New findings suggest healthy blood pressure numbers may differ for women and men, and a Northern Virginia cardiologist wants women to learn more about their specific situations and consult with their doctors.

New findings suggest healthy blood pressure numbers may differ for women and men, and a Northern Virginia cardiologist wants women to learn more about their specific situations and consult with their doctors.

“There’s really no ‘one size fits all’ approach to medicine. We really have to look at men and women differently,” said Dr. Rachel L. Berger of Virginia Heart.

Traditionally, 120 over 80 has been considered the normal upper limit for adult systolic blood pressure, but a study from the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai evaluated data from more than 27,000 people and found that women may have a lower “normal” blood pressure range.

“While men had a correlation between high blood pressure and heart disease at a higher number, like 120 or 140, women had increased risk of heart disease even with a blood pressure as low as 100 or 110,” Berger said.

Women need to know their numbers.

“That means knowing what your blood pressure is and speaking to your physician and finding out if that’s an appropriate blood pressure for you,” Berger advised.

Berger finds studies, such as this one evaluating blood pressure and heart disease risk, very important because it may change how doctors tailor medical practices to different groups of people, particularly women.

“A lot of what we do in medicine is based on large studies that may not have traditionally included women,” Berger said. “And, women — as opposed to men — may have different goals.”

Do you know what your blood pressure is?

Many drugstores have free kiosks for checking blood pressure numbers. They also sell devices you can use at home. Berger said a cuff that wraps around the arm tends to be more reliable than one that connects to the wrist.

Accurate results are more likely if you’re seated and have relaxed for a few minutes. If you get a high reading, wait a few minutes and then check it again to see if the numbers come down.

Situations that can increase blood pressure include being stressed, anxious or having consumed a lot of caffeine. Berger recommends checking blood pressure at different times during the day to get a sense of how it changes.

Some tips to help keep numbers in check include:

  • Limit alcohol.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Lower salt intake.
  • Avoid processed foods.
  • Increase activity levels.
  • Try to exercise four or five days a week.

You can learn more about high blood pressure on the American Heart Association website.

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San Luis Obispo County’s COVID-19 adjusted case rate has dropped to 9.4, according to updated reopening metrics released Tuesday.

That meets the state criteria to allow outdoor sports to resume. Last week, the state issued new guidance saying that organized and recreational youth sports and recreational adult sports can resume starting Feb. 26 in counties where COVID-19 case rates are at or below 14 cases per 100,000 people.

Last Tuesday, SLO County’s adjusted case rate was 15.6. It has dropped every week since the Southern California Regional Stay-at-Home order was lifted and the county returned to the purple tier.

The county’s positivity rates also dropped this week, with both the overall positivity rate and the Healthy Places Index (HPI) positivity rate now at orange tier levels (3.2% and 3.8% respectively). Another week like this and the county could move into a less-restrictive tier.

County Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein previously stated that SLO County could move out of the purple tier and into the red tier if both positivity rates remain at orange tier levels for two weeks. Otherwise, the county’s adjusted case rate will have to hit 7 or lower.

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San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department

San Luis Obispo County Public Health officials also reported 42 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the county’s total to 19,500 confirmed cases as of February 23.

The county also added an additional COVID-19 related death. To date, SLO County has recorded 221 deaths attributed to the virus.

Health officials say 22 people are currently hospitalized. Another 596 are recovering at home and health officials say 18,642 people have recovered.

Nineteen of the 38 licensed and staffed ICU beds in the county are currently occupied. Seven of them are taken by COVID-19 patients.

Breakdown of cases by location:

  • Paso Robles – 3,859
  • San Luis Obispo – 3,660
  • California Men’s Colony (inmates) – 2,377
  • Atascadero – 1,817
  • Nipomo – 1,467
  • Arroyo Grande – 1,375
  • Grover Beach – 803
  • Oceano – 669
  • Templeton – 589
  • San Miguel – 481
  • Los Osos – 446
  • Morro Bay – 400
  • Cal Poly (campus residents) – 341
  • Pismo Beach – 309
  • Atascadero State Hospital (patients) – 206
  • Cambria – 174
  • Shandon – 138
  • Santa Margarita – 128
  • Creston – 80
  • Cayucos – 68
  • Avila Beach – 27
  • San Simeon – 21
  • Bradley – 7

The locations of 50 additional cases are under investigation, and another eight are listed as “other,” which includes communities with fewer than five cases. The Public Health Department is not identifying those locations.

Community COVID-19 testing sites are currently open to the public in San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles, Morro Bay, Grover Beach, and Nipomo.

Appointments are available but walk-ins are also now being accepted. Click here to schedule an appointment.

San Luis Obispo County is currently vaccinating health care workers and residents 65 years of age and older. For details on how to make an appointment, click here.

For more information on the county’s COVID-19 response, visit readyslo.org.

(This article is part of the California Today newsletter. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox.)

Good morning.

In the Golden State, the average number of new Covid-19 cases per day over the past week dipped to 6,641 — not the lowest they’ve been, but the trajectory is remarkable for the speed with which positivity rates have plummeted, especially compared with the slower flattening of cases after the state’s summer surge.

As The Los Angeles Times reported, California’s declining case numbers can most likely be attributed to a combination of factors including widespread behavioral precautions, vaccinations and, ironically, the huge number of people who have already had the virus.

[Read more about the factors affecting when the United States could reach herd immunity.]

At the same time, the nation is confronting yet another unfathomable milestone: half a million deaths from the coronavirus, a mere month after the United States passed 400,000.

Leaders continue to urge caution, as dangerous coronavirus variants gain footholds.

And as the vaccine rollout continues, experts have said that losing sight of the inequities that helped propel California’s winter crisis could shape our recovery; already, early data suggests white Californians are getting vaccinated more quickly than groups that have been hit harder by the virus.

Those inequities were on full display at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital, as my colleague Sheri Fink recently reported in this harrowing look at the heart of Los Angeles’s surge, when hospitals were overwhelmed and hundreds died.

I asked her about what Californians should learn from the hospital’s plight. Here’s our conversation:

Early in the pandemic, you sent some of the earliest, most harrowing dispatches out of New York hospitals, and you also reported from Houston during the summer. What was different about reporting from L.A. during this surge? How did it compare?

Sadly, it was all too familiar. The disparities were similar, with a disproportionate impact of the disease among Latinx and Black communities and in less wealthy areas. Hospitals yet again had to care for far more critically ill patients than they were designed and staffed to manage, scrambling to create space and recruit reinforcements.

The distress among medical providers was if anything more acute. They had been running a marathon and they were exhausted and often in disbelief over the denial they see in the larger community. Even though there is more knowledge now about how to manage patients with severe Covid, the level of deaths at the hospital where I spent more than a week reporting was horrifying.

One difference now is that if you are at higher risk for progressing to severe Covid-19 — if you are 65 or older or have certain chronic medical conditions — a type of treatment exists that has been shown to reduce hospitalizations and deaths.

But the catch is that you need to get the infusion of monoclonal antibodies early, before having to be hospitalized. It blocks the entry of the virus into cells, and several types have received emergency authorization from the F.D.A. However, in South L.A. where I was reporting, relatively few patients who could benefit seemed to be accessing them.

There were also some positive differences: Health providers had the protective equipment they needed to help keep themselves safe. And many of them have been vaccinated against the virus that causes Covid-19.

In the story, you talked to Dr. Elaine Batchlor, M.L.K.’s chief executive, who expressed frustration that her hospital was overwhelmed, while other larger hospitals had fewer patients. But state officials said over and over during the surge that they were working closely with hospital groups and providers to even out the burden.

Can you explain a little more about whether or why the hospital wasn’t able to transfer significant enough numbers of patients to bigger institutions with better resources?

Even as the surge subsided, M.L.K. remained at or near the top in the area for the ratio of Covid patients per licensed hospital bed. For this particular hospital, there was little evidence of any leveling of the burden, aside from government officials making National Guard personnel and contract nurses available.

Dr. Batchlor told stories of having personally phoned other hospitals trying to get patients transferred. I was present when government officials let hospital leaders know that two local hospitals had been staffed up to receive some surge patients, but that was after the curve was already bending. Doctors at M.L.K. said that when they would try to transfer patients whom they thought needed specialized care in other facilities, they were denied.

In their minds, this had to do with the payer mix of their patients, only 4 percent of whom have commercial insurance. They said it was a longstanding problem that the pandemic has only highlighted.

What are you watching most closely now, as vaccinations ramp up? (I’m thinking of nationwide trends in treatment, troubling hot spots or equity in the vaccine rollout.)

Having reported overseas, I have been looking at the vaccine rollout not only within our communities and our country, but also in other countries that did not have the means to support advance manufacturing or buy up large portions of the global supply.

The lowest income countries have had as of yet almost no access to authorized vaccines. If equity weren’t an important enough value on its own, the virus itself is reminding us about humanity’s shared fate.

New strains may emerge anywhere it continues to circulate, and some experts say that global economic recovery depends on the virus being controlled around the world, not only in wealthier countries.

[Read the full story here.]


California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: [email protected]. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

Russia on Saturday announced that it has identified the first cases of H5N8 avian influenza in humans, according to multiple reports.

Anna Popova, the country’s public health chief, said in televised comments that seven cases were detected in workers at a poultry farm in southern Russia, Bloomberg News reported. Authorities have reported information on the cases to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Popova said that the workers had mild cases and were recovered. The poultry farm was the site of an outbreak among birds in December, Bloomberg noted. 

“It is not transmitted from person to person. But only time will tell how soon future mutations will allow it to overcome this barrier,” she said, according to the news outlet. “The discovery of this strain now gives us all, the whole world, time to prepare for possible mutations and the possibility to react in a timely way and develop test systems and vaccines.”

 

In a statement to The Hill, WHO said it “has been notified by the Russian Federation about human infection with avian influenza H5N8 through International Health Regulation mechanisms.” 

“Preliminary information indicates that the reported cases were workers exposed to bird flocks. They were asymptomatic and no onward human to human transmission was reported. If confirmed, this would be the first time H5N8 has infected people,” the statement said. “We are in discussion with national authorities to gather more information and assess the public health impact of this event.” 

Reuters noted that outbreaks of the strain have occurred in Europe, China, the Middle East and North Africa in recent months but only in poultry.

Updated 2:30 p.m.

Some would say our love/hate relationship with carbohydrates has gotten a little out of hand and made eating a lot more complicated than it needs to be. It’s easy to see where our confusion originates. Carbs, after all, provide us with our body’s primary source of energy after they are broken down into glucose or blood sugar. On the flip side, carbohydrates drive up insulin, causing our bodies to hold onto fat. The best way to get a grip on this carb conundrum may be to recognize and avoid the worst kind of carbs for your body (the highly processed, sugary, refined carbs) and figure out the best and worst times to eat carbs for your health and lifestyle.

We asked nutritionists and other experts for help. Here’s how they identified the worst times to eat carbs, and for even more healthy tips, be sure to check out our list of 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work.

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The worst times to eat carbs will vary from person to person, so you have to evaluate your body and your lifestyle, says certified nutritionist Reda Elmardi, CEO of StrongChap.com. If you don’t exercise and also have a sedentary job, don’t eat high carb meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner; cut carbs from one or two of those meals, he says.

“If you are very active consistently throughout the day then anytime is fine to have carbs—just don’t overdo the calories,” says Elmardi.

The physical therapist and bodybuilder advises people who are mostly sedentary but have a set workout time of day to plan to consume most of the day’s carbohydrates around that workout.

“But it’s not essential,” he says. “The body can store glycogen for use at a later time; as long as you use the energy at some point you will be fine.”

Here are 8 Side Effects of Eating Too Many Carbs.

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Don’t bash carbs; we need them to power through our workday, school day, and workouts, says National Academy of Sports Medicine certified trainer and nutrition consultant Natasha Funderburk, RN, BSN.

“When we can learn to view carbohydrates as our main energy source, it becomes easier to understand the timing of when it’s best to eat them or avoid them,” says Funderburk.

The worst time to eat carbohydrates is when you no longer need the energy. For most of us, that’s in the evening when you’re sitting on the couch. “When we carb load to sit in front of the TV, our metabolism is already powering down, and our body is going to end up storing those carbs as fat since it has no use to burn through as fuel.”

For some inspiration to get off that couch, read Ugly Side Effects of Not Working Out, According to Science.

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Make a habit of limiting carbohydrates two to three hours before you go to bed, advises Morgyn Clair, RD, a registered dietitian nutritionist with SprintKitchen.com. “Keep nighttime snacks to 15 grams of carbs or less,” she says.

“[Because] carb’s main role in the body is energy and the body won’t be using energy during rest, the carbs are generally stored as fat,” says Clair.

Certified Nutrition Specialist Dr. Josh Axe, DC, founder of Ancient Nutrition broadens that advice to include eating any food 2 to 3 hours before bed to support digestion, metabolic health, and improved sleep.

“When you avoid eating carbs too close to bedtime, you’re giving your body a chance to digest and you’re also fasting overnight, which can benefit for your blood sugar and insulin sensitivity,” he says. “If possible, aim to go 12 hours overnight (between dinner and breakfast the next morning) without eating anything, including carbs.”

Get even more healthy tips straight to your inbox by signing up for our newsletter.

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You may have heard about a counter-intuitive form of carbohydrate timing called “carb backloading” for weight loss. The idea behind this trendy diet is to significantly reduce carbohydrates that you eat early in the day, at breakfast and lunch, and consume the majority of carbs later in the day (for dinner), explains nutritionist Lisa Richards, author of The Candida Diet.

“It is thought that this optimizes the body’s natural insulin sensitivity making weight loss more efficient,” she says.

And by loading up on carbs in the hours after exercising later in the day, those carbohydrates will be better absorbed by your muscles.

Also, loading up on carbs in the evening and avoiding carbs at the morning meal after a nighttime of fasting while you sleep, in theory, you force your body to turn toward stored fat for fuel during the daytime hours when you are active. It’s a similar concept to intermittent fasting and the keto diet.

No matter what type of carb timing you follow, the key is “focusing on complex carbs,” says Richards. “Reducing or eliminating refined carbohydrates from the diet is a wise decision for your overall health, not just weight loss or performance. Refined carbohydrates are inflammatory and can lead to poor gut health and candida overgrowth, among other issues.”

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“If you’re prediabetic or diabetic, you’ll likely need to be more careful about your carb consumption,” says Axe. You may need to limit the number of grains and fruits you consume, and you’ll want to avoid processed carbs and added sugar, plus sugary drinks. “Another circumstance to consider cutting carbs is if you’re looking to lose weight. You might opt to try a low carb diet such as the keto diet (a high-fat diet that’s very low in carbs) which can help promote fat loss,” he says.

Here are Easy Ways You Can Prevent Heart Disease and Diabetes, According to a Registered Dietitian.

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For many of us, our bodies never have a chance to burn the energy we’ve already stored because we never let our fuel tanks run low and we’re eating carbs throughout the day and constantly triggering insulin spikes.

“A person has spiked it again with their mid-morning snack, and then lunch, and afternoon snack; essentially a person is living a life in which every waking moment is spent in a state of elevated insulin,” says metabolism research scientist at Brigham Young University Benjamin Bikman, Ph.D., author of Why We Get Sick.

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When you are inactive, your body is in a low state of physical fitness or you have high levels of body fat, it’s not a good time to consume carbohydrates.

“The body can better handle carbohydrates during and after physical activity, as well as when levels of fitness are high and body fat levels are lower, that is 15% or less for men and 20% or less for women,” says Ryan Andrews, RD, CSCS, a principal nutritionist for Precision Nutrition.

Beyond the three-hour window after exercising, you should eat mostly protein and fat and fewer carb-dense foods. “If you plan a higher carbohydrate intake at times when your body is better equipped to handle it, insulin will be under your control, and the body will function better,” Andrews says.

Rather than worry about when you should or shouldn’t consume carbohydrates, focus on choosing the right kinds of carbohydrates, stress nutritionists. Anytime can be the worst time to eat carbs if those carbs happen to be the sugary, highly processed kind. “Aim to eat unprocessed carbs that are high in fiber no matter what time of day you’re eating carbs,” says Dr. Axe. Examples of healthy carbs include vegetables, whole pieces of fruit (rather than juice), whole grains like oats or quinoa, sweet potatoes, and other potatoes, plus beans and legumes. (Related: The Surprising Side Effects of Eating Oatmeal, According to Science.) Dairy, nuts, and seeds also provide you with some carbs (choose unsweetened dairy to avoid too much sugar).

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I’m eligible for the COVID vaccine and due for a mammogram. Which should I do first?

Definitely do both, says Dr. Lars Grimm, associate professor of radiology at Duke University. But if you can, schedule the mammogram either before the vaccine or 4-6 weeks after the second dose, in keeping with new recommendations from the Society of Breast Imaging.

That’s because swollen lymph nodes are both a common side effect of the vaccines and can also be a marker of early breast cancer, he says — especially when lymph nodes on only one side are swollen.

“It can be the only sign we see,” he says, noting that a mammogram often detects swelling that a person wouldn’t notice. Of course, other things cause lymph nodes to swell, such as colds – swollen nodes shouldn’t cause anyone to jump to the conclusion that they have cancer. But “when we see one, it triggers us to work it up and figure out what’s going on,” Grimm says.

And as soon as people started getting vaccinated, breast radiologists started noticing a big uptick in the number of women with swollen lymph nodes on one side of their body. They started asking patients whether they’d had the vaccine recently. Now he and his colleagues see vaccine-related swollen lymph nodes every day. The day we talk to him, two of the three patients he’d seen that morning had shown swollen lymph nodes on one side.

The good news? Most people can adjust their vaccine and mammogram schedules accordingly. Even if you can’t, Grimm encourages you to pursue both. Worst case scenario? “They might ask you to come back and take more pictures and make sure it’s resolved,” he says. “It’s a pretty low-key thing.”

I’ve heard that the ingredients in the COVID vaccines are dangerous. Even if this is a rumor, I’d love to know what’s actually in there!

Anti-vaccination groups have historically propagated false information about the ingredients in vaccines, and the COVID vaccine is no exception. We asked Richard Kennedy, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and co-director of the Vaccine Research Group, to explain exactly what each ingredient in the two vaccines licensed in the U.S., Pfizer and Moderna, vaccines does:

mRNA: This is the only “active” ingredient in the two vaccines, i.e. the ingredient that provokes the desired medical response. mRNA (messenger-RNA) is a short stretch of RNA that tells cells to make a protein,” Kennedy explains, in this case the now-famous spike protein we’ve all seen so many pictures of. That’s what triggers the immune response. And it’s similar to the mRNA that’s floating around in our cells all the time, he says.

Vaccine critics have raised concerns that these vaccines could enter a cell’s genome, and cause unexpected problems. For that to happen, the vaccine mRNA would have to enter a cell nucleus, and according to data from the manufacturers, it doesn’t. Even if it did, many scientists say the possibility of an mRNA entering nuclear DNA is low.

The mRNA is identical in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Lipids: “Normally your cells don’t like foreign RNA, so they vaccine manufacturers have tweaked it to be stable,” Dr. Kennedy says. Manufacturers needed to make the mRNA last several hours in your cells, giving the vaccine time to make enough protein for your body to respond to.

One way they’ve done that is by adding lipids, molecules made from fats that don’t dissolve in water. . Both vaccines contain a variety, including cholesterol and polyethylene glycol-2000 (affectionately known as PEG2000) and some “alphabet soup” molecules with names such as 1,2-distearoyl-snglycero-3-phosphocholine [DSPC]. “Basically they act like little droplets of oil, and the RNA is floating inside,” Kennedy says. This serves two purposes, he adds: It stabilizes and protects the RNA, and it helps the RNA get through the cell membranes .

Buffers: The Pfizer vaccine uses salts to maintain the right acidity inside cells. Moderna uses a mixture of mild acids and bases to do that.

These ingredients are commonly used as buffers in other injectable medicines, Kennedy notes. “They make sure that the pH of the vaccine matches the pH of your body and make sure that it won’t damage cells when the liquid is injected.”

Sucrose: Without an ingredient like sugar, water molecules form crystals that can act like razor blades. “So the sucrose blocks how those crystals form so they don’t chop anything up,” Kennedy says.

Saline solution: Most of the liquid in the vial is saline solution.

What’s not in the vaccine, Kennedy notes, is any live or dead virus. And since these vaccines are made in machines, they’re easier to keep sterile than other types of vaccines, which are made using living cells. While researchers aren’t yet sure why a small percentage of people who get the vaccine experience allergic reactions, he says many people suspect it’s that PEG2000 lipid, which is also found in everything from laxatives to cosmetics to toothpaste.

The bottom line? “The disease has a known mortality rate between 1 and 2 percent,” Kennedy says. “If the vaccine were as dangerous as the disease, we should see 34,000 people dying from the vaccine every day.”

My dog can’t resist sniffing a discarded mask on the street. How risky is that?

Dog-walkers on oft-trodden streets know the perils of the fallen mask.

The good note here, explains Dr. Dana Varble, chief veterinary oficer of The North American Veterinary Community, is that the risk of contracting COVID-19 from such an encounter — both for you and your dog — is “extremely unlikely.”

Preliminary research demonstrates that dogs are fairly resistant to infection, Varble says. And even if viral particles did get onto your dog’s pelt or body, it would be difficult for you to contract the disease through surface-level, or physical, transmission. You’d have to touch the dog, pick up the particles from the fur and bring them to your eyes, nose or mouth.

Nonetheless, if you’re eager to be extra safe — and to avoid a potential nightmare scenario arising from your dog’s mask-sniffing escapades — there are a couple things you can do.

“For one, always have your dog on a leash,” Varble suggests. “And take careful diligence to keep them away from strewn masks.”

One idea is to look for dog paths or less crowded streets to walk your dog where litter is less or a problem. If you do see your dog sniffing on a mask, Varble says, usher them away from the area as quickly as possible. Do your best not to make contact with the mask directly.

In the worse-case scenario, you might need to use your hands to pull the mask out of your dog’s mouth. You could carry disposable gloves for these occasions. But even then, Sonali Advani, an assistant professor medicine at Duke University, and Varble agree that your first priority should be to wash your hands with soap and water ASAP! And keep hands away from your face and mouth prior to washing.

Finally: “If you see your dog walk over a mask, something as simple as baby wipes can help to decontaminate fur and feet,” Varble adds. “Just be careful around your dog’s eyes, nose and mouth and wipe off feet and face softly.”

Sheila Mulrooney Eldred is a freelance health journalist in Minneapolis. She’s written about COVID-19 for many publications including Medscape, Kaiser Health News, Science News for Students and The Washington Post. More at sheilaeldred.pressfolios.com. On Twitter: @milepostmedia

Pranav Baskar is a freelance journalist who regularly answers coronavirus FAQs for NPR.

It took a year, but Gwyneth Paltrow figured out how to exploit the pandemic

Gwyneth Paltrow is at it again. Here’s the scene for the perfect grift for our times:

Tens of millions of people around the country have fallen ill with COVID-19. Nearly half a million have died. Given chronic testing shortages, millions more have likely been infected and never diagnosed. Some of those infected will develop long-term effects, suffering lingering symptoms for weeks to months—or maybe longer.

Sometimes the symptoms appear to be direct extensions of the illness, such as lingering shortness of breath, cough, and/or chest pain. Other times, the symptoms may be more nondescript, such as fatigue and trouble concentrating, aka “brain fog.”

So far, it’s unclear how many people will suffer from “long COVID,” though it’s clear it can strike people regardless of whether they had mild, moderate, or severe disease. A project to track COVID symptoms in the UK estimates that 10 percent of those infected have symptoms beyond two weeks. A survey led by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 35 percent of symptomatic adults hadn’t returned to their prior state of health two to three weeks after testing positive. Looking just at previously healthy people ages 18 to 34 in that survey, CDC researchers found that 20 percent had prolonged symptoms. According to other studies, people who are hospitalized with COVID-19 may have a much higher risk of long COVID.

Regardless of the exact percentages, the absolute number of people with long-term effects is bound to be substantial, likely into the millions—just in the US. The virus has spread rampantly, so even a small slice is still a huge number of people. Researchers are bracing for a massive wave of prolonged illnesses in the wake of the pandemic. And they’re working swiftly to understand as much as they can about long COVID—what causes it, who gets it, and most importantly, how to treat it.

But they have their work cut out for them. With some early reports suggesting nondescript symptoms like fatigue, it may be hard to untangle cases of long COVID from other health problems. And with the testing barriers in the US, many people might have long COVID who never tested positive for the virus to begin with, creating the challenge for doctors to retroactively diagnose them.

So basically, there’s this enormous new patient population, which is currently so poorly identified and so poorly understood that it could include almost anyone with the vaguest of symptoms.

See the marketing potential here? Gwyneth Paltrow sure does.

Cracking COVID

In a recent blog post, Paltrow revealed that she fell ill with COVID-19 “early on” in the pandemic and is now suffering from long COVID. Specifically, she says she has experienced fatigue and brain fog in the aftermath of her infection. That’s very unfortunate, and she has our sincere sympathies. Luckily, though, she seems to be managing her prolonged illness extremely well, staying physically active, social over zoom, focused on improving the look of her skin, and involved in creative business projects.

In fact, she has even found an evidence-free but certainly effective treatment regimen for her long COVID. And she’d just love to tell you about it in a post loaded with products from her lifestyle e-commerce brand Goop and affiliate links.

To help develop the regimen, the actor-turned-peddler of exploding vagina candles consulted with a chiropractor (naturally). The chiropractor, Will Cole, set Paltrow on a part-fasting, part-keto dietary plan that’s somehow “plant-based,” except that it includes “fish and a few other meats.” To complement this “freewheeling” diet, Paltrow also gulps a $102 fist-full of vitamins and supplements, which get washed down with a $60 “detoxifying” powder mixed with water.

Even though Paltrow says that she felt “energized, healthier” before even starting the diet, Cole informed her that based on her “labs” she needs a lot of healing, which will take “longer than usual.” Because, of course, who even needs evidence of benefits in the short term when you can just sign yourself up indefinitely for a pricy, unproven, long-term treatment that will pay off… someday… probably?
In addition to Cole’s protocol, the head Gooper has found some methods of her own for easing her long-COVID symptoms. Despite battling fatigue, she says she has energy and has been exercising in the mornings, including doing a lot of hiking. To keep trekking, she endorses a $220 pair of hiking shoes, a $145 hiking tank top, and an $8,600 gold necklace. [Yes, you read that correctly.] Apparently, Paltrow has a thing for wearing necklaces, often several at once. “But for a hike, just this [$8,600] one is perfect,” she writes.
When she’s not scaling mountains to combat her COVID fatigue, she focuses her foggy mind on making certain her skin looks good for her many Zoom meetings. She touts four products just for this part of her long-COVID regimen. They are a $500 infrared sauna blanket, a $98 oil, a $125 serum, and $125 overnight acid peel.

And after all of that expensive exercising, the skin care regimen, and the video conferences, Paltrow unwinds in a $125 “Goop University” T-shirt and a $32 mocktail served in a $112 glass.

And there you have it, dear readers. Gwyneth Paltrow has nailed long COVID.

Next to Goop’s vaginal jade egg and a candle called “This Smells Like My Vagina,” a vibrator seems almost, well, old-fashioned.

But that did not stop fans of Gwyneth Paltrow’s often-mocked wellness company, Goop, from snapping up its new, double-sided wand vibrator, which looks like a candy-colored gelato cone.

In an interview Tuesday, Ms. Paltrow expressed disappointment at underestimating demand (the vibrator is sold out). After all, the pandemic has meant a lot of time indoors and alone, and a boom in sex toys.

And the Goop vibrator makes quite the pitch for battling boredom. With a massage ball on one side and a wand on the other — and eight pulsating patterns for each — that means 64 possible combinations (or a different daily sensation for two months of quarantine). At $95, it might even be called affordable, at least in comparison to the $15,000 gold dildo that Ms. Paltrow once recommended in a Goop newsletter.

“We have always been really interested in sexual wellness as a really important pillar of wellness,” Ms. Paltrow said.

Why a vibrator now?

For a lot of people — not for you and not for me — a vibrator is still considered a pretty racy thing. That has obviously changed a lot over the past decade. But still, people are triggered by sexual content or triggered by their own sexuality. Women are not taught a certain vernacular and how to express what we want. We’re not good at being vulnerable about our own sexuality.

I think as opposed to “Why a vibrator now?” it’s sort of, “How can we make a vibrator that helps continue to diminish stigma around that stuff?”

Talk about its design.

So many vibrators look hypersexualized. They’re either really phallic or they look like something you would buy in a sex shop. I was really intrigued by the idea that this would be something that looked really pretty and cool, and that you could leave it on your night stand without embarrassing yourself or somebody else. There’s something very self-possessed about that.

Explain?

I think we were just trying to do something … perhaps a little more intellectual.

Female sexual pleasure is less stigmatized. Is it a growing market?

You see it now with amazing new emerging female care products like the Honey Pot Company, or other consumer companies coming up around the vagina and the vulva. There are celebrities who’ve signed on to vibrator companies to help promote them. It’s wonderful that visible, strong, popular women are saying: “This is OK. This is not shameful and you are not shameful.”

Goop has definitely been a partner in forging that path and in creating a culture around female health, sexual health and sexuality. That’s why we made a vagina candle. Let’s dispel all this stuff. Get your projections off me. Let me experience myself, my body and my pleasure in my own way.

Have you tested the vibrator yourself?

I’ve never been asked that question before. I think you’ve made me blush. I’ll just leave it at that.

A little less personal: Any new hobbies during the pandemic?

I wouldn’t say that I developed new ones, but I’ve definitely recommitted or doubled down on some, like meditation. I do that every morning. Before, it was maybe once every couple of weeks, or maybe not at all. Also, I’m cooking all the time, like everybody else in the world.

You played Patient Zero in the movie “Contagion.” Did that prepare you for the pandemic?

I remember being on set and people saying, “This could really happen, and this will happen in our lifetime.”

Last February, way before face coverings became the norm, you posted a selfie on Instagram wearing a mask.

This is a familiar pattern in my life. I do something early, everyone is like, “What is she doing? She’s insane.” And then it’s adopted by the culture.

I had to take this trip to France when it was all kicking off. I wore it on the plane, but I didn’t wear it to the function that I was going to, and actually ended up getting Covid and coming home, and being one of the first people that I had heard of to have it.

Are you planning to take the vaccine?

I still have antibodies. I want everybody else who isn’t protected to go first.

Goop has been criticized for making dubious wellness claims and, in 2018, had to pay $145,000 for making unsubstantiated health claims about its vaginal eggs. Why should customers trust Goop?

That was stuff that happened a number of years ago when we were still a little company curating and buying third-party brands that were making claims around their products. We’ve come a really long way from being that small start-up. Even with the Yoni eggs. That was really around claims, but it didn’t involve the product. That egg is not dangerous. We still sell it.

This interview has been edited.

A large analysis looked at hundreds of factors that may influence the risk of heart failure and found one dietary factor in particular that was associated with a lower risk: drinking coffee.

Heart failure, sometimes called congestive heart failure, occurs when the heart muscle becomes weakened and can no longer pump blood efficiently. It can be caused by high blood pressure, heart valve disease, heart attack, diabetes and other diseases and conditions.

The analysis included extensive, decades-long data from three large health studies with 21,361 participants, and used a method called machine learning that uses computers to find meaningful patterns in large amounts of data.

“Usually, researchers pick things they suspect would be risk factors for heart failure — smoking, for example — and then look at smokers versus nonsmokers,” said the senior author, Dr. David P. Kao, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado. “But machine learning identifies variables that are predictive of either increased or decreased risk, but that you haven’t necessarily thought of.”

Using this technique, Dr. Kao and his colleagues found 204 variables that are associated with the risk for heart failure. Then they looked at the 41 strongest factors, which included, among others, smoking, marital status, B.M.I., cholesterol, blood pressure and the consumption of various foods. The analysis is in Circulation: Heart Failure.

In all three studies, coffee drinking was associated more strongly than any other dietary factor with a decreased long-term risk for heart failure.

Drinking a cup a day or less had no effect, but two cups a day conferred a 31 percent reduced risk, and three cups or more reduced risk by 29 percent. There were not enough subjects who drank more than three cups daily to know if more coffee would decrease the risk further.

This is not the first study to find health benefits in coffee drinking. “In other studies, coffee drinking has been associated with a reduced risk for stroke and coronary heart disease as well,” Dr. Kao said, though “we didn’t find this in our study.”

The study was not able to account for different types of coffee or brewing methods, or the use of additives like sugar or cream. There was no association of a decreased risk of heart failure with drinking decaffeinated coffee — in fact, one study suggested it might increase the risk.

Caffeine may be an important factor, the authors suggested, but the mechanism for the effect is not known. The study did not examine the effect of tea or other caffeine-containing foods.

Unlike conventional observational studies that begin with a hypothesis and then develop evidence for it, this machine learning analysis started with no initial hypothesis. Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a professor of medicine at Yale who was not involved in the work, called the approach “innovative” but noted one limitation was that “many other behaviors likely track with coffee consumption, and it is difficult to disentangle the specific effect of coffee from other things that may go along with it.”

Should you start drinking coffee or increase the amount you already drink to reduce your risk for heart failure? “We don’t know enough from the results of this study to recommend this,” said Dr. Kao, adding that additional research would be needed. “It would be helpful if we could figure out whether drinking an extra cup would prevent certain complications.”

prune health benefits
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Chewy and sweet, prunes are essentially plums that have been dehydrated for preservation. They can last in your pantry for about six months and provide a ton of versatility in practically any meal. Plus, they are little nutritious powerhouses. “Prunes have many different health benefits, from gastrointestinal health to bone preservation, modulating immune response, diabetes and atherosclerosis and satiety,” says Shirin Hooshmand, Ph.D., Professor of Nutrition at San Diego State University.

Although this yummy dried fruit offers up some serious health benefits, make sure to pay attention to ingredient lists and purchase varieties that solely list prunes as the only ingredient (try to avoid options with any added sugars or oils). Here’s everything you need to know about prunes and why they are worthy of a spot in your grocery cart.

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Prune Nutrition Stats

Serving Size: 4 Prunes (38g)

  • 90 calories
  • 0g total fat
  • 0g saturated fat
  • 0mg cholesterol
  • 0mg sodium
  • 24g total carbohydrate
  • 3g dietary fiber
  • 14g total sugars
  • 0g added sugars
  • 1g protein
  • 20mg calcium (2% DV)
  • 0.4mg iron (2% DV)
  • 280mg potassium (6% DV)
  • 23mcg Vitamin K (20% DV)
  • 0.1mg riboflavin (8% DV)
  • 0.9mg niacin (6% DV)
  • 0.1mg Vitamin B6 (6% DV)
  • 0.2mg pantothenic acid (4% DV)
  • 15mg magnesium (4% DV)
  • 0.1mg copper (10% DV)
  • 0.1mg manganese (4% DV)

    Prune health benefits:

    prunes on a vintage brass spoon

    Westend61Getty Images

    Prune superpowers go far beyond the bathroom! Here are some reasons to start incorporating prunes into your diet:

    • Can support bone health: Dr. Hooshmand has been conducting research in the area of bone health and prunes for the past 15 years. In a recent clinical trial conducted, Dr. Hooshmand and her team found that osteopenic postmenopausal women who ate 5-6 prunes per day (one serving of prunes) for six months was effective in preventing bone loss. “Previous research also found that eating 10-12 prunes per day for one year was associated with increased bone mineral density and improved indicators of bone turnover in postmenopausal women,” she says. Additionally, Dr. Hooshmand shares that interesting new animal research suggests that prunes may help prevent bone loss in people exposed to radiation, such as astronauts in space.
    • May promote heart health: A serving of prunes meets 11% of the daily value for fiber, which plays a role in lowering blood cholesterol. Initial research from the University of California, Davis found that men with moderately elevated cholesterol were able to reduce both total and “bad” LDL cholesterol after eating about 12 prunes daily.
    • Support healthy digestion: The fiber content of prunes may be to thank for their laxative effect, but scientists point to the combination of fiber, phenolic compounds and sorbitol within prunes that are likely what does the trick. Research supports that prunes can significantly increase stool weight and frequency, making them a great natural alternative to promote healthy bowel function.
    • May have anti-inflammatory properties: Since prunes are rich in polyphenols, these antioxidants can help decrease inflammation and protect against DNA damage. Compared to fresh plums, prunes dried at 60 and 85°C may actually have a higher antioxidant activity.

      And what about prune juice?

      Unlike other fruit juices, most popular brands of prune juice do actually contain a good source of fiber per serving. Warm prune juice itself has been long used as a natural constipation remedy as well. “In my opinion, probably consuming prune juice could be effective in terms of bone health to some degree, but we only have data from clinical trials testing effects of whole prunes on bone health,” says Dr. Hooshmand.

      How many prunes should I eat per day?

      Dr. Hooshmand says how many prunes you should eat in a day depends on the size of the prunes themselves, but current research recommends 50 grams of prunes per day which is equal to about 5 to 6 prunes. If you’re not used to eating prunes or other fiber-rich foods, start slow with 1 to 2 prunes per day and gradually work your way up. “For people who have a low intake of fiber in their diet, in general we recommend introducing prunes gradually, avoid consumption of prunes on an empty stomach and spread the intake throughout the day,” says Dr. Hooshmand.

      How to add prunes to your diet:

      “There are plenty of different ways to enjoy the prune as part of your diet: from smoothies to salads and soups to savory dinner dishes. Prunes can even be used as a sugar and fat substitute in baked goods,” Dr. Hooshmand shares.

      Enjoy this yummy dried fruit by itself or try it in a variety of different ways:

      • Use prunes alongside your favorite variety of nuts in a healthy homemade trail mix
      • Add chopped prunes as a topping to oatmeal or yogurt
      • Incorporate prunes in stews or tagine for a sweet savory twist
      • Add a prune or two to your morning smoothie
      • Toss chopped prunes into salad alongside your favorite veggies and vinaigrette
      • Use prunes for natural sweetness and fiber in energy bites
        Registered Dietitian
        Stefani Sassos is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Sciences from The Pennsylvania State University and a Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University.

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