New in Exploring Health's longform vertical: Gillian Feinglass delves into the complex and often overlooked struggles of American apple farmers, juxtaposing the pastoral dream with the harsh economic and environmental realities they face.
By Dani Blum, NY Times
Protein bars are everywhere. A trip to the grocery store, gas station, and, of course, the gym, provides ample evidence for this observation. But despite their enormous popularity today, protein bars are a relatively recent innovation. First created in the late 1980s, they were primarily sold to athletes and fitness junkies. Yet, in just over thirty years, companies have begun marketing their bars not just to those fitness enthusiasts, but also to the general population. The increased demand for the bars coupled with an increase in the number of suppliers allowed the protein bar market to explode — so much so that the global market is expected to reach $2 billion by the end of 2026. So are protein bars unhealthy? Well, there is no doubt that protein plays a vital role in everyday human functions. It regulates hunger and helps build muscle. But most people consume enough protein each day without eating a protein bar. And for many nutritionists, the problem is not the protein – but all the other ingredients that come along with it. For example, a Gatorade Bar contains 28 grams of added sugars, which is twice the amount of a Dunkin’ Donuts chocolate doughnut. Fortunately for consumers, not all bars are this unhealthy, and nutritionists explain that when choosing which bar to buy, aim for one that contains mostly nuts and fruits and is about 200 calories with 15-20 grams of protein.
— by Andrew Feld
By Eileen Bailey, Healthline
A study based in China may have found a new test for common pregnancy complications. The research team from Ningbo University looked at blood samples from women with gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, intrahepatic cholestasis, and healthy pregnancies to compare the presence of specific short-chain fatty acids. These molecules are produced in the large intestine by the bacteria that make up the gut microbiome. Researchers found that elevated levels of specific short-chain fatty acids correlated with pregnancy complications. Testing for these short-chain fatty acids could be a new, non-invasive way of detecting pregnancy complications in the early stages. However, doctors interviewed by Healthline were mixed in their opinions about the potential usefulness of this new test. Each of these pregnancy complications already has a diagnostic test available. Even if a blood test could detect the complication sooner, there are not necessarily interventions to treat the condition earlier in pregnancy. Additionally, some short-chain fatty acids can be indicators for multiple pregnancy complications. Without a more specific test, doctors will not know which of these conditions they are treating. More research must be done to evaluate the best use of this new information.
— by Gabrielle Stearns
By Sandee Lamott, CNN
A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found dangerously high levels of PFAS, or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, in our county’s fresh bodies of water. For the past 70 years, PFAS have been widely used in the United States to make clothing, furniture, makeup, various food packaging, and nonstick pans. Unfortunately, PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment, and can be dangerous in high quantities. PFAS chemicals are linked to a variety of health issues, including high cholesterol, cancer, and other conditions.
The EPA recently recommended that the allowable level of PFAS in freshwater water be significantly reduced – from 70 parts per million to just .02 parts per million. But one major problem remains. Since PFAS are not easily broken down, they accumulate in freshwater fish. The EPA study found dangerously high levels of PFAS in freshwater fish all over the country. Eating just one serving of locally-caught freshwater fish in some of the areas studied would be equivalent to drinking contaminated water for a month, said one of the study’s co-authors. Still, locally-caught fish are an important food source for many communities, meaning that simply not eating these fish may not be possible for many people.
— by Annika Urban
By Gina Kolata, NYTimes
After many years of research, two gene therapy drugs from Bluebird Bio and Bertex and CRISPR Therapeutics show promise in curing Sickle Cell disease. Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder where a patient’s red blood cells are misshapen, impairing their ability to carry oxygen around the body. This not only leaves individuals with chronic fatigue, but it can cause organ damage and death. As nearly 100,000 people in the US and millions worldwide have Sickle Cell disease, the search for a cure has been long awaited.
Moreover, the cure for Sickle Cell disease would potentially save costs for current patients who pay around 1.7 million out of pocket for treatment throughout their lives. On the other hand, Sickle Cell disease has become a part of some patients’ lives, forcing them to retire from jobs and advocate for patients with Sickle Cell disease. As such, if they were to be cured, the patients raise concerns on issues with re-applying for jobs, belonging to their community, and losing a part of who they were. Another patient states there were lingering side effects from gene therapy, but they gave their all in accommodating their surroundings and adapting to a life without sickle cell anymore.
— by Emily Kim
Items contributed by: Andrew Feld, Gabrielle Stearns, Annika Urban, and Emily Kim