Despite availability of vaccines, more than 2000 people die every day in the US alone due to COVID-19 and approximately 133,000 new cases are reported daily.1 Currently, more than 182 million Americans, or 54%, are considered fully vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, and approximately 64% of the population has received at least one vaccine dose. However, reports indicate that vaccine efficacy reduces with time and booster doses are now recommended despite a lack of unity from the FDA and CDC experts in accepting this step. Moreover, new variants of the coronavirus further complicate the picture, and “breakthrough infections” in the fully vaccinated are on the rise. This situation calls for the revision of current approaches and incorporation of innovative health strategies that are effective, economic, and accepted by the majority of people worldwide.
Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin now known for a variety of functions, however it is still referred to as the “blood clotting vitamin.” Currently, researchers are learning about its role in a wide array of physiological processes including during the COVID-19 pandemic. Vitamin K is essential for healthy bones, the cardiovascular system, the liver, kidneys, pancreas, brain and nervous system, and it has anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, sometimes known as the sunshine vitamin because the ultraviolet rays from the sun initiate its production in the skin. Vitamin D is a type of prohormone that is produced when cholesterol in the skin is exposed to the UV rays from the sun. Further processing in the liver and kidneys is an important step in the production of the active form of vitamin D called calcitriol. The two different types of vitamin D are D2 (ergocalciferol) present in plant-based products such as mushrooms, and D3 (cholecalciferol) present in animal products and fatty fish. Vitamin D3 is found to be twice as effective as D2 in raising the blood levels of vitamin D.
In the last issue of the Health Science News Page, we discussed insect-borne diseases with a specific focus on Lyme disease. Lyme disease was first widely recognized in 1975 in Old Lyme, Connecticut, USA. It is a bacterial infection caused by a type of bacteria called Borrelia. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of a tick that feeds on other small animals, pets, deer, mice, birds, and squirrels carrying the bacteria.
Lyme disease starts with vague flu-like symptoms such as skin rashes, fever, muscle aches, and fatigue. Due to a lack of specific and reliable laboratory tests, the treatment is often delayed and the disease goes on untreated for a long time. In more advanced or chronic Lyme disease stages, people develop chronic arthritis, inflammation of the heart and other organs, neuropathies, sleep disturbances, cognitive impairment and other neurological symptoms including changes in some of the markers of autoimmune diseases. Oral and intravenous antibiotics are usually applied but their efficacy decreases when given in the later stage of infection. Moreover, many of the antibiotics are not effective due to wide-spread bacterial resistance.
As summer approaches and people start outdoor activities, the season also brings an increased exposure to insects and insect-borne diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, insect-borne diseases in the US increased more than three times in the last decade. Ticks, mosquitoes, and fleas are the most common carriers of these diseases and they especially increase during longer and hotter summer days.
Lyme disease is one of the most common tick-borne diseases accounting for 3 in 5 cases of insect-borne diseases. It is found in more than 80 countries. In the US it is mainly found in the northeast, midwest and along the Pacific coast. Approximately 476,000 new cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed in the US every year, and close to two million people could be suffering from chronic Lyme disease.
COVID-19 is not the only pandemic threatening the world right now. Metabolic syndrome (a combination of obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar) which has been rising for decades before COVID-19 deteriorates overall health making people prone to other acute and chronic diseases. According to the CDC, close to 50% of the adult population in the US already has high blood pressure and only 1 in 4 of them have it under control. Appropriately named as the “silent killer,” consistent high blood pressure damages multiple organ systems in the body. In addition to the increased risk of a fatal heart attack and stroke, hypertension is a cause of other debilitating conditions such as heart failure, kidney damage, and various eye problems including blindness. While there are a large number of antihypertensive medications, some of the most common ones are thiazide diuretics, calcium channel blockers, beta-blockers, and ACE inhibitors. Most of these drugs are useful only for the temporary reduction of hypertension and are associated with a wide array of side effects. A very recent clinical trial conducted on more than 300,000 adults revealed that prolonged use of thiazides, including hydrochlorothiazide, was associated with a significantly increased risk of skin cancer.1
Despite advances in understanding the development of cancer and how it spreads, the method of cancer treatment has not changed much. For the past several decades the main treatment options for a cancer patient have been surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Although there are newer chemotherapy drugs available to treat cancers, the cancer death rate continues to rise. Each of the current treatment options is associated with inherent risks and side effects and most patients are submitted to some combination of these options.
After skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the US, and about 1 in 8 are likely to develop it during their lifetime. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 62,930 of noninvasive (in-situ) breast cancers will be diagnosed in the US this year.
Despite expensive treatment options and the availability of pharmaceutical drugs, the long-term outlook for curing breast cancer remains poor. While women are aware of breast cancer, very few take steps towards prevention other than mammogram screenings. Men can also develop breast cancer and one percent of all breast cancers are in males. However, male breast cancer is difficult to treat, which is mainly due to lack of awareness and a delay in diagnosis resulting in the cancer having already spread.
Diabetes, which is characterized by elevated blood glucose levels, is the fastest growing non-communicable disease in the world today. In the last two decades, the number of people suffering from diabetes has skyrocketed and it is projected to increase from 171 million in 2000 to 438 million in 2030. Approximately 6000 Americans are diagnosed with diabetes. Type II diabetes has been considered by many as a disease affecting older and overweight people; however, it is now more frequently diagnosed in children and young adults under 25 years of age, as well as in individuals that are not necessarily overweight. Sustained high blood sugar levels can lead to serious diabetic complications including atherosclerosis, stroke, kidney failure, neuropathy, impaired wound healing, and cataracts, and it can lead to long-term disability.
With the arrival of summer, people become acutely aware of exposure to the sun, the risk of skin cancers and the importance of the use of sunscreen. Skin cancer is the most common of all types of cancers in the USA and other developed countries. Worldwide, it accounts for more than 30% of all diagnosed cancers. Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma are the most common forms of skin cancers, and malignant melanoma is the most dangerous of all of them. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 96,480 new melanoma cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2019 and melanoma will be attributed as a cause of death for 7,230 people. It is estimated that one in five people will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.