By Elisabeth Anderson-Sierra as told to Charlotte Hilton Andersen

I argue that all moms are superheroes, but I guess I do have a particular gift. At 35 years old, I’ve recently set a Guinness World Record—for the largest donation of breast milk by an individual. Over the past nine years I’ve donated 1,599.68 liters, the equivalent of 2,253 Venti lattes or 800 two-liter bottles of Coca-Cola. (This amount does not even count the breast milk I’ve donated to-date globally, which is closer to 350,000 ounces.)

Surprised? Me too: I didn’t know that breast milk donation was a possible record. That is, until I was diagnosed with hyperlactation syndrome and was suddenly in the running…whether I wanted to be, or not.

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What is hyperlactation syndrome?

Hyperlactation syndrome is also known as HLS, oversupply syndrome or hypergalactia. It’s a relatively rare condition that causes a pregnant or breastfeeding person’s body to produce an excessive amount of milk. It wasn’t something I’d even heard about, much less suspected I had, until I was officially diagnosed after the birth of my firstborn child nine years ago.

I’d started seeing symptoms of hyperlactation syndrome around 14 weeks pregnant when my breasts became really uncomfortable, swelling, and leaking pretty much around the clock. By 20 weeks pregnant, I was already producing upwards of 30 ounces per day. For perspective, an “average” lactating woman produces between 12 and 16 ounces per day—after their baby is born. I was producing double that at barely halfway through my pregnancy.

At first my healthcare team was skeptical when I described my symptoms. However, when they saw it for themselves, it was discovered that I have an enlarged pituitary gland that secretes 10 times the normal amount of prolactin, the hormone that stimulates milk production. I was shocked but grateful that it wasn’t something scary like cancer. And hey, I would be assured to have plenty of milk for my baby (and her two siblings, who would arrive two and five years later), plus some extra to share.

Then they told me the tough news: There is no cure for hyperlactation syndrome. My breast milk will not dry up naturally. There are no medications to stop it. The only way for me to stop producing breast milk (and lots of it) is to have a double mastectomy.

As extreme as the circumstances are, I can’t think about the mastectomy part yet. Since my diagnosis, I have been determined to make the best of a challenging situation. I figured: There are so many infants who need healthy breast milk. Maybe their mothers aren’t present, or the mom has a condition that limits milk production, or is addicted to substances that makes her milk hazardous. There are many reasons some babies benefit from a donor’s supply. Breast milk is important for babies’ digestive systems, immunity and so much more.

Meanwhile, I have to pump continuously regardless, so I decided to try donating the extra milk to babies in need…thousands of them.

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Living with hyperlactation syndrome

Living day in and day out super-producing breast milk is quite challenging. My entire life revolves around my condition. I have a pretty rigid pumping schedule I have to stick with—about five hours per day—and I also have to squeeze in washing and sterilizing equipment, portioning out milk and freezing it, communicating with recipients, shipping milk out, and more.

Then there are the personal aspects. I’ve had to change my style of dress, sticking to looser tops to accommodate the pump. I have to maintain hydration and nutrition that could rival an Olympic athlete—I need to eat a whopping 4,500 calories a day! I also still have to do all the regular things, like helping my kids with their homework, going grocery shopping, and doing laundry. The mental load is an acrobatic circus just to manage it all.

The medical toll is high as well. I have to deal with plummeting blood sugar, insufferable headaches, clogged ducts, and mastitis on a regular basis. I’ve had more trips to the ER than I can count and endless doctor’s appointments.

Not to mention the financial burden of all my medical needs, supplements, pumping equipment, freezers, milk bags, and ceaseless grocery runs.

It’s endless: Because of my condition, I can’t just decide, Nah, I don’t feel like pumping today, or I’ll wash and sterilize parts tomorrow. I haven’t had a single day “off” in nine years. It’s exhausting—physically and mentally.

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Finding solutions for hyperlaction syndrome

For the first four years, my condition greatly interfered with my other responsibilities, making it difficult or impossible to get things done or go anywhere. Then I was introduced to the BabyBuddha portable breast pump. It’s unlike any breast pump I’ve ever used (and I’ve tried many!). The BabyBuddha delivers hospital-grade consistent suction strength with an incredible battery life. Plus it’s quiet, and the size of a smartphone, for more discreet pumping.

This was life-changing. After being immobile, I’m now able to multitask during the day to do laundry, clean dishes, vacuum, pack milk to freeze, drive my little ones to school, and meal prep, all while pumping. I’ve been able to watch movies in the theater, go to concerts, and even walk around Disney World with my family without worrying about messing up my schedule, missing a pumping session, or being tethered to a wall. Simply put, the BabyBuddha gave me my freedom back.

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Sharing the love

The upside of my condition—and it’s a big one—is that I’m literally saving lives. Donating breast milk can play a significant role in saving and enhancing the lives of infants in need, particularly those with medical complications, premature newborns, and babies whose mothers can’t produce enough milk. I love that I can do this for them and it makes all the struggle and cost worth it.

Someday I will have to decide when to have the surgery. For now, this is my journey—rigorous, unrelenting, and overwhelming—but it’s also empowering, inspiring, and it feels good to give something so critical and life-giving.

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Fall arrives this weekend, with virus season sweeping in soon behind. A new COVID variant is anticipated to be the most dominant strain this flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

COVID EG.5—nicknamed Eris—made up about 21.5% of all cases as of early September, officially outpacing last season’s primary strains. This EG.5 spread was up from 7.5% in July and less than 1% of all cases in May.

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New COVID variant symptoms

COVID EG.5 is another Omicron variant, explains Linda Yancey, MD, an infectious disease doctor at Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston. SARS-CoV-2 Omicron was first detected in late November 2021 and has remained as the world’s main variant.

This original Omicron strain is no longer in circulation—viruses naturally mutate over time, producing new subvariants. In its monitoring efforts, the CDC currently keeps an eye on about 31 Omicron strains, including EG.5.

Experts first detected COVID EG.5 in February 2023. The following August 9, the World Health Organization (WHO) upgraded Eris from a variant “under monitoring” to one “of interest.” This designation means the virus could pose an increased risk to public health.

A main reason behind this concern: “[COVID EG.5] is highly transmissible,” Dr. Yancey says. New COVID strains emerge because they’re able to spread faster and better than the previous ones, she explains. Any new strain that doesn’t spread more effectively will be rapidly outcompeted.

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What are the symptoms of COVID EG.5?

Like other Omicron variants, COVID EG.5 symptoms tend to affect the upper respiratory tract, Dr. Yancey says. The most common Eris symptoms mimic the common cold, including a cough, congestion, sneezing, and a sore throat.

Newer strains tend to have milder symptoms compared to earlier variants, too. “[COVID EG.5] rarely goes down into the lungs,” Dr. Yancey says. She adds that there also seems to be less loss of smell than in previous COVID strains—but other than that, Eris is very similar to the strains that have circulated for the past year or so. “It tends to cause mostly sore throat and congestion, but only rarely pneumonia.”

That said, Dr. Yancey says the virus still poses more health risk for anyone who’s immunocompromised or who has not been vaccinated. She adds that it’s also too early to tell how likely COVID EG.5 is to result in cases of long Covid.

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Should I get tested for COVID EG.5?

If you’re experiencing common cold symptoms, “testing is important for protecting the people around you,” says Dr. Yancey. Because COVID EG.5 is so transmissible, even if you experience mild symptoms you can easily pass it on to someone facing a greater health risk.

“If people know they have COVID, they can stay at home or keep their kids home from school to help reduce the spread,” she says.

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The CDC also advises that everyone who is eligible should get the updated version of the COVID vaccine. According to an August 18 report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the new COVID vaccines are expected to be effective against COVID EG.5.

The new COVID vaccine can help reduce the severity of symptoms—but it can also help slow the spread of Eris. One mutation of the COVID EG.5 strain allows the virus to bypass immunity you’ve built up from a previous case of COVID or vaccine. That’s what many experts think makes this variant spread particularly easily, according to the JAMA report.

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After you get your seasonal vaccinations, an immediate rest can be hard to resist—however, recent research suggests you may want to hold off on that downtime just a little while right after you get poked. (Though we fully support a gentle day following your vaccines!)

2022 study from Iowa State University, published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, presents a compelling argument to challenge your body with a bit of activity right after you get your shot.

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Exercise for better immunity

The study showed that human participants who committed to 90 minutes of mild- to moderate-intensity exercise—such as cycling on a stationary bike or taking a brisk walk—right after their flu or COVID-19 vaccine generated a notably heightened antibody response in the subsequent four weeks.

In comparison, those who sat or resumed their everyday activities didn’t experience this additional immune boost. The researchers observed parallel outcomes when they conducted a second treadmill experiment, this time with mice.

Marian Kohut, PhD, kinesiology professor at Iowa State and the study’s lead author, comments in a news release from the university: “Our preliminary results are the first to demonstrate a specific amount of time can enhance the body’s antibody response to the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine and two vaccines for influenza.”

Here’s why this is significant: Antibodies are your defense mechanism against harmful invaders like viruses and bacteria. They are pivotal in the immune response, and vaccines train your immune system to produce them.

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The science on exercise and immunity

Going beyond mere observations, researchers explored the underlying mechanisms. Dr. Kohut points out that numerous changes unfold when you exercise, from metabolic shifts to circulatory alterations. Working out boosts blood and lymph flow, enhancing the circulation of immune cells. As these cells travel through your body, they become better at spotting and tackling foreign entities.

Supporting these findings, their mouse model experiment hinted that interferon alpha—a protein your body produces during exercise—plays a role in producing virus-specific antibodies and T-cells.

The research also highlighted a particular duration of exercise as effective: While 90 minutes showed positive results, a shorter span of 45 minutes did not significantly impact antibody levels. Dr. Kohut hinted at future research that might explore whether the 60-minute mark is a potential sweet spot. For now, 90 minutes generally did the trick.

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A boost accessible to all

The study encompassed a broad spectrum of participants, nearly half falling into the overweight or obese BMI range. The emphasis was on maintaining a heart rate between 120 and 140 beats per minute rather than covering a certain distance or keeping a particular pace. This means the findings could apply to individuals across a variety of fitness levels.

We’re not suggesting an ultra high-intensity indoor cycling class or the toughest HIIT class you’ve ever taken, but a 90-minute stroll might be the perfect way to bookend your shot before taking a rest day to recover from any vaccine side effects.

With flu season around the corner and COVID still spiking in cycles, consider pairing your vaccination with an exercise session. Ongoing research emphasizes how daily habits influence health, suggesting that even a brisk walk or bike ride can enhance your resistance to illnesses.

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How annoying is the advice to get more sleep? It’s not like you don’t want a more restful night, but work deadlines and the laundry pile and a nighttime head full of busy thoughts are just a few of the reasons plenty of us miss out on sleep.

However, new insights from Penn State University published August 2023 in Psychosomatic Medicine want you to understand something important about sleepless hours you won’t get back: Your heart health deteriorates with continuous sleep deprivation, and a weekend sleep-in isn’t a guaranteed strategy to recover. If you need permission to set a grown-up bedtime just like you set your morning alarm, keep reading.

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The sleep study

Researchers embarked on an 11-day inpatient sleep study involving 15 healthy men aged between 20 and 35 years. At the study’s start, participants enjoyed three nights of ample sleep, with a generous 10-hour window for slumber. This phase was followed by five nights of a mere five-hour sleep window. The study concluded with two “recovery nights,” when participants could again benefit from up to 10 hours of sleep. Throughout these phases, resting heart rates and blood pressure were monitored every two hours during participants’ wakefulness.

Anne-Marie Chang, PhD, associate professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State and co-author of the study, notes one outcome in a press release: “Only 65% of adults in the U.S. regularly sleep the recommended seven hours per night.” With evidence already indicating an association between inadequate sleep and long-term cardiovascular disease, Dr. Chang emphasizes the study’s findings as “a potential mechanism for this longitudinal relationship.”

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Important findings

Throughout the study, the researchers noted a consistent increase in heart rate: It rose by almost one beat per minute (BPM) each day. Starting from an average baseline of 69 BPM, the heart rate reached about 78 BPM by the second day of recovery. Similarly, systolic blood pressure (the top number in a BP reading) showed an increase, growing by approximately 0.5 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) daily. It began at an average of 116 mmHg and climbed to around 119.5 mmHg by the end of the recovery period. That’s no small jump.

David Reichenberger, MS, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in biobehavioral health at Penn State, stressed the study’s implications, saying, “Both heart rate and systolic blood pressure increased with each successive day and did not return to baseline levels by the end of the recovery period.” Simply put, even after two nights of extended sleep, the participants’ cardiovascular health remained compromised.

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Why it matters

It’s more than just heart health at stake. “Sleep affects our weight, our mental health, our ability to focus, and our ability to maintain healthy relationships with others,” Dr. Chang pointed out.

These findings suggest that our hearts really do feel the strain of those late nights. More surprisingly, a couple of nights of “recovery” sleep don’t seem to help your heart bounce back to its baseline. Your heart rate and blood pressure might not reset, indicating that the toll taken by consecutive nights of moderate sleep restriction could require a more extended recovery period than previously thought.

The next time you’re tempted to stay up late, remember: Those lost hours have a lasting impact, and the recovery might not be as simple as sleeping in on Saturday. Sleep, as Dr. Chang said, is not just a luxury; it’s both a biological and behavioral process—one that deserves your undivided attention for the sake of your heart and overall health.

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Quick tips for better sleep

The CDC offers several tips to enhance your sleep quality if you’re facing sleep challenges:

  • Adhere to a consistent bedtime and wake-up schedule, including on weekends.
  • Optimize your bedroom environment: Ensure it’s quiet, dark, and free from electronic distractions.
  • Refrain from consuming large meals, caffeine, or alcohol shortly before bed. (Some experts suggest a three-hour break between the final food you consume for the day and bedtime.)
  • Additionally, don’t underestimate the power of physical activity during the day. Regular exercise can make it easier for you to drift off at night.

Remember, if sleep difficulties persist, always consult your healthcare provider for guidance.

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When you’re in good health, it’s easy to take the little things for granted—your feet walking you home, your eyes looking up at a sunset, your teeth chewing a delicious dinner. However, actress, dancer and director Debbie Allen wants to share an important reminder: If you get complacent about your health, you could be jeopardizing it. 

Allen, 73, has been healthy and active for decades, from her stint on the 1980s musical-drama Fame (for which she won six Emmy Awards and two Golden Globes) to her current role as Dr. Catherine Avery on Grey’s Anatomy. Several years ago, though, she was diagnosed as pre-diabetic, and suddenly Allen realized she needed to be more proactive about her wellbeing. 

Now, she’s joining with Prevent Blindness and Regeneron on a new campaign to raise awareness about eye health in particular, and how diseases such as diabetes can raise your risk for retinal issues. Allen spoke with The Healthy @Reader’s Digest about her family history with diabetes, how her diagnosis has affected her lifestyle and the lifelong health impacts she’s still reaping from dance.

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Debbie Allen on the Gr8 Eye Movement

The Healthy @Reader’s Digest: Debbie, fans of all ages adore you. What’s made you so passionate to talk about eye health?

Debbie Allen: The Gr8 Eye Movement campaign is an incredible initiative that I’m collaborating with Prevent Blindness and Regeneron to bring awareness and hopefully inspire people to take priority with their eye health. There are so many retinal diseases and eye situations that can happen, and especially the 60-and-over crowd, which I’m definitely a part of, and some of these diseases that could just really creep up on you without your paying attention to it, which is why this movement is so great. 

Great is spelled with an 8 [because] when you turn it on its side, it looks like two eyes looking at you. So the messaging is right in the title of this campaign, and for me, I have been diagnosed as being pre-diabetic and there’s a lot of complications that come with that, but nobody was talking about my vision or my eyesight. They were talking about other things. Ninety-five percent of the people who are absolutely being affected by retinal diseases don’t know anything about these diseases. This is stuff that happens in the back of your eye, so it’s not like something you just can see coming. So diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema and wet age-related macular degeneration are names of diseases and issues that people don’t even know about, and I’m hopefully going to bring attention to it and get everybody on the eighth of every month, to go on our website,, and get all the information and resources and start having ideas about how to prioritize your eye health. It’s important.

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Debbie Allen’s pre-diabetes diagnosis

The Healthy: We would love to talk with you a little bit more about your pre-diabetes diagnosis. Can you share how that’s transformed your lifestyle?

Debbie Allen: Well, it certainly did improve my diet. I was always very physical, most of my dancing life, and then I started directing and producing more, and I went from dancing almost every day, eight to six hours a day to maybe three, and now it’s one hour several times a week, so I have to stay physical and I have to watch my diet. COVID was no good friend for that because with that kind of isolation, all we did was cook and eat, and so I had to get back on my bike.

In terms of what I needed to do for pre-diabetes, my whole family has been really ravaged by diabetes—my father, my grandfather, my uncles, aunts, cousins. I have cousins right now whose vision is totally compromised because of their diabetic condition. But some of these things that we’re talking about are not diabetic-related, like the wet age-related macular degeneration is not related to diabetes. You could have it at any time. So this is a call for people to really take a moment in time on the eighth of every month to start to consider how to prioritize their eye health.

The Healthy: We love that. Clearly this eye health awareness conversation is an important component of what you’re doing—what other advice do you have for someone who’s diagnosed with prediabetes or diabetes?

Debbie Allen: I think regular checkups with your healthcare provider, really pay attention to diet and exercise, and also make your family aware of it, because diabetes is something that’s somewhat congenital as I see it. I can say that as Dr. Catherine Fox on Grey’s Anatomy maybe, but for me it is ruining our family and we kept waiting. I actually kept thinking I might develop it when I gave birth with my children because that’s gestational diabetes, but it didn’t happen and Daddy told me to always keep dancing and I have pretty much danced my whole life. But I would just say people should take a moment and get their blood checked, watch their diet and take note of the rest of your family, your children, your blood relatives. See what’s going on.

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The Healthy: I know you mentioned you’re still dancing, and we can’t talk to Debbie Allen without asking about dance. Can you talk about not just the physical benefits, but the mental health effects of dancing regularly?

Debbie Allen: Oh my God, it’s amazing. In my academy, the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, which is housed in the Rhimes Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, I have a program for cancer patients. I have a program for elders, 60 to 95 year olds. I have a program for battered women and their children. Dance is a transformative healing art, and it gives those who participate a sense of confidence, creativity and joy. That’s what it is. It’s just joy.

Some of those classes, I’ve taught a lot of them myself, I’m looking at all phases of dance and all different kinds of lifestyles and ages. It is just a joyous thing to do and I think everybody has the spirit of the dance in them, whether they know it or not. And if I see them, I could get it out of them. If they came to my class, I would get it out of them.

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The Healthy: Has your relationship to dance changed at all as you’ve aged?

Debbie Allen: Actually, I’ve had more work than ever. I won my last Emmy award for Dolly [Parton]’s Christmas on the Square, which I directed and choreographed. We won for best television movie and best choreography. I just finished working with Tyler Perry. He has an incredible movie coming out called Six Triple Eight, and that was my second time working with Tyler. I’m actually on my way to directing a really big movie. I can’t say it out loud right now, but it’s a big musical film.

So I feel like my experience puts me ahead of everyone. My experience puts me ahead of a lot of people because I can do so many different things, but honestly, this is why this campaign is important because if I couldn’t see, I couldn’t do what I do. My vision is a big part of my success. It starts in my mental vision, but then I have to see and say this “Like this, like that.” I have to be able to see it. So that’s why this campaign is personal to me because it has to do with what I do every day. And my mom just turned 100 years old and we celebrated her hundredth birthday, and one of the main things that I do with mom with her health is I take her to the eye doctor at least three times a year. We are on the lookout for that wet age-related macular degeneration, and it hasn’t happened. And when I take her, I go too. So these are important things.

The Healthy: Congratulations to your mother!

Debbie Allen: Right? It’s amazing. It’s amazing.

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The Healthy: So let’s talk more about some of the ways you’re staying healthy. Obviously dance is still something that you’re using to stay active. Do you have any other favorite ways to move your body?

Debbie Allen: I actually like to do hot yoga where I can sweat and crawl to the door when it’s over. I like to ride a bike, and I especially like to have time with my grandkids because I’m always taking them somewhere. I took them to Disneyland and that was like a marathon. Walking through that park was a marathon. So my grandkids keep me active as do all the wonderful young people I’m training at the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. I started in middle school. I just think that it’s interesting in my lifetime right now, I’m more active in so many ways than ever

The Healthy: That is so inspirational.

Debbie Allen: Yeah, I feel blessed. I really feel blessed, and I have to say that I feel like my celebrity is only meaningful in what I can do to help my community. It is good to get a table at a restaurant, but it’s really worthy when you can bring information to people who need it. And this platform is something that affects so many people. Ninety-five percent of the people who are affected don’t even know about the diseases that I’ve talked to you about. They don’t even know. 

The Healthy: We’re glad to talk about it with you. We ask all our celebrity interviews this question: What’s the self-care habit that you can never skip?

Debbie Allen: Self-care is a lot of different things. It’s resting. It is trying to stay joyful because that combats stress. It’s drinking a lot of water, and it’s going to see my healthcare providers regularly scheduling these visits so that I can measure where I am. It’s like getting on a scale. You can just go on vacation for three weeks, but you got to get on that scale to know what your weight is doing, and you have to go and measure yourself. That’s why this program is important. It’ll make people start to measure themselves and prioritize their eye health, and their health period. Very much. That’s important.

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‘Tis the season to make a vaccine appointment, and now you may have an even greater push to book one. Data show that those routine vaccines you get do a solid job fighting off the viruses they’re meant to target—now, new research suggests they may be doing impressive double-duty by protecting you from another illness that’s on many Americans’ minds.

Recent findings published in September 2023 in the peer-reviewed Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggest that a combination of three specific vaccines may help protect your brain down the road, too.

Paul E. Schulz, MD, senior author of the study and the Umphrey Family Professor in Neurodegenerative Diseases at McGovern Medical School, commented: “The findings suggest to us that vaccination is having a more general effect on the immune system that is reducing the risk for developing Alzheimer’s.”

In May 2022, Dr. McGovern’s team also presented research revealing that getting just one influenza vaccine could reduce Alzheimer’s risk by 40%, compared to those who didn’t get vaccinated.

To investigate further, Dr. Schulz adds about the current study: “We were wondering whether the influenza finding was specific to the flu vaccine. This data revealed that several additional adult vaccines were also associated with a reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s.”

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The study: A look at the results

Researchers evaluated older adults aged 65 and above with no history of dementia in the past two years. Over an eight-year period, they compared two groups closely matched in characteristics: One group received vaccinations against tetanus, diphtheria, shingles, and pneumonia, and the other group didn’t. The goal was to determine how much these vaccines influenced the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

The data revealed striking insights. Individuals who received the Tdap/Td vaccine exhibited a 30% decreased risk of Alzheimer’s.

In perspective, 7.2% of the vaccinated group developed the disease, compared to 10.2% of those who weren’t vaccinated. (The researchers’ formula to arrive at the 30% difference was: Risk in unvaccinated – risk in vaccinated / risk in unvaccinated X 100%)

Similarly, those inoculated with the herpes zoster (or shingles) vaccine saw a 25% reduction in Alzheimer’s risk, with 8.1% of the vaccinated cohort developing the condition compared to 10.7% unvaccinated. The pneumococcal vaccine was associated with a 27% diminished risk. In this case, 7.92% of vaccinated patients developed Alzheimer’s, as opposed to 10.9% of their unvaccinated counterparts.

Yaobin Ling, MS, a graduate research assistant at UTHealth Houston, highlights the importance of such findings, stating, “It’s particularly encouraging to observe consistent results across numerous large-scale healthcare databases.”

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The science behind the findings

The reasons for these surprising benefits are still being explored. Avram Bukhbinder, MD, a pediatric neurology resident at Massachusetts General Hospital and alumnus of UTHealth Houston, suggests that “vaccines may change how the immune system responds to the build-up of toxic proteins that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.” Dr. Bukhbinder further posits that the vaccines might improve the efficiency of immune cells, enabling them to clear toxic proteins more effectively or modulate the immune response to minimize damage to healthy brain cells.

Furthermore, some vaccines protect against conditions like shingles, which can contribute to neuroinflammation, which is a potential factor in Alzheimer’s development.

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The takeaway

While exciting treatments are emerging for Alzheimer’s, they often come with high costs and infrastructure requirements. In contrast, common vaccines, as part of routine adult vaccination schedules, are widely accessible. Kristofer Harris, MPH, a lead author on the study and program manager in the Department of Neurology at UTHealth, drives an important point home: “Our findings are a win for both Alzheimer’s disease prevention research and for public health in general, as this is one more study demonstrating the value of vaccination.”

If you’re looking for a potentially effective way to reduce Alzheimer’s risk, talk to your doctor to ensure you’re up to date on your vaccinations. This discovery, still in its early stages, highlights the potential of combining public health measures with innovative research to combat the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s.

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There are so many health benefits of regular exercise, and the cardiovascular health benefits often get the most attention—but a growing body of research is highlighting a link between physical fitness and lower cancer risk. Now, a new study from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden published in August 2023 in the peer-reviewed British Journal of Sports Medicine reveals a striking correlation between cardiorespiratory fitness in the teenage years and a lowered risk of several cancers in adulthood.

Cardiorespiratory fitness refers to how well the heart and lungs work together to provide energy during prolonged physical activity and to clear away fatigue-causing products afterward. This fitness is often built through aerobic exercises like running, cycling, and swimming—all worthy pastimes, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests cardiorespiratory wellness is a key aspect of overall physical health.

Aron Onerup, MD, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Gothenburg and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, was one of the study’s authors. In a press release, Dr. Onerup highlighted the study’s importance, stating, “A good level of fitness seems to be able to reduce the risk of many types of cancer, as well as leaving individuals better equipped for successful treatment results if they develop cancer.”

Here’s more background that might inspire you to stay moving.

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How the study worked

The research team analyzed data from a massive cohort of over a million Swedish men. All these individuals underwent mandatory military enlistment between 1968 and 2005, with an average age hovering around 18 years.

Because the study spanned several decades and used such a large sample of people, its findings are considered uniquely credible.

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Cardiorespiratory fitness today, lower risk of cancers tomorrow

According to the research, physical fitness in youth seems to be a fierce adversary against several cancers. The study noted that men with commendable fitness levels at 18 showed significantly reduced risks in later years of developing cancers of the following physiological sites:

  • the head, neck and esophagus
  • stomach
  • pancreas
  • liver
  • colon
  • rectum
  • kidney
  • lungs

The gastrointestinal tract, in particular, reaped the benefits of early-life fitness. Men who were fit in their youth experienced around a 40% lower risk of esophageal and liver cancers. Cancers of the stomach and colon followed suit, with a roughly 20% risk reduction.

However, the narrative took an intriguing twist when the study revealed higher diagnosis rates for prostate and skin cancers among fitter individuals. A plausible explanation from the researchers is that men with higher fitness levels tend to be more proactive about their health, opting for regular screenings that help lead to earlier detection of prostate cancer and skin lesions so they can be treated before they progress or metastasize. (Note: If you enjoy exercising outdoors, it’s always wise to wear sunscreen, including on your scalp, along with sun-protective clothing.)

A significant portion of the aerobically fit individuals were likely non-smokers, which might help explain a reduced lung cancer risk.

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A longitudinal commitment to fitness

The ramifications of these findings can inform public health strategies. Maria Åberg, MD, professor in general medicine at Sahlgrenska Academy at the university, says these results should spur younger generations to embrace physical activity.

However, while the findings champion the merits of early fitness, they also serve as a reminder of its enduring importance. Mats Börjesson, MD, professor in sports physiology at the university and senior author of the study, warns against letting the demands of life slow down your exercise routine over time. He stresses: “Lifestyle habits are established early, and often remain stable throughout life. The study should not be interpreted as suggesting that it is enough to exercise when young. We believe that it is also of great importance later in life.”

The University of Gothenburg’s study makes it clear: While early-life fitness can be a shield against many cancers, health is a life-long pursuit. To truly harness the benefits of exercise, remain committed to physical fitness for as long as you can move.

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Rainn Wilson is widely known as one of the best comedic actors of our time for his iconic role as Dwight on The Office, but lately, the actor, writer and producer has been focused on two other roles that might prove to be just as influential. He’s become a spiritual guru to many (though he hates the label) with his New York Times best selling book Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution (Hachette Go, 2023). Wilson has also become a climate warrior (he probably won’t protest that word) as the co-founder of Climate Basecamp, an organization that tries to make the science of climate change more accessible and friendly to the public.

Wilson co-founded Climate Basecamp alongside Gail Whiteman, a professor of sustainability. Since teaming up, the duo has executed a variety of stunts to get the word out about climate change. (We’d make a joke about having a name like Rainn and caring about climate change, but he’s already done that—he once changed his name to Rainnfall Heat Wave Extreme Winter Wilson for almost a year in the name of climate change.)

Last week the pair camped out in New York City’s Union Square Park passing out chocolate, strawberry and vanilla flavored Blue Marble ice cream to raise awareness for endangered foods. Those three flavors, along with mango, coffee, pistachio and many other foods, could be a thing of the past if climate action is not taken. “Temperature rises, or in some cases, cooling for strange periods of time, screws up how these plants are actually grown,” explained co-founder Professor Gail Whiteman. “On top of that, changes to rainfall are affecting the plant’s ability to grow properly [meanwhile affecting] things like bugs, pests, and fungus.”

The Healthy @Reader’s Digest talked with Rainn Wilson about climate change, food and how finding spirituality transformed his mental health.

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Rainn Wilson on climate change

The Healthy @Readers Digest: It can seem almost insurmountable for us as individuals to try to take on climate change when it’s so tempting to blame the giant corporations that are causing these problems on a large scale. What do you think we can do as a community and as an individual in society?

Rainn Wilson: I think that eating consciously, eating communally, sourcing locally and turning towards a more plant-based diet, those are really important things, actually. They go a long way reducing carbon footprint, but also kind of letting your consumer dollars speak against kind of industrial mono farming, especially of soy and dairy and beef. So that’s one way that people can get involved.

The other way I think that’s really important is for folks to just get educated in very simple ways—because you’re right and I say “Amen.” It’s 97% governments and oil companies and manufacturing and concrete and air conditioning and mono farming, and these big corporations that are causing it. So sometimes we want to ignore the news that comes in around climate, because it is so daunting and overwhelming and depressing. But we can all shop less. We can all use solar. We can drive electric. That’s all great. But what we can do as a country with some very simple acts of legislation could go a very long way.

The Healthy: Tell us about how this became an issue that was important to you, and how you co-founded Climate Basecamp.

Rainn Wilson: The issue has always been important to me. I think the important transition was I had a long, hard, cold look in the mirror about five or six years ago and realized, “Hey, Rainn, you really care about climate. But all you’re doing, all you’re doing is sending out an occasional angry tweet.”

The Healthy: So many of us can relate.

Rainn Wilson: “You are the definition of a keyboard warrior, and you’re not actually getting off your butt and doing anything, taking action.” It’s way easier. “Let deeds, not words, be your adorning,” says the spiritual teacher Baha’u’llah. Like we lead with our deeds. Right?

So that’s when I met Gail fortuitously, and she was doing a lot of work with an organization called the Arctic Basecamp, and we traveled to Greenland. We did a short documentary series called An Idiot’s Guide to Climate Change, and we started doing a lot of really fun, memorable activations that got a good amount of attention from people. We really are aligned in trying to reach that movable middle with memorable, irreverent, fun, and entertaining climate activations that speak science to culture.

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Rainn Wilson on spirituality

The Healthy: It’s a great match. You also recently wrote a book that was a New York Times bestseller, Soul Boom, which explores the possibility and hope for a spiritual revolution on a personal and global level. Tell us what inspired this book, which has kind of turned you into this sort of guru for many who are looking for a spiritual connection.

Rainn Wilson: Oh, dear God, please don’t let me be a guru.

The Healthy: Not a cult guru, a good guru.

Rainn Wilson: I’m really not a guru. So, spiritual solutions for personal and social transformation is an idea that I have been thinking about for twenty or thirty years. And so I wrote the book over COVID because I really believe that we do need a spiritual revolution. This is not just a revolution that’s going to happen through legislation and policy changes, but a change in the heart of the mass of humanity. And that there are spiritual ideas and solutions out there that can help. Not just us personally with mental health issues, but can help society moving forward. So this is very connected to climate.

I view climate as a kind of spiritual pandemic, not just a political issue. It has to do with humanity’s relationship to Mother Earth and to nature and respect and love and awe and wonder at the beauty and fragility of nature. That should be inherent in our DNA as it was to our ancestors and as it is to many and most indigenous peoples. So there is a spiritual component at the heart of the climate debate.

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Rainn Wilson on mental wellness

The Healthy: Climate change, in general, does spark a lot of issues that we talk about on our site, like depression, anxiety, this existential dread. You’ve been open about your struggles with depression, anxiety, addiction—these are all topics that we talk a lot about on our site. Can you tell me a little bit about what you went through, and what you found helpful that might resonate with our readers?

Rainn Wilson: It’s very helpful for young people when people in the public eye come clean about their own struggles in mental health. So I’ve had a lot of struggles with anxiety and depression and loneliness in my youth, and it’s something I still work on and have to. And for me, I found that there were a number of solutions to this to be found in great, holy, wise, spiritual texts of ancient faith traditions. And I love positive psychology. It’s all well and good, and you can go on your Instagram and there’s all kinds of tips and pointers. But when we have a profound realization that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, there are a number of tools that can satisfy us at a far deeper level for a personal transformation. And again, this ties to climate science because as we heal ourselves, we want to heal the world.

The Healthy: Which of the texts did you find helpful? I’ve been taking a yoga philosophy class that’s been profound in my own life. Are there any that you would recommend people should look to?

Rainn Wilson: Yeah, I mean, you’re talking about yoga philosophy. So the Vedantas and the Varaha Upanishads and the kind of earliest Hindu texts, some of the oldest spiritual texts in the world, really address a lot of stuff that have to do with mental health. The Bhagavad Gita is revered by billions on this planet, and there’s a great deal of beautiful wisdom in it.

One of the sayings from the Gita is, “You are entitled to the work, but not to the fruits of the work.” And I love that: That we do the work because we love it, but we don’t know how it’s going to be received. And that’s in everyone’s work, whether you’re an accountant or a baseball player or an actor or a pharmacist.

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If you’ve ever gotten into a regular exercise routine, you know exercise is good for the body and the mind. Clearly, extreme workouts aren’t for everybody—or even if you adore a good sweat, we all need a lighter day every now and then. Lately, some TikTok users have discovered a new way to get moving in a way that’s friendly to just about any lifestyle. Enter: Cozy cardio.

At press time, the hashtag #cozycardio had garnered over 3.7 million views on TikTok, with users showcasing how they engage in this type of exercise. Hope Zuckerbrow, social media influencer and creator of the Cozy Cardio Club, spearheaded the trend with her videos that popularized the cozy cardio modality.

Commenting on the cozy cardio craze is Maureen Wang, MD, a cardiology doctor at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital and Medical Group Brooklyn: “Cozy cardio offers an inviting entry point into regular physical activity as any individuals are hesitant to start exercising, particularly in a public setting like a gym or a class,” Dr. Wang says. “The low barrier to entry makes cozy cardio accessible, and utilizing online resources or apps for guided workouts can further ease the initial phase of starting an exercise regimen.”

In other words, cozy cardio can be a healthy way for people to add movement into their days and even strike up a friendlier relationship with exercise.

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What is cozy cardio?

“Cozy cardio” is exactly what it sounds like: Low-impact cardiovascular exercise, executed in a comfortable way. Cozy cardio is supposed to take the pressure off of workouts and weight loss and not put unnecessary rules on how to do it best,” Zuckerbrow says. “Whatever ‘cozy’ means to you, decorate your exercise space like that and thrive.”

For many people, Zuckerbrow included, this looks like mood lighting, a few candles, a cup of iced coffee, and a favorite show as they engage in a chill workout. 

One popular setup for cozy cardio is a walking pad (a pared-down version of a small treadmill), an exercise bike, a portable elliptical, or some form of yoga or online fitness class. Says Dr. Wang: These activities are easier to incorporate into daily life, require less time and energy, and are less strenuous, making them more sustainable. Besides walking and cycling, other activities such as light weight training, yoga, and bodyweight exercises can also be beneficial for heart health, while being feasible to do at home.”

Gotta love it.

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The benefits of cozy cardio 

As with any exercise, Leonard Pianko, MD, a cardiologist in Aventura, FL, notes that most any type of cardiovascular exercise is beneficial for both mental and physical health: “Adding exercise to your regular routine promotes heart and brain health, mood elevation, weight control, strengthening your bones, and preventing falls,” Dr. Pianko says. “The greater you increase your heart rate, the greater the benefits.” Of course, if you’re just starting out, speak with your doctor first—and don’t crank up the intensity (or your heart rate) until you’ve taken a period of time to condition your body to work up to that point safely. 

Dr. Pianko suggests that walking and other low-impact cardio workouts can improve blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels, which are two risk factors for heart disease. Adds Dr. Wang: “The goal is to condition the body for more strenuous activity over time, rather than focusing solely on weight loss. Consistent cardiovascular exercise improves respiratory function and prepares the heart for higher levels of stress, offering long-term health benefits.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s recommended that people get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.

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Viruses & Vaccines

From the latest news about RSV vaccines to clinical insights on the new COVID-19 shots, here’s what to know about getting properly vaccinated in 2023-24.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, fall breezes in a little late this year. The first day of fall comes on Saturday, September 23, when in years past it’s been known to arrive as early as September 20. Fall is the season for the senses: The colors of changing leaves, the smell of crisper air, cozy fall feels like blankets and chunky sweaters, and rich flavors—including pumpkins: Arguably the most iconic symbol of fall.

Traditionally, most of us associated pumpkin with pie at the Thanksgiving table…but these days, this beloved squash has been embraced for much wider utility. Not only does the pumpkin spiced latte‘s annual debut date make headlines, but now from fast casual chain restaurants to the grocery store, it’s easy to find pumpkin soups, pastas, oatmeal mixes, and much more.

With my background in family medicine and a certification from the CDC in nutrition, I was curious: What happens when a fan of pumpkin goes a little crazy enjoying it for a week? I embarked on a seven-day journey eating this fall fruit to experience the health benefits of pumpkin for myself. Cleveland Clinic Center for Human Nutrition expert Lisa Reitz, MS, RD, LD, CNSC, shared the scientific scoop behind what I observed during my pumpkin-packed week.

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Ways to eat pumpkin every day

It was fun to get intentional and find creative ways to pull pumpkin into my meals. Here’s how I managed to sneak in pumpkin, keeping it interesting with a variety of preparations:

Being an absolute smoothie enthusiast, I swear by the convenience and nutritional punch of healthy smoothie. So, blending pumpkin puree into my morning drink felt only natural. (I made a conscious choice to use organic pumpkin puree with no added sugars to ensure that I got the best natural flavors and nutrients.)

Pumpkin seeds quickly became my go-to snack. Their crunchy texture made them perfect for munching on their own. I also found them to be a fantastic salad topper, adding a bit of crunch to my leafy greens at lunch.

For dinner one night, I decided to experiment. I made a homemade pumpkin marinara sauce. Its creamy texture and nuanced flavor made my pasta dish so delicious that I ate it with meals over a couple days.

By the end of the week, I was craving something new. This led me to one of the local cafes that was advertising a pumpkin bowl, similar to an açaí bowl but with a delightful seasonal twist: The base had a rich pumpkin puree blended with bananas and açaí, topped with granola, pumpkin seeds, and honey. It was the perfect blend of sweet and savory to close out my week of eating pumpkin.

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The health benefits of pumpkin

Reitz explains there’s a lot of goodness inside this gourd: “Pumpkins are low in calories and a good source of fiber—containing 50 calories and three grams of fiber per one-cup serving.” It’s a powerhouse of essential vitamins and minerals, too—says Reitz: “Pumpkins are an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium.” Vitamin A often shows up in orange-colored plant foods, beneficial for your skin, eyes, fighting off disease, as well as the function of major organs like your heart and lungs. Vitamin C can give you a leg up to fight off fall viruses and can aid healthy sleep in the cooler months.

Research from June 2022 highlighted a range of health benefits from pumpkins, including support for male fertility, aiding wound recovery, and providing antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, and anti-ulcerative properties. In addition, pumpkins have shown promise in addressing benign prostatic hyperplasia, or an enlarged prostate.

There’s another treasure inside, Reitz says: Pumpkin seeds are nutritionally rich, being “a good source of protein, fiber, and many other minerals.” (Roasting them with cinnamon, curry powder, or just a light dusting of sea salt can be a great snack on pumpkin-carving day!) On the innovation front, some scientists have been investigating pumpkin seeds for potential drug delivery, speaking to their potency, though more in-depth studies are needed.

In short, pumpkins are a rich source of nutritional and therapeutic advantages.

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When I ate pumpkin every day, I had better digestion

One of the immediate advantages I observed was enhanced digestion. Just as I had experienced this benefit from my recent week of daily banana consumption, I found that pumpkins, too, are a solid source of fiber!

Reitz says, “Research has shown that a diet rich in fiber can help support bowel regularity. Consuming one cup of pumpkin daily would provide roughly 10% of your recommended needs.” I could attest to that with my digestive system operating like clockwork.

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When I ate pumpkin every day, I saw nicer skin

My skin was another area where I noticed an improvement—a brighter and more balanced complexion, plus zero breakouts. Reitz says, “The orange color of pumpkin comes from beta-carotene, which is an antioxidant and converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A plays an important role in maintaining healthy skin.”

In fact, vitamin A is synonymous with retinol, which many dermatologists regard as a powerful ingredient for keeping skin youthful and promoting the turnover of healthy skin cells.

When I ate pumpkin every day, I had better sleep

Restful sleep was an interesting outcome as the days went by—but could pumpkins have been behind this too? Reitz pointed out, “Pumpkin seeds contain tryptophan and tyrosine, which are precursors to serotonin and dopamine—both are known to play a role in regulating anxiety and stress.”

This made sense, as my sleep quality seemed to improve with my daily pumpkin intake.

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Pumpkin health questions

I was curious whether there’s a nutritional difference between fresh pumpkin and its processed versions. Reitz provided clarity: “Canned pumpkin puree is just as nutritious as fresh pumpkin; however, canned pumpkin pie mix and other pumpkin-flavored foods are often high in sugar.”

Is frequent pumpkin a safe diet choice for everyone? “For most of the population, there are no concerns with consuming pumpkins daily,” Reitz says. “However, I would caution intake for those individuals with kidney disease due to the potassium content.”

Regarding the best preparation method to enjoy the nutritional value of pumpkins, Reitz mentioned, “The nutritional value is comparable—the major difference is convenience.” If you’re curious about the best consumption and storage methods, she suggested, “You can bake, steam, roast, or microwave pumpkin. You can also add pumpkin puree to oatmeal, smoothies, pancakes, muffins, pasta dishes, soups. Cooked pumpkin can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days, and pumpkin puree can be frozen for later use.”

It’s clear that fresh or pureed pumpkins are a boon for your health. As the leaves turn amber and evening arrives earlier, I’ve got more than one reason to embrace and celebrate pumpkins beyond the festive season—and now, I hope you do, too.

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The pandemic might have shifted how you care for yourself, including during typical work-a-day demands…and maybe you’ve discovered that slightly looser professional parameters have granted you with a little flexibility for a short afternoon nap. Some experts suggest that if you follow a few guidelines, a small nap could actually be a way to prevent chronic disease—namely, type 2 diabetes.

To start, Kevin Peterson, MD, MPH, says your blood sugar is largely influenced by two main factors:

  • How long it’s been since you last ate—and if it’s been hours, that’s known as your “resting blood sugar” level;
  • and what you eat.

Dr. Peterson is the vice president of primary care for the American Diabetes Association and a professor at University of Minnesota Medical School. He points to recent research that suggests a noteworthy link between sleep and insulin sensitivity. The stronger your insulin sensitivity, the better your body is poised to fend off diabetes.

Keep reading for more on the connection between naps and diabetes risk.

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Possible effects of sleep on diabetes risk

“Usually blood sugar will go down during the night until it reaches a resting level,” Dr. Peterson says. “Then it stays the same the rest of the night.”

As for naps? “What happens with blood sugar when you take a nap depends mostly on when and what you last ate,” he explains.

As a general thought process, that makes sense—but there’s some nuance. Here’s how research suggests the naps and diabetes connection plays out, according to Stacey L. Simon, PhD, an associate professor with a concentration in sleep science at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus: In some cases, regular daytime napping has been associated with an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and patients with type 2 diabetes who regularly napped had higher HbA1c. HbA1c, short for “hemoglobin A1c,”  is a marker of blood glucose control. In diabetics, a prolonged elevated HbA1c level can increase the risk of developing further serious complications.

Other research, such as a 2016 study in the peer-reviewed journal Nature, showed that regularly sleeping for longer than 60 minutes was linked to a higher type 2 diabetes risk compared to no nap. Another 2016 study found that longer naps—meaning those lasting longer than 40 minutes—were linked to increased risk for metabolic disease.

Shorter naps weren’t linked to diabetes, that same study found.

Other 2016 research showed for diabetes patients whose nighttime sleep was cut short, a nap improved glycemic (blood sugar) levels.

Here’s Why You’re Hungry After a Nap, Says a Nutrition Expert

If you’re not able to get enough sleep at night, a nap could help, Catherine Lowry, a graduate research assistant in Colorado State University’s Sleep and Metabolism Clinical Research Laboratory—maybe just not every day. A 2017 meta-analysis of seven studies on more than 249,000 people found people who took habitual daytime naps had a 17% higher chance of developing diabetes compared to those who didn’t nap during the day. A 2023 study involving more than 53,000 participants found regular daytime napping is linked with a risk for diabetes in most adults, except for premenopausal females.

This could be because long naps interfere with sound nighttime sleep, which can negatively impact the body’s processing of sugar. The longer naps and diabetes correlation could also be connected with an overall more sedentary lifestyle and increased chance of obesity.

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Is napping good for diabetes?

If you do have diabetes, Simon says that a brief nap under 40 minutes may be helpful. “However, people should be aware that daytime napping can negatively impact nighttime sleep such that they may not feel as sleepy at their regular bedtime and it may take longer to fall asleep or result in a poor night of sleep,” she says. “If people are going to nap in the day, they should aim for early and brief—early enough and short duration so it doesn’t inadvertently lead to a poor night of sleep.”

Another bright rule of thumb might be to make sure you move your body for a period sometime in the day before you take a short nap…this could make that rest feel even more satisfying.

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Should I take a nap if I don’t have diabetes?

If you’re already getting seven to nine hours a night, regular exercise can help lower how much time it takes to get to sleep and improve the quality of your sleep, Lowry adds.

Dr. Peterson says maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key. A nap can be a welcome and restful part of a balanced self-management program for a person with or without diabetes, he says. “Very high or very low blood sugars can both make a person fatigued, but that type of fatigue isn’t usually what makes a person decide to take a nap,” Dr. Peterson notes. “Stress can cause blood sugars to go up, and taking a nap can be a good stress reliever.”

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If you come down with the sniffles this season, you might be inspired to brainstorm a workaround for your go-to remedy.

This week, a group with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) unanimously voted that the most widely sold oral decongestant in the US—phenylephrine, an ingredient in nearly 300 million units of over-the-counter medications reportedly sold in 2022, according to CBS News—doesn’t really work. “Modern studies, when well conducted, are not showing any improvement in congestion with phenylephrine,” said Mark Dykewicz, MD, professor and section chief of allergy and immunology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Least effective are the oral formulations, according to the committee.

Phenylephrine, sometimes labeled as “PE,” is found in drugs such as Sudafed PE, Vicks DayQuil and NyQuil Sinex Nighttime Sinus Relief, Robitussin Peak Cold Nighttime Nasal Relief, Mucinex Sinus-Max, Theraflu and Benadryl Allergy Plus Congestion.

The ingredient came into its own in the early 2000s as a replacement for pseudoephedrine, which was moved behind the counter to curb its misuse as an ingredient to make methamphetamine.

Sources suggest the vote is not likely to shake up pharmacy shelves just yet…but for a more natural route to better breathing, we spoke with leading doctors from around the country for the congestion solutions they recommend as efficacy comes into question for this ingredient, which dominates a reported 80% of the oral decongestant category.

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How to relieve congestion, according to medical doctors

The first steps to fight respiratory illness are simple, suggests Tochi Iroku-Malize, MD, MPH, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians and the founding chair and professor of family medicine for the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in Hempstead, NY. “Most important is getting plenty of rest, avoiding smoking and alcohol, and drinking lots of fluids, which can help loosen mucus and prevent dehydration,“ Dr. Iroku-Malize says.

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Run a humidifier

Moist air from a humidifier or a cool-mist vaporizer can soothe irritated nasal tissues, lessen sinus inflammation, and thin mucus, explains Dr. Iroku-Malize.

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Consider trying nasal irrigation

Rinsing out your nasal passages with a neti pot or another device can flush out sinuses and help loosen thick mucus, Dr. Iroku-Malize explains. “I counsel my patients to always use distilled or sterile water or tap water that has been boiled for three to five minutes and cooled.”

She says saltwater or saline nose drops can also loosen nasal mucus, making it easier to breathe.

Take a shower

This requires some energy, but it almost always feels better after you give yourself the push. A hot shower allows you to inhale steam, which reduces sinus pain and pressure.

A hot towel rested your face for a few moments may also do the trick.

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Spice things up

From Robert Glatter, MD, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City: Adding these four ingredients to food may help to trigger mucus production and lead to a runny nose:

  • chili peppers
  • garlic
  • powdered turmeric
  • grated ginger

This gives mucus a fail-safe exit and will draw out nasal congestion.

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Diffuse essential oils

Eucalyptus, peppermint, and rosemary oils may potentially provide temporary relief for up to three days, Dr. Glatter says. Use aromatherapy with a diffuser. “Eucalyptus oil seems to hold the most promise when added to hot water and inhaling the steam,” he says.

Prop up your head when you sleep

Congestion often feels worst at night—says Dr. Glatter: “Raise your head with a few extra pillows while sleeping, as this may help to allow more effective drainage of nasal and sinus passages.”

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Drink more fluids

Mom was right: “Increasing your fluid intake can loosen thick mucus blocking your nasal and sinus passages,” Dr. Glatter says. “Drinking warm beverages can help you feel less congested. “

Know when to call your doctor

Congestion and other symptoms typically run their course in a few days or a week, says Dr. Iroku-Malize. “If someone continues to have symptoms, trouble breathing, or a fever, they should make an appointment with their family doctor.”

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Ice-T’s got that warm persona underneath, but on the surface, he’s known for playing cool—”You don’t get named ‘Ice’ by being high-strung,” he told us. Ice-T has spent the end of summer celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop as part of LL Cool J’s F.O.R.C.E. Tour. When he got a break this past week, Ice-T reveals that he rolled up his sleeve for his annual flu shot.

In fact, the veteran rapper, who is also beloved for his role as Detective Fin on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, says he’s gotten his flu shot for the past ​20-plus years—one of the reasons he’s never called in sick since he debuted on the series in 2000.

Like most of us, the 65-year-old has suffered through the flu enough to decide he’s not willing to roll the dice if he can avoid it. “Being sick sucks,” he says. “It drags you around the house and makes the toughest gangster feel like a child.”

This is why Ice-T joined forces with Sanofi and the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists for a national flu campaign highlighting the risks associated with the flu, especially for vulnerable populations. This week in New York City, Ice-T sat down with The Healthy @Reader’s Digest about his passion for this flu shot campaign, the number-one reason he insists on staying healthy, and why he loves getting older.

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Ice-T Flu Shot
Ice-T receives his flu shot from Shannon Constantine, RPh, Director of Pharmacy, LI Script, American Society of Consultant Pharmacists. Courtesy Sanofi.

Why Ice-T wants us all to get a flu shot

The Healthy @Reader’s Digest: Should we be surprised to learn that Ice-T keeps up with his annual flu shot?

Ice-T: When you shoot movies and television, if you get sick, it’s like a domino effect. I might be in a scene with someone who flew in from Los Angeles and if can’t work that day, [it] throws everyone off schedule ’cause you only had that one day to work. It’s bad.

The Healthy: Any home remedies you swear by if you do get sick?

Ice-T: I do a lot of fluids and chicken soup. You can’t go wrong with chicken soup and hot tea. That works. Mostly, I just want bed rest.

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The Healthy: All of those are scientifically shown to be great choices. Besides getting your annual flu shot, what else do you do to stay healthy?

Ice-T: I am not a health food cat. I eat everything in moderation. I try to pull back off sugar. I used to be a big Kool-Aid guy, but now I take a lot more water and [consume] less sugar. I am not an extremely exercise-based person, but I do work out. I just keep moving. The key to my youth is actually staying active. If I sit around for a week, I feel like I aged three years.

The Healthy: What’s your motivation to keep on moving?

Ice-T: I want to stay alive, and I want to stay healthy. I have a seven-year-old child [with his wife of 22 years, Coco]. When she was born, the first thing that came to my mind is, I can’t die.

They say when a man has a child, the second half of his life resets. There is no slowing down and no retirement. I have to stay in there. My daughter has given me the second wind that I needed.

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The Healthy: You have openly discussed your family history of heart disease. How is your health these days?

Ice-T: You don’t know if you have any underlying medical conditions. Fortunately, I don’t have any health ailments. I have done all the tests I could on myself. I have dealt with high blood pressure at different times and was able to lower blood pressure just by really lowering stress levels.

The Healthy: How did you do that?

Ice-T: Stress is caused by giving a f*%$. I learned to only care about the things that are important. I don’t carry other people’s stress. I deal with my personal family and [my life], and it’s lowered my stress a lot. I am so low-key it bothers people. My name is Ice. You don’t get named “Ice” by being high-strung.

The Healthy: Did you ever imagine you would be a health advocate?

Ice-T: I didn’t think I was going to live out of my twenties. Early when I was growing up, I was living such a wild life on the streets, so now at this point, to be 65 and still acting, touring, and in decent shape, why not? Going from being such a hard-core rapper and now being somebody who people go to for health advice is interesting.

The Healthy: In Hollywood, many people hide their age, but you’re open about yours. Why?

Ice-T: It’s not about being 50 and trying to be 40, it’s about trying to be badass at 50 and 60. Too many people are reaching for the past. Just be the best you can be at that age. I am proud to be 65. I am proud because that’s the game. The game is to live. Don’t be upset with your age, embrace it. Me and Dr. Dre promise to blow out 100 candles.

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently gave its nod to Abrysvo, an RSV shot that may help pregnant women protect their newborn from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

The FDA recently approved this same RSV vaccine only for folks aged 60, and older as well as another vaccine called Arexvy, for this same age group. These join a new RSV monoclonal antibody shot that is recommended for babies who will be born into first RSV season this fall.

“This is very exciting,” Kathryn S. Moffett, MD, a professor and division chief of pediatric infectious diseases a West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown, WV, tells The Healthy @Reader’s Digest. “Until recently, we only had one RSV shot for babies who were considered only preemies born early and at extremely low birth weights with underlying diseases.”

Considering the record surge in RSV cases last year—plus the combined threat of flu and COVID-19—this is encouraging news that affects several main demographics.

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Who needs an RSV vaccine?

RSV is one of the most common causes of childhood respiratory illness. Up to 80,000 children under age five are hospitalized each year nationwide due to RSV infection. Each year, an estimated 100 to 300 children younger than five years old die due to RSV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). RSV is the leading cause of infant hospitalization in the U.S.

However, as pervasive as RSV was in the 2022-2023 peak virus season, it’s important to note that the virus can infect individuals within age groups well beyond little ones. Says Dr. Moffett: “It is a huge cause of respiratory disease, usually in winter, in people of all ages.”

In 2023, the CDC stated, “[…I]t is estimated that between 60,000-160,000 older adults in the United States are hospitalized and 6,000-10,000 die due to RSV infection.” The CDC adds that RSV can contribute to the worsening of congestive heart failure and chronic respiratory illnesses like asthma and COPD.

Also from the CDC:

Adults at highest risk for severe RSV infection include:

  • Older adults
  • Adults with chronic heart or lung disease
  • Adults with weakened immune systems
  • Adults with certain other underlying medical conditions
  • Adults living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities

How important is it for pregnant people to get an RSV vaccine?

Starting with one of the most vulnerable groups: To help protect newborns from RSV, the new RSV vaccines are approved for use at 32 through 36 weeks of the expectant parent’s pregnancy.

Administered as a single shot into the muscle, pregnant people would receive immunity from the RSV vaccine during pregnancy and pass that along to their baby before birth. “Babies born at term who have no risks for serious RSV infection can still become very ill,” Dr. Moffett says. “This why vaccinating mothers is really important. There is evidence that moms of term babies who get really sick with RSV have limited to no memory of having RSV, so their baby was wide open and not protected at all.”

How well does the new RSV shot work in pregnant women?

Researchers who published an April study in the peer-reviewed New England Journal of Medicine, which is considered one of the leading medical journals, concluded that infants born to pregnant people who received the vaccine experienced an 81% reduced risk of developing severe RSV within the first three months of birth, compared to the infants of a parent who received a placebo injection.

Who else should get an RSV shot?

All infants under eight months of age should get one dose of Beyfortus (a brand name for nirsevimab), a long-acting monoclonal antibody shot that can protect against severe RSV, the CDC states. Beyfortus reduces the risk of both hospitalization and doctor visits for RSV in infants by about 80% during a baby’s first RSV season. Some infants ages eight to 19 months can get a second dose of nirsevimab to help them through their second RSV season if they have underlying health issues.

A traditional vaccine causes your body to build up antibodies that protect you against a virus like RSV. By contrast, monoclonal antibody shots give you antibodies so you have them ready to go when exposed to RSV.

This new RSV shot is a game-changer, Dr. Moffett says. “The current available shot for at-risk newborns must be given monthly for five months and does not seem to confer the same amount of protection as the newer shot.”

The main side effects of the new shots may include injection-site reactions fatigue, muscle pain, and headaches, experts tell The Healthy.

Will people take the RSV shot?

This was the main question that pollsters at the University of Michigan sought to understand among folks aged 60 and older. Half of older adults did not know about the new RSV vaccine, according to the poll. When they were asked how interested they are in getting vaccinated, 21% of those who answered said they were very interested, and another 43% said they were somewhat interested. More than 65 % of those with a chronic health condition said they were very or somewhat interested in getting the vaccine, even if they had not heard of it before being polled.

This RSV shot is really important for this age group, says Preeti Malani, MD, senior advisor to the poll who has training in geriatrics as well as infectious disease and is a physician at Michigan Medicine, U-M’s academic medical center in Ann Arbor, MI. “If you are 60 and have underlying health issues such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes, kidney concerns, are taking medication that affects your immune system, or live or spend time in group settings, this shot can save your life.”

The bottom line

“Vaccines save lives, and when you are exposed to this virus, even if it gets in your system, you have been building up immunity to fight off infection and temper that reaction,” says Tochi Iroku-Malize, MD, President of the American Academy of Family Physicians, founding chair and professor of family medicine for the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in Hempstead, NY, and senior vice president and chair of the family medicine service line for Northwell Health. “Without the vaccine, you can have complications and could end up hospitalized or even die from RSV.”

Talk with your healthcare provider about whether the benefits outweigh the risks for you and your family members, she suggests.

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Oh, chlamydia. No one asks for this sexually transmitted infection, yet it goes around because it often doesn’t produce detectable symptoms.

Sexually transmitted disease diagnoses have been on the rise in recent years. In 2019, the National Chlamydia Coalition stated that cases of chlamydia had increased 19% over the previous five years. And despite imposed social isolation measures, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t seem to slow the trend down much: Between 2020 and 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis had increased by 4%, 4%, and 32% respectively. The CDC added that it’s possible these estimates were low due to the fact that individuals probably weren’t being screened for these infections at the same levels they would have if the pandemic hadn’t deterred consumers from seeking healthcare.

Even though you probably know that it can pass through sexual intercourse, you don’t have to go “all the way” to contract chlamydia. A doctor who studies viruses shared the answer on whether you can get chlamydia from oral sex—keep reading.

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What is chlamydia?

Chlamydia is a bacterium that’s often called a silent infection because you may not experience symptoms—or a partner may not pick up on their own chlamydia symptoms.

“One of the problems with chlamydia is that the majority of people do not have any symptoms at all, yet the infection can cause infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, and swollen testicles in men,” explains Patricia Kissinger, PhD, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA.

That’s why understanding how oral sex can give you chlamydia is important. When you know how to prevent it, you can take steps to do so.

Yes, you can chlamydia from oral sex, says an infectious disease doctor

The answer: You can get chlamydia from oral sex, even if it’s just one time.

“Chlamydia can be transmitted genitally, anally, and orally,” Dr. Kissinger tells The Healthy @Reader’s Digest. Semen doesn’t even have to be part of the equation to pass it on.

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Who can get chlamydia?

Anyone who has sex with another person is at risk for chlamydia. Chlamydia tends to be more common among a younger demographic, the CDC reports, but sexually transmitted infections have also been on the rise among older Americans.

“Rates will be higher in groups that have higher genital infections (such as gay and bisexual men), but one could have an oral infection without having a genital infection,” Dr. Kissinger notes.

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Can you pass chlamydia through saliva?

No, chlamydia is not passed via saliva. The infection is in semen, pre-cum, and vaginal fluids. You cannot contract chlamydia by kissing or sharing a drink with someone who’s infected.

How is chlamydia spread through mouth?

Bacteria can infect the penis, vagina, urethra, cervix, anus, eyes, and throat. If you perform oral sex on any of those areas on another person and they have chlamydia, you can become infected.

Likewise, if you have chlamydia and another person performs oral sex on any of those parts of your body, they can catch it. If you go back and forth, you can give it to each other.

The Mayo Clinic suggests using condoms or dental dams can help prevent it, as can getting screened regularly if you have multiple partners. Open communication in a healthy, trusting relationship can also be key.

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Do you have chlamydia? How to tell

If you’re worried you might be infected, a few symptoms of chlamydia to watch out for can include discharge, painful urination, or sore throat (if you have an oral infection). Dr. Kissinger says some people have reported anxious mood and fatigue.

The best way to know whether you have chlamydia is to get tested at your doctor’s office. At-home urine tests exist, too. “It is fine to test at home for convenience, but if any of the tests are positive, one should follow-up with a provider,” Dr. Kissinger adds.

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