July is Sarcoma Awareness Month – Raise Awareness for this “Forgotten Cancer”

If you see yellow ribbons around your community during the month of July, it may mean something different than the usual “Support Our Troops” many think of when first sighted. Instead, they could be displayed in honor of Sarcoma Awareness Month, observed each July.

Sarcoma is a soft-tissue cancer that may occur in a variety of the body’s soft tissues, including the nerves, muscles, joints, blood vessels, fat and more. Sarcoma may also occur in the bones.  Although rare in adults, making up just ONE percent of adult cancers, sarcoma is relatively common in children, accounting for fifteen percent of childhood cancer cases.  Bone and joint cancer is most frequently diagnosed among teenagers, while soft tissue cancers typically affect those 55 years or older.

Sarcoma is most often found in the arms and legs, where the majority of connective tissues are located, but it can occur virtually anywhere. Because the disease often starts deep in the body, it may not be noticeable until a large lump or bump appears — and at this point the cancer may be difficult to treat.

The Sarcoma Foundation of America (SFA) estimates that about 20 percent of sarcoma cases are curable by surgery while another 30 percent may be effectively treated with surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation. However, in about half of cases, the disease is resistant to all form of treatments, highlighting an urgent need for new therapies.

Soft tissue sarcomas form in cartilage, fat, muscle, blood vessels, tendons, nerves, and around joints. Osteosarcomas develop in bone; liposarcomas form in fat; rhabdomyosarcomas form in muscle; and Ewing sarcomas form in bone and soft tissue.

In 2018, over 13,000 cases of soft tissue sarcoma and 3,400 cases of bone sarcomas are expected to be diagnosed in the United States, according to data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER). Approximately 5,100 and 1,590 people are expected to die from soft tissue and bone sarcomas, respectively. The five-year survival rate for soft tissue sarcomas is 50 percent, while the survival rate is 66 percent for bone sarcomas.

Because sarcomas are difficult to distinguish from other cancers when they are found within organs, their incidence is probably underestimated, according to the National Cancer Institute.

 Fast facts on sarcoma

  • There are over 50 types of soft tissue sarcoma.
  • Symptoms may not be apparent; often, the only sign of sarcoma is a lump.
  • Pain may occur depending on where the tumor is located, or if it presses on nearby nerves.
  • Treatment, as for other forms of cancer, can include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Symptoms of soft tissue sarcoma

People with soft tissue sarcomas often have no symptoms. There may be no signs until the lump grows to a large size and can be felt; however, even this may go unnoticed. The main symptoms are:

  • Pain – the most obvious symptom. Once the tumor affects local tissues, nerves, or muscles, it can be felt as pain in the general area.
  • Inflammation – the tumor grows and eventually affects the area with inflammation and swelling.
  • Location specific symptoms – inability to move limbs properly (if the sarcoma is on the arms or legs for example) and other impairments depending on the location.

Specific symptoms may reflect the particular type of sarcoma. For instance, tumors in the gastrointestinal system may bleed, so these sarcomas might produce symptoms like blood in the stool, or a stool that has a black, tarry appearance.

Types of sarcoma

Types of soft tissue sarcoma are defined by the specific tissue or location affected; they include:

  • Undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma – previously known as malignant fibrous histiocytoma – this tumor is most often found in the arms or legs but sometimes at the back of the abdomen.
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) – this affects specialized neuromuscular cells of the gut.
  • Liposarcoma – sarcoma of fat tissue.
  • Leiomyosarcoma – affects smooth muscle in organ walls.
  • Synovial sarcomas – these are usually found around a joint in the arms or legs.
  • Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor – also known as neurofibrosarcoma, it affects the protective lining of the nerves.
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma – this forms in muscle and is a childhood cancer. While rare overall, it is a relatively common tumor in children.
  • Angiosarcomas – these develop in the cells of the blood or lymph vessels.
  • Fibrosarcomas – sarcomas that usually form in the limbs or on the trunk, forming from fibroblasts, the most common cell type in connective tissue.
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma – a sarcoma that affects the skin and is caused by a virus. The most common form of Kaposi’s sarcoma is related to AIDS.  Kaposi’s tumors often produce distinctive skin lesions but also affect other soft tissues.  Kaposi’s sarcoma is caused by the human herpesvirus 8.
  • Further examples – these include dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, a skin lesion; epithelioid sarcoma, which often affects young adults’ hands or feet; myxoma, which affects older adults, usually in the arms and legs; mesenchymomas, which are rare and combine elements of other sarcomas and can be found in any part of the body; vascular sarcomas, containing many blood vessels; and malignant neurilemmoma (also known as schwannoma).  Sarcoma of the bone includes osteosarcoma, Ewing sarcoma, and chondrosarcoma.

Causes of sarcoma

The causes behind sarcoma are unknown, but there are some known risk factors. In adults, for instance, exposure to phenoxy acetic acid in herbicides or chlorophenols in wood preservatives may increase the risk. High doses of radiation are also known to cause sarcomas in some people, as are certain rare genetic alterations. The following inherited diseases are also associated with an increase sarcoma risk, according to SFA:

  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome, which is associated with alterations in the p53 gene
  • Von Recklinghausen’s disease (neurofibromatosis), which is associated with alterations in the NF1 gene

Having certain inherited disorders can increase the risk for other soft tissue sarcomas, including retinoblastoma, tuberous sclerosis, Werner syndrome, and nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome. Other risk factors for soft tissue sarcoma include past treatment with radiation therapy for certain cancers; exposure to certain chemicals, such as thorium dioxide, vinyl chloride, or arsenic; and long-term lymphedema in the arms or legs.

Past treatment with radiation can increase the risk of osteosarcoma and other types of bone cancers. Other risk factors for osteosarcoma include treatment with anticancer drugs called alkylating agents, having a certain change in the retinoblastoma gene, and having certain conditions including Paget disease, Diamond-Blackfan anemia, and Werner syndrome.

Tests and diagnosis of sarcoma

After understanding a patient’s medical history and completing a medical examination, medical imaging scans will help to inform a diagnosis, which will need to be confirmed through laboratory analysis of a tumor sample.

The following physical features should prompt a doctor to investigate:

  1. larger than 2 inches in diameter or growing in size
  2. fixed, immovable, or deep
  3. painful
  4. return of tumor previously removed

Medical imaging helps to locate, characterize, and give further information about a tumor to guide diagnosis. It may also be used to gauge the success of treatment or to look for spread of cancer.

Imaging techniques include X-rays, CT scan (computed tomography), MRI(magnetic resonance imaging), ultrasound, and PET (positron emission tomography).

Treatments for soft tissue sarcoma

The following treatment options can be used for sarcomas:

  • Surgery – the most common sarcoma treatment. It aims to remove the tumor and even some of the normal surrounding tissue. A biopsy sample is often taken at the same time to confirm the exact type of tumor.
  • Radiation therapy – this destroys cancer cells and may be done in addition to surgery, before or after the operation.
  • Chemotherapy – this could also be used in addition to surgery, though less often than radiation therapy.

Some soft tissue sarcomas have other available treatments, such as specific drug treatments, gene-targeted therapies, or biological therapies such as immunotherapy.

Treatment choice and intensity are also guided by the stage and grade of cancer, by the size of the tumor, and extent of any spread.

Prevention of sarcoma

Sarcoma is not typically preventable. Radiation therapy is a risk factor, so reducing exposure to it may be preventive, although a need for radiation therapy usually outweighs any subsequent sarcoma risk.

Observing Sarcoma Awareness Month

Sarcoma is still considered to be the “forgotten cancer.”  Efforts to encourage research and drug development are made more challenging due to a lack of awareness and understanding.  How as a community do we raise funds for vital research if people don’t know that this cancer exists?

Though the Sarcoma Foundation of America works tirelessly every day to raise awareness, during Sarcoma Awareness Month, they aim to further highlight the extraordinary challenges sarcoma patients face and the need for more sarcoma research and better sarcoma therapies.  Please join in efforts and pledge to bring awareness to your community.  Here are a few ways you can help highlight the need for ongoing research on sarcoma:

  • This July, take a moment to share a message via social media or speak with your friends and family about this relatively unknown condition.
  • Join sarcoma patients, survivors and their loved ones for the Steps to Cure Sarcoma.  Every dollar raised will be used to fund research, patient advocacy and education.
  • Take a moment to listen to a Sarcoma Awareness Month Public Service Announcement campaign. Share it online to raise awareness.
  • Get together with others in the sarcoma community and donate today!

Getting Help

Since sarcoma is a rare cancer, many people are unfamiliar with the disease and have not been affected personally. However, many children’s lives have been altered because of this disease, and advances in early detection and treatment could help save lives.

A number of clinical trails are underway for people with sarcoma. If you’ve been recently diagnosed, ask your doctor if a clinical trial, which could give you access to novel treatment options, is right for you.

Trying to find the right doctor to determine if that lump or new pain is something more than just a little annoying is made easy at HealthLynked.  We are the first ever social ecosystem designed to connect physicians and patients in a truly collaborative platform to Improve HealthCare.

Ready to get Lynked?  Sign up for free today and take control of your wellness!

Sources:

Han, MD, Seunggu.  “Sarcoma: Symptoms, types, treatments, and causes.” Medical News Today.  23 May 2017.

Sarcoma Awareness Month

https://www.aacrfoundation.org/Pages/sarcoma_awareness_month.aspx

https://www.gatewaycr.org/gateway-blog/posts/2017/july/july-is-sarcoma-awareness-month-what-is-sarcoma/

To find a healthcare professional, use HealthLynked. It is a first of its kind medical network built as a social ecosystem with a higher purpose – improving healthcare. Go to HealthLynked.com to learn more, sign up for free, connect with your doctor, find a new doctor, and securely store and share your health information. Download our HealthLynked app available on Apple and Android devices.

How is Excess Body Fat Priming Our Brains for Mental Decline?

As today marks the 81st birthday of Krispy Kreme – an American doughnut company and coffeehouse chain based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina built off an ancient, secret cajun recipe – it seems a fitting day to talk about obesity, fat, and its effect on the brain.  Let’s start with “skinny fat”.

Sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle mass, tends to happen naturally with age. So, in older people with sarcopenia, excess body fat may not be readily visible. But hidden fat, paired with muscle mass loss later in life, could predict Alzheimer’s risk, researchers warn, and Sarcopenic obesity may exacerbate the risk of other cognitive decline later in life.

A recent study — the results of which have been published in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging — has found that sarcopenia and obesity (independently, but especially when occurring together) can heighten the risk of cognitive function impairments later in life.

The research was conducted by scientists at the Comprehensive Center for Brain Health at the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

“Sarcopenia,” explains senior study author Dr. James Galvin, “has been linked to global cognitive impairment and dysfunction in specific cognitive skills including memory, speed, and executive functions.”

“Understanding the mechanisms through which this syndrome may affect cognition is important as it may inform efforts to prevent cognitive decline in later life by targeting at-risk groups with an imbalance between lean and fat mass.”

Dr. James Galvin

“They may benefit from programs addressing loss of cognitive function by maintaining and improving strength and preventing obesity,” he adds.

Beware sarcopenic obesity

The scientists analyzed health-related data collected from 353 participants — aged 69, on average — all of whom registered to take part in community-based studies on aging and memory.

To establish whether or not there was a link between sarcopenic obesity — that is, the presence of excess body fat in conjunction with muscle mass loss — and cognitive decline, the team assessed participants’ performance on tests evaluating cognitive function, including the Montreal Cognitive Assessment and animal-naming exercises.

Also, the participants’ muscle strength and mass were evaluated through grip strength tests and chair stands, and they also underwent body compositions assessments, which looked at muscle mass, body mass index (BMI), and the amount of body fat.

The researchers discovered that the participants with sarcopenic obesity had the poorest performance on cognition-related tests.  The next poorest performance on cognition tests was seen in people with sarcopenia alone, followed by participants who only had obesity.

Both when occurring independently and when occurring in concert, obesity and loss of muscle mass were linked with impaired working memory — which is the type of memory we use when making spontaneous decisions on a daily basis — as well as less mental flexibility, poorer orientation, and worse self-control.

Keep changes in body composition in check

The scientists explain that obesity could exacerbate the risk of cognitive decline through biological mechanisms that influence vascular health, metabolism, and inflammation.

Moreover, they warn that in people who already face impaired executive functioning, obesity might also impact energy resources through poor self-control that affects nutrition.

As for sarcopenia, the researchers note that it could influence brain mechanisms related to conflict resolution skills and selective attention.

Based on the study’s findings, Dr. Galvin and his colleagues are particularly concerned that a mix of sarcopenia and excess body fat in older adults could become a serious public health issue, so they believe that any significant changes in body mass composition should be closely monitored to prevent negative health outcomes.

“Sarcopenia either alone or in the presence of obesity, can be used in clinical practice to estimate potential risk of cognitive impairment,” notes study co-author Magdalena Tolea.

But such health issues can be kept under control, and the risks associated with them averted, she suggests.

“Testing grip strength by dynamometry can be easily administered within the time constraints of a clinic visit, and body mass index is usually collected as part of annual wellness visits,” concludes Tolea.

How Aging and Obesity Prime the Brain for Alzheimer’s

According to another new study, the effects of natural aging processes, combined with those of obesity and a poor diet, affect certain brain mechanisms, thereby boosting the risk of Alzheimer’s. The new study, conducted on mice, uncovered how a high-fat, high-sugar diet renders the aging brain more vulnerable to Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition that is characterized primarily by memory loss and impaired cognition.  Some risk factors for the development of this disease are aging and metabolic conditions such as obesity and diabetes.  However, many of the biological mechanisms underlying the onset and progression of this disease remain unknown.

This is despite the fact that our understanding of the predisposing risk factors is growing all the time.  Now, Rebecca MacPherson, Bradley Baranowski, and Kirsten Bott — of Brock University in Ontario, Canada — have conducted a study that has allowed them to uncover some more of the mechanics at play in the development of this type of dementia.

The team worked with aging mice to investigate how a high-fat, high-sugar (HFS) diet that fueled obesity might also prime the brain for neurodegeneration in this sample.  Their findings are described in a paper now published in the journal Physiological Reports.

How unhealthful diets impact the brain

Specifically, the researchers examined how an HFS diet, in conjunction with the effects of normal biological aging, would affect insulin signaling, which helps to regulate the amount of glucose (simple sugar) absorbed by muscles and different organs.

They also looked at how this obesity-inducing diet might alter biomarkers relating to inflammation and cellular stress.

To understand the impact of an HFS diet on aging mice, the research team put some mice on a regular type diet, while others were given food that had a high fat and sugar content.

After the mice had been fed their respective diets for a period of 13 weeks, the team looked for signs of inflammation and measured cellular stress levels in two brain areas associated with memory and cognitive behavior: the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex.

The researchers also compared the effects of an HFS diet on the brains of aging rodents’ baseline measurements effected on the brains of younger mice.

They found older mice on an obesity-inducing diet had high levels of brain inflammation and cellular stress, as well as insulin resistance in parts of the hippocampus linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Although more markers of insulin resistance were observed in the prefrontal cortices of mice that had been on an HFS diet, inflammation status and cellular stress markers remained the same.

The study authors hypothesize that “region-specific differences between the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus in response to aging with an HFS diet [suggest] that the disease pathology is not uniform throughout the brain.”

Obesity boosts aging’s negative effect

Notably, the researchers also found that brain inflammation levels had also increased in the mice that had been on a regular diet, compared with baseline measurements.

The researchers note that this could be taken as evidence of aging’s role as an independent risk factor in Alzheimer’s. Obesity, they add, boosts the risk by affecting key mechanisms in the brain.

“This study,” they claim, “provides novel information in relation to the mechanistic link between obesity and the transition from adulthood to middle age and signaling cascades that may be related to [Alzheimer’s] pathology later in life.”

“These results add to our basic understanding of the pathways involved in the early progression of [Alzheimer’s] pathogenesis and demonstrate the negative effects of an HFS diet on both the prefrontal cortex and hippocampal regions.”

To find a healthcare professional, use HealthLynked. It is a first of its kind medical network built as a social ecosystem with a higher purpose – improving healthcare. Go to HealthLynked.com to learn more, sign up for free, connect with your doctor, find a new doctor, and securely store and share your health information. Download our HealthLynked app available on Apple and Android devices.

Adapted from:

Cohut, Maria. ”Skinny fat’ linked to cognitive decline, study warns.” Medical News Today, Friday 6 July 2018

Cohut, Maria. ”Aging, obesity may prime the brain for Alzheimer’s.” Medical News Today, Monday 2 July 2018

Loneliness – A Gene Deep Epidemic that Raises Health Risks and Can Be Spread

A 2016 survey of more than 2,000 American adults found 72 percent report having felt a sense of loneliness, with nearly a third (31 percent) experiencing loneliness at least once a week. The survey was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association in September.

Isolation is often an underlying factor in many of the most common health conditions, including chronic pain, substance abuse and depression, according to osteopathic physicians.

Long working hours, increased use of social media—in many cases surpassing in-person interaction—and a mobile workforce traveling or living far from family contribute to the high rates of loneliness, noted Jennifer Caudle, DO, assistant professor of family medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine.

“Loneliness is an invisible epidemic masked by our online personas, which are rarely representative of our real emotions,” said Dr. Caudle. “It’s important for patients to understand how their mental and emotional well-being directly affects the body. By taking a whole-person approach to care, osteopathic physicians are trained to address these underlying issues that can quietly erode patients’ health.”

Damage to the Immune Response

Research links loneliness to a number of dysfunctional immune responses, suggesting that being lonely has the potential to harm overall health.

In one study, researchers found that people who were more lonely showed signs of elevated latent herpes virus reactivation and produced more inflammation-related proteins in response to acute stress than did people who felt more socially connected.

These proteins signal the presence of inflammation, and chronic inflammation is linked to numerous conditions, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the frailty and functional decline that can accompany aging.

Reactivation of a latent herpes virus is known to be associated with stress, suggesting that loneliness functions as a chronic stressor that triggers a poorly controlled immune response.

“It is clear from previous research that poor-quality relationships are linked to a number of health problems, including premature mortality and all sorts of other very serious health conditions. And people who are lonely clearly feel like they are in poor-quality relationships,” said Lisa Jaremka, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University and lead author of the research.

“One reason this type of research is important is to understand how loneliness and relationships broadly affect health. The more we understand about the process, the more potential there is to counter those negative effects – to perhaps intervene. If we don’t know the physiological processes, what are we going to do to change them?”

The results are based on a series of studies conducted with two populations: a healthy group of overweight middle-aged adults and a group of breast cancer survivors. The researchers measured loneliness in all studies using the UCLA Loneliness Scale, a questionnaire that assesses perceptions of social isolation and loneliness.

Jaremka presented the research at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual meeting in New Orleans.

The researchers first sought to obtain a snapshot of immune system behavior related to loneliness by gauging levels of antibodies in the blood that are produced when herpes viruses are reactivated.

Participants were 200 breast cancer survivors who were between two months and three years past completion of cancer treatment with an average age of 51 years. Their blood was analyzed for the presence of antibodies against Epstein-Barr virus and cytomegalovirus.

Both are herpes viruses that infect a majority of Americans. About half of infections do not produce illness, but once a person is infected, the viruses remain dormant in the body and can be reactivated, resulting in elevated antibody levels, or titers – again, often producing no symptoms but hinting at regulatory problems in the cellular immune system.

Lonelier participants had higher levels of antibodies against cytomegalovirus than did less lonely participants, and those higher antibody levels were related to more pain, depression and fatigue symptoms. No difference was seen in Epstein-Barr virus antibody levels, possibly because this reactivation is linked to age and many of these participants were somewhat older, meaning reactivation related to loneliness would be difficult to detect, Jaremka said.

Previous research has suggested that stress can promote reactivation of these viruses, also resulting in elevated antibody titers.

“The same processes involved in stress and reactivation of these viruses is probably also relevant to the loneliness findings,” Jaremka said. “Loneliness has been thought of in many ways as a chronic stressor – a socially painful situation that can last for quite a long time.”

In an additional set of studies, the scientists sought to determine how loneliness affected the production of proinflammatory proteins, or cytokines, in response to stress. These studies were conducted with 144 women from the same group of breast cancer survivors and a group of 134 overweight middle-aged and older adults with no major health problems.

Baseline blood samples were taken from all participants, who were then subjected to stress – they were asked to deliver an impromptu five-minute speech and perform a mental arithmetic task in front of a video camera and three panelists. Researchers followed by stimulating the participants’ immune systems with lipopolysaccharide, a compound found on bacterial cell walls that is known to trigger an immune response.

In both populations, those who were lonelier produced significantly higher levels of a cytokine called interleukin-6, or IL-6, in response to acute stress than did participants who were more socially connected. Levels of another cytokine, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, also rose more dramatically in lonelier participants than in less lonely participants, but the findings were significant by statistical standards in only one study group, the healthy adults.

In the study with breast cancer survivors, researchers also tested for levels of the cytokine interleukin 1-beta, which was produced at higher levels in lonelier participants.

When the scientists controlled for a number of factors, including sleep quality, age and general health measures, the results were the same.  “We saw consistency in the sense that more lonely people in both studies had more inflammation than less lonely people,” Jaremka said.

“It’s also important to remember the flip side, which is that people who feel very socially connected are experiencing more positive outcomes,” she said.

Loneliness Can Add 30 Points To Your Blood Pressure

In another study conducted at the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, researchers found that if you are over 50 and lonely, you could be adding 30 points to your blood pressure and raising significantly your chances of suffering from hypertension.   The increase in blood pressure due to loneliness was present after taking into account a person’s emotional state (how sad or stressed the person was).

The older the lonely person gets, the higher his/her blood pressure seems to get, said the researchers.   Lead researcher, Louise Hawkley, said “The take-home message is that feelings of loneliness are a health risk, in that the lonelier you are, the higher your blood pressure. And we know that high blood pressure has all kinds of negative consequences.”

229 people were monitored in this study, aged 50-68. The participants had to answer a questionnaire which determined each person’s level of loneliness.

Hawkley said it is not as simple as that. She said “Remember, people can feel lonely even if they are with a lot of people. You can think of Marilyn Monroe or Princess Diana – there was certainly nothing lacking in their social lives, yet they claimed to have felt intensely lonely. They may want to go out and make friends, and yet they have a nagging lack of trust with whomever they want to interact with, or they may feel hostile. So, they end up behaving in ways that force potential partners away.”

Loneliness Is Gene Deep

Loneliness has a molecular signature is reflected in the lonely person’s DNA. This was the conclusion of a new US study by scientists at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and other US academic centers.

The study is published in an issue of the journal, Genome Biology.  The researchers discovered a distinct pattern of gene expression in immune cells of people who are chronically extremely lonely.

Study author Steve Cole, associate professor of medicine at the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, member of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, and member of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center said in a press release that:

“What this study shows is that the biological impact of social isolation reaches down into some of our most basic internal processes: the activity of our genes.”  Cole and colleagues suggest that feelings of isolation are linked to changes in gene expression that drive inflammation, one of the first responses of the immune system.  They hope the study gives a framework for understanding how social factors and increased risk of heart disease, viral infections and cancer are linked.

Scientists already know that social environments affect health. People who are lonely and socially isolated die earlier.  What they don’t know is if the higher rate of death among lonely people is because of reduced social resources or because of the effect of isolation on their bodily functions, or perhaps both.

However, Cole and the other researchers found that changes in the way immune cells express their genes were directly linked to the “subjective experience of social distance”.  The differences were independent of other known risk factors like health status, weight, age and use of medication, they said.  “The changes were even independent of the objective size of a person’s social network,” said Cole.

Cole and colleagues enrolled 14 participants from the Chicago Health, Aging, and Social Relations Study and scanned their DNA using a chip technology called DNA microarrays that allowed them to survey all known human genes in the samples.  6 of the participants scored in the top 15 per cent of a well known psychological test for loneliness that was developed in the 70s called the UCLA Loneliness Scale.  The remaining 8 participants scored in the bottom 15 per cent of the Loneliness Scale.

The DNA survey showed that 209 gene transcripts (where the gene gets its code ready to start making proteins) were expressed differently between the two groups. All the genes coded for leucocytes, agents of the immune system.  78 of the gene transcripts were “over expressed” (resulting in too much protein) and 131 were “under expressed” (not enough protein) in the lonely individuals compared to the others.

The over expressed genes included many that control immune system functions like inflammation.  However, it was also interesting that the under expressed genes were those involved in antiviral responses and production of antibodies.

“These data provide the first indication that human genome-wide transcriptional activity is altered in association with a social epidemiological risk factor. Impaired transcription of glucocorticoid response genes and increased activity of pro-inflammatory transcription control pathways provide a functional genomic explanation for elevated risk of inflammatory disease in individuals who experience chronically high levels of subjective social isolation.”

Distinguishing between the various aspects of loneliness that are closely linked to these changes in gene expression, the scientists discovered:  “What counts at the level of gene expression is not how many people you know, it’s how many you feel really close to over time,” said Cole.  He added that the findings could identify molecular targets for blocking the negative health impact of social isolation.

Loneliness Can Spread Through Social Networks

A US study of social networks found that a person’s loneliness can spread to others, in that when they become lonely they move to the edge of the network and transmit feelings of loneliness to their few remaining friends who also become lonely, leading to an effect that the researchers described as an unravelling at the edges of our social fabric.

The study, which was sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, is the work of John T Cacciopo of the University of Chicago, James H Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, and Nicholas A Christakis of Harvard University and is about to be published in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Cacciopo, a social neuroscientist and lead investigator on the study, is Tiffany and Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at Chicago. He told the press that:

“We detected an extraordinary pattern of contagion that leads people to be moved to the edge of the social network when they become lonely.”

“On the periphery people have fewer friends, yet their loneliness leads them to losing the few ties they have left,” he added.

Loneliness is often associated with mental and physical diseases that can shorten life, said Cacioppo, so it is important for us to recognize it and help people reconnect with their social group before they move to the edges.

He and his co-authors wrote that while previous studies have already shown that a person’s loneliness and the number of people they are connected to in a network are linked, we don’t know much about “the placement of loneliness within, or the spread of loneliness through, social networks”.

Using longitudinal data from a large-scale study, they found that loneliness, like a bad cold, spreads in groups: people share their loneliness with others.

Cacioppo and colleagues used data on 5,124 people in the second generation of participants from the Framingham Heart Study, which has been tracking the health of individuals and their descendants for more than 60 years. The data set included information taken every two to four years on participants’ friends and social contacts.

For the study, Cacioppo and colleagues charted the friendship histories of participants and linked them to their reports of loneliness. This showed a pattern of loneliness that spread as people reported fewer close friends, and that lonely people appeared to transmit loneliness to others, and then moved to the edges of their social networks.

“Loneliness is disproportionately represented at the periphery of social networks and spreads through a contagious process,” wrote the researchers.

For example, one pattern might start when a participant reports one extra day a week of loneliness. This is followed by similar reports among his or her next-door neighbors who are also close friends. The pattern of loneliness then spreads as the neighbors spend less time together.

“These reinforcing effects mean that our social fabric can fray at the edges, like a yarn that comes loose at the end of a crocheted sweater,” explained Cacioppo.

The researchers also found that:

  • Women were more likely to report “catching loneliness from others” than men (perhaps reinforcing findings from studies that suggest women rely more on emotional support than men).
  • Loneliness occurred in clusters and extended up to three degrees of separation.
  • A person’s chances of reporting increased loneliness were more likely to be linked to changes in friendship networks than changes in family networks.

The authors concluded that the study helps us better understand the social forces that drive loneliness.

Society may benefit by “aggressively targeting the people in the periphery to help repair their social networks and to create a protective barrier against loneliness that can keep the whole network from unraveling,” they added.

Other studies suggest that as people become lonely they trust other people less and less, and this leads to a cycle of less trusting and more loneliness, which leads to less trusting, and so on, and as time goes by it becomes harder and harder to make friends.

Cacioppo said researchers have seen this social tendency reflected in monkey colonies that drive out members who have been removed and then reintroduced.  He said such a pattern makes it all the more important for us to recognize and offset loneliness before it spreads.

Overcoming Loneliness

The first step in addressing loneliness is to determine whether those feelings are caused by depression. A physician can diagnose any existing mental health conditions and suggest treatment options. To limit loneliness, physicians recommend some simple steps to help increase real social engagement:

  1. Consider a digital cleanse. Social networks can offer real connections, but the curated platforms may over-emphasize the success of others, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy. For more empowering activities, consider enrolling in a continuing education course or spending time enjoying nature.
  2. Exercise with others. Participating in a running club, group fitness course or team sport can have dual benefits, creating opportunities to meet new people while also improving physical health. Many sports stores, churches and community groups offer free weekly activities including fun runs and yoga.
  3. Buy local. Developing a routine that includes visiting a local shopkeeper, coffee shop, farmers’ market or gym builds roots in the community. Creating relationships with local vendors can lead to a sense of shared history and camaraderie.
  4. Step out of your comfort zone. Introducing yourself to nearby neighbors or engaging with people in the building elevator—while initially uncomfortable—can begin the process of developing community and has the added bonus of alleviating loneliness for others.
  5. Change jobs, schools or cities. This drastic option is not always possible, and certainly not easy, but it may have the most significant impact. Start by identifying the culture that would best fit your personality and work toward a transition.

“Face-to-face communication is critical for emotional and mental health,” Dr. Caudle added. “Seeking out meaningful human interactions makes patients happier and, ultimately, healthier overall.”

Conclusion

Loneliness has negative effects on your immune system, creates a genetic signature and can spread through social networks.  Our digital addictions seem to be contributing to our disconnectedness.  Additional studies indicate loneliness significantly shortens lives and can lead to or magnify dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Today is National Cheer up the Lonely Day.  Visit with the lonely and bring happy things to talk about. Keep the conversation upbeat, and lively. When you leave, give a big hug and let them know you enjoyed the stay. Sending cards or making a phone call is okay if they live too far away to visit, but what a lonely person really needs is face to face time with other people.

If you are feeling lonely, other studies indicate you are more likely to see a physician with increased frequency. To find a healthcare professional, use HealthLynked. It is a first of its kind medical network built as a social ecosystem with a higher purpose – improving healthcare. Go to HealthLynked.com to learn more, sign up for free, connect with your doctor, find a new doctor, and securely store and share your health information. Download our HealthLynked app available on Apple and Android devices.

Adapted from:

[1] Caldwell, Emily. The Immune System Taxed By Loneliness, Similar To The Effect Of Chronic Stress.  Medical News Today, Tuesday 22 January 2013

This work was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellowship and a Pelotonia Postdoctoral Fellowship from Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Co-authors include Christopher Fagundes of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research (IBMR); Juan Peng of the College of Public Health; Jeanette Bennett of the Division of Oral Biology; Ronald Glaser of the Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics; William Malarkey of the Department of Internal Medicine; and Janice Kiecolt-Glaser of the Department of Psychiatry, all at Ohio State. Bennett, Glaser, Malarkey and Kiecolt-Glaser are also IBMR investigators.

[2] Lombardi, Yvonne. Loneliness Can Add 30 Points To Your Blood Pressure If You Are Over 50.  Medical News Today. Wednesday, 29 March 2006.

[3] Paddock, Catharine PhD.  Loneliness Is Gene Deep. Medical News Today. Friday, 14 September 2007

“Effects of loneliness on gene expression.”
Cole SW, Hawkley LC, Arevalo JM, Sung CY, Rose RM, Cacioppo JT.
Genome Biology 2007, 8:R189.
doi:10.1186/gb-2007-8-9-r189
Published online 13 September 2007 (provisional version).

[4]  Paddock, Catharine PhD.  Loneliness Can Spread Through Social Networks.  Medical News Today. Wednesday, 2 December 2009

“Alone in the Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social Network.”
John T Cacciopo, James H Fowler, Nicholas A Christakis.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, December 2009 (pre-publication proof).
DOI:10.1037/a0016076

[5] American Osteopathic Association.  Survey Finds Nearly Three-Quarters (72%) of Americans Feel Lonely: Osteopathic Physicians Say Silent ‘Loneliness Epidemic’ Contributes to Nation’s Health Woes. PRN. Oct 11, 2016.

 

The AntiBiotic Resistance Crisis and How the Platypus Might Save Us All

Although platypuses are deeply unusual animals, as researchers dig deeper into their biochemistry, it seems that they might hold the key to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance is a topic that sits squarely in the center of medical researchers’ minds; it’s a huge concern.  In fact, many scientists consider it to be one of the “world’s most pressing public health problems.”

In a nutshell, antibiotic resistance occurs when a species of bacteria becomes immune to antibiotics.  Once bacteria have developed an ambivalence to these drugs, they are able to survive their onslaught and pass antibiotic-resistant genes onto the next generation.

But today, diseases that were once very easily treatable with antibiotics — such as pneumonia and tuberculosis — are becoming life-threatening.  The World Health Organization (WHO) pull no punches when they write, “Without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill.”

As we use these drugs more and more, an increasing number are becoming ineffective.  On this dimly lit and deeply worrying backdrop, the platypus waddles into the spotlight. Can this reclusive, semi-aquatic weirdo lift this sense of impending doom?

The peculiar platypus

The platypus needs no introduction, but I’ll give you one anyway because they’re just so pleasing to consider.

Platypuses are monotremes — that is, a subgroup of mammals that comprises just five species (the platypus and four species of the hedgehog-like echidna). The former is one of the most iconic and baffling animals on the planet.

She’s hairy and warm-blooded, similar to standard mammals, yet she lays eggs. She has a duck-like bill and a beaver-like tail, and she is one of the very few venomous mammals.

The strangeness doesn’t stop there, however; the female has two ovaries — no surprise — but only the left one actually works. Also, baby platypuses are born with teeth, but, at an early age, they all fall out, leaving a horny plate.

So, how on earth could such a natural oddity help to save the human race from the horrors of antibiotic resistance? Well, the answer might lie in its milk.

According to an earlier study, platypus milk contains unique antibacterial properties. The authors report that proteins in their milk “were effective in killing a broad range of bacterial pathogens.”

Investigating platypus milk in detail

Recently, a team of researchers from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) combined forces with Deakin University in Victoria, also in Australia. They wanted to examine the almighty prowess of platypus milk and attempt to understand why it’s so potent. Their results were recently published in the journal Structural Biology Communications.

In the laboratory, the scientists replicated the platypus milk protein responsible for its antibacterial powers and gave it a long, hard inspection. As Dr. Julie Sharp, from Deakin University, states, “We were interested to examine the protein’s structure and characteristics to find out exactly what part of the protein was doing what.”

Recreating a protein in the laboratory sounds, at first reading, to be a relatively simple job — but it’s not. Achieving this feat took the combined might of the Synchrotron, a cyclic particle accelerator, and the CSIRO’s ultra-hi-tech Collaborative Crystallisation Centre.

The magical, bacteria-slaughtering capabilities of the milk protein might come from its unique 3-D folding. The protein has a ringlet-like formation, thus earning it the nickname Shirley Temple. The intriguing format of the protein has not been seen in nature before.

“Platypus[es] are such weird animals that it would make sense for them to have weird biochemistry.”

Lead study author Dr. Janet Newman

Why is the platypus’s milk so powerful?

The platypus is a conundrum of a creature with miraculous milk.  Unlike the vast majority of mammals, the platypus has no nipples (which is yet another reason why platypuses are considered one of planet Earth’s oddest residents). So, without nipples, the mother platypus secretes milk from a patch of skin.

As an aside, baby platypuses — rather boringly — are officially called “baby platypuses.” However, there are more pleasing, if unofficial, names, including puggles and platypups, so feel free to use whichever you deem cutest.

I’ll stick with baby platypuses for the sake of maintaining some degree of scientific integrity. But as I was saying, since there are no teets, the mother’s milk comes into contact with the outside world, and the baby platypus must lick the milk from the surrounding hair.

Of course, this opens the young animals up to an unholy array of bacteria and other nasties. This, perhaps, is the reason that platypus milk needs to be so profoundly antibacterial.

Shirley Temple may open the door to other fields of study, too; Dr. Newman says, “Although we’ve identified this highly unusual protein as only existing in monotremes, this discovery increases our knowledge of protein structures in general and will go on to inform other drug discovery work done at the Centre.”

For now, we will have to wait and see how this new protein might be unleashed in the war against antibiotic resistance. Hopefully, the wait will not be a long one. God bless the platypups!


To find a healthcare professional, use HealthLynked. It is a first of its kind medical network built as a social ecosystem with a higher purpose – improving healthcare. Go to HealthLynked.com to learn more, sign up for free, connect with your doctor, find a new doctor, and securely store and share your health information. Download our HealthLynked app available on Apple and Android devices.

Sources:

Newman, Tim. “Platypus milk: The key to preventing deadly infections?”, Medical News Today, Wednesday, 21 March 2018

UV Exposure: Why Do We Ignore the Health Risks?

Published Thursday 17 July 2014

By Honor Whiteman

The sun is shining, so what are your plans? For many of us, the answer will be to hit the beach and soak up the rays. But while you are busy packing beachwear and towels, are you considering the dangers of sun exposure?

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation – from the sun, tanning beds, lamps or booths – is the main cause of skin cancer, accounting for around 86% of non-melanoma and 90% of melanoma skin cancers. In addition, excessive UV exposure can increase the risk of eye diseases, such as cataract and eye cancers.

The health risks associated with exposure to UV radiation have certainly been well documented, so much so that the World Health Organization (WHO) have now officially classed UV radiation as a human carcinogen.

This year alone, Medical News Today reported on an array of studies warning of UV exposure risks. One study, published in the journal Pediatrics, revealed that tanning bed use among youths can increase the risk of early skin cancer, while other research found that multiple sunburns as an adolescent can increase melanoma risk by 80%.

Furthermore, in response to reported health risks, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently changed their regulation of tanning beds, lamps and booths. Such products must now carry a visible, black-box warning stating that they should not be used by anyone under the age of 18.

How does UV radiation cause damage?

UV radiation consists of three different wavebands: UVA, UVB and UVC. The UVC waveband is the highest-energy UV but has the shortest wavelength, meaning it does not reach the earth’s surface and does not cause skin damage to humans.

However, UVA has a long wavelength and accounts for 95% of solar UV radiation that reaches the earth’s surface, while UVB – with a middle-range wavelength – accounts for the remainder. Tanning beds and tanning lamps primarily emit UVA radiation, sometimes at doses up to 12 times higher than that of the sun.

Both UVA and UVB radiation can damage the skin by penetrating its layers and destroying cellular DNA. UVA radiation tends to penetrate deeper layers of skin, known as the dermis, aging the skin cells and causing wrinkles. UVB radiation is the main cause of skin reddening or sunburn, as it damages the outer layers of the skin, known as the epidermis.

Excessive UV exposure can cause genetic mutations that can lead to the development of skin cancer. The browning of the skin, or a tan, is the skin’s way of trying to stop further DNA damage from occurring.

Of course, it is not only the skin that can be subject to damage from UV radiation. Bright sunlight can penetrate the eye’s surfaces tissues, as well as the cornea and the lens.

Ignoring the risks of UV exposure

But regardless of the numerous studies and health warnings associated with UV exposure, it seems many of us refuse to take note.

A 2012 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 50.1% of all adults and 65.6% of white adults ages 18-29 reported suffering sunburn in the past 12 months, indicating that sun protection measures are not followed correctly, if at all.

A more recent study from the University of California-San Francisco stated that the popularity of indoor tanning is “alarming” – particularly among young people.

The study revealed that 35% of adults had been exposed to indoor tanning, with 14% reporting tanning bed use in the past year. Even more of a concern was that 43% of university students and 18% of adolescents reported using tanning beds in the past year.

Overall rates of tanning bed use, the researchers estimate, may lead to an additional 450,000 non-melanoma and 10,000 melanoma skin cancer cases every year.

It seems unbelievable that so many of us are willing to put our health at risk to soak up some sunshine. So why do we do it?

The desire for a ‘healthy tan’

A recent study published in the journal Cell suggested that UV radiation causes the body to release endorphins – “feel-good” hormones – which makes sun exposure addictive.

But Tim Turnham, executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation, told Medical News Today that many people simply favor a tanned body over health:

“Despite elevated awareness of the dangers of UV radiation, people still choose to ignore the dangers in the pursuit of what they consider to be a ‘healthy tan.’ This is particularly an issue among young people who tend to ignore health risks in favor of enhancing their social status and popularity. We know that tanning appeals to people who are interested in being included, and this is a primary driver for teens – being part of the ‘in’ crowd.”

Anita Blankenship, health communication specialist at the CDC, told us that the desire for a tan is particularly common among young women.

“In the US, nearly 1 in 3 young white women ages 16-25 years engages in indoor tanning each year,” she said. “These young women may experience pressure to conform to beauty standards, and young people may not be as concerned about health risks.”

Turnham agreed, telling us that the indoor tanning industry specifically targets this population. “Aggressive marketing, deep discount and package deals are used routinely by tanning salons, who market their services preferentially to young women,” he said.

Blankenship added that the public are also presented with “conflicting messages” when it comes to the safety of excess UV exposure. She pointed out that a recent US report found that only 7% of tanning salons reported any harmful effects from tanning beds, booths or lamps, while 78% reported health benefits.

“It is important to monitor deceptive health and safety claims about UV exposure, as they may make it difficult for consumers to adequately assess risk,” she told us. “It is important for people to understand that tanned skin is damaged skin, and that damage can lead to wrinkles and early aging of the skin, as well as skin cancer including melanoma – the kind of skin cancer that leads to the most deaths.”

Progress has been made, but more needs to be done

This month is UV Safety Month – an annual campaign that aims to increase public awareness of the health implications caused by UV exposure.

With the help of such campaigns and an increase in studies detailing UV risks, many health care professionals believe there has been a change for the better in attitudes toward UV exposure.

Many health care professionals believe much progress has been made in increasing awareness of UV exposure risks in recent years, but more needs to be done.

“Certainly the scientific community, a number of federal agencies, and possibly the general public are more aware of the risk of UV exposure,” a spokesperson from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) told Medical News Today.

“Action and more coordinated efforts increased markedly about 4 years ago, when a number of epidemiological studies documented the harms of indoor tanning, the FDA held their scientific advisory committee meeting to discuss need for changing indoor tanning device regulations, and they also acted on their previous proposals to change sunscreen regulations.”

The spokesperson continued:

“We think these summaries acted as a catalyst for efforts to make the public and policy makers aware of the risks of indoor tanning, and also they gave a boost to efforts to increase awareness of outdoor sun exposure risks and encourage sun safe protective behaviors.”

In addition, some studies have indicated that many youngsters may even be moving away from the use of tanning beds. A recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, indoor tanning activity decreased from 15.6% in 2009 to 12.8% in 2013.

Turnham told us that since sunless tanning – such as the use of spray tans – is on the increase, it may be that youngsters are using this as an alternative to tanning salons. But the NCI spokesperson said such an association needs to be investigated before any conclusions can be reached:

“We do not know if changes in indoor tanning are related to increases in use of spray-on and sunless tanning products and services,” they told us. “Some studies indicate that sunless products and services are used by people who continue to engage in indoor tanning, but it is an area we continue to research. We are hopeful that we will be able to measure this in an upcoming national survey supplement that is being developed by NCI and CDC.”

But despite widespread efforts to increase UV safety awareness, Turnham believes there is still a lot more that can be done to protect public health:

“Regulators could and should do much more to fight the ravages of UV exposure. We need federal legislation banning the use of tanning beds by minors. We need more funding for awareness and prevention efforts.”

He added that doctors can also play a role in increasing UV exposure awareness by warning patients of associated risks – something the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommend. They state that health care providers should counsel fair-skinned youths between the ages of 10 and 24 about the risks of indoor tanning and how to protect themselves against UV radiation from the sun.

However, Turnham noted that doctors do not have much time with each patient and proposes that signage in waiting areas warning of the risks of UV exposure may also be effective.

Protecting against UV radiation

Whether there will be further regulation for indoor tanning or an increase in awareness efforts is unclear. But one thing is certain: we can help ourselves to avoid the negative health implications associated with UV exposure.

The American Cancer Society notes young children need extra protection from the sun, as they spend more time outside and can burn easily.

The CDC recommend the following for protecting against UV radiation:

  • Stay in the shade if possible, particularly when the sun is at its strongest – usually around midday
  • Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat that provides shade for your head, face, ears and neck
  • Wear wrap-around sunglasses that protect against both UVA and UVB radiation
  • Use sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 that protects against UVA and UVB radiation, and reapply every 2 hours
  • Avoid indoor tanning.

In addition, the American Cancer Society notes young children need extra protection from the sun as they spend more time outside and can burn easily. They add that babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight and be covered with protective clothing. Sunscreen should never be used on an infants skin.

As  we embark on the glorious, sunny days of the summer season and enter into the Fourth of July Celebration, let’s do all we can to protect ourselves and our little ones from UV rays’ potential threats to our skin. Remember, UV rays are the major causes of several deadly skin cancers and sunscreen is one of the most easy and accessible ways to protect against them. So, get out those sunscreen tubes and cover your head with a hat and your eyes with some shades because sun protection is trending today and everyday!

To find a healthcare professional, use HealthLynked. It is a first of its kind medical network built as a social ecosystem with a higher purpose – improving healthcare. Go to HealthLynked.com to learn more, sign up for free, connect with your doctor, find a new doctor, and securely store and share your health information. Download our HealthLynked app available on Apple and Android devices.

The Often Misunderstood Diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and is a condition that many veterans and non-veterans alike suffer; PTSD can occur when someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. This condition wasn’t always understood properly by the medical or military community, and Department of Defense press releases often point to earlier attempts to identify PTSD symptoms in the wake of service in World War 2, Vietnam, and other conflicts.

PTSD Awareness Day is observed today, Wednesday, June 27, 2018.

The History of PTSD Awareness Day

In 2010, Senator Kent Conrad pushed to get official recognition of PTSD via a “day of awareness” in tribute to a North Dakota National Guard member who took his life following two tours in Iraq.

Staff Sergeant Joe Biel died in 2007 after suffering from PTSD; Biel committed suicide after his return from duty to his home state. SSgt. Biel’s birthday, June 27, was selected as the official PTSD Awareness Day, now observed every year.

How Do People Observe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day?

Much of what is done to observe PTSD Awareness Day involves encouraging open talk about PTSD, its’ causes, symptoms, and most important of all, getting help for the condition. When today, PTSD is often misunderstood by those lacking firsthand experience with the condition or those who suffer from it. PTSD Awareness Day is designed to help change that.

The Department of Defense publishes circulars, articles, and other materials to help educate and inform military members and their families about the condition. The Department of Veterans Affairs official site has several pages dedicated to PTSD, and when military members retiring or separating from the service fill out VA claim forms for service-connected injuries, illnesses, or disabilities, there is an option to be evaluated for PTSD as a part of the VA claims process.

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

The current American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, DSM-IV, says PTSD can develop through a range of exposures to death or injury: direct personal involvement, witnessing it or, if it concerns someone close, just learning about it.  Post-traumatic stress disorder is a form of anxiety that can happen after experiencing or witnessing actual or near death, serious injury, war-related violence, terrorism or sexual violence.  While most people typically connect this disorder to military veterans or refugees, it can happen to anyone.

Almost no other psychiatric diagnosis has generated as much controversy.  The diagnosis is almost four decades old.  PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and people can be affected by PTSD even when they were not directly part of the traumatic event.

The specific nature of the trauma can and does vary greatly. Experts are quick to point out, while combat and combat-related military service can be incredibly challenging, and while witnessing or being a victim of an event that rips the fabric of daily life can be traumatic, not everyone responds the same way. Some may develop symptoms of PTSD, while others may be unaffected.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: How Widespread Is It?

Some sources estimate that as many as 70% of all Americans have experienced a traumatic event sufficient to cause PTSD or PTSD-like symptoms. That does not mean that all 70% of Americans WILL suffer from PTSD. Using these statistics, some 224 million Americans have experienced a traumatic event. Of that number, some 20% will develop PTSD symptoms, roughly 44 million people.

Of that 44 million, an estimated eight percent experience active PTSD symptoms at any one time. An estimated 50% of all mental health patients are also diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

PTSD: Often Misunderstood and Misidentified

“Shell shock” and “combat shock” were earlier attempts to define and understand the symptoms of PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder was often stigmatized in popular culture after the Vietnam conflict, and many films and television shows featured antagonists or unsympathetic characters suffering from “Vietnam flashbacks” or other issues.

The misunderstanding of PTSD slowly began to change in 1980 when it was recognized as a specific condition with identifiable symptoms. It was then the disorder was listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

This manual is a diagnostic tool for mental health professionals and paraprofessional workers in the healthcare field and is considered a definitive reference. The addition of PTSD to the DSM was a highly significant development.

Today, the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are better understood, treatable, and recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as a service-connected condition. PTSD is not exclusive to veterans or currently serving members of the United States military, but a portion of those who serve are definitely at risk for PTSD.

What Are the Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome?

Some PTSD symptoms may seem vague and non-specific, others are more readily identified specifically as evidence of PTSD. In this context “non-specific” means that the symptoms may be related to other mental health issues and not specifically limited to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In the same way, more “specific” symptoms may be manifest outside PTSD, but when looking for specific signifiers, these issues are common “red flags” that indicate PTSD may be the cause of the suffering rather than a different condition. This is often circumstantial, and there is no one-size-fits-all diagnosis for the condition.

Suicidal thoughts or self-destructive acts are often a result of PTSD or related symptoms. Anyone experiencing thoughts or urges to self-harm should seek immediate care to prevent the condition from getting worse in the short-term. (See below)

That said, more non-specific symptoms include varying degrees of irritability, depression, and suicidal feelings. More specific problems-especially where veterans and currently serving military members are concerned-include something known as “hypervigilance” or “hyperarousal”.

Other symptoms include repeatedly experiencing the traumatic event(s) in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, persistent memories of the event(s), and intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event(s).

These symptoms vary in intensity depending on the individual and are not ‘standardized”. They may come and go, or they may be persistent over a span of time. Sometimes PTSD sufferers can be high-functioning, other times they may be more debilitated by the condition.

Get Treatment For PTSD

Those who experience symptoms of PTSD or PTSD-like issues should seek help immediately. Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, private care providers, counselors, and therapists can all be helpful in establishing an initial care regimen or refer those suffering from PTSD to a qualified care provider.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has more information on help for PTSD on its’ official site including help finding a therapist.

Those experiencing suicidal feelings or self-destructive urges should get help immediately. The Suicide Crisis Hotline (1-800-273-8255) has a specific resource for veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs offers a Veterans’ Crisis Hotline confidential chat resource.

To find a healthcare professional, use HealthLynked. It is a first of its kind medical network built as a social ecosystem with a higher purpose – improving healthcare. Go to HealthLynked.com to learn more, sign up for free, connect with your doctor, find a new doctor, and securely store and share your health information. Download our HealthLynked app available on Apple and Android devices.

Adapted from https://militarybenefits.info/ptsd-awareness-day/

“Doing It My Way, Testing for HIV” | HIV Testing Day 2018

National HIV Testing Day (NHTD) is an annual observance encouraging people of all ages to get tested for HIV and to know their status.  Too many people are unaware they have HIV. At the end of 2014, an estimated 1.1 million persons aged 13 and older were living with HIV infection in the United States, including an estimated 166,000 (15%, or 1 in 7) persons whose infections had not been diagnosed.

Getting tested is the first step to finding out if you have HIV. If you have HIV, getting medical care, taking medicines regularly and changes in behavior help you live a longer, healthier life and will lower the chances of passing HIV on to others.

Testing is the only way for the Americans living with undiagnosed HIV to know their HIV status and get into care. CDC estimates that more than 90% of all new infections could be prevented by proper testing and linking HIV positive persons to care. HIV testing saves lives! It is one of the most powerful tools in the fight against HIV

How do I know if I am at risk to get HIV? 

Knowing your risk can help you make important decisions to prevent exposure to HIV.  Overall, an American has a 1 in 99 chance of being diagnosed with HIV at some point in his or her lifetime. However, the lifetime risk is much greater among some populations. If current diagnosis rates continue the lifetime risk of getting HIV is:

  • 1 in 6 for gay and bisexual men overall
  • 1 in 2 for African American gay and bisexual men
  • 1 in 4 for Hispanic gay and bisexual men
  • 1 in 11 for white gay and bisexual men
  • 1 in 20 for African American men overall
  • 1 in 48 for African American women overall
  • 1 in 23 for women who inject drugs
  • 1 in 36 for men who inject drugs

Your health behaviors also affect your risk. You can get or transmit HIV only through specific activities. HIV is commonly transmitted through anal or vaginal sex without a condom or sharing injection and other drug injection equipment with a person infected with HIV. Substance use can increase the risk of exposure to HIV because alcohol and other drugs can affect your decision to use condoms during sex. To learn more about your HIV risk and ways to reduce these risks, visit: https://wwwn.cdc.gov/hivrisk/

How do HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and STDs relate to each other? 

Persons who have an STD are at least two to five times more likely than uninfected persons to acquire HIV infection if they are exposed to the virus through sexual contact. In addition, if a person who is HIV positive also has an STD, that person is more likely to transmit HIV through sexual contact than other HIV-infected persons.

Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and HIV are bloodborne viruses transmitted primarily through sexual contact and injection drug use. Because of these shared modes of transmission, a high proportion of adults at risk for HIV infection are also at risk for HBV infection. HIV-positive persons who become infected with HBV are at increased risk for developing chronic HBV infection and should be tested. In addition, persons who are co-infected with HIV and HBV can have serious medical complications, including an increased risk for liver-related morbidity and mortality.

Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is one of the most common causes of chronic liver disease in the United States. For persons who are HIV infected, co-infection with HCV can result in a more rapid occurrence of liver damage and may also impact the course and management of HIV infection.

How do I protect myself and others from HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and STDs? 

HIV Prevention

Your life matters and staying healthy is important. It’s important for you, the people who care about you, and your community that you know your HIV status.  Knowing give you powerful information to help take steps to keep you and others healthy. You should get tested for HIV, and encourage others to get tested too.

For people who are sexually active, there are more tools available today to prevent HIV than ever before. The list below provides a number of ways you can lower your chances of getting HIV. The more of these actions you take, the safer you can be.

  • Get tested and treated for other STDs and encourage your partners to do the same.All adults and adolescents from ages 13-64 should be tested at least once for HIV, and high-risk groups get tested more often.  STDs can have long-term health consequences.  They can also increase your chance of getting HIV or transmitting it to others. It is important to have an honest and open talk with your healthcare provider and ask whether you should be tested for STDs.  Your healthcare provider can offer you the best care if you discuss your sexual history openly.
  • Choose less risky sexual behaviors. Oral sex is much less risky than anal or vaginal sex for HIV transmission. Anal sex is the highest-risk sexual activity for HIV transmission. Sexual activities that do not involve the potential exchange of bodily fluids carry no risk for getting HIV (e.g., touching).
  • Use condoms consistently and correctly.
  • Reduce the number of people you have sex with.  The number of sex partners you have affects your HIV risk. The more partners you have, the more likely you are to have a partner with HIV whose viral load is not suppressed or to have a sex partner with a sexually transmitted disease. Both of these factors can increase the risk of HIV transmission.
  • Talk to your doctor about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). CDC recommends that PrEP be considered for people who are HIIV-negative and at substantial risk for being exposed to HIV.For sexual transmission, this includes HIIV-negative persons who are in an ongoing relationship with an HIV-positive partner. It also includes anyone who 1) is not in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who recently tested HIV-negative, and 2) is a gay or bisexual man who has had sex without a condom or been diagnosed with an STD in the past 6 months; or heterosexual man or woman who does not regularly use condoms during sex with partners of unknown HIV status who are at substantial risk of HIV infection (e.g., people who inject drugs or have bisexual male partners). For people who inject drugs, this includes those who have injected drugs in the past 6 months and who have shared injection equipment or been in drug treatment for injection drug use in the past 6 months.
  • Talk to your doctor right away (within 3 days) about post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) if you have a possible exposure to HIV. An example of a possible exposure is if you have anal or vaginal sex without a condom with someone who is or may be HIV-positive, and you are HIV-negative and not taking PrEP. Your chance of exposure to HIV is lower if your HIV-positive partner is taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) consistently and correctly, especially if his/her viral load is undetectable. Starting medicine immediately (known as post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP) and taking it daily for 4 weeks reduces your chance of getting HIV.
  • If your partner is HIV-positive, encourage your partner to get and stay on treatment.  ART reduces the amount of HIV virus (viral load) in blood and body fluids. ART can keep people with HIV healthy for many years, and greatly reduce the chance of transmitting HIV to sex partners if taken consistently and correctly.

Hepatitis Prevention

The best way to prevent both Hepatitis A and B is by getting vaccinated.   There is no vaccine available to prevent Hepatitis C.  The best way to prevent Hepatitis C is by avoiding behaviors that can spread the disease, such as sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs.

STD Prevention

The only way to avoid STDs is to not have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. If you are sexually active, you can do several things to lower your chances of getting an STD, including:

  • Get tested for STDs and encourage your partner(s) to do the same. It is important to have an honest and open talk with your healthcare provider and ask whether you should be tested for STDs.  Your healthcare provider can offer you the best care if you discuss your sexual history openly.
  • Get vaccinated. Vaccines are safe, effective, and recommended ways to prevent hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and HPV.
  • Be in a sexually active relationship with only one person, who has agreed to be sexually active only with you.
  • Reduce your number of sex partners.  By doing so, you decrease your risk for STDs. It is still important that you and your partner get tested, and that you share your test results with one another.
  • Use a condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Correct and consistent use of the male latex condomis highly effective in reducing STD transmission.

What puts me at risk for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and STDs? 

Risks for HIV

The most common ways HIV is transmitted in the United States is through anal or vaginal sex or sharing drug injection equipment with a person infected with HIV. Although the risk factors for HIV are the same for everyone, some racial/ethnic, gender, and age groups are far more affected than others.

What puts me at risk for Hepatitis A?

Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests fecal matter — even in microscopic amounts — from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by the feces or stool of an infected person. Due to routine vaccination of children, Hepatitis A has decreased dramatically in the United States. Although anyone can get Hepatitis A, certain groups of people are at higher risk, including men who have sex with men, people who use illegal drugs, people who travel to certain international countries, and people who have sexual contact with someone who has Hepatitis A.

What puts me at risk for Hepatitis B?

Hepatitis B is usually spread when blood, semen, or another body fluid from a person infected with the Hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact with an infected person or sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment. Hepatitis B can also be passed from an infected mother to her baby at birth.

Among adults in the United States, Hepatitis B is most commonly spread through sexual contact and accounts for nearly two-thirds of acute Hepatitis B cases. Hepatitis B is 50–100 times more infectious than HIV.

What puts me at risk for Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants prior to the early 1990’s. At that time, widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, which has helped ensure a safe blood supply.

STDs

Risks for  Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is a common STD, and most people with genital herpes infection do not know they have it.   You can get genital herpes from an infected partner, even if your partner has no herpes symptoms.  There is no cure for herpes, but medication is available to reduce symptoms and make it less likely that you will spread herpes to a sex partner.

Risks for Genital Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is so common that most sexually active people get it at some point in their lives. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person. In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. But when HPV does not go away, it can cause health problems like genital warts and cancer. HPV is passed on through genital contact (such as vaginal and anal sex). You can pass HPV to others without knowing it.

Risks for Chlamydia

Most people who have chlamydia don’t know it since the disease often has no symptoms.  Chlamydia is the most commonly reported STD in the United States.  Sexually active females 25 years old and younger need testing every year. Although it is easy to cure, chlamydia can make it difficult for a woman to get pregnant if left untreated.

Risks for Gonorrhea

Anyone who is sexually active can get gonorrhea, an STD that can cause infections in the genitals, rectum, and throat. It is a very common infection, especially among young people ages 15-24 years. But it can be easily cured.  You can get gonorrhea by having anal, vaginal, or oral sex with someone who has gonorrhea. A pregnant woman with gonorrhea can give the infection to her baby during childbirth.

Risks for Syphilis

Any sexually active person can get syphilis. It is more common among men who have sex with men. Syphilis is passed through direct contact with a syphilis sore. Sores occur mainly on the external genitals, anus, or in the rectum. Sores also can occur on the lips and in the mouth. A pregnant women with syphilis can give the infection to her unborn baby.

Risks for Bacterial Vaginosis

BV is common among women of childbearing age. Any woman can get BV, but women are at a higher risk for BV if they have a new sex partner, multiple sex partners, use an intrauterine device (IUD), and/or douche.

Managing Your Appointments

HIV is a treatable condition. If you are diagnosed early, get on antiretroviral therapy (ART), and adhere to your medication, you can stay healthy, live a normal life span, and reduce the chances of transmitting HIV to others. Part of staying healthy is seeing your HIV care provider regularly so that he or she can track your progress and make sure your HIV treatment is working for you.

Your HIV care provider might be a doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. Some people living with HIV go to an HIV clinic; others see an HIV specialist at a community health center, Veterans Affairs clinic, or other health clinic; and some people see their provider in a private practice. Current guidelines recommend that most people living with HIV see their provider for lab tests every 3 to 4 months. Some people may see their provider more frequently, especially during the first two years of treatment or if their HIV viral load is not suppressed (i.e. very low or undetectable). Current guidelines say that people who take their medication every day and have had a suppressed viral load at every test for more than 2 years only need to have their lab tests done two times a year.

In addition to seeing your HIV care provider, you may need to see other health care practitioners, including dentists, nurses, case managers, social workers, psychiatrists/psychologists, pharmacists and medical specialists. This may mean juggling multiple appointments, but it is all part of staying healthy. You can help make this easier by preparing a plan for yourself.

Before Your Visit

For many people living with HIV, appointments with their HIV care provider become a routine part of their life. These tips may help you better prepare for your visits to your HIV care provider and get more out of them:

  • Start with a list or a notebook. Write down any questions you have before you go. (The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a useful list of sample questions you can bring with you.)
  • Make a list of your health and life goals so that you can talk about them with your HIV provider and how she/he can help you reach them.
  • Make a list of any symptoms or problems you are experiencing that you want to talk to your provider about.
  • Bring a list of all the HIV and non-HIV medications that you are taking (or the medications themselves), including over-the-counter medications, vitamins, or supplements. Include a list of any HIV medications you may have taken in the past and any problems you had when taking them.
  • Bring along a copy of your medical records if you are seeing a new provider who does not already have them. You have the right to access your medical records and having copies of your records can help you keep track of your lab results, prescriptions, and other health information. It can also help your new provider have a better understanding of your health history. The best way to do this is by using a global, portable personal health record like the one you will maintain here at HealthLynked.
  • Be prepared to talk about any changes in your living situation, relationships, insurance, or employment that may affect your ability to keep up with your HIV appointments and treatment or to take care of yourself. Your provider may be able to connect you with resources or services that may assist you.
  • Be on time. Most healthcare providers have full appointment schedules—if you are late, you throw the schedule off for everyone who comes after you. If you are late, there is a chance your provider will not be able to see you the same day.

During Your Visit

  • If your provider wants to run some lab tests during your visit, make sure you understand what the lab tests are for and what your provider will do with the results. If you don’t understand, ask your provider to explain it in everyday terms. Typically, you will be asked to give a sample (blood, urine) during your visit and your provider’s office will call you with your results in a few days. Keep track of your results and call your provider back if you have any questions.
  • Be honest. Your provider isn’t there to judge you, but to make decisions with you based on your particular circumstances. Talk about any HIV medication doses you have missed. Tell your provider about your sexual or alcohol/drug use history. These behaviors can put you at risk of developing drug resistance and getting other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as hepatitis. Your provider will work with you to develop strategies to keep you as healthy as possible.
  • Describe any side effects you may be having from your HIV medications. Your provider will want to know how the HIV medications are affecting your body in order to work with you to solve any problems and find the right combination of medications for you.
  • Ask your provider about your next visit and what you should bring to that appointment.
  • Ask for a list of your upcoming appointments when you check out. Work with your case manager, if you have one, to develop a system to help you remember your appointments, such as a calendar, app, or text/e-mail reminders.

Asking Questions and Solving Problems

It’s important for you to be an active participant in your own health care and it’s your right to ask questions. You may need to direct your questions to different people, depending on what you need/want to know:

HIV care providers (doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants) can answer specific questions about a wide range of issues that affect your health. They can also help you find resources and solutions to problems you may have that affect your health, including:

  • Your prognosis (how your HIV disease is affecting your body)
  • How to manage any symptoms you may be experiencing
  • Medication issues, including medication changes, new medications, and how the HIV medications may interact with other medications you take.
  • Sexual health issues, including questions about any sexual symptoms you may be having, and how you can prevent or treat STIs, and how you can prevent transmitting HIV to your partner(s).
  • Family planning considerations, including your goals; birth control options for you and/or your partner, if relevant; your options for having children should you wish to do so; and, if you are an HIV-positive woman who is pregnant or considering getting pregnant, how you can reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to your baby
  • Substance use issues, including how alcohol/drug use can affect your HIV treatment and overall health, and whether you should be referred for substance abuse treatment
  • Mental health issues, including questions about any mental health symptoms you may be having, and whether you should be referred for mental health treatment
  • Referrals for other medical issues you may be experiencing
  • The meaning of lab test results
  • The need for surgical procedures, if relevant
  • Medication adherence strategies (tips for keeping up with your medication and ensuring you take it as scheduled and exactly as prescribed)
  • Any clinical trials or research studies that may be relevant for you
  • Information about resources and services that can help you with issues or challenges you may be having that affect your health.

Nurses and case managers often have more time to answer questions about what you discuss with your provider and to help identify solutions to problems that are affecting your health, particularly around:

  • Understanding your HIV treatment plan, including how many pills of each medicine you should take; when to take each medicine; how to take each medicine (for example, with or without food); and how to store each medicine
  • Understanding possible side effects from your HIV medication and what you should do if you experience them
  • Challenges you may have in taking your medications and/or keeping your medical appointments, and strategies for overcoming these challenges
  • Resources to help you better understand lab reports, tests, and procedures
  • Mental health and/or substance abuse treatment, housing assistance, food assistance, and other resources that exist in your community
  • Insurance and pharmacy benefits, and other aspects of paying for care
  • Understanding other medical conditions you may have
  • How to quit smoking and resources that are available to assist you
  • Information about resources and services that can help you with issues or challenges you may be having that affect your health.

If you are HIV positive, attending your medical appointments is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your HIV is optimally managed. Make sure you are ready for your appointments with HealthLynked.  Using our novel healthcare ecosystem, you can collate your medical information in one place and Connect there with the physicians who care for you.

Ready to get Lynked?  Go to HealthLynked.com today to sign up for Free!

Adapted from:

HIV.org

CDC.foc

Aidsinfo.NIH.gov

Forgiveness Fills Life with Research Proven Health Benefits

Maybe you are considering forgiveness for yourself or others, but you’re not sure it’s worth the emotional effort. You might prefer to ignore the painful memories, stuff it down and keep going about your daily affairs. You will just deal with it later, right?

To forgive, whether yourself or others, and to be forgiven, brings relief beyond just the emotional or even spiritual, if you at a person of faith.  Today is Forgiveness Day – one of many observed throughout the year.  The original was established as International Forgiveness Day in response to a call to set aside old differences made by Desmond Tutu.  There is also Global Forgiveness Day next Saturday, and National Forgiveness Day in October.  All have one purpose – to encourage us to set things right; and there are great health benefits to doing so!

Whether it’s a bout with your boss, a feud with a family member or friend, or a spat with your spouse, unresolved conflict can go deeper than you may realize—it may be affecting your physical health. Not forgiving has its costs. When we harbor grudges and grievances, we retain everything that goes with them: anxiety, irritability, anger, and depression.  We may suffer insomnia, experience weight gain or loss, endure depletion of trust in ourselves and others, get caught up in numbing addictions and get stuck in a nerve fraying fight-or-flight mode.

The list is long and disabling.  The good news: Studies have found the act of forgiveness can pay huge dividends for your health, And research points to an increase in the forgiveness-health connection as you age.

What are the health benefits of forgiveness?

In a study at Virginia Commonwealth University, researchers sought to prove what many might already feel is common sense. They wrote, “Chronic unforgiveness causes stress. Every time people think of their transgressor, their body responds. Decreasing your unforgiveness cuts down your health risk. Now, if you can forgive, that can actually strengthen your immune system.” [1]

Dr. Bernie Siegel, author, surgeon and retired medical professor at Yale University, said, “I have collected 57 extremely well-documented so-called cancer miracles. At a certain particular moment in time, they decided that the anger and the depression were probably not the best way to go, since they had such little time left.

And so, they went from that to being loving, caring, no longer angry, no longer depressed, and able to talk to the people they loved. These 57 people had the same pattern. They gave up—totally—their anger, and they gave up—totally—their depression, by specifically a decision to do so. And at that point, the tumors started to shrink.” [2]

Medical researchers have become increasingly interested in studying the effects of forgiveness as a healing process. Evidence is mounting:  holding onto painful memories and bitterness results in long-term health problems. Forgiveness, on the other hand, offers numerous benefits, including:

  1. Lower blood pressure

When we no longer feel anxiety or anger because of past grievances, our heart rate evens out and our blood pressure drops. This normalizes many processes in the body and brings us our heart and circulatory system into stability.

  1. Stress reduction

Forgiveness eases stress because we no longer recycle thoughts (both consciously and subconsciously) that cause psychic stress to arise. By offering our burdens for healing, we learn how to leave irritation and stress behind.

  1.  Less hostility

By its very nature, forgiveness asks us to let go of hostility toward ourselves and others.  Spontaneous hostile behavior, like road rage and picking a fight for no reason, diminishes as our commitment to forgiveness goes up.

  1. Better anger-management skills

With fewer and fewer burdens from the past weighing us down, we have more self-control when we do get angry. We’ll be better able to take some breaths, count to ten, take a time-out or get some exercise—rather than strike out or lash out in anger.

  1. Lower heart rate

Forgiveness relaxes our hearts –  pain will ease out of our system. Our hearts calm down, and our heart rate decreases as a result.

  1. Lower risk of alcohol or substance abuse

This is a big one – possibly the biggest and best reason to jump into a forgiveness practice without delay. Substance abuse is a mask for underlying pain. Forgiveness helps release that pain and find the gifts in our situation instead.

  1. Fewer depression symptoms

Similar to lowering substance abuse, this is a crucial issue with retained anguish. Depression is debilitating and can lead to suicide. On the other hand, forgiveness gives us healing and can leave room to replace depression with a sense of purpose and compassion.

  1. Fewer anxiety symptoms

Almost everyone needs to forgive him or herself as well as others. Anxiety often arises when we fear we’ve done something wrong. Our guilty conscience causes tension at a deep level. Forgiveness helps us to love ourselves deeply, relieving inner pain.

  1. Reduction in chronic pain

Physical pain often has psychological underpinnings. When we allow a profound shift to happen with forgiveness, we heal ourselves on both psychological and physical levels. Thus, chronic pain can be reversed, and we can be restored to best health.

  1. More friendships

When we’re no longer holding grudges, we can get a lot closer to friends and family. Old relationships have a chance to change and grow, and new relationships can enter—all because we made room for them with forgiveness.

  1. Healthier relationships

When we make forgiveness a regular part of our emotional practice, we start to notice all of our relationships begin to blossom. There’s far less drama to deal with, and that’s a huge bonus.

  1. Improved psychological well-being

A good life, full of quality relationships, service to others and fun, is something that most of us hope for without ever knowing how to create it.  By releasing our grievances, we become more harmonious on all levels. Nightmares recede, and exciting new life visions become commonplace. We feel calmer, happier and ready to give compassion and love to the world.

  1. Enhanced immune function

Forgiveness lowers cortisol – a steroid hormone produced in response to stress that causes weight gain – and boosts immune function. You’ll feel more relaxed and centered, and you won’t get sick as easily once you’ve let go for good through forgiveness.

Looking at the list, it’s easy to see that if you had lower stress, hostility, blood pressure and chronic pain, you’d be far healthier for it. Also, if you had better relationships, improved psychological well-being and greater emotional connection, you could be living a life of joy and purpose.

Can You Learn to Be More Forgiving?

Now, look at this list below to see if you would enjoy improvements in any of these areas of your life:

  • Your Physical Health
  • Relationships with Loved Ones (Lovers, Spouse, Exes, and Friends)
  • Family Issues with Parents, Siblings and Children
  • Trauma from Childhood
  • Impacts of Racism, Sexism and Other “Isms”
  • Money Worries
  • Sexual Issues
  • Blocked Creativity

Forgiveness is not just about saying the words. It is an active process in which you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether deserved or not. As you release anger, resentment and hostility, you make room for empathy, compassion and sometimes even affection for the person who wronged you.

Studies have found some people are just naturally more forgiving. Consequently, they tend to be more satisfied with their lives and to have less depression, anxiety, stress, anger and hostility. People who hang on to grudges, however, are more likely to experience severe depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as other health issues described earlier. But that doesn’t mean they can’t train themselves to act in healthier ways. 62 percent of American adults say they need more forgiveness in their personal lives, according to a survey by the nonprofit Fetzer Institute.

Making Forgiveness Part of Your Life

Forgiveness is a choice.  You are choosing to offer compassion and empathy to the person who wronged you.  The following steps can help you develop a more forgiving attitude—and benefit from better emotional and physical health.

Reflect and remember.

That includes the events themselves, and also how you reacted, how you felt, and how the anger and hurt have affected you since.

Empathize with the other person.

For instance, if your spouse grew up in an alcoholic family, then anger when you have too much to drink might be understandable.

Forgive deeply.

Simply forgiving someone because you think you have no other alternative or because you think your faith requires it may be enough to bring some healing, but one study found people whose forgiveness came in part from understanding no one is perfect were able to resume a normal relationship with the other person.  This was true even if that person never apologized. Those who only forgave in an effort to salvage the relationship typically wound up with a worse relationship.

Let go of expectations.

An apology may not change your relationship with the other person or elicit an apology from them. If you don’t expect either, you won’t be disappointed.

Decide to forgive.

Once you make that choice, seal it with an action. If you don’t feel you can talk to the person who wronged you, write about your forgiveness in a journal or even talk about it with someone else in your life whom you trust and can be supportive.

Forgive yourself.

The act of forgiving includes forgiving yourself. Failings of the past are not a reflection of your worth.

If you are suffering any of the debilitating effects of unforgiveness, it is a great day to relieve yourself and others of the tremendous burden of holding on to hurt.  And if you need a professional to speak with about any of the physical effects you are feeling, find them in HealthLynked.

In our novel HealthCare ecosystem, we are connecting physicians and patients in unique ways.  Lower the stress and confusion of seeing a provider and sharing relevant health information through HealthLynked.

Ready to get Lynked?  Go to HealthLynked.com to register for free!


Definitions

Immune response: How your immune system recognizes and defends itself against bacteria, viruses, toxins and other harmful substances. A response can include anything from coughing and sneezing to an increase in white blood cells, which attack foreign substances.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): A disorder in which your “fight or flight,” or stress, response stays switched on, even when you have nothing to flee or battle. The disorder usually develops after an emotional or physical trauma, such as a mugging, physical abuse or a natural disaster. Symptoms include nightmares, insomnia, angry outbursts, emotional numbness, and physical and emotional tension.

Sources:

[1] Worthington, Everett & Witvliet, Charlotte & Pietrini, Pietro & J Miller, Andrea. (2007). Forgiveness, Health, and Well-Being: A Review of Evidence for Emotional Versus Decisional Forgiveness, Dispositional Forgivingness, and Reduced Unforgiveness. Journal of behavioral medicine. 30. 291-302. 10.1007/s10865-007-9105-8.

[2]Meisner-Morton, Carole J.  Entering Your Own Heart: A Guide to Developing Self Love, Inner Peace and Happiness.  Balboa Press. 2015.

[3] HopkinsMedicine.org

[4] WisdomTimes.com

Five [PLUS] Senses Working Overtime. Are You Tuned In…?

Today is Celebration of the Senses Day – a time to consider your amazing sensory abilities and how they interrelate. We all learn as children humans have five basic senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. Science has done a fantastic job describing the organs associated with each, how they send information to the brain to help us understand and perceive the world around us, and has gone even further to uncover how they uniquely cross-talk for heightened awareness.

Touch

Touch is thought to be the first sense humans develop, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Touch consists of several distinct sensations communicated to the brain through specialized neurons in the skin. Pressure, temperature, light touch, vibration, pain and other sensations are all part of the touch sense and are all attributed to different receptors in the skin.

Touch isn’t just a sense used to interact with the world; it also seems to be very important to a human’s well-being. For example, touch has been found to convey compassion from one human to another.

Touch can also influence how humans make decisions. Texture can be associated with abstract concepts, and touching something with a texture can influence the decisions a person makes, according to six studies by psychologists at Harvard University and Yale University, published in the June 24, 2010, issue of the journal Science.

“Those tactile sensations are not just changing general orientation or putting people in a good mood,” said Joshua Ackerman, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “They have a specific tie to certain abstract meanings.”

Sight

Sight, or perceiving things through the eyes, is a complex process. First, light reflects off an object to the eye. The transparent outer layer of the eye – the cornea – bends the light that passes through the hole of the pupil. The iris (the colored part of the eye) works like the shutter of a camera, retracting to shut out light or opening wider to let in more light.

The cornea focuses most of the light. Then, it passes through the lens, which continues to focus the light.  The lens of the eye then bends the light and focuses it on the retina, which is full of nerve cells. These cells are shaped like rods and cones and are named for their shapes. Cones translate light into colors, central vision and details. The rods translate light into peripheral vision and motion. Rods also give humans vision when there is limited light available, like at night. The information translated from the light is sent as electrical impulses to the brain through the optic nerve.

People without sight may compensate with enhanced hearing, taste, touch and smell, according to numerous studies. Their memory and language skills may be better than those with sight, as well.

“Even in the case of being profoundly blind, the brain rewires itself in a manner to use the information at its disposal so that it can interact with the environment in a more effective manner.”  That’s according to Dr. Lotfi Merabet, senior author of a 2017 study and the director of the Laboratory for Visual Neuroplasticity at Schepens Eye Research Institute of Massachusetts Eye and Ear.

Hearing

This sense works via the complex labyrinth that is the human ear. Sound is funneled through the external ear and piped into the external auditory canal. Then, sound waves reach the tympanic membrane, or eardrum. This is a thin sheet of connective tissue that vibrates when sound waves strike it.

The vibrations travel to the middle ear. There, auditory ossicles — three tiny bones called the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil) and stapes (stirrup) — vibrate. The stapes bone, in turn, pushes a structure called the oval window in and out, sending vibrations to the organ of Corti.  This spiral organ is the receptor organ for hearing. Tiny hair cells in the organ of Corti translate the vibrations into electrical impulses. The impulses then travel to the brain via sensory nerves.

People retain their sense of balance because the Eustachian tube, or pharyngotympanic tube, in the middle ear equalizes the air pressure there with the air pressure in the atmosphere. The vestibular complex, in the inner ear, is also important for balance, because it contains receptors that regulate a sense of equilibrium. The inner ear is connected to the vestibulocochlear nerve, which carries sound and equilibrium information to the brain.

Smell

Humans may be able to smell over 1 trillion scents, according to researchers. They do this with the olfactory cleft, which is found on the roof of the nasal cavity, next to the “smelling” part of the brain – the olfactory bulb and fossa. Nerve endings in the olfactory cleft transmit scents to the brain, according to the American Rhinologic Society.

Dogs are known as great smellers, but research suggests humans are just as good as man’s best friend. Research published in the May 11, 2017, issue of the journal Science suggests humans can discriminate among 1 trillion different odors; it was once believed humans could discern only about 10,000 different smells.

“The fact is the sense of smell is just as good in humans as in other mammals, like rodents and dogs,” John McGann, a neuroscientist at Rutgers University-New Brunswick in New Jersey and the author of the new review, said in a statement. The Rutgers study backs up a previous study at the Rockefeller University in New York, whose findings were published in the March 2014 issue of the journal Science.

Humans have 400 smelling receptors. While this isn’t as many as animals that are super smellers have, the much more complicated human brain makes the difference.  In fact, poor smelling ability in people may be a symptom of a medical condition or aging. For example, the distorted or decreased ability to smell is a symptom of schizophrenia and depression. Old age can also lessen the ability to smell properly. More than 75 percent of people over the age of 80 years may have major olfactory impairment, according to a 2006 paper published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Taste

The gustatory sense is usually broken down into the perception of four different tastes: salty, sweet, sour and bitter. There is also a fifth taste, defined as umami or savory. There may be many other flavors not yet discovered. Also, spicy is not a taste. It is actually a pain signal, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

The sense of taste aided in human evolution, according to the NLM, because taste helped people test the food they ate. A bitter or sour taste indicated that a plant might be poisonous or rotten. Something salty or sweet, however, often meant the food was rich in nutrients.

Taste is sensed in the taste buds. Adults have 2,000 to 4,000 taste buds. Most of them are on the tongue, but they also line the back of the throat, the epiglottis, the nasal cavity and the esophagus. Sensory cells on the buds form capsules shaped like flower buds or oranges. The tips of these capsules have pores that work like funnels with tiny taste hairs. Proteins on the hairs bind chemicals to the cells for tasting.

It is a myth that the tongue has specific zones for each flavor. The five tastes can be sensed on all parts of the tongue, although the sides are more sensitive than the middle. About half of the sensory cells in taste buds react to several of the five basic tastes. The cells differ in their level of sensitivity. Each has a specific palette of tastes with a fixed ranking, so some cells may be more sensitive to sweet, followed by bitter, sour and salty, while others have their own rankings. The full experience of a flavor is produced only after all of the information from various parts of the tongue is combined.

The other half of the sensory cells are specialized to react to only one taste. It’s their job to transmit information about the intensity — how salty or sweet something tastes.

Other factors help build the perception of taste in the brain. For example, the smell of the food greatly affects how the brain perceives the taste. Smells are sent to the mouth in a process called olfactory referral. This is why someone with a stuffy nose may have trouble tasting food properly. Texture, translated by the sense of touch, also contributes to taste, and recent studies even show color and shape can affect the way we perceive a properly attribute taste to a food.

The sense of space

In addition to the traditional big five, other senses help us translate a myriad of inputs into how we perceive and relate to the physical world.  One deals with how your brain understands where your body is in space. This sense is called proprioception.

Proprioception includes the sense of movement and position of our limbs and muscles. For example, proprioception enables a person to touch their finger to the tip of their nose, even with their eyes closed. It enables a person to climb steps without looking at each one. People with poor proprioception may be clumsy and uncoordinated.

Researchers at the NIH found that people who have particularly poor proprioception through mechanosensation — the ability to sense force, such as feeling when someone presses down on your skin — may have a mutated gene that is passed down from generation to generation. That comes from a September 2016 study in the New England Journal of Medicine. “The patient’s version of [the gene] PIEZO2 may not work, so their neurons cannot detect touch or limb movements,” said Alexander Chesler, a principal investigator at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and the lead author of the study.

Additional senses & variations

There are more-subtle senses that most people never really perceive. For example, there are neuron sensors that sense movement to control balance and the tilt of the head. Specific kinesthetic receptors exist for detecting stretching in muscles and tendons, helping people to keep track of their limbs. Other receptors detect levels of oxygen in certain arteries of the bloodstream.

While our five  basic sense seem to operate independently, as distinct modes of perceiving the world, in reality, they collaborate closely to enable the mind to better understand our surroundings. We can become keenly aware of this collaboration under special conditions.

In some cases, a sense may covertly influence another we think is dominant. When visual information clashes with that from sound, sensory crosstalk can cause what we see to alter what we hear. When one sense drops out, another can pick up the slack.  For instance, people who are blind can train their hearing to play double duty. Those who are both blind and deaf can train touch to step in—even to help them interpret speech.

Our senses must also regularly meet and greet in the brain to provide accurate impressions of the world. Our ability to perceive the emotions of others relies on combinations of cues from sounds, sights and even smells.  Perceptual systems, particularly smell, connect with memory and emotion centers to enable sensory cues to trigger feelings and recollections, and are incorporated within them.

The crosstalking of the senses provides some of the most magnificent material for interesting science, illusions, inventions and just plain art.  Here are a few of the best examples of the complex interactions – and extraordinary feats – of our cross-wired senses.

Calling to See

Bats and dolphins, among other animals, emit sounds into their surroundings —not to communicate with other bats and whales — but to “see” what is around them.  They read echoes of the sound waves, which bounce off objects, to identify and locate objects.

This sensory system is called echolocation. Although most of us can only imagine the pictures that form from sound, some sightless people have managed to master a form of echolocation. By uttering sounds and clicks, these individuals can use their ears to navigate. Some, such as Daniel Kish, have even taught others to use this form of human sonar. Kish once described human echolocation as “something like seeing the world in dim flashes of light.”

Fingers Do the Hearing 

People who are both deaf and blind are incredibly good at using other senses, such as touch, to navigate and understand the world. Some use the Tadoma Speechreading Method to perceive speech by touching the lips of another person as they talk. First taught in the 1920s, lip-reading by touch was a popular form of communication among the deafblind. Helen Keller was one of its early adopters.

If taught early in development, the Tadoma Method can help a deaf-blind child learn to speak as well as to understand others. Those who lose their sight and hearing later in life can use it to read lips.

But because the method is extremely difficult and time consuming to learn, by the 1950s it began to lose ground to American Sign Language as the dominant teaching method. Today, only about 50 people in the world still use of the Tadoma Method.

Still, In ASL, the deaf-blind place their hands over another signer’s hands and follow the motions with their fingers—which is easier because the movements are far less subtle.

Beep Baseball

Blind baseball seems almost impossible to even imagine, but since 1975, when a few blind Minnesotans invented “beep baseball”, those who lack sight have taken part in America’s favorite pastime. Thanks to a one-pound beeping oversized softball and some tweaks to the game, players can hit a home run without ever seeing the ball. They use the sound the ball emits to orient themselves, make contact using a bat and to field.  Special bases make it possible to round the diamond. They might be particularly well-suited to this form of the game, as previous research suggests that blind individuals can more easily localize sounds than sighted people can.

Then there is synesthesia

For a few individuals with a condition called synesthesia, the senses collide dramatically and uniquely to form a kaleidoscope world in which chicken tastes like stars, a symphony smells of fresh baked bread or words are bathed in red, green or purple.

People with synesthesia have a particularly curious cross wiring of the senses in which activating one sense spontaneously triggers another. They see colors when they hear noises, associate particular personalities with days of the week, or hear sounds when they see moving dots.

Synesthesia is thought to be genetic, and recent research even suggests it may confer an evolutionary advantage.  Most synesthetes don’t notice anything strange about the way they perceive their environments until it is brought to their attention.

Given that, at any moment in time, we are bombarded by such a diverse combination of sensory experiences, our appreciation of the individual senses can become somewhat muddled. Our taste experience is affected by the smell, texture and temperature of our food. Similarly, our hearing is said to decrease after overeating, and our sight is affected by noises around us. Sight can also be hampered after eating fatty foods.

Here’s another interesting snippet – if a sad, depressed person tells you their world is dull and grey, and flowers have lost their smell, they’re not just speaking metaphorically. Research shows sensory perception can actually be diminished in depressed individuals.  So focussing on a renewed appreciation of your senses can actually help one get out of an emotional rut.

Five senses? More than ten!

The categorization of our five primary senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch) is attributed to Aristotle. While this basic list is still valid, humans have a number of additional ‘sensory abilities’ not covered above. These secondary senses include:

  • Sense of balance and acceleration– the ability to sense body movement, direction and acceleration, and to maintain balance and equilibrium.
  • Temperature sense– the ability to sense heat and the absence of heat (cold).
  • Sense of Pain– the sense of pain was previously believed to be an overloading of pressure receptors, but it has since been identified as a distinct phenomenon that intertwines with the other senses, including touch.
  • Sense of Time– the ability to perceive the passage of time, both short passages as well as longer time cycles.

We are gifted with a complex system of basic and intertwined senses designed to help us take it all in….If any of these seem a little “off” for you, consider seeing a physician who can help you with a tune up. To find a healthcare professional, use HealthLynked. It is a first of its kind medical network built as a social ecosystem with a higher purpose – improving healthcare. Go to HealthLynked.com to learn more, sign up for free, connect with your doctor, find a new doctor, and securely store and share your health information. Download our HealthLynked app available on Apple and Android devices.

Sources:

livescience.com

idahoptv.org

14 Injections of Fact and Folklore Surrounding the first “Killed” Vaccine

Just 60 years ago, polio was one of the most feared killers in the U.S.

Every year, as the warmer months approached, panic over polio intensified. Late summer was dubbed “polio season.” Public swimming pools were shut down. Movie theaters urged patrons not to sit too close together to avoid spreading the disease. Insurance companies started selling polio insurance for newborns.

The fear was well grounded. By the 1950s, polio had become one of the most serious communicable diseases among children in the United States. In 1952 alone, nearly 60,000 children were infected with the virus; thousands were paralyzed, and more than 3,000 died. Hospitals set up special units with iron lung machines to keep polio victims alive.

Then in 1955, the U.S. began widespread vaccinations. By 1979, the virus had been completely eliminated across the country. Now polio is on the verge of being eliminated from the world. The virus remains endemic in only two parts of the globe: northern Nigeria and the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On this day, June 23rd, 1995, the creator of the first ever “killed” vaccine, which started the US down the path of eliminating the disease, died. Dr. Jonas Salk was 80 years old. Here are a few facts about the medical genius and the disease he and his colleagues worked to eradicate.

Although polio was the most feared disease of the 20th century, it was hardly the top killer.
The first major polio epidemic in the United States hit Vermont in 1894 with 132 cases. A larger outbreak struck New York City in 1916, with more than 27,000 cases and 6,000 deaths. As the number of polio cases grew, the paralytic disease changed the way Americans looked at public health and disability.

Polio, while definitely on a meteoric rise in the 1950’s, was not the rampant killer it has been portrayed to be. During the 50s and 60s, 10 times as many children died in accidents and three times as many succumbed to cancer. Polio inspired such fear because it struck without warning, and researchers were unsure of how it spread from person to person. In the years following World War II, polls found the only thing Americans feared more than polio was nuclear war.

Salk was rejected by multiple laboratories after medical school.
After graduating from medical school at New York University and completing his residency training, Salk applied to laboratories to work in medical research. Rather than treat patients as a practicing physician, Salk hoped to work on the influenza vaccine, a research area he began studying in medical school.

Although he was rejected from multiple labs, perhaps due to quotas that discriminated against Jewish people, he didn’t get discouraged. “My attitude was always to keep open, to keep scanning. I think that’s how things work in nature. Many people are close-minded, rigid, and that’s not my inclination,” he revealed in his Academy of Achievement interview.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman proved instrumental in the vaccine’s development.
A year after his nomination as a Democratic vice presidential candidate, rising political star Franklin D. Roosevelt contracted polio while vacationing at his summer home on Campobello Island in 1921. The disease left the legs of the 39-year-old future president permanently paralyzed. In 1938, five years after entering the White House, Roosevelt helped to create the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, later renamed the March of Dimes Foundation, which became the primary funding source for Salk’s vaccine trials. Employing “poster children” and enlisting the star power of celebrities from Mickey Rooney to Mickey Mouse, the grassroots organization run by Roosevelt’s former Wall Street law partner Basil O’Connor was raising more than $20 million per year by the late 1940s.

In 1946, President Harry Truman declared polio a threat to the United States and called on Americans to do everything possible to combat it. “The fight against infantile paralysis cannot be a local war,” Truman declared in a speech broadcast from the White House. “It must be nationwide. It must be total war in every city, town and village throughout the land. For only with a united front can we ever hope to win any war.”

Science initially failed
Early attempts to develop a vaccine ran into numerous hurdles. A vaccine tested on 10,000 children by two researchers at New York University provided no immunity and left nine children dead. Other vaccine trials used “volunteers” at mental institutions.

Salk challenged prevailing scientific orthodoxy in his vaccine development.
While most scientists believed that effective vaccines could only be developed with live viruses, Salk developed a “killed-virus” vaccine by growing samples of the virus and then deactivating them by adding formaldehyde so that they could no longer reproduce. By injecting the benign strains into the bloodstream, the vaccine tricked the immune system into manufacturing protective antibodies without the need to introduce a weakened form of the virus into healthy patients.

Many researchers, such as Polish-born virologist Albert Sabin, who was developing an oral “live-virus” polio vaccine, called Salk’s approach dangerous. Sabin even belittled Salk as “a mere kitchen chemist.” The hard-charging O’Connor, however, had grown impatient at the time-consuming process of developing a live-virus vaccine and put the resources of the March of Dimes behind Salk.

Since Sabin and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital couldn’t gain political support in the U.S. for what he viewed as his superior vaccine, he moved testing to the Soviet Union instead.

Salk tested the vaccine on himself and his family.
After successfully inoculating thousands of monkeys, Salk began the risky step of testing the vaccine on humans in 1952. In addition to administering the vaccine to children at two Pittsburgh-area institutions, Salk injected himself, his wife and his three sons in his kitchen after boiling the needles and syringes on his stovetop. Salk announced the success of the initial human tests to a national radio audience on March 26, 1953.

The clinical trial was the biggest public health experiment in American history.
On April 26, 1954, six-year-old Randy Kerr was injected with the Salk vaccine at the Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia. By the end of June, an unprecedented 1.8 million people, including hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, joined him in becoming “polio pioneers.” For the first time, researchers used the double-blind method, now standard, in which neither the patient nor person administering the inoculation knew if it was a vaccine or placebo. Although no one was certain that the vaccine was perfectly safe—in fact, Sabin argued it would cause more cases of polio than it would prevent—there was no shortage of volunteers.

Salk did not patent his vaccine.
On April 12, 1955, the day the Salk vaccine was declared “safe, effective and potent,” legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Morrow interviewed its creator and asked who owned the patent. “Well, the people, I would say,” said Salk in light of the millions of charitable donations raised by the March of Dimes that funded the vaccine’s research and field testing. “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?” Lawyers for the foundation had investigated the possibility of patenting the vaccine but did not pursue it, in part because of Salk’s reluctance.

Although a tainted batch of the Salk vaccine killed 11 people, Americans continued vaccinating their children.
Just weeks after the Salk vaccine had been declared safe, more than 200 polio cases were traced to lots contaminated with virulent live polio strains manufactured by the Cutter Laboratories in Berkeley, California. Most taken ill became severely paralyzed. Eleven died. In the haste to rush the vaccine to the public, the federal government had not provided proper supervision of the major drug companies contracted by the March of Dimes to produce 9 million doses of vaccine for 1955. Although the United States surgeon general ordered all inoculations temporarily halted, Americans continued to vaccinate themselves and their children. Outside of the “Cutter Incident,” not a single case of polio attributed to the Salk vaccine was ever contracted in the United States.

A rival vaccine supplanted Salk’s in the 1960s.
Once Sabin’s oral vaccine finally became available in 1962, it quickly supplanted Salk’s injected vaccine because it was cheaper to produce and easier to administer. Ultimately, both vaccines produced by the bitter rivals nearly eradicated the disease from the planet. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were only 416 reported cases of polio worldwide in 2013, mostly confined to a handful of Asian and African countries. Since Sabin’s live-virus vaccine, which is responsible for about a dozen cases of polio each year, is seen as the final obstacle to eliminating the disease in most of the world, the WHO has urged polio-free countries to return to Salk’s killed-virus vaccine.

Salk was the stepfather of Pablo Picasso’s Children
In 1970, Salk married Françoise Gilot, a French artist who had two children, Claude and Paloma, with Pablo Picasso. In an interview in 1980, Paloma remembered the fear people had of polio, and that as a child, she didn’t visit her father’s house in the South of France due to a polio outbreak. She also revealed that she got along well with her stepfather: “He’s very cute. He’s a wonderful person,” she said. After his death in 1995, Gilot continued her late husband’s legacy by working at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

Salk worked on cures for cancer and AIDS
After Salk developed the polio vaccine, he tried to develop vaccines for cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. Although he wasn’t ultimately successful, he did patent Remune, a vaccine for AIDS to delay the progression of HIV into AIDS. In 2001, six years after Salk died, Pfizer stopped funding clinical trials for Remune due to a lack of evidence that it worked.

Salk was much maligned by the medical community
At the University of Pittsburgh, Salk launched what was then the largest human trial in history and introduced new scientific rigor now used as the gold standard in development of new treatments and tests for pathology. When it was announced that his vaccine worked, Salk was hailed as a humanitarian hero. By 1957, new polio cases had fallen below 6,000.

While heads of state around the globe rushed to celebrate him, many in the medical community derided his efforts. According to Dr. Charlene Jacobs in a interview with the Oxford Press, this was for many reasons:

  1. He preferred the “killed” vaccine, which most in medicine feared would be too weak.
  2. He worked in secret and with a small team.
  3. They claimed he grabbed the limelight and failed to share credit with others.
  4. It appeared he pandered to the press, crossing an imaginary line medicine had set up between science and the media.

Salk won few awards for what is still considered one of the greatest medical breakthroughs
While nominated several times, he did not win the Nobel Peace prize, and he was blackballed from the Academy of Sciences. He won a great deal of social celebrity, for sure, but his insistence on using intuition as much as rigor left many wondering what he really was doing. His dismissal in actual scientific communities is attributed to envy by many who review the history of the time.

Over the years, polio was found to be a highly contagious disease that spread, not in movie theaters or swimming pools, but from contact with water or food contaminated from the stool of an infected person. Along with the vaccine, much was done to improve hygiene in the Americas, The U.S. recorded its last case of polio in 1979, among isolated Amish communities in several states. Then the effort to eradicate polio globally began in earnest. The Western Hemisphere reported its last case, in Peru, in 1991.

Both Salk’s and Sabin’s vaccines are still used today. Although Jonas Salk is credited with ending the scourge of polio because his killed-virus vaccine was first to market, Albert Sabin’s sweet-tasting and inexpensive oral vaccine continues to prevent the spread of poliomyelitis in remote corners of the world. While the later version, which requires just two drops in a child’s mouth, proved much easier to use in mass immunization campaigns, today, it is being marked as the final barrier to truly eliminating polio – it does occasionally infect patients. The complete return to Salk’s vaccine has been promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO) since 2000.

Advances in medicine sometimes come from great intuition complimented with heavy doses of experience and meaningful development. These three make a powerful elixir. HealthLynked could be that kind of breakthrough – a good mix of real world wisdom, a touch of intuition and a love of professional rigor.

To find a healthcare professional, use HealthLynked. It is a first of its kind medical network built as a social ecosystem with a higher purpose – improving healthcare. Go to HealthLynked.com to learn more, sign up for free, connect with your doctor, find a new doctor, and securely store and share your health information. Download our HealthLynked app available on Apple and Android devices.

sources:

npr.org

pbs.org

Nytimes.com

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World Sickle Cell Day | Symptoms and Emerging New Treatments

Approximately 70,000 to 100,000 Americans have sickle cell disease.  Though rare, it is the the most common form of inherited blood disorders. In Africa, the burden is much higher – Sub-Saharan Africa has an estimated 64% of the 300, 000 people born annually with sickle cell disease in the world,  Sickle Cell Day each June 19th provides an opportunity to examine progress and persistent challenges in managing the disease.

Sickle Cell, present in affected individuals at birth, causes the production of abnormal hemoglobin. Normal hemoglobin protein, which resides inside red blood cells, attaches to oxygen in the lungs and carries it to all parts of the body. Healthy red blood cells are flexible enough to move through the smallest blood vessels.

In sickle cell disease, the hemoglobin is abnormal, causing red blood cells to be rigid and shaped like a sickle – the shape from which the disease takes its name.  In order for a child to inherit sickle cell disease, both parents must have either sickle cell disease (two sickle cell genes) or sickle cell trait (one sickle cell gene). There are variations of sickle cell disease called sickle C or sickle thalassemia, which are serious conditions but sometimes less severe. If you have sickle cell disease, you will pass one sickle cell gene to your children.

Signs and symptoms of sickle cell disease usually begin in early childhood. Characteristic features of this disorder include a low number of red blood cells (anemia), repeated infections, and periodic episodes of pain. The severity of symptoms varies from person to person. Some people have mild symptoms, while others are frequently hospitalized for more serious complications.

Sickle cells can get stuck and block blood flow, causing pain and infections. Complications of sickle cell disease occur because the sickled cells block blood flow to specific organs. The worst complications include stroke, acute chest syndrome (a condition that lowers the level of oxygen in the blood), organ damage, other disabilities, and even premature death.

These signs and symptoms of sickle cell disease are caused by the “sickling” of red blood cells. When red blood cells sickle, they also break down prematurely, which can lead to anemia. Anemia can cause shortness of breath, fatigue, and delayed growth and development in children. The rapid breakdown of red blood cells may also cause yellowing of the eyes and skin, which are signs of jaundice.

Painful episodes can occur when sickled red blood cells- stiff and inflexible – get stuck in small blood vessels. These episodes deprive tissues and organs of oxygen-rich blood and can lead to organ damage, especially in the lungs, kidneys, spleen, and brain.

A particularly serious complication of sickle cell disease is high blood pressure in the blood vessels that supply the lungs (pulmonary hypertension). Pulmonary hypertension occurs in about one-third of adults with sickle cell disease and can lead to heart failure.

Mutations in the HBB gene cause sickle cell disease.

Hemoglobin consists of four protein subunits; typically, two alpha-globin subunits and two beta-globin subunits. The HBB gene provides instructions for making beta-globin. Variations of beta-globin result from different mutations in the HBB gene. One particular HBB gene mutation produces an abnormal version of beta-globin known as hemoglobin S (HbS). Other mutations in the HBB gene lead to additional abnormal versions of beta-globin, such as hemoglobin C (HbC) and hemoglobin E (HbE). HBB gene mutations can also result in an unusually low level of beta-globin; this abnormality is called beta thalassemia.

In people with sickle cell disease, at least one beta-globin subunit in hemoglobin is replaced with hemoglobin S. In sickle cell anemia, hemoglobin S replaces both beta-globin subunits in hemoglobin.

In other types of sickle cell disease, just one beta-globin subunit in hemoglobin is replaced with hemoglobin S.  The other beta-globin subunit is replaced with a different abnormal variant, such as hemoglobin C.  For example, people with sickle-hemoglobin C (HbSC) disease have hemoglobin molecules with hemoglobin S and hemoglobin C instead of beta-globin.  If mutations that produce hemoglobin S and beta thalassemia occur together, individuals have hemoglobin S-beta thalassemia (HbSBetaThal) disease.

Sickle Cell Trait

Sickle cell trait is an inherited blood disorder that affects approximately 8 percent of African-Americans. Unlike sickle cell disease, in which patients have two genes that cause the production of abnormal hemoglobin, individuals with sickle cell trait carry only one defective gene and typically live normal lives without health problems related to sickle cell. Rarely, extreme conditions such as severe dehydration and high-intensity physical activity can lead to serious health issues, including sudden death, in individuals with sickle cell trait.

Risk Factors

Sickle cell disease is more common in certain ethnic groups, including:

  • People of African descent, including African-Americans (among whom 1 in 12 carries a sickle cell gene)
  • Hispanic-Americans from Central and South America
  • People of Middle Eastern, Asian, Indian, and Mediterranean descent

Because sickle cell disease symptoms can begin by four months of age, early diagnosis is critical. All newborns in the United States are now tested for the disease. Sickle cell disease can also be identified before birth by testing a sample of amniotic fluid or tissue from the placenta. People who carry the sickle cell gene can seek genetic counseling before pregnancy to discuss options.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of sickle cell disease can be mild or severe enough to require frequent hospitalizations. They may include:

  • Anemia (looking pale)
  • Dark urine
  • Yellow eyes
  • Painful swelling of hands and feet
  • Frequent pain episodes
  • Stunted growth
  • Stroke

Treatment

There are no standard treatments that cure sickle cell disease. However, there are regiments that help people manage and live with the disease. Treatment relieves pain, prevents infections, minimizes organ damage, and controls complications. At times, blood transfusions and other advanced options are needed.

Clinical trials provide access to experimental therapies for treating sickle cell disease. The American Society of Hematology (ASH) provides information on clinical trials for which you may be eligible. Researchers are looking at new drugs and also exploring the use of bone marrow transplants to treat sickle cell disease. Stem cell transplants, associated with significant risks, are appropriate only for some patients with severe forms of sickle cell disease and closely matched donors –  typically family member.

Beyond this, the completion of the Human Genome Project and the use of CRISPR/Cas9 for gene editing have begun to transform the diagnosis and management of disease. Sickle cell disease has been considered a perfect model for genomic research because: 1) it is a monogenic disease and 2.) it has no cure despite the significant incidence of morbidity and mortality. Recent use of gene editing to minimize disease severity, and a single report of a patient who received successful treatment with gene therapy, highlight the potential for translating genome-based knowledge into health benefits for sickle cell patients.

It is important for you to talk with your doctor if you believe you may have sickle cell disease. If you carry the sickle cell trait, make sure you tell your doctor before getting pregnant as well. Depending on your condition, your doctor may refer you to a hematologist, a doctor who specializes in blood conditions.

Finding the right physician or medical care team just got that much easier.  To find a healthcare professional, use HealthLynked. It is a first of its kind medical network built as a social ecosystem with a higher purpose – improving healthcare. Go to HealthLynked.com to learn more, sign up for free, connect with your doctor, find a new doctor, and securely store and share your health information. Download our HealthLynked app available on Apple and Android devices.

Week Three of National CMV Awareness Month – “CMV is Preventable”

National legislation has been passed designating the month of June as “National Cytomegalovirus Awareness Month” recommending “more effort be taken to counsel women of childbearing age of the effect this virus can have on their children”.   In this third week, the theme is “CMV is Preventable”.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 1 in every 150 children is born with congenital CMV (cytomegalovirus). CMV is the most common congenital (meaning present at birth) infection in the United States and is the most common viral cause of birth defects and developmental disabilities, including deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy, mental and physical disabilities, seizures, and death.

CMV is a common virus, present in saliva, urine, tears, blood, and mucus, and is carried by 75 percent of healthy infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and children who contract the virus from their peers. About 60 percent of women are at risk for contracting CMV during pregnancy, posing a major risk to mothers, daycare workers, preschool teachers, therapists, and nurses. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the CDC recommend that OB/GYNs counsel women on basic prevention measures to guard against CMV infection. These include frequent hand washing, not kissing young children on the mouth, and not sharing food, towels, or utensils with them.

CMV is Preventable

  • Pregnant women who already have young children, or who work with young children, are at highest risk of catching CMV
  • CMV is found in home and daycare settings
  • 75% of toddlers have CMV in their urine and saliva in studies at childcare settings
  • Avoid contact with saliva – kiss kids under the age of 6 on the forehead instead of lips or cheek
  • Wash your hands after contact with bodily fluids of children under the age of 6
  • Don’t share utensils, drinks, or toothbrushes with children under the age of 6

Want to help raise awareness of CMV?  Join National CMV’s hashtag awareness campaign and share infographcs, photos, and stories on social media!  National CMV maintains a website-based tagboard – a curated public display of all social media posts with the hashtags #stopcmv and #cmvawareness. You can check out the tagboard by simply scrolling down on their homepage!

Each week of June will have a different themed awareness infographic, as well as ideas for a weekly photo that you can post to social media to tell the world about your experience with CMV. They suggest you get creative and be authentic, even if the suggested photos may not apply to your experience–all of our stories are important!

To find a healthcare professional, use HealthLynked. It is a first of its kind medical network built as a social ecosystem with a higher purpose – improving healthcare. Go to HealthLynked.com to learn more, sign up for free, connect with your doctor, find a new doctor, and securely store and share your health information. Download our HealthLynked app available on Apple and Android devices.