The flu vaccine doesn’t raise your risk for COVID-19
“One Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”: That could be the title of a short documentary on peculiar ideas floating around about the flu vaccine. (Psst! Did you hear the old one about the influenza vaccine actually causing the flu? Not a chance!) Well, now folks are worried that getting their flu shot may make them more vulnerable to catching COVID-19. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Research out of the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute indicates the flu vaccine does not raise your risk for other respiratory viruses.
Also, interestingly, a 2019 study by the Cleveland Clinic of nearly 12,000 Americans found those who had the flu and pneumonia shot last year were less likely to test positive for COVID-19. Although it isn’t clear why there is this association, there may be a biological mechanism at play that makes the vaccine cross-protective in some way — plus folks who get those vaccines may be more careful about their overall health and anti-COVID habits.
In any case, it’s not too late to get your flu shot — and it’s recommended for everyone 6 months or older. It’s free for most of you and takes about two weeks for the antibodies to reach a protective level in your body.
Bonus: Although the flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19, the steps you’re taking right now to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, such as wearing masks, washing your hands frequently and practicing social distancing, can also significantly help lower your risk for the flu.
There’s nothing highfalutin about lutein
There are many myths about how to keep your eyes and brain healthy: Don’t cross your eyes or they’ll stay that way. Being creative will strengthen the right side of your brain (turns out you use both sides for such tasks). Avoid sneezing with your eyes open or they’ll pop out! And listening to classical music makes babies smarter. However, the notion that you can eat your way to healthier eyes and brain isn’t a myth.
Research in Nutrition Reviews suggests that consuming fruits and vegetables that contain a compound known as lutein does the trick, because the antioxidant-rich phytochemical is absorbed into eye and brain tissue. There, it reduces your risk for cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, and it tamps down inflammation and potentially damaging free radicals in the brain. In short, higher levels of lutein are related to better visual health and cognitive performance.
To boost your lutein intake, opt for bright red, yellow and orange vegetables such as summer squash, pumpkin, broccoli, carrots and tomatoes (cook ’em to make their lutein more bioavailable!) and leafy greens like kale and spinach.
If you’re at risk for or have age-related macular degeneration or cataracts, talk to your doctor about taking a lutein supplement. But there’s a lot more lutein in food than is usually given in supplements: There’s 44 mg in a cup of cooked kale, 26 mg in a cup of cooked spinach — and taking in the nutrient along with other phytochemicals in veggies may be the most beneficial.
From bad to bladder: How to control your leaks
Kate Winslet has been open about her struggle with urinary incontinence: “When you’ve had a few children, you know, it’s just what happens. It’s amazing, two sneezes I’m fine, three, it’s game over.”
A lot of folks — including men — struggle with leaks. And according to a study in the Journal of Urology, the problem is increasing, possibly from more folks contending with obesity and diabetes. In 2002, around 49 percent of women and 11 percent of men dealt with urinary incontinence at some point in their life. By 2008, more than 53 percent of women were affected and 15 percent of men.
■ UI and pregnancy. A new study in the Journal of Women’s Health sets out the way incontinence affects pregnant and postpartum women: 20 percent have persistent UI — about half at month three of pregnancy and about half six months after giving birth.
■ UI in men. Prostate health and treatments are often a trigger for men’s bladder problems.
■ UI in older women. Over age 60, approximately 23 percent deal with incontinence.
Unfortunately, docs don’t give men and women instructions for Kegels, which are powerfully effective exercises that can counter UI. Here are the basics:
■ Find the muscles you use to stop urinating. Squeeze them — and just them — for three seconds; relax for three seconds. Your goal over time is to be able to squeeze for 10 seconds.
■ Repeat 10 to 15 times per session, three times a day, every day.
■ Don’t do Kegels while you urinate, that can hurt your bladder.
Putting the brakes on CBD self-treatments
Pop songs about marijuana have been around for decades. There’s Steppenwolf’s “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam” from 1968 and Miley Cyrus’ “Dooo It” from 2015. But now that medical and recreational marijuana and CBD (cannabidiol, the active compound in pot) are legal in many states, folks have decided it must be good for health, not just entertainment.
A new study in JAMA looked at a forum on Reddit that has more than 100,000 folks sharing their experiences using CBD. Some claim CBD can treat autism and mental health problems, others tout the chemical for orthopedic discomfort, insomnia and neurological, gastrointestinal, dermatological, oral and ophthalmologic conditions.
There’s scant data on the effectiveness of CBD in treating many of these conditions, so you don’t want to ignore proven medical approaches that can improve, and even save, your life.
Unproven use of CBD can cause liver injury, drug interactions and mood changes. Animal studies show CBD can interfere with the development and function of testes and sperm, decrease testosterone levels and impair sexual behavior in males. A new lab study found when pregnant females are regularly exposed to cannabis, their offspring have long-term cognitive deficiencies, asocial behavior and anxiety in adulthood.
However, studies do indicate some CBD benefits — for pain, insomnia and two rare forms of childhood epilepsy (the only FDA-approved use).
The bottom line: Don’t let CBD fog up your decision-making so that you opt for unhealthy choices for treating serious health issues. Ask your doc if and when it may be appropriate for you.
Statins: Benefits beyond cardiovascular protection
The satirical songster Alan Sherman once crooned, “Somewhere, over the rainbow/ Way up tall/ There’s a land where they’ve never/ heard of cholesterol.” That’s nowhere in the 50 states. The CDC says around 80 million Americans would benefit from taking cholesterol-lowering medicine, but only 43 million do.
The heart-protecting, risk-reducing benefits of statins — the most-often prescribed med for elevated LDL cholesterol — are proven. According to a 2014 meta-analysis of 20 years’ worth of published research, the cardiovascular benefits are huge. But a growing number of studies shows statins do more than protect you from heart attack or stroke.
■ Several studies indicate they decrease your risk for dementia by protecting the health of blood vessels in the brain and helping prevent amyloid protein accumulation, which characterizes Alzheimer’s.
■ They may reduce your risk for cancer, according to a new study that looked at a statin’s impact on 367,000 people who had a particular cancer-related gene variant. Other studies show statins may reduce the risk of prostate and breast cancer.
■ Statins may fight infection: A 2009 meta-analysis found folks on statins were 43 percent less likely to contract infections and 45 percent more likely to respond to treatment than people not taking statins. Docs now suggest statins may help fight off COVID-19.
So, don’t debate whether you should take or stay on a prescribed statin. (Only 55 percent of people stick with ’em past six months.) That med may protect your heart, brain and a whole lot more from health problems.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.