 2 doses of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine give 70% protection against hospitalization with Omicron

Two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine provide 70% protection against hospitalization and severe disease from the Omicron variant, a real-world study in South Africa has revealed.

The data, based on some 211,000 positive COVID-19 test results from mid-November to early December, was released in a briefing by Discovery Health, South Africa’s largest private health insurance administrator, on Tuesday. MNT has been unable to identify the original report.

The briefing described reduced effectiveness for Pfizer’s two-shot primary series against severe outcomes, which provided 93% protection against Delta.

As for infection, the double shot also provided about 33% protection against Omicron, down from 80% for Delta.

The data support previous findings that a third dose increased antibody titers and provided significant protection against Omicron.

Read more about why Omicron is worrying scientists here.

12/13/2021 15:32 GMT — ‘Science is flawed’: COVID-19, ivermectin, and beyond

In an op-ed for Medical News Today, Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, an epidemiologist and writer based in Sydney, Australia, outlines some prominent issues with research that have become increasingly apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a case study, he offers the example of ivermectin. “It is likely that more ivermectin has been taken to prevent or treat COVID-19 than any other single medication, except perhaps dexamethasone,” Meyerowitz-Katz writes.“

And yet, we do not know if ivermectin is actually useful in the treatment of COVID-19 at all.”

Read Meyerowitz-Katz’s op-ed in full here.

12/13/2021 15:30 GMT — Pfizer booster increases protection against Omicron 100-fold, Israeli study finds

According to researchers from Israel, receiving the two regular doses of a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine plus a third booster shot can provide “significant protection” against the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

The findings come from research conducted by the Sheba Medical Center and the Health Ministry’s Central Virology Laboratory in Israel.

This study involved comparing blood samples from 20 people who had received the two regular Pfizer doses 5–6 months previously to that of 20 participants who had received a third booster dose 1 month before.

“The good news is that with the booster dose [neutralization ability against Omicron] increases about a hundredfold,” says Gili Regev-Yochay, director of the Infectious Diseases Unit at Sheba Medical Center.

“There is a significant protection of the booster dose.” However, she admits, “[i]t is lower than the neutralization ability against the Delta [variant], about four times lower.”

12/13/2021 15:24 GMT — Could a global ‘vaccine tax’ help achieve vaccine equity?

As of December 9, 2021, more than 8.1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, most of these in high income countries.

In low income countries, only 8.35% of the population has received at least one vaccine dose. The most significant barrier that stands in the way of equitable vaccine distribution is the high cost of vaccines, which renders them largely unavailable in countries that cannot afford them.

A new paper in the BMJ Journal of Medical Ethics suggests that one solution to vaccine inequity might be applying a vaccine “tax” based on a purchasing nation’s ability to pay for vaccines.

“For every vaccine bought, a fraction of the price paid for the vaccine is set aside to create a fairer vaccine distribution,” proposes paper author Dr. Andreas Brøgger Albertsen, of Aarhus University in Denmark.

“Under the vaccine tax scheme, the selling firm is responsible for transferring the money raised in this way to COVAX,” the World Health Organization’s (WHO) initiative “for pooled procurement and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.”

Read our coverage of this story here.

12/13/2021 12:42 GMT — WHO reiterates warning about Omicron risk

A new technical brief from the World Health Organization (WHO) reiterates that the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 could be highly transmissible and asks member states to enhance their pandemic preparedness measures.

“Omicron variant is a highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations, including 26-32 in the spike protein, some of which are concerning and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility,” the brief states.

The WHO’s risk assessment concludes that “[t]he overall risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron remains very high for a number of reasons,” including those stated above.WHO’s advice to member states includes:

  • enhancing data collection and research on Omicron and other SARS-CoV-2 variants
  • accelerating vaccination rollouts
  • continuing to maintain basic public health measures, including adequate masking, physical distancing, and ensuring appropriate indoor ventilation.

12/10/2021 09:40 GMT — Boosters now available to 16–17-year olds in US

Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided emergency authorization for people aged 16–17 to get a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine. They will be eligible for the shot 6 months after the second dose.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encouraged this age group to take up the booster shot. “We know protection wanes over time,” she explains, and “we’re facing a variant that has the potential to require more immunity to be protected.”

Acting commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Janet Woodcock, says, “Vaccination and getting a booster when eligible, along with other preventive measures like masking and avoiding large crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, remain our most effective methods for fighting COVID-19.”

12/10/2021 09:22 GMT — COVID-19: Do windy days reduce transmission?

A recent study investigated the role of wind speed in SARS-CoV-2 transmission in outdoor spaces. Reduced wind speed had associations with transmission rates during warmer spells. However, below a certain temperature, wind speed made little difference, possibly because people were more likely to socialize indoors.

Read more here.

12/09/2021 14:26 GMT — Will COVID-19 vaccines stand the test of Omicron?

Since the emergence of Omicron, one question has been on everyone’s mind: Will the vaccines protect against it? Until more data are available, there are no firm answers, but many are optimistic that vaccines offer at least some protection. Medical News Today investigated the current hypotheses in a new feature.

12/09/2021 11:34 GMT — Pfizer vaccine versus Omicron: Preliminary data

In a press release, Pfizer has outlined preliminary data on how its COVID-19 vaccine fares against the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

The results of the laboratory work demonstrate that “Three doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine neutralize the Omicron variant […] while two doses show significantly reduced neutralization titers.”

The company explains that a third dose increases levels of Omicron-neutralizing antibodies 25-fold.

Levels of neutralizing antibodies following the booster jab are comparable to the levels observed after two doses against wild-type SARS-CoV-2. These levels, Pfizer says, are “associated with high levels of protection.”

Pfizer’s chairman and chief executive officer, Albert Bourla, explains: 

“Although two doses of the vaccine may still offer protection against severe disease caused by the Omicron strain, it’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose of our vaccine. Ensuring as many people as possible are fully vaccinated with the first two dose series and a booster remains the best course of action to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

As the press release acknowledges, these data are preliminary, and the company will continue to collect real-world data.

Read more about the Omicron variant here.

12/09/2021 10:33 GMT — FDA authorizes long-acting monoclonal antibodies for preexposure prevention of COVID-19

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an emergency use authorization for AstraZeneca’s Evusheld. The drug will be used to prevent COVID-19 in people with severely compromised immune systems or a history of severe adverse reactions to a vaccine.

According to its press release, Evusheld “is only authorized for those individuals who [currently do not have a SARS-CoV-2 infection] and who have not recently been exposed to an individual [with the SARS-CoV-2 virus].”

Evusheld is administered by two intramuscular injections in quick succession. Each injection contains one of two monoclonal antibodies: tixagevimab or cilgavimab.

The FDA also makes it clear that “Evusheld is not a substitute for vaccination in individuals for whom COVID-19 vaccination is recommended.”

12/08/2021 14:02 GMT — UK: Omicron cases doubling every ‘2–3 days’

According to Prof. Neil Ferguson from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies in the United Kingdom, Omicron cases are doubling every 2–3 days in the U.K. He explains, “It’s likely to overtake Delta before Christmas at this rate.” Omicron cases are particularly high in London and Scotland.

During the interview, which aired on BBC Radio 4, the interviewer inquired about the likelihood of lockdowns. Prof. Ferguson says:

“Clearly, if the consensus is it is highly likely that the NHS is simply going to be overwhelmed, then it will be for the government to decide what [it]wants to do about that, but it’s a difficult situation to be in, of course.”

Speaking about the severity of disease caused by Omicron, he explains that there is “a little hint in the U.K. data that infections are a little bit more likely to be asymptomatic. But we really need to firm up that evidence at the current time.”

Read more about Omicron here.

12/08/2021 12:09 GMT — Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine offers some protection against Omicron, lab study suggests

A series of small experiments with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has found a drop in protection against the new Omicron variant.

The researchers compared the immune responses of six people who had received the vaccine and six who first developed COVID-19 before receiving the vaccination.

They found that, overall, there was a 41-fold reduction in neutralization against Omicron. However, five of the participants, all of whom had developed COVID-19, maintained “relatively high neutralization [levels] with Omicron.”

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, suggests that people who have had COVID-19 before this vaccine are likely to be better protected. The researchers expect this to be similar for people who have received a booster dose.

Although the findings are worrisome to an extent, scientists point out that looking solely at antibodies paints an incomplete picture of the body’s immune response to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 —especially against hospitalization or death.

Read more about Omicron here.

Doctor in analysis lab holding sample of new strain of covid Omicron

What to know about eczema

Eczema is a condition in which patches of skin become inflamed, itchy, cracked, and rough. Some types can also cause blisters.

Different types and stages of eczema affect 31.6 million people in the United States, which equals more than 10% of the population.

Many people use the word eczema when referring to atopic dermatitis, which is the most common type. The term atopic refers to a collection of conditions that involve the immune system, including atopic dermatitis, asthma, and hay fever. The word dermatitis refers to inflammation of the skin.

Certain foods, such as nuts and dairy, can trigger symptoms of eczema. Environmental triggers can include smoke, pollen, soaps, and fragrances. Eczema is not contagious.

About a quarter of children in the U.S. have the condition, as well as 10% of African Americans, 13% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, 13% of Native Americans, and 11% of people who are white.

Some people outgrow the condition, while others will continue to have it throughout adulthood. This article will explain what eczema is and discuss its symptoms, treatments, causes, and types.


The symptoms of atopic dermatitis can vary depending on a person’s age and the condition’s severity and can vary by individual.

People with the condition will often experience periods of time when their symptoms worsen, followed by periods of time when their symptoms will improve or clear up.

The following sections will outline some of the potential differences in symptoms in more detail.

General eczema symptoms

In most cases eczema symptoms are mild. The most common symptoms of atopic dermatitis include:

  • dry, scaly skin
  • skin flushing
  • itching
  • open, crusted, or weeping sores

People with severe eczema may need more intensive treatment to relieve their symptoms. Continuous rubbing and scratching can also lead to skin infections.

Eczema symptoms in People of Color

In People of Color, an eczema rash may appear gray or brown. This can make outbreaks harder to see.

However, People of Color who get eczema may also get dark or light skin patches even after eczema symptoms go away. These can last a long time. Doctors call these patches hyperpigmentation and depigmentation or hypopigmentation.

A dermatologist can evaluate these patches, which may respond to treatments like steroid creams.

Infant eczema symptoms

The following atopic dermatitis symptoms are common in babies under the age of 2:

  • rashes on the scalp and cheeks
  • rashes that bubble up before leaking fluid
  • rashes that can cause extreme itchiness, which may interfere with sleeping

Childhood eczema symptoms

The following atopic dermatitis symptoms are common in children age 2 and above:

  • rashes that appear behind the creases of elbows or knees
  • rashes that appear on the neck, wrists, ankles, and the crease between the buttocks and legs
  • bumpy rashes
  • rashes that can become lighter or darker
  • skin thickening, also known as lichenification, which can then develop into a permanent itch

Most people with the condition develop it before the age of 5 years. An estimated 60% of children will no longer show symptoms by adolescence.

African American and Hispanic children may have more severe eczema than children who are white.

Symptoms in adults

The following atopic dermatitis symptoms are common in adults:

  • rashes that are more scaly than those occurring in children
  • rashes that commonly appear in the creases of the elbows or knees or the nape of the neck
  • rashes that cover much of the body
  • very dry skin on the affected areas
  • rashes that are permanently itchy
  • skin infections

Adults who developed atopic dermatitis as children but no longer experience the condition may still have dry or easily irritated skin, hand eczema, and eczema on the eyelids.

The appearance of skin affected by atopic dermatitis will depend on how much a person scratches and whether the skin is infected. Scratching and rubbing can further irritate the skin, increase inflammation, and make the itching worse.


There is currently no cure for eczema. Treatment for the condition aims to heal the affected skin and prevent flares of symptoms.

Doctors will suggest a treatment plan based on an individual’s age, symptoms, and current state of health.

For some people, eczema goes away over time. For others, however, it is a lifelong condition.

The sections below will list some treatment options.

Home care

There are several things that people with eczema can do to support skin health and alleviate symptoms.

They can try:

  • taking lukewarm baths
  • applying moisturizer within 3 minutes of bathing to “lock in” moisture
  • moisturizing every day
  • wearing cotton and soft fabrics
  • avoiding rough, scratchy fibers and tight fitting clothing
  • using a humidifier in dry or cold weather
  • using a mild soap or a non-soap cleanser when washing
  • taking extra precautions to prevent eczema flares in winter
  • air drying or gently patting the skin dry with a towel, rather than rubbing the skin dry after bathing or taking a shower
  • where possible, avoiding rapid changes of temperature and activities that cause sweating
  • learning and avoiding individual eczema triggers
  • keeping fingernails short to prevent scratching from breaking the skin

People can also try various natural remedies for eczema, including aloe vera, coconut oil, and apple cider vinegar.


Doctors can prescribe several medications to treat the symptoms of eczema, including:

  • Topical corticosteroid creams and ointments: These are anti-inflammatory medications and should relieve the main symptoms of eczema, such as inflammation and itchiness. People can apply them directly to the skin. Some people may benefit from prescription-strength medications.
  • Oral medications: If topical treatments are not effective, a doctor may prescribe oral medications like systemic corticosteroids or immunosuppresants. These are available as injections or oral tablets. People should only use them for short periods of time. Also, it is important to note that the symptoms may worsen upon stopping these drugs if the person is not already taking another medication for the condition.
  • Antibiotics: Doctors prescribe antibiotics if eczema occurs alongside a bacterial skin infection.
  • Antihistamines: These can reduce the risk of nighttime scratching, as they tend to cause drowsiness.
  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors: This drug suppresses the activities of the immune system. It decreases inflammation and helps prevent flares.
  • Barrier repair moisturizers: These reduce water loss and work to repair the skin.
  • Phototherapy: This involves exposure to UVA or UVB waves. This method can treat moderate dermatitis. A doctor will monitor the skin closely throughout the treatment.
  • Injected biologic drugs: These medications block proteins in the immune system to limit immune system response.

Even though the condition itself is not currently curable, each person should consult with a doctor to get a tailored treatment plan.

Even after an area of skin has healed, it is important to keep looking after it, as it may easily become irritated again.


Researchers do not know the definitive cause of eczema, but many health professionals believe that it develops from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Children are more likely to develop eczema if a parent has it or another atopic condition. If both parents have an atopic condition, the risk is even higher.

Some environmental factors may also bring out the symptoms of eczema. These include:

  • Irritants: These include soaps, detergents, shampoos, disinfectants, juices from fresh fruits, meats, and vegetables.
  • Allergens: Dust mites, pets, pollens, and mold can all lead to eczema. This is known as allergic eczema.
  • Microbes: These include bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, viruses, and certain fungi.
  • Hot and cold temperatures: Very hot and very cold weather, high and low humidity, and perspiration from exercise can bring out eczema.
  • Foods: Dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds, soy products, and wheat can cause eczema flares.
  • Stress: This is not a direct cause of eczema, but it can make the symptoms worse.
  • Hormones: Females may experience increased eczema symptoms when their hormone levels are changing, such as during pregnancy and at certain points in the menstrual cycle.


There are several types of eczema. Besides atopic dermatitis, other types include:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis: This is a skin reaction that occurs following contact with a substance or allergen that the immune system recognizes as foreign.
  • Dyshidrotic eczema: This refers to irritation of the skin on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. It is characterized by blisters.
  • Neurodermatitis: This leads to scaly patches of skin on the head, forearms, wrists, and lower legs. It occurs due to a localized itch, such as from an insect bite.
  • Discoid eczema: Also known as nummular eczema, this type presents as circular patches of irritated skin that can be crusted, scaly, and itchy.
  • Stasis dermatitis: This refers to skin irritation of the lower leg. It is usually related to circulatory problems.


Eczema is a common inflammatory skin condition. The most common type is called atopic dermatitis. Eczema is most common in children, but the majority of children will grow out of it by the time they reach adolescence.

Eczema can cause discomfort and can vary in severity. It can present differently depending on a person’s age. In people with darker skin tones, the symptoms may be harder to see.

Although there is currently no cure, people can treat and prevent eczema flares using home remedies, moisturizers, medications, and lifestyle changes.

Acute psoriasis on the elbows is an autoimmune incurable dermatological skin disease. Large red, inflamed, flaky rash on the knees. Joints affected by psoriatic arthritis

Is fast food bad for you? All you need to know about its nutrition and impacts

The term “fast food” generally refers to food that people intend to consume quickly, either on- or off-site. There is plenty of well-researched evidence demonstrating the various negative health effects of eating and overeating fast food, in both the short- and long-term.

Many fast food establishments now list the number of calories each item contains. However, this is only part of the consideration of whether it is healthy or not.

Fast food is typically poor in terms of nutrition. According to a 2015 review, fast food tends to contain various substances that are generally unhealthy. It is high in sugar, salt, saturated or trans fats, and many processed preservatives and ingredients. It also lacks some beneficial nutrients.

However, not all fast food has negative impacts, and a person can make an informed choice by researching the nutritional content of particular fast food items. People can find this information on the websites of most major restaurants.

That said, even the more healthy fast food items are generally high in sugar, salt, saturated fats, and trans fats. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

 notes that the typical person in the United States consumes too much of these food components.

Short-term impacts

Fast food is typically high in sugar, salt, and saturated or trans fats. The body’s reaction to these nutrients results in a range of short-term impacts when a person eats fast food.

Spike in blood sugar

Fast food breaks down quickly, causing a rapid spike in blood sugar because of the refined carbohydrates and added sugar. In turn, this causes an abnormally large insulin surge, resulting in a drop in blood sugar. This can cause people to feel tired. Insulin promotes further hunger within a short time after the meal.

Blood pressure

A small 2016 study found that consuming high levels of salt could immediately impact the proper functioning of a person’s blood vessels. Excess sodium intake also has links to fluid retention.

Increased inflammation

A single serving of fast food could increase inflammation throughout the body. A 2015 study found that one fast food meal high in saturated fat increased airway inflammation in individuals with asthma. This inflammation acts as a trigger for asthma attacks.

Affects nutrient intake

Fast food does not typically contain fresh fruit and vegetables. If an individual eats fast food frequently, they may find it challenging to reach their recommended daily intake of at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables. They may also have difficulties reaching their ideal fiber intake, which according to the Food and Drug Administration is 28 grams per day.

Binge eating

Fast food is highly palatable, meaning the body breaks it down quickly in the mouth, and it does not need much chewing. Therefore, it activates the reward centers in the brain rapidly.

This combination trains the palate to prefer these highly processed, highly stimulating foods and reduces someone’s desire for whole, fresh foods.

Research from 2018 and other previous studies have suggested a link between fast food consumption and the incidence of food addiction for these low-nutrient items.

A small 2017 study of 15 adults found that a single day of high-fat overeating damaged insulin sensitivity. This can then trigger a cycle of binge eating or binge eating disorders.

Long-term impacts

There is plenty of well-researched evidence showing that regularly eating fast food can harm a person’s health.

A 2015 study identified the sometimes irreparable effects of eating fast food. Such risks include obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and various cardiovascular conditions.

This is because most fast food is high in sugar, salt, saturated fat, trans fats, processed ingredients, and calories. It is also generally low in antioxidants, fiber, and many other nutrients.

Digestive system

Many fast food meals are extremely low in fiber. Doctors associate low-fiber diets with a higher risk of digestive conditions such as constipation and diverticular disease, as well as reductions in healthy gut bacteria.

Immunity and inflammation

A 2019 review examined the effects of a Western diet on a person’s immune system. This diet consists of high amounts of sugar, salt, and saturated fat from only a few sources.

The authors noted that a Western diet could lead to higher inflammation, lower control of infection, higher cancer rates, and a higher risk of allergic and autoinflammatory disease.

Memory and learning

A 2020 paper suggests a link between unbalanced diets high in saturated fat and simple carbohydrates, typical of fast food, and a lower capacity for memory and learning. This sort of diet may also raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.


In a 2018 review, the authors established a link between fast food consumption and an increase in asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema.

Heart disease

The FDA suggests that a diet high in salt often increases a person’s blood pressure, making a person more prone to heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease, or heart disease.

The FDA also notes that a diet high in trans fats raises the amount of low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol and lowers the amount of high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol. This means that a person is more likely to develop heart disease.


The United States Department of Agriculture points out that typical fast food contains a very high number of calories. If a person eats more calories than they burn each day, they gain weight, which may lead to obesity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity increases a person’s risk of developing a range of serious health conditions.


Another consequence of younger people regularly eating fast food is their unintentional lack of understanding of basic meal preparation, cooking, and healthy eating.

Over time, this perpetuates dependence on fast food, and people may not learn how to prepare healthy, balanced food in the home. Consuming healthy meals can support a person’s long-term health throughout their lifespan.

Mental health impact

Eating lots of fast food could also impact an individual’s mental health and make them more prone to depression and anxiety.

A 2021 study compared data from 322 males and 322 females age 30 or older. They found an association between healthy food such as leafy greens, nuts, and fish and positive mood, while the opposite was true of fast food. In addition, women reported significantly more negative associations with fast food than men.


Fast food tends to be high in salt, sugar, saturated fats, trans fats, calories, and processed preservatives and ingredients. A wealth of well-conducted research has proven the negative health effects of consuming too much of these food components.

In the short term, fast food impacts blood sugar and blood pressure, increases inflammation, and may mean an individual does not eat enough necessary nutrients. In the long term, a diet rich in fast food could lead to issues with digestion, immunity, inflammation, heart health, obesity, and more.

Not all fast food is bad, however. Certain menu items might be lower in these substances than others, while some fast food outlets might focus on providing more healthy options.

To preserve health, a person should try to identify fast food items that contain less salt, fat, sugar, and total carbohydrates, and generally try to limit the amount of fast food they consume.

Cold Versus Flu

What is the difference between a cold and flu?

Influenza (flu) and the common cold are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. Flu is caused by influenza viruses only, whereas the common cold can be caused by a number of different viruses, including rhinoviruses, parainfluenza, and seasonal coronaviruses. Seasonal coronaviruses should not be confused with SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Because flu and the common cold have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. In general, flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms are typically more intense and begin more abruptly. Colds are usually milder than flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose than people who have flu. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations. Flu can have serious associated complications.

How can you tell the difference between a cold and flu?

Cold or Flu?

Because colds and flu share many symptoms, it can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Special tests can tell if a person is sick with flu.

What are the symptoms of flu versus the symptoms of a cold?

The symptoms of flu can include fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue (tiredness). Cold symptoms are usually milder than the symptoms of flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems.


Back pain and remedies

Back pain is a common reason for absence from work and for seeking medical treatment. It can be uncomfortable and sometimes even debilitating.

Back pain can result from injury, activity, and some medical conditions. It can affect people of any age and for different reasons. As people get older, the likelihood of developing lower back pain increases due to factors such as previous occupation and degenerative disk disease.

Lower back pain may be relating to the bony lumbar spine, disks between the vertebrae, ligaments around the spine and disks, spinal cord and nerves, lower back muscles, abdominal and pelvic internal organs, or the skin around the lumbar area.

Pain in the upper back may be due to disorders of the aorta, tumors in the chest, or spine inflammation.


The human back consists of a complex structure of muscles, ligaments, tendons, disks, and bones that work together to support the body and enable movement.

The segments of the spine are cushioned with cartilage-like pads called disks.

Problems with any of these components can lead to back pain. In some cases of back pain, however, the cause remains unclear.

Damage can result from strain, medical conditions, or poor posture, among other things.

Back pain commonly stems from strain, tension, or injury. Frequent causes of back pain are:

  • strained muscles or ligaments
  • a muscle spasm
  • muscle tension
  • damaged disks
  • injuries, fractures, or falls


Activities that can lead to strains or spasms include:

  • lifting something improperly
  • lifting something that is too heavy
  • making an abrupt, awkward movement

Structural problems

A number of structural problems may also result in back pain:

  • Ruptured disks: Each vertebra in the spine is cushioned by disks. If the disk ruptures, there will be more pressure on a nerve, resulting in back pain.
  • Bulging disks: Much in the same way as ruptured disks, a bulging disk can lead to more pressure on a nerve.
  • Sciatica: A sharp and shooting pain travels through the buttock and down the back of the leg. This may occur when a bulging or herniated disk presses on a nerve or when a muscle pushes specifically on the sciatic nerve.
  • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis can cause problems with the joints in the hips, lower back, and other areas in the body. In some cases, the space around the spinal cord narrows. Health experts call this spinal stenosis.
  • Unusual curvature of the spine: If the spine curves in an unusual way, back pain can occur. An example of this is scoliosis, in which the spine curves to the side.
  • Osteoporosis: Bones, including the vertebrae of the spine, become brittle and porous, making compression fractures more likely.
  • Kidney problems: Kidney stones or kidney infection can cause back pain.

Movement and posture

Adopting a hunched sitting position when using a computer can lead to increased back and shoulder problems over time.

Back pain can also result from some everyday activities or poor posture.

Examples include:

  • twisting
  • coughing or sneezing
  • overstretching
  • bending awkwardly or for long periods
  • pushing, pulling, lifting, or carrying something
  • standing or sitting for long periods
  • straining the neck forward, such as when driving or using a computer
  • driving for lengthy periods without taking a break, even when not hunched
  • sleeping on a mattress that does not support the body or keep the spine straight

Other causes

Some medical conditions can lead to back pain:

  • Cauda equina syndrome: The cauda equina is a bundle of spinal nerve roots that arise from the lower end of the spinal cord. Symptoms of this syndrome include a dull pain in the lower back and upper buttocks, as well as numbness in the buttocks, genitalia, and thighs. Sometimes, bowel and bladder function disturbances occur.
  • Cancer of the spine: A tumor on the spine may press against a nerve, resulting in back pain. The structural damage to the bone itself can also be painful when there are tumors or metastasis to the bone.
  • Infection of the spine: A fever and a tender, warm area on the back could be due to an infection of the spine.
  • Other infections: Pelvic inflammatory disease and kidney or bladder infection may also lead to back pain.
  • Sleep disorders: Individuals with sleep disorders are more likely to experience back pain than others.
  • Shingles: An infection that can affect the nerves may lead to back pain. This depends on which nerves have become affected. A rash will follow the back pain.


The main symptom of back pain is an ache anywhere in the back and sometimes all the way down to the buttocks and legs.

Some back issues can cause pain in other parts of the body, depending on the nerves affected.

The pain often goes away without treatment. However, if it occurs with any of the following, a person should contact a doctor:

  • unexplained weight loss
  • fever
  • inflammation or swelling on the back
  • persistent back pain where lying down or resting does not help
  • pain down the legs
  • pain that reaches below the knees
  • a recent injury, blow, or trauma to the back
  • urinary incontinence
  • difficulty urinating
  • fecal incontinence, or loss of control over bowel movements
  • numbness around the genitals
  • numbness around the anus
  • numbness around the buttocks

When to contact a specialist

A person should seek medical help if they experience any numbness or tingling or if they have back pain:

  • that does not improve with rest
  • after an injury or fall
  • with numbness in the legs
  • with weakness
  • with fever
  • with unexplained weight loss


Back pain usually resolves with rest and home remedies, but sometimes, medical treatment is necessary.

Home treatments

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief medication — usually, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen — can relieve discomfort. Applying a hot compress or an ice pack to the painful area may also reduce pain.

Resting from strenuous activity can help, but moving around will ease stiffness, alleviate pain, and prevent muscles from weakening.

Medical treatment

If home treatments do not relieve back pain, a doctor may recommend the following medication, physical therapy, or both:


Back pain that does not respond well to OTC pain relief medication may require a prescription NSAID.

Codeine or hydrocodone, which are narcotics, may be prescribed for short periods. These require close monitoring by a doctor. In some cases, doctors may also recommend muscle relaxants.

Antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, may be prescribed, but research into their effectiveness is ongoing, and the existing evidence is conflicting.

Physical therapy

Applying heat, ice, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation, as well as some muscle release techniques, to the back muscles and soft tissues may help alleviate pain.

As the pain improves, a physical therapist may introduce some flexibility and strength exercises for the back and abdominal muscles. Techniques for improving posture may also help.

It is advisable to practice the techniques regularly, even after the pain has gone, to prevent back pain recurrence.

Cortisone injections

If other options are not effective, these may be injected into the epidural space, around the spinal cord.

Cortisone is an anti-inflammatory drug. It helps reduce inflammation around the nerve roots. Injections may also be used to numb areas thought to be causing the pain.


According to research, botox reduces pain by paralyzing sprained muscles in spasm. These injections are effective for about 3–4 months.


Pulleys and weights are used to stretch the back. This may result in a herniated disk moving back into position. It can also relieve pain but only while traction is applied.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help manage chronic back pain by encouraging new ways of thinking. It may include relaxation techniques and ways of maintaining a positive attitude.

Studies have found that people receiving CBT tend to become more active and do exercise, which lowers the risk of back pain recurrence.


Surgery for back pain is very rare. If an individual has a herniated disk, surgery may be an option, especially if there is persistent pain and nerve compression, which can lead to muscle weakness.

Examples of surgical procedures include:

  • Fusion: A surgeon joins two vertebrae and inserts a bone graft between them. The vertebrae are splinted together with metal plates, screws, or cages. There is a significantly greater risk of arthritis to subsequently develop in the adjoining vertebrae.
  • Artificial disk: A surgeon inserts an artificial disk that replaces the cushion between two vertebrae.
  • Diskectomy: Surgeons may remove a portion of a disk if it is irritating or pressing against a nerve.
  • Partially removing a vertebra: A surgeon may remove a small section of a vertebra if it is pinching the spinal cord or nerves.

Injecting cells to regenerate spinal disks: Scientists from Duke University in Durham, NC, developed new biomaterials that can deliver a booster shot of reparative cells to the nucleus pulposus, effectively eliminating pain resulting from degenerative disk disease.

Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies may be used alongside conventional therapies or on their own.

Chiropractic, osteopathy, shiatsu, and acupuncture may help relieve back pain and encourage a person to feel relaxed.

  • An osteopath is a physician who specializes in treating the skeleton and muscles.
  • A chiropractor treats joint, muscle, and bone problems. The main focus is the spine.
  • Shiatsu, or finger pressure therapy, is a type of massage where pressure is applied along energy lines in the body. The shiatsu therapist applies pressure with the fingers, thumbs, and elbows.
  • Acupuncture, which originated in China, involves inserting fine needles into specific points in the body. Acupuncture can help the body release its natural pain relievers — endorphins — and stimulate nerve and muscle tissue.
  • Yoga involves specific physical poses, movements, and breathing exercises. Some of these may help strengthen the back muscles and improve posture. Care must be taken that exercises do not make back pain worse.

Studies on complementary therapies have given mixed results. Some people have experienced significant benefits, while others have not. When considering alternative therapies, it is important to seek guidance from a qualified and registered therapist.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a popular therapy for individuals with chronic back pain. The TENS machine delivers small electric pulses into the body through electrodes placed on the skin.

Experts believe TENS encourages the body to produce endorphins and may block pain signals returning to the brain. Studies on TENS have provided mixed results. Some showed no benefits, while others indicate that it could be helpful for some people.

A TENS machine should be used under the direction of a healthcare professional.

A person should avoid TENS if they:

  • are pregnant
  • have a history of epilepsy
  • have a pacemaker

TENS is considered “safe, noninvasive, inexpensive, and patient friendly,” and it appears to reduce pain. However, more evidence is necessary to confirm its effectiveness in improving activity levels.

Risk factors

The following factors are linked to a higher risk of developing low back pain:

  • occupational activities
  • pregnancy
  • a sedentary lifestyle
  • not enough exercise
  • older age
  • obesity
  • smoking
  • strenuous physical exercise or work, especially if done incorrectly
  • genetic factors
  • medical conditions, such as arthritis and cancer

Lower back pain also tends to be more common in females than in males, possibly due to hormonal factors. Additionally, health experts associate back pain with stress, anxiety, and mood disorders.


A doctor will usually be able to diagnose back pain after asking about symptoms and carrying out a physical examination.

An imaging scan and other tests may be necessary if:

  • back pain appears to result from an injury
  • there is an underlying cause that requires treatment
  • the pain persists over a long period

An X-ray, an MRI scan, or a CT scan can give information about the state of the soft tissues in the back:

  • X-rays can show the alignment of the bones and reveal signs of arthritis or broken bones, but they cannot reveal damage in the muscles, spinal cord, nerves, or disks.
  • MRI or CT scans can reveal herniated disks or problems with tissue, tendons, nerves, ligaments, blood vessels, muscles, and bones.
  • Bone scans can detect bone tumors or compression fractures resulting from osteoporosis. A radioactive substance, or tracer, is injected into a vein. The tracer collects in the bones and helps the doctor detect bone problems with the aid of a special camera. Doctors use these for bone conditions and difficult-to-detect fractures.
  • Electromyography measures the electrical impulses produced by nerves in response to muscles. This can confirm nerve compression, which may occur with a herniated disk or spinal stenosis.

A doctor may also order a blood test if they suspect an infection.

Other types of diagnosis

  • A chiropractor will diagnose through touch, or palpation, and a visual examination. Chiropractic is known as a direct approach, with a strong focus on adjusting the spinal joints. A chiropractor may also want to see the results of imaging scans and any blood and urine tests.
  • An osteopath also diagnoses through palpation and visual inspection. Osteopathy involves slow and rhythmic stretching, known as mobilization, pressure or indirect techniques, and manipulation of joints and muscles.
  • A physical therapist focuses on diagnosing problems in the joints and soft tissues of the body.

Chronic or acute pain?

Health experts distinguish two types of back pain: acute and chronic.

Acute pain starts suddenly and lasts for up to 6 weeks.

Chronic, or long-term, pain develops over a longer period, lasts for over 3 months, and causes ongoing problems.

If a person has both occasional bouts of more intense pain and fairly continuous mild back pain, it can be hard for a doctor to determine whether they have acute or chronic back pain.


Steps to lower the risk of developing back pain consist mainly of addressing some of the risk factors.


Regular exercise helps build strength and manage body weight. Guided, low impact aerobic activities can boost heart health without straining or jerking the back.

Before starting any exercise program, a person should consult a healthcare professional.

There are two main types of exercise that people can do to reduce the risk of back pain:

  • Core-strengthening exercises work the abdominal and back muscles, helping strengthen muscles that protect the back.
  • Flexibility training aims at improving core flexibility, including the spine, hips, and upper legs.


A person’s diet should include sufficient amounts of calcium and vitamin D, as these are crucial for bone health.

A balanced diet also helps manage body weight.


A significantly higher percentage of people who smoke have back pain incidences, compared with individuals who do not smoke and who are of the same age, height, and weight.

Body weight

The weight people carry and where they carry it affects the risk of developing back pain.

People with obesity are at considerably higher risk of experiencing back pain than those with a moderate body weight.

Moreover, people who carry excessive weight in the abdominal area rather than in the buttocks and hip area are also at greater risk.

Posture when standing

Make sure you have a neutral pelvic position. Stand upright, with the head facing forward and a straight back, and balance your weight evenly on both feet. Keep your legs straight and your neck in line with the rest of the spine.

Posture when sitting

A good seat for working should have good back support, arm rests, and a swivel base.

When sitting, try to keep your knees and hips level and keep your feet flat on the floor or use a footstool. You should be able to sit upright with support in the small of your back.

If you are using a keyboard, make sure that there is a 90-degree angle between the upper arm and forearm.


When lifting things, use your legs, not your back, to do the lifting.

Maintain a long spine and keep your feet apart, with one leg slightly forward so that you can maintain balance. Bend only at the knees, hold the weight close to your body, and straighten the legs while changing the position of your back as little as possible.

Bending your back initially is unavoidable, but when you bend your back, try not to stoop and be sure to draw your low belly in so that your pelvis stays neutral and supported. Most importantly, do not straighten your legs before lifting, or you will be using your back for most of the work.

Avoid lifting and twisting at the same time

If something is particularly heavy, see whether you can lift it with someone else. While you are lifting it, keep looking straight ahead, not up or down, so that the neck is in alignment with the rest of the spine.

Moving things

It is safer for the back to push, not pull, things across the floor, as that way, you will be using your leg strength.


Shoes with a low heel place less of a strain on the back. However, some flat shoes with minimal support, such as flip-flops, can also contribute to back pain.


It is important to have proper support for your back when driving.

Make sure the wing mirrors are properly positioned so that you do not need to twist. The pedals should be squarely in front of your feet.

If you are driving for a long time, have many breaks. Get out of the car and walk around.


You should use a mattress that keeps the spine properly aligned and supports the weight of the shoulders and buttocks. Also, use a pillow that does not force your neck into a steep angle.

Senior couple at home. Handsome old man is having back pain and his attractive old woman supports him.

What to know about cancer

Cancer causes cells to divide uncontrollably. This can result in tumors, damage to the immune system, and other impairment that can be fatal.

In the United States, an estimated 15.5 million people with a history of cancer were living as of January 1, 2016, according to a 2018 report from the American Cancer Society.

In this article, we examine types of cancer, how the disease develops, and the many treatments that help improve the quality of life and survival rates.

What is cancer?

Cancer is a broad term. It describes the disease that results when cellular changes cause the uncontrolled growth and division of cells.

Some types of cancer cause rapid cell growth, while others cause cells to grow and divide at a slower rate.

Certain forms of cancer result in visible growths called tumors, while others, such as leukemia, do not.

Most of the body’s cells have specific functions and fixed lifespans. While it may sound like a bad thing, cell death is part of a natural and beneficial phenomenon called apoptosis.

A cell receives instructions to die so that the body can replace it with a newer cell that functions better. Cancerous cells lack the components that instruct them to stop dividing and to die.

As a result, they build up in the body, using oxygen and nutrients that would usually nourish other cells. Cancerous cells can form tumors, impair the immune system and cause other changes that prevent the body from functioning regularly.

Cancerous cells may appear in one area, then spread via the lymph nodes. These are clusters of immune cells located throughout the body.


There are many causes of cancer, and some are preventable.

For example, over 480,000 peopleTrusted Source die in the U.S. each year from smoking cigarettes, according to data reported in 2014.

In addition to smoking, risk factors for cancer include:

  • heavy alcohol consumption
  • excess body weight
  • physical inactivity
  • poor nutrition

Other causes of cancer are not preventable. Currently, the most significant unpreventable risk factor is age. According to the American Cancer Society, doctors in the U.S. diagnose 87 percent of cancer cases in people ages 50 years or older.

Is cancer genetic?

Genetic factors can contribute to the development of cancer.

A person’s genetic code tells their cells when to divide and expire. Changes in the genes can lead to faulty instructions, and cancer can result.

Genes also influence the cells’ production of proteins, and proteins carry many of the instructions for cellular growth and division.

Some genes change proteins that would usually repair damaged cells. This can lead to cancer. If a parent has these genes, they may pass on the altered instructions to their offspring.

Some genetic changes occur after birth, and factors such as smoking and sun exposure can increase the risk.

Other changes that can result in cancer take place in the chemical signals that determine how the body deploys, or “expresses” specific genes.

Finally, a person can inherit a predisposition for a type of cancer. A doctor may refer to this as having a hereditary cancer syndrome. Inherited genetic mutations significantly contribute to the development of 5–10 percent of cancer cases.


The side effects of chemotherapy include hair loss. However, advances in treatment are improving the outlook for people with cancer.

Innovative research has fueled the development of new medications and treatment technologies.

Doctors usually prescribe treatments based on the type of cancer, its stage at diagnosis, and the person’s overall health.

Below are examples of approaches to cancer treatment:

  • Chemotherapy aims to kill cancerous cells with medications that target rapidly dividing cells. The drugs can also help shrink tumors, but the side effects can be severe.
  • Hormone therapy involves taking medications that change how certain hormones work or interfere with the body’s ability to produce them. When hormones play a significant role, as with prostate and breast cancers, this is a common approach.
  • Immunotherapy uses medications and other treatments to boost the immune system and encourage it to fight cancerous cells. Two examples of these treatments are checkpoint inhibitors and adoptive cell transfer.
  • Precision medicine, or personalized medicine, is a newer, developing approach. It involves using genetic testing to determine the best treatments for a person’s particular presentation of cancer. Researchers have yet to show that it can effectively treat all types of cancer, however.
  • Radiation therapy uses high-dose radiation to kill cancerous cells. Also, a doctor may recommend using radiation to shrink a tumor before surgery or reduce tumor-related symptoms.
  • Stem cell transplant can be especially beneficial for people with blood-related cancers, such as leukemia or lymphoma. It involves removing cells, such as red or white blood cells, that chemotherapy or radiation has destroyed. Lab technicians then strengthen the cells and put them back into the body.
  • Surgery is often a part of a treatment plan when a person has a cancerous tumor. Also, a surgeon may remove lymph nodes to reduce or prevent the disease’s spread.
  • Targeted therapies perform functions within cancerous cells to prevent them from multiplying. They can also boost the immune system. Two examples of these therapies are small-molecule drugs and monoclonal antibodies.

Doctors will often employ more than one type of treatment to maximize effectiveness.


The most common type  of cancer in the U.S. is breast cancer, followed by lung and prostate cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute, which excluded nonmelanoma skin cancers from these findings.

Each year, more than 40,000 people in the country receive a diagnosis of one of the following types of cancer:

  • bladder
  • colon and rectal
  • endometrial
  • kidney
  • leukemia
  • liver
  • melanoma
  • non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • pancreatic
  • thyroid

Other forms are less common. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are over 100 types of cancer.

Cancer development and cell division

Doctors classify cancer by:

  • its location in the body
  • the tissues that it forms in

For example, sarcomas develop in bones or soft tissues, while carcinomas form in cells that cover internal or external surfaces in the body. Basal cell carcinomas develop in the skin, while adenocarcinomas can form in the breast.

When cancerous cells spread to other parts of the body, the medical term for this is metastasis.

A person can also have more than one type of cancer at a time.


Improvements in cancer detection, increased awareness of the risks of smoking, and a drop in tobacco use have all contributed to a year-on-year decrease in the number of cancer diagnoses and deaths.

According to the American Cancer Society, the overall cancer death rate declined by 26 percent between 1991 and 2015.

When a person has cancer, the outlook will depend on whether the disease has spread and on its type, severity, and location.


Cancer causes cells to divide uncontrollably. It also prevents them from dying at the natural point in their life cycle.

Genetic factors and lifestyle choices, such as smoking, can contribute to the development of the disease. Several elements affect the ways that DNA communicates with cells and directs their division and death.

After nonmelanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common type in the U.S. However, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death.

Treatments are constantly improving. Examples of current methods include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. Some people benefit from newer options, such as stem cell transplantation and precision medicine.

The diagnosis and death rates of cancer are dropping yearly.

Pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness. Female patient listening to doctor in medical office. Support people living with tumor illness.

COVID-19 vaccines for children: What are the side effects?

Vaccines undergo particularly rigorous safety tests before receiving approval for use in the general population. However, no drug is guaranteed to be free from side effects, so what are the side effects that children receiving the COVID-19 vaccine may face?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5–11 years on October 29, 2021. According to a recent survey by KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, just over one-quarter of parents of children in this age group are eager for their child to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

Although this may be surprising, other survey findings shed some light on the reasons behind this hesitancy: a fear of side effects.

Two-thirds of parents of children of this age said that they were worried that the COVID-19 vaccine would affect their children’s future fertility. So significant are these concerns that the American Academy of Pediatrics recently put out a video disputing any potential impact of the vaccine on puberty or fertility.

Vaccine hesitancy is not just over fears of an impact on fertility, however. Over three-quarters of parents reported that they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that their child might experience serious side effects or that not enough is known about long-term effects from the COVID-19 vaccine.

So, what are the possible side effects?

What are children going to get?

In the same way that pharmaceutical companies raced to get the vaccine approved for adults, those companies have carried out trials to see if their vaccines are safe and effective in adolescents and children.

Speaking at an Independent SAGE briefing on November 5, 2021, Prof. Deenan Pillay — a professor of virology at University College London (UCL) in the United Kingdom — said:

“There have been a number of trials. We are always concerned about the untoward effect of all medicines in children, and, of course, we can’t just extrapolate from data that [come] from adults to children. We have got to wait to ensure there is safety in children. And now that has happened.”

So far, mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have received approval in the U.S. for children over 12 years of age, with the Pfizer vaccine approved for 5–12-year-olds at the end of October 2021.

The European Medicines Agency announced that it would start investigating the safety of the vaccine in that age group on October 18, 2021.

Most countries offering vaccination to those over 12 years of age are offering the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, Reuters recently reported. A single dose of the Pfizer vaccine is available for those over 12 years old in the U.K., where the Moderna vaccine also has approval for this age group.

Pfizer has plans to trial the vaccine in children aged 6 months to 5 years, and Moderna has ongoing trials to test the safety and efficacy of vaccines in children under 12 years old.

Novavax is about to start a study of up to 3,000 adolescents aged 12–17 years across up to 75 sites in the United States. Johnson & Johnson has enrolled children as young as 12 years into existing trials, and AstraZeneca is planning on conducting trials of its vaccine in children as young as 6 years.

The vaccine with the most evidence to support its use so far is Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19.

However, the vaccine doses given to children over the age of 12 years and those under the age of 12 years differ. Pfizer released data from its phase 2 and 3 trials at the end of September 2021. The data suggest that the vaccine was safe in children aged 5–11 years.

Children under the age of 12 years will be offered 10 micrograms (mcg) of the vaccine. This is compared with 30 mcg of the vaccine, which is the amount given to children over the age of 12 years and adults. Experts hope that this lower dose could result in fewer side effects, as lower doses generally should.

Minor adverse reactions

Senior vice president of Pfizer Vaccine Clinical Research and Development, Dr. Bill Gruber, broke down the drug company’s data from its phase 2 and 3 trials at the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee Meeting on October 26, 2021.

He revealed that there were very few serious adverse events and no deaths during the phase 2 and 3 trials of children aged 5–12 years. He also explained that the side effects were similar to those that adults experience.

The most common side effects in children after their second dose of the vaccine — first dose reactions were less frequent — were fatigue and headache, with 39.4% and 28% of 5–12-year-olds experiencing those symptoms, respectively.

This is compared with 65.6% and 60.9% of adults. Of note were data showing that fever and chills experienced after the vaccine were lower among 5–12-year-olds than among 12–65-year-olds.

Just 6.5% of children aged 5–12 years experienced fever after vaccination, compared with 17.2% of those over 12 years. Also, just 9.8% of those aged 5–12 years experienced chills, compared with 40% of those over 12 years.

Due to existing concerns about the risk of myocarditis and pericarditis among adolescent and young adult males, the scientists took specific precautions during this trial, Dr. Gruber explained to the committee.

He said: “To enhance possible detection of the rare events of myocarditis in adolescents and young adults, should [they] occur, specific instructions were provided to be vigilant with symptoms and signs of myocarditis […]. No anaphylaxis, no myocarditis, and no appendicitis were reported.”


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and others are currently monitoring rates of myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle. This comes following reports in July 2021 that some teenage boys had received diagnoses of this condition after receiving the Pfizer vaccine, which those over 12 years of age have been able to receive since May 2021.

The CDC  reports that males aged 12–29 years are most at risk of developing myocarditis.

It also states that although 687 cases of myocarditis following vaccination had been reported in under-30s in the U.S. between December 29, 2020, and June 11, 2021, healthcare professionals had given more than 52 million doses of the vaccine to people aged 12–30 years in total. So, this represents a very small risk.

However, there was still a discussion to be had over whether or not the risks of the vaccine, which were very small, outweighed the risks of developing COVID-19, which were also smaller for this section of the population than older adults.

One study, which has not yet undergone peer review, claimed that the risk of experiencing an adverse cardiac event following mRNA vaccination in males aged 16–17 years without any comorbidities was actually 3.5 times higher than the risk of hospitalization due to COVID-19. This was widely reported in August 2021.

Conversely, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine from October 6, 2021, reported findings from the Israeli Ministry of Health surveillance of the issue that seemed to prove a link between receipt of the Pfizer vaccine and myocarditis.

Data collected between December 20, 2020, and May 31, 2021, confirmed 136 cases of myocarditis after receipt of the Pfizer vaccine out of 5.12 million Israelis who had received two doses. Analysis suggests that the risk is highest after the second dose in male recipients aged 16–19 years, with a risk ratio of 1 in 6,637.

Study co-author Prof. Manfred Green, from the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Haifa in Israel, told Medical News Today in an interview:

“Myocarditis is more common in males and females, [and] there are all kinds of theories why […]. [In the study, we found that] it generally was a mild illness, a mild infection and a minor event requiring hospitalization, as people with myocarditis are almost always hospitalized for observation. They required […] very basic anti-inflammatory treatment to treat the inflammation. All were fine, they recovered well.”

Dr. Green sits on the committee due to decide whether or not to proceed with licensing vaccines for 5–12-year-olds in Israel on November 10, 2021. He pointed out that as the dose given to 5–12-year-olds is one-third that of the dose given to older children and adults, “it is expected [that] there will be [fewer] side effects and [fewer] adverse events.”

Medically vulnerable children

Much of the concern voiced about side effects from COVID-19 vaccines is over the risk they may pose to healthy children.

Meanwhile, children who have some preexisting conditions will be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and will benefit more from vaccination. So, what about them?

There have been few studies into these children, as children in these groups are few in number. However, one study that appears in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood found no problematic side effects in a group of 20 adolescents aged 12–15 years with neurological conditions.

Risk-benefit analysis

When evaluating the risks posed by possible side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine, it is impossible to do so without considering the possible benefits — though these may be hard to discern for the individual.

An analysis that appeared in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine on November 1, 2021, suggests that the vaccination of 12–17-year-olds is most beneficial while infection rates remain high — which, of course, they do in many parts of the world.

The analysis suggests that if SARS-CoV-2 infections are as high as 1,000 per 100,000 people per week over 16 weeks, vaccination could avert 4,430 hospital admissions and 36 deaths over 16 weeks. It also suggests that thousands of cases of long COVID could be avoided, even if the rate of long COVID was as low as 4% in teenagers.

Speaking at an Independent SAGE briefing on November 5, 2021, author Prof. Christina Pagel — a professor of operational research at UCL — said:

“It became really clear that if you got to really high case rates, then it is massively beneficial, and so even though children of 5–11 are less likely than adolescents to get really sick at the current rates of infection, with 6% [with the infection] at the end of October [in the U.K.], it is almost certain to be beneficial… I would be really surprised if there [weren’t] a benefit to vaccinating 5–11-year-olds, and I am a bit concerned that some members of [Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation] are already saying ‘it’s too soon.’”