Fresh Health News: Fall 2021

Change in Season – A simple salt switch offers plenty of flavor without the unpalatable risks associated with too much sodium

This summer, the New England Journal of Medicine published The Salt Substitute and Stroke Study, one of the largest dietary intervention trials ever conducted with 21,000 participants living in rural China. In this landmark study, investigators explored the significant health benefits of using a lower sodium salt substitute in people with a history of stroke or high blood pressure. They found that the test group using a salt substitute experienced a 14 percent reduction in stroke, a 13 percent reduction in major cardiovascular events and a 12 percent reduction in death compared to the group flavoring their foods with regular salt. While most of the sodium that Americans consume comes from processed foods rather than the salt shaker, we can still benefit from an at-home edit to our seasoning of choice. Salt substitutes, which contain approximately 75 percent sodium chloride and 25 percent potassium chloride, are readily found in grocery stores. Or you can create your own flavorful salt swap by mixing two tablespoons of onion powder; one tablespoon each of garlic powder, ground mustard and paprika; and a half teaspoon each of ground celery seed and ground white pepper.

Heading Off Migraines

A recent clinical trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health underscores the philosophy that food is medicine. Knowing that omega 3 fatty acids reduce pain and inflammation while omega 6s can do the opposite, investigators set out to learn if a diet high in 3s and low in 6s might just lead to fewer migraines. Some 12 percent of Americans, primarily women, feel the pressure of these debilitating headaches. The findings of the 16-week trial, published this summer in the BMJ, noted that participants who consumed a diet with a high omega 3-to-omega 6 ratio experienced shorter, less severe migraines. Participants reported a 30 to 40 percent decrease in headache hours when they focused on eating plenty of fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds and soybeans and limited vegetable oils and fried foods—the converse of the typical American diet. Now, scientists are investigating whether this eating style could provide similar relief for other chronic ailments, such as low back pain.

Dialing In

Smartphones have become our constant companions. But when one’s mobile device sees more of their face than their friends do, a red flag goes up. A recent study in Behaviour & Information Technology examines the link between mental illness and “phubbing,” the practice of ignoring friends to pay attention to a phone. Surveying nearly 500 participants, investigators from the University of Georgia found that people with higher levels of depression, social anxiety and neuroticism were significantly more likely to turn from face-to-face interactions to engage with a phone. Those with “agreeable” personalities demonstrated a lower tendency to choose screens over in-person conversations. To make the most of face time with friends and break the habit of checking every ding, try silencing your device, flipping it over or tucking it away in a purse or pocket.

Clear Thinking

A correlation between the air we breathe and lung health? Seems given. But brain health? That’s fresh thinking. New research connects cleaner air to clearer brains, with studies linking air pollution to dementia, depression, autism, suicide, bipolar disorder and other neurological problems. While roughly four in 10 Americans gulp air that fails to meet quality standards, we can take a deep breath here in the Lowcountry. In the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” 2021 report, the Tri-County earned high marks for its low air pollution levels. Here’s the recent science:

  1. In 2020, the medical journal The Lancet added late-life air pollution exposure to its list of key modifiable risk factors for dementia.
  2. The risk of autism spectrum disorder jumps 64% when a child is exposed to fine particle air pollution levels above the World Health Organization’s air quality guideline threshold, reports a 2021 Environmental Research Letters study.
  3. The prevalence of bipolar disorder rises by 29% and major depression by 50% for children growing up in an environment with poor air quality, explained PLoS Biology in 2019.

Photographs by (cooking) Anton27; (migraine) fizkes; (phone) Pressmaster; (children) oliveromg