In celebration of this year’s World Heart Day, Wella Health, a leading African health tech startup, is carrying out free blood pressure tests for over 100,000 Nigerians across its 600 partner pharmacies from Tuesday September 29 to October 29 this year.

World Heart Day is observed and celebrated every September 29. The global awareness day is intended to increase public understanding of cardiovascular diseases, prevention, early detection and treatment.

According to research, cardiovascular diseases commonly referred to as CVDs are the number one cause of death globally, killing 17.9 million people yearly and accounting for 31 per cent of all global deaths.

Speaking on the campaign, CEO Wella Health, Dr Neto Ikpeme stated that cardiovascular diseases are often perceived as a problem strictly for older people. “Unfortunately, it is now more common in adolescents and young adults.”

According to the expert, for 25 to 34-year-old men and women, heart disease is the fourth leading cause of death while for 35 to 44-year-olds, heart disease is even deadlier and is the second biggest killer of men and third biggest killer of women.

“CVDs can affect anyone and at any age. The rise in obesity and diabetes at earlier ages also adds to the overall risk,” he added.

By offering free blood pressure tests to over 100,000 Nigerians in celebration of world heart day and later world stroke day coming up in October, Ikpeme said their goal is to join the global fight against cardiovascular diseases and minimise mortality, especially among young adult.

In his perspective, a blood pressure screening is important because high blood pressure usually has no symptoms and cannot be detected without being measured.

He noted, “High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for heart disease and often considered a silent killer.”

Experts have revealed that the primary causes of cardiovascular diseases are smoking, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and the harmful use of alcohol which in turn show up in people as high blood pressure, high blood sugar and obesity.

His words, “Lifestyle changes including healthy eating, regular physical activity and quitting tobacco use are advised to improve heart health.”

Wellahealth is a health technology startup focused on providing affordable and accessible high-quality healthcare protection for all Africans.

Scientists have made giant strides in the search for natural cures for Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). They found that bromelain-rich pineapple stem represents a viable option as an antiviral for treating not only COVID-19 but also potential future outbreaks of other coronaviruses.

Scientists have also confirmed the efficacy of Aloe vera, pineapple, Sansevieria masoniana cream on skin wounds infected with multi-drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

Scientists have also found that pineapple juice contains some active ingredients with uterine contractile effects and may cause abortion just like oxytocin after oral administration. They also demonstrated that unripe rind and pulp of pineapple could be used to accelerate wound healing in diabetics.

Also, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has agreed on to rules for the testing of African herbal remedies to fight COVID-19. It said sound science would be the sole basis for safe and effective traditional therapies to be adopted.

Any traditional remedies that are judged effective could be fast-tracked for large-scale manufacturing.

The WHO said the new rules were aimed at helping and empowering scientists in Africa to conduct proper clinical trials.

Meanwhile, results of a recent research endeavour from the United States indicate that bromelain rich pineapple (Ananas comosus) stem may be utilised as an antiviral agent against COVID-19, but also for potential future coronavirus outbreaks.

The study titled “Bromelain Inhibits SARS-CoV-2 Infection in VeroE6 Cells” was published on September 17, 2020, in the journal bioRxiv.

Botanically called Ananas comosus, pineapple belongs to the plant family Bromeliaceae.

According to The useful plants of west tropical Africa, Vol 1 by H. M. Burkill, (…the unripe fruit is purgative (loosen stools and increase bowel movements), diuretic (promotes the production of urine), anthelmintic (worm expeller), expectorant (cough medicine) and aborifacient (induces abortion). It is taken in Nigeria as an emmenagogue (a substance that stimulates or increases menstrual flow), while the flowers are taken for the same effect in Gabon and in Guinea. It is also used in Guinea as a vermifuge (worm expeller) especially against Ascaris (parasitic worm). The unripe fruit is regarded in Guinea as good for bladder-troubles, and the root for dropsy, perhaps by causing a diuretic effect. Leaf-sap is administered, with powdered pimento added, as an enema in Ivory Coast for urethral discharge, while in Ghana immature fruits are taken for venereal disease. Juice from young fruit is taken in Congo for vertigo, and with Costus afer/sugar cane/bush cane Ker-Gawl. (Costaceae) and salt is used to wash smallpox sores.

“Leaf-sap is considered in Gabon to be good for burns and wounds. In Sierra Leone a warm infusion of the leaves has been reported good for fomenting a spider-bite, alternating the treatment with an application of pieces of the fruit. The leaves, ground with copper or brass filings, and palm oil have been found effective in Ghana in healing ulcers. Difficulty in breathing is treated in Congo by taking a root-decoction. Juice from a roasted fruit is made in Ghana into a thick gruel called flaku, which is given to children and sick persons.

“The fruit is rich in vitamin C, ascorbic acid being present at 24.4 to 96.3 mg per cent: it is present in the fresh young leaf also at 29.4 mg per cent (19). The fruit, ripe and unripe, the leaves and the stalk all contain bromelain, a powerful proteolytic enzyme similar to papain found in pawpaw Carica papaya (Caricaceae). It does not, however, coagulate milk, as does papain. It is anthelmintic and is used in tropical America, Brazil, and India. Alkaloid has also been reported in the fruit and root. There is a superstition in Ghana that a sick person near to death will express a great desire to eat pineapples”.

Meanwhile, previous studies have demonstrated that bromelain can be utilised to treat patients with inflammation and pain and that the compound is well absorbed and with prolonged biological activity. All of these advantages can be exploited when treating patients with COVID-19.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) is already well known for its rapid human-to-human transmission, responsible for the relentless pandemic spread of dangerous COVID-19.

Scientists are making advances in understanding SARS-CoV-2 immunology. Studies have shown that the initial interaction between Transmembrane Serine Protease 2 (TMPRSS2), primed spike glycoprotein (S-protein), and host cell receptor angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2) is a pre-requisite for cell entry and COVID-19 pathogenesis.

Until now, infected patients are treated with different antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antimalarial agents. Nevertheless, the response rate is relatively modest, and there is a need to confirm both the safety and efficacy profile of those drugs against COVID-19.

But repurposing existing drugs or develop new (either virus-based or host-based) antivirals against SARS-CoV-2 is still a way forward. The pertinent question is could bromelain – a dietary supplement isolated from pineapple stem used to treat patients with pain, inflammation, and thrombosis – be used for COVID-19 patients as well?

This hypothesis was tackled by researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Centre and the United States Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Centre for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) in Silver Spring in the United States, with rather exciting findings.

According to the researchers, bromelain inhibits/cleaves the expression of ACE-2 and TMPRSS2, it cleaves/degrades SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and inhibits S-Ectodomain binding and SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Since ACE-2 and TMPRSS2 are full of cysteine residues that establish disulphide bonds to support the protein structure, this research group primarily appraised the effect of bromelain (which is a cysteine protease) on ACE-2 and TMPRSS2 expression.

The full-length genome sequences of 45 SARS-CoV-2 isolates were analyzed in-depth. At the same time, the African green monkey kidney epithelial cells (Vero E6) was chosen as the primary cell line utilized in this study.

The researchers cloned and subsequently expressed SARS-CoV-2 S-protein ectodomain that contains insect cell secretion signal. Next, they have determined the interaction between the purified S-Ectodomain and human recombinant ACE-2 using surface plasmon resonance technology (that is, real-time detection of biomolecular interactions).

“Finally, they have expressed SARS-CoV-2 S-Ectodomain tagged with a green fluorescent protein in Tni insect cells from Trichoplusia ni (that is, cabbage looper). Surface resonance plasmon and Luminex assay were used to reveal the purified S-Ectodomain binding to human ACE-2, as well as immune-reactivity with COVID-19 positive samples.”

The study authors said: “We demonstrate that bromelain (isolated from pineapple stem and used as a dietary supplement) treatment diminishes the expression of ACE-2 and TMPRSS2 in VeroE6 cells and dramatically lowers the expression of S-Ectodomain.”

More specifically, it was shown that bromelain decreases the expression of both ACE-2 and TMPRSS2 in a dose-dependent manner in Vero E6 cells. Moreover, bromelain’s cysteine proteolytic activity was notably higher in ACE-2 when compared to TMPRSS2.

Even more important was the finding that the bromelain treatment was able to halt the interaction between S-E

Furthermore, the study indicated that the SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein has both highly sialylated N- and O-linked glycans, and bromelain managed to cleave it. Consequently, a loss of negatively charged sialic acid groups in the N- and O-linked glycans may cause a decreased mobility shift of S-Ectodomain.
Bromelain as a broad-spectrum antiviral

“For the first time, our results demonstrate that bromelain can inhibit SARS-CoV-2 infection by targeting all three host ACE-2 and TMPRSS2, and SARS-CoV-2 S-proteins,” the study authors wrote.

Also, another study published in the journal Advances in Pharmacological and Pharmaceutical Sciences has shown the efficacy of Aloe vera, pineapple (Ananas comosus), and Sansevieria masoniana cream on skin wounds infected with multi-drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

The researchers are from Integrated Laboratory, Faculty of Health, University of Muhammadiyah Sidoarjo, and Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wijaya Kusuma Surabaya, both in East Java, Indonesia.

The researchers noted: “The tropical area has a lot of herbal medicines such as Aloe vera (AV), Ananas comosus (AC), and Sansevieria masoniana (SM). All three have a unique potential effect as an antibacterial and wound-healing promoter.

“The aim of this study is to explore the role of AV, AC, and SM on the skin wound infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Forty-five adult female Sprague Dawley rats weighing 250–300 grams were divided into five groups. All the groups were exposed to two round full-thickness punch biopsy and infected with MRSA. The group C was the control group/untreated; group BC was treated with base cream/without extract; group AV was treated with 75 per cent AV cream; group AC was treated with 75 per cent AC cream, and group SM was treated with 75 per cent SM cream.

“The wounds were observed on days 5, 10, and 15. The healing of skin wounds was measured by a percentage of closure, skin tensile strength, and histopathology. The result showed that AV, AC, and SM have a similar potential effect on healing in the wound that was infected with MRSA compared to the groups C and BC. It shows that all three herbal formulations can be used as alternative therapy to the wound infected with MRSA.”

Staphylococcus aureus is a common opportunistic bacterium in both human skin and animal skin. This bacterium became a serious problem, as it is resistant to methicillin. Nowadays, MRSA is a worldwide problem and is not limited geographically.

Several studies have shown that MRSA is also one of the leading bacteria causing skin and soft tissue infection. MRSA infection causes significant morbidity and mortality, including septic shock, endocarditis, pneumonia, and bacteremia. The major route of infection of MRSA is via open wounds. Open wounds such as excisional wounds are complicated by infection, and they cause prolonged and delayed wound healing. The delayed wound healing maybe because there is a failure of CD8+ (a marker for the immune function) in another mediated immune response to eliminate the bacteria. The failure is caused by incorrect treatments or high bacterial concentration.

Herbal medicine is an alternative therapy to promote wound healing by activating the immunological complex. It is reported that the active ingredients of Aloe vera (AV) could be used as anti-bacterial and wound-healing promoters. On the other hand, Ananas comosus (AC) contains bromelain, and it is widely administered as an anti-inflammatory and wound-healing agent. The previous study reported the medicinal effects of another Sansevieria sp.; however, the efficacy of Sansevieria masoniana (SM) in wound healing is still complicated.

The researchers concluded: “The present study demonstrated that Aloe vera (AV), Ananas comosus (AC), and Sansevieria masoniana (SM) have potential effects to promote the healing of infected wounds.”

Also, another study titled “Oxytocic effect of Ananas comosus fruit juice on isolated pregnant rats uteri” published in Nigerian Veterinary Journal concluded: “The results, therefore, suggest that Ananas comosus juice contain some active ingredients with uterine contractile effects which may cause abortion in the same manner as oxytocin but may have been metabolized after oral administration.”

The study sought to find out whether Ananas comosus (pineapple) juice can cause abortion in gravid albino rats. Thirty-two pregnant albino rats were used in two separate in vivo experiments. The first set of 16 pregnant rats were divided into four groups and groups two, three, and four were assigned undiluted pineapple juice for 24 hours, 36 hours, 48 hours respectively, while group one served as control. The pregnant rats were monitored closely for possible abortions until they littered. The procedure was repeated with the other set of 16 pregnant rats. The effect of the juice was also determined by an isolated pregnant rat uterus. Results obtained in the two separate in vivo trials showed no abortions as the rats had their young ones at term. In the in vitro work, the juice however induced strong uterine contractions similar to that of oxytocin…”

Meanwhile, researchers at the Department of Anatomy, College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, Oyo State, have established that the unripe rind and pulp of Ananas comosus can accelerate wound healing in people with diabetes.

The study was published in the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medical Research.

Until now, one of the sequelae of diabetes mellitus is a chronic foot ulcers. A sequela is a pathological condition resulting from a disease, injury, therapy, or other trauma. This study investigated the wound-healing propensity of the pulp and rind of Ananas comosus in diabetic Wistar rats.

According to the study, the excisional wounds of twenty-four adult wistar rats with induced diabetes in four groups of six each were dressed with the pulp powder (PPD), pulp extract (PED), rind powder (RPD), and rind extract (RED) of A. comosus daily till healed. Also, the mean wound contraction rates were calculated from the wound areas every three days. Granulation tissue was biopsied from an animal per group on days three, six, and nine for histopathological evaluation. Each of these groups had a corresponding equal number control group with similar procedures performed.

According to the results, the mean wound contraction rates of the rind pulp diabetic (RPD) and rind extract diabetic (RED) groups paralleled those of their respective control group (RPC, REC), as they were not significantly different. Also amongst the diabetic groups, the rind of A. comosus demonstrated greater wound healing capability over the respective pulp counterpart (PPD, PED) as evidenced by significantly higher mean wound contraction rates. Histopathologic features of the granulation tissues and scars of the diabetic groups were similar to those of the control groups.”

The researchers concluded: “Although, both the rind and pulp of unripe A. comosus either in extract or powder formulation were shown in this study to possess excellent healing potentials in diabetic wounds, the rind appeared to be better off and maybe a viable alternative to the wound dressing materials currently in use in the management of diabetic wounds/ulcers.”

Also, other studies have demonstrated that pineapple could be the next natural therapy for osteoarthritis.

Pineapple contains bromelain, a group of enzymes, which is a potential treatment for osteoarthritis due to its anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities. Bromelain extracts can be obtained from pineapples, particularly from the fruit core.

Several studies have suggested that bromelain’s anti-inflammatory effect derives from its ability to promote serum fibrinolytic activity as well as decrease plasma fibrinogen and bradykinin; the latter assists in reducing blood vessels’ permeability and thus, pain and swollen ankles, feet, and legs (oedema). Fibrinolysis is a process that prevents blood clots from growing and becoming problematic. Serum is the fluid and solute component of blood, which does not play a role in clotting. Bradykinin is a peptide that promotes inflammation.

Bromelain’s anti-inflammatory effect is further achieved through its ability to mediate prostaglandin, which is involved in the inflammation process. Consumption of bromelain extracted from pineapple offers a potential, natural, and safe alternative to conventional pharmaceutical therapy for osteoarthritis.

Currently, bromelain is available over-the-counter as a health supplement and is commonly used to treat acute inflammation and sports injuries. This substance may be used as a stand-alone treatment or in combination with other medications, whether in the topical or oral route. Doctors warn people currently taking blood-thinning medication such as Warafin or Pradaxa, it is best to avoid bromelain, which has an anti-platelet effect and therefore, can increase the risk of excessive bleeding. Bromelain may also enhance the effect of certain drugs such as antibiotics, sedatives, and anti-seizure medications.

A new study in mice adds to the evidence suggesting that the immune system not only attacks invading pathogens but can also influence mood.

Over the past few years, scientists have discovered some intriguing links between immunity and the mind.

One of the immune signaling molecules, or cytokines, that mediates these links is called interleukin-17a (IL-17a).

IL-17a plays a role in psoriasis, which is an autoimmune skin condition, but it may also contribute to the depression that many people experience. Indeed, a study involving a mouse model of psoriasis found that IL-17a caused depression-like symptoms.

In humans, researchers have also linked the molecule to treatment resistant depression.

Research in mice has even implicated IL-17a in the development of autism.

“The brain and the body are not as separate as people think,” says Prof. Jonathan Kipnis, a neuroscientist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, MO.

While working at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville, Prof. Kipnis and colleagues found that IL-17a causes anxiety-like behavior in mice.

“We are now looking into whether too much or too little of IL-17a could be linked to anxiety in people,” says Prof. Kipnis.

The scientists have published the results of their mouse study in the journal Nature Immunology. Kalil Alves de Lima, a postdoctoral researcher who is also now at the University of Washington, led the research.

Gamma-delta T cells

Immune cells called gamma-delta T cells produce IL-17a. The cells are present in the meninges, which are the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.

To determine what effect IL-17a might have on behavior, the scientists studied mice whose gamma-delta T cells did not produce any IL-17a and mice who lacked the cells completely.

They put the mice through standard tests of memory, social behavior, foraging, and anxiety. The mice performed just as well as normal mice on all tests apart from two that measure anxiety levels.

In those tests, the mice who lacked gamma-delta T cells or did not produce any IL-17a were more likely to explore open areas. In the wild, this kind of behavior would put them at greater risk of being eaten by predators.

The researchers interpreted this as a sign of reduced anxiety in animals without IL-17a signaling in their central nervous system.

Next, the scientists investigated how the signal affects neurons in their brains. They found receptors for IL-17a on a type of stimulatory nerve cell called a glutamatergic neuron.

When they genetically manipulated the neurons to prevent them from making these receptors, the mice exhibited less anxiety-like behavior.

The gut-brain axis

Previous animal research has revealed a multitude of possible links between bacteria living in the gut and behavior, including anxiety-like behaviors.

This connection is known as the gut-brain axis, and scientists have proposed the immune system as one possible way that messages pass between them.

To investigate the role of IL-17a in the gut-brain axis, Alves de Lima and colleagues injected the mice with lipopolysaccharide. This is a toxin that bacteria produce. It provokes a strong immune reaction.

In response to the injection, gamma-delta T cells in the meninges surrounding the animals’ brains produced more IL-17a.

In another experiment, when the researchers treated the mice with antibiotics to kill the bacteria in their guts, the animals produced less IL-17a.

Together, the results of these experiments suggest that the immune system has evolved not only to fight infection but also to adjust behavior to keep animals safe while they are in a weakened state.

“Selecting special molecules to protect us immunologically and behaviorally at the same time is a smart way to protect against infection. This is a good example of how cytokines, which basically evolved to fight against pathogens, also are acting on the brain and modulating behavior.” – Kalil Alves de Lima

The team is now investigating how gamma-delta T cells in the meninges surrounding the brain can detect the presence of bacteria elsewhere in the body.

The researchers are also looking into exactly how IL-17a signaling in the brain changes behavior.

In their paper, they conclude:

“Our findings provide new insights into the neuroimmune interactions at the meningeal–brain interface and support further research into new therapies for neuropsychiatric conditions.”

Although the physiology of mice and humans is very similar, scientists need to carry out much more research to explore the possible links between the human immune system and mood.

The cold and flu season is starting to rear its ugly head, and we cannot seem to get away from the coughing and sneezing. But why are we more prone to these infections during the colder months?

Viral infections that cause the common cold or flu can range from a nuisance to a serious health threat.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “common colds are the main reason that children miss school and adults miss work.”

Although most cases of the common cold and flu tend to go away by themselves, every year, flu kills an estimated 290,000 to 650,000 people worldwide.

What do scientists know about how plummeting temperatures allow these viruses to spread, and what is the best way of preventing colds and flu? We investigate.

Common cold vs. flu

First, we need to distinguish between the common cold and flu, because the viruses that cause these do not necessarily behave in the same way.

Most of the time, the common cold manifests with a trilogy of symptoms: a sore throat, a blocked nose, and coughing and sneezing. There are more than 200 viruses that can cause the common cold, but coronaviruses and rhinoviruses are by far the most common culprits.

There are four human coronaviruses that account for between 10% and 30% of colds in adults. These are in the same family of viruses as SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. However, it mostly causes only mild illness.

Interestingly, around a quarter of people who have an infection with a common cold virus do not experience any symptoms at all.

The flu develops due to the influenza virus, of which there are three different types: influenza A, influenza B, and influenza C.

Common colds and flu share many symptoms, but an infection with influenza also tends to manifest with a high temperature, body aches, and cold sweats or shivers. This may be a good way to tell the two apart.

As with the common cold, a significant number of people who have an influenza infection do not show any symptoms.

So, now that we know the difference between the common cold and flu, we will look at when we tend to be most vulnerable to an infection with these viruses.

Seasonal patterns

The CDC monitor flu activity closely. Influenza can occur at any time of year, but most cases follow a relatively predictable seasonal pattern.

The first signs of influenza activity usually start around October, according to the CDC, and peak at the height of winter. However, in some years, flu outbreaks can stick around and last until May.

The peak month for flu activity in the seasons spanning 1982–1983 through 2017–2018 was February, followed by December, January, and March.

Other temperate locations across the globe see similar patterns, with cold temperatures and low humidity being the prime factors, according to one 2013 analysis. The same cannot be said for tropical areas, however.

In those regions, there may be outbreaks during rainy, humid months or relatively consistent levels of flu cases all year round.

This may seem counterintuitive. Indeed, although influenza data do support such a link, scientists do not fully understand how viruses are able to exert their maximum damage at both low and high temperature and humidity extremes.

There are several theories, however, ranging from the cold affecting how viruses behave and how well our immune system copes with infections to spending more time in crowded places and getting less exposure to sunlight.

Cold air affects our first line of defense

Common cold and flu viruses try to gain entry into our bodies through our noses. However, our nasal lining has sophisticated defense mechanisms against these microbial intruders.

Our noses constantly secret mucus. Viruses become trapped in the sticky snot, which is perpetually moved by tiny hairs called cilia that line our nasal passages. We swallow the whole lot, and our stomach acids neutralize the microbes.

However, cold air cools the nasal passage and slows down mucus clearance.

Once a virus has penetrated this defense mechanism, the immune system takes control of fighting off the intruder. Phagocytes, which are specialized immune cells, engulf and digest viruses. However, researchers have also linked cold air to a decrease in this activity.

Rhinoviruses actually prefer colder temperatures, making it difficult not to succumb to the common cold once the thermometer plummets.

In one laboratory study, these viruses were more likely to commit cell suicide, or apoptosis, or to encounter enzymes that made short work of them when grown at body temperature.

Vitamin D and other myths

During winter, levels of UV radiation are much lower than in summer. This has a direct effect on how much vitamin D our bodies can make.

There is evidence to suggest that vitamin D is involved in making an antimicrobial molecule that limits how well the influenza virus can replicate in laboratory studies.

Consequently, some people believe that taking vitamin D supplements during the winter months can help keep flu at bay. Indeed, a 2010 clinical trial showed that school children who took vitamin D3 daily had a lower risk of contracting influenza A.

systematic review concluded that vitamin D provided protection against acute respiratory infection.

However, there have been no large-scale clinical trials to date, and discrepancies between individual studies make it difficult for scientists to draw firm conclusions.

Another factor that may contribute to cold and flu infections in the fall and winter months is that we spend more time indoors as the weather becomes less hospitable.

This might lead to two effects: crowded spaces helping spread viruses-laden droplets from person to person, and central heating causing a drop in air humidity, which — as we have already seen — is linked to influenza outbreaks.

However, many of us live our lives in crowded spaces all year round, and in isolation, this theory cannot explain flu rates.

Scientists continue to study seasonal patterns of respiratory infections to tease out how different factors may influence their spread.

In the meantime, what is the best way to protect ourselves from these viruses?

How to prevent viruses and treat symptoms

A person’s chance of catching a cold this winter is very high. In fact, the CDC estimate that adults have two to three colds each year.

The best way for people to protect themselves is by:

  • frequently washing the hands with soap and water
  • not touching the eyes, nose, or mouth
  • staying away from people who are already sick

If a person does have a cold, the CDC recommend staying at home and avoiding contact with others.

These rules also apply to influenza. However, receiving a yearly flu shot is the best way of preventing flu.

“Getting a flu vaccine during 2020–2021 will be more important than ever,” the CDC advise.

However, should a person contract a winter virus, here are eight home remedies to consider to help ease the symptoms.

A person should contact a doctor if they experience:

  • difficulty breathing
  • persistent chest or abdominal pain
  • severe muscle pain or weakness
  • seizures
  • difficulty urinating
  • a fever or cough that keeps returning
  • persistent dizziness or confusion
  • a worsening of an existing chronic medical condition

We also have a guide on how to tell the difference between flu, the common cold, and COVID-19.


Data spanning more than 11 years suggest that testosterone injections could be a novel treatment for obesity in men. The results show that long-term testosterone therapy may be comparable to weight loss surgery, with a lower risk of complications.

Over 42% of adults in the United States have obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Obesity has links to several chronic health conditions, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Recent findings that obesity may also worsen outcomes in COVID-19 have encouraged some governments to create entirely new public health strategies to encourage people to lose weight.

However, obesity is a complex issue with both medical and social causes, and achieving lasting weight loss can be challenging for many people. This means researchers are looking for new strategies to help treat obesity — beyond merely cutting calories.

Data recently presented at the virtual European and International Congress on Obesity support the use of testosterone therapy to treat men with obesity.

Long-term testosterone treatment reduced body weight by 20% on average.

11 years of data

The pharmaceutical company Bayer and Gulf Medical University in the United Arab Emirates led the research, using 11 years’ worth of data.

The researchers collected data since 2004 of 471 men with functional hypogonadism, or low testosterone production, and obesity from a German urological practice.

Around 58% of the men received an injection of testosterone every 3 months for the duration of the study, while the remainder chose not to have the treatment and therefore acted as controls. The average age of the participants was 61.57.

Medical staff administered and documented all injections at a doctor’s office, which assures that all participants received the treatment in a consistent manner. No participants dropped out of the study.

20% bodyweight reduction

The men who received testosterone lost on average 23 kilograms (kg) (equivalent to 20% body weight) during the study period, while those who did not receive treatment gained an average of 6 kg.

Body mass index (BMI) correspondingly decreased by an average of 7.6 points in those who received testosterone therapy, compared with an increase of 2 points in the control group.

Waist circumference, which is a risk factor for cardiometabolic disease, decreased by an average of 13 centimeters (cm) in the treatment group, compared with a 7 cm increase in the control group.

The testosterone-treated men also had less internal (visceral) fat by the end of the study period. They may have had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who did not receive treatment.

Overall, 28% of men in the control group had a heart attack, and 27.2% had a stroke during the study period. There were no major cardiovascular events in the men who received testosterone therapy.

Likewise, while more than 20% of the control group developed type 2 diabetes during the study period, nobody in the treatment group developed the condition.

Commenting on the results, Farid Saad of Bayer said: “Long-term testosterone therapy in hypogonadal men resulted in profound and sustained […] weight loss, which may have contributed to reductions in mortality and cardiovascular events.”

An alternative to surgery?

The researchers also presented data specific to men who were eligible for bariatric surgery. This is a surgical treatment for obesity, which encompasses gastric band, gastric bypass, and gastric sleeve surgery.

Rates of bariatric surgery are on the rise in the U.S., with more than 250,000 people undergoing weight loss surgery in 2018 alone.

Although bariatric surgery is a proven means of achieving weight loss, there are serious risks associated with the surgery, which does not always have positive outcomes.

This part of the study included 76 men with class 3 obesity (a BMI of 40 or above), making them eligible for bariatric surgery. Of these, 59 received testosterone treatment and lost 30 kg on average.

The BMI of the men also reduced by an average of 10 points, which could be enough to take them out of the highest obesity class, provided their BMI was less than 50 to begin with.

According to Saad, these results suggest testosterone therapy could be as effective as surgery for weight loss — but without the risk of serious complications.

“We believe testosterone therapy should be discussed with patients as an alternative to surgery and should be considered for male patients who cannot undergo surgery.” – Farid Saad, Consultant in Medical Affairs Andrology, Bayer AG

This study is based on data exclusively from men, and all participants had clinically low testosterone levels. Scientists need to conduct further studies to validate the use of this approach in other populations.


A study of older adults in the United Kingdom finds that people who are lonely are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, independent of other risk factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and weight.

Loneliness, in which a person’s social needs are not met, may be on the rise. A recent report found that almost half of people in the United States sometimes or always feel alone.

Loneliness is even more common among younger generations, with almost 80% of Gen Z and more than 70% of millennials experiencing this feeling.

Some believe that technology may play a part in feelings of loneliness among younger generations, with social media and other forms of online communication increasingly replacing genuine human connection.

Beyond the negative emotional impact of feeling isolated, loneliness is also a major risk to physical health. Research has associated loneliness with coronary heart disease and found that loneliness may be a greater threat to health than obesity.

One study even suggested that people who are lonely have a higher mortality risk than individuals who do not feel alone.

A new study from Kings College London in the U.K. adds to the list of health concerns associated with loneliness, finding that people who are lonely may be more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

The researchers found that loneliness was a significant predictor of diabetes. This finding held when they took account of potential confounding factors, such as age, sex, ethnicity, wealth, smoking, physical activity, body weight, alcohol consumption, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.

The findings appear in the journal Diabetologia.

The cohort

The study, which is the first to find an association between loneliness and type 2 diabetes, is based on data from more than 4,000 people aged 50 years and above, with an average age of 65 years. The collection of the data took place during the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

At the start of the current study, none of the participants had diabetes, and they all had blood glucose levels within a healthy range.

During a follow-up period of 12 years, 264 people in the study (roughly 6% of the sample) developed type 2 diabetes.

The researchers found that the level of loneliness that people experienced at the start of the study was a significant predictor of who would go on to develop diabetes.

Loneliness predicts diabetes onset

The assessment of loneliness occurred at the start of the study using a scale that a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, developed. The scale requires people to rate questionnaire items such as “How often do you feel that you lack companionship?” and “How often do you feel part of a group of friends?”

The researchers found a significant association between loneliness and the onset of type 2 diabetes, even when they controlled for confounding factors, including smoking, alcohol consumption, weight, blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.

The association was also independent of mental health factors, such as depression and whether a person lived alone.

“The study also demonstrates a clear distinction between loneliness and social isolation, in that isolation or living alone does not predict type 2 diabetes, whereas loneliness, which is defined by a person’s quality of relationships, does,” explains lead author Dr. Ruth Hackett.

This finding highlights the importance of the quality of human interactions that a person has, rather than the quantity.

Stress-related mechanism?

Although the reason for this association is not yet clear, the researchers suggest that it could be related to how the body manages stress.

Previous research has shown, for example, that loneliness is associated with changes to levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which plays a role in diabetes.

“If the feeling of loneliness becomes chronic, then every day you’re stimulating the stress system, and over time, that leads to wear and tear on your body, and those negative changes in stress-related biology may be linked to type 2 diabetes development,” explains Dr. Hackett.

However, it is important to note that this is currently only a hypothesis. Although this study provides a correlation between loneliness and type 2 diabetes, it does not show a causative link between the two factors.

Other limitations of the study include the fact that there was only one measurement of loneliness during the study. Also, the data on type 2 diabetes were based on self-reporting, rather than objective medical records.

The authors also note that the overall strength of the association between the two factors was small. Nevertheless, the study highlights loneliness as a potential risk factor for type 2 diabetes and provides a basis for future studies to investigate this connection in more detail.

A recent review of research suggests that the proportion of all patients hospitalized with COVID-19 who also have asthma is similar to the prevalence of asthma in the wider population.

In their latest advice, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn that people with moderate-to-severe asthma may be at greater risk of developing severe COVID-19.

However, a review of research by scientists at the University of Colorado in Denver has found no evidence of an increased prevalence of asthma among patients hospitalized with COVID-19 compared with the condition’s prevalence in the wider population.

In addition, they found that patients hospitalized with COVID-19 who had asthma were no more likely to be intubated than other patients.

“The CDC [place] people with asthma at higher risk [of] COVID-related hospitalization,” says senior author Dr. Fernando Holguin. “However, many international studies show low numbers of [asthmatic people] among hospitalized COVID-19 patients. These findings challenge the assumption about asthma as a risk factor.”

In a research letter that appears in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, the authors report:

“Despite early concern about disproportionately high morbidity and mortality for those with asthma, data presented here and elsewhere show minimal evidence of a clinically significant relationship.”

Comparison of prevalence

For their analysis, the researchers identified 15 studies published in English before May 7, 2020, that reported on asthma prevalence among patients hospitalized with COVID-19. The studies took place in Brazil, China, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

When they compared these figures with the prevalence of asthma in each population, the numbers were broadly similar.

Although the prevalence of asthma among hospitalized COVID-19 patients varied widely from study to study, the overall prevalence was around 7%.

By contrast, the authors found that people with asthma accounted for more than 20% of all those hospitalized with influenza in the U.S.

Finally, they looked at whether or not patients admitted to the University of Colorado Hospital with COVID-19 were more likely to be intubated if they had asthma. After adjusting for the patients’ age, sex, and body mass index (BMI), they found no evidence that this was the case.

In conclusion, they write:

“While there is variable asthma prevalence among COVID-19 published studies, it appears similar to population prevalence, and certainly much lower than what would be expected during seasonal flu. The results of this study suggest that asthma does not appear to be a significant risk factor for developing severe COVID-19 requiring hospitalization or intubation.”

ACE2 receptors

The authors speculate that people with asthma who use inhaled corticosteroids may have fewer ACE2 receptors in the lining of their respiratory tract as a result. These are the receptors that the virus uses to enter its host’s cells.

They add that people with asthma in general, and allergic asthma in particular, may have fewer ACE2 receptors.

However, they write that the effect of ACE2 receptor numbers on a person’s risk of COVID-19 and disease severity remains unclear and merits further investigation.

They also acknowledge that their study had some limitations.

For example, the prevalence of asthma among patients hospitalized with COVID-19 varied widely between studies, which suggests that there was a lack of consistency in reporting comorbid conditions. Also, some studies did not describe how the researchers gathered data on asthma diagnoses.

The authors also note that their sample size may not be large enough to draw definitive conclusions. They call for more research into the risk of severe COVID-19 for people with asthma.

In laboratory experiments, a chemical compound found in the shell of the cashew nut promotes the repair of myelin, a team from Vanderbilt University Medical Center reports Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Myelin is a protective sheath surrounding nerves. Damage to this covering — demyelination — is a hallmark of multiple sclerosis and related diseases of the central nervous system.

“We see this as an exciting finding, suggesting a new avenue in the search for therapies to correct the ravages of MS and other demyelinating diseases,” said Dr. Subramaniam Sriram, paper’s senior author, William C. Weaver III Professor of Neurology and chief of the Division of Neuroimmunology.

Previous work led by Sriram showed that a protein called interleukin 33, or IL-33, induced myelin formation. IL-33 is, among other things, an immune response regulator, and multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder.

The cashew shell compound is called anacardic acid. Sriram and team grew interested in it because it is known to inhibit an enzyme involved in gene expression called histone acetyltransferase, or HAT, and the team had discovered that whatever inhibits HAT induces production of IL-33.

The report includes a range of new findings that point to the potential therapeutic use of anacardic acid for demyelinating diseases:
*In vitro, the addition of the compound to rat cells most responsible for myelination — oligodendrocyte precursor cells, or OPCs — spurred induction of IL-33 and rapidly increased the expression of myelin genes and proteins, including dose-dependent increases in myelin basic protein;

*In two animal models of demyelination, treatment with the compound increased the relative presence of IL-33-expressing OPCs and led to reduced paralysis;

*In an animal model of demyelination treated with the compound, dissection and electron microscopy showed dose-dependent increases in myelination.

“These are striking results that clearly urge further study of anarcardic acid for demyelinating diseases,” Sriram said.

If your cholesterol level has crept up over the years, you may wonder whether changing your diet can help. Ideally, your total cholesterol value should be 200 milligrammes per deciliter (mg/dL) or lower. But it is the harmful Low-Density Lipo-protein (LDL) ‘bad’ cholesterol value that experts worry about the most. Excess LDL builds up on artery walls and triggers a release of inflammatory substances that boost heart attack risk.

“To prevent heart disease, your LDL should be 100 mg/dL or lower,” says Dr. Jorge Plutzky, director of preventive cardiology at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. But many Americans have LDL values that are less than optimal (100 to 129 mg/dL) or borderline high (130 to 159 mg/dL).

If you fall into either of those categories, you may be able to nudge down your LDL to a healthier level by changing what you eat, particularly if your current diet could use some improvement. However, most people with higher LDL values likely will also need to take a cholesterol-lowering drug, such as a statin, says Dr. Plutzky.

Dietary directives
Avoiding foods that are high in cholesterol isn’t the best way to lower your LDL. Your overall diet — especially the types of fats and carbohydrates you eat — has the most impact on your blood cholesterol values. “As the American Heart Association has noted, you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck by lowering saturated fat and replacing it with unsaturated fat,” says registered dietitian Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

That means avoiding meat, cheese, and other high-fat dairy products such as butter, half-and-half, and ice cream. Equally important is replacing those calories with healthy, unsaturated fats (such as those found in vegetable oils, avocados, and fatty fish) rather than refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, and white rice. Unlike healthy fats, these starchy foods aren’t very filling, and they can trigger overeating and weight gain.

The other big problem with refined carbs: They are woefully low in fibre, which helps flush cholesterol out of the body.

The fibre factor
Your body can’t break down fiber, so it passes through your body undigested. It comes in two varieties: insoluble and soluble. Fiber-containing foods usually feature a mix of the two.

Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water. While it doesn’t directly lower LDL, this form of fiber fills you up, crowding other cholesterol-raising foods out of your diet and helping to promote weight loss.

Soluble fibre dissolves in water, creating a gel. This gel traps some of the cholesterol in your body, so it’s eliminated as waste instead of entering your arteries.

Soluble fibre also binds to bile acids, which carry fats from your small intestine into the large intestine for excretion. This triggers your liver to create more bile acids — a process that requires cholesterol. If the liver doesn’t have enough cholesterol, it draws more from the bloodstream, which in turn lowers your circulating LDL.

Finally, certain soluble fibres (called oligosaccharides) are fermented into short-chain fatty acids in the gut. These fatty acids may also inhibit cholesterol production.

The “best” foods
The following 11 foods are good sources of fibre or unsaturated fat (or both). But they’re not in any particular order and are simply suggestions. Most whole grains, vegetables, and fruits are good sources of fiber. And most nuts and seeds (and the oils made from them) provide monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats.

1. Oatmeal. This whole grain is one of the best sources of soluble fiber, along with barley (see “Grain of the month,” at right). Start your day with a bowl of steel-cut or old-fashioned rolled oats, topped with fresh or dried fruit for a little extra fiber.

2. White beans. Also called navy beans, this variety ranks highest in fiber content. Try different types of beans as well, such as black beans, garbanzos, or kidney beans, which you can add to salads, soups, or chili. But avoid prepared baked beans, which are canned in sauce that’s loaded with added sugar.

3. Avocado. The creamy, green flesh of an avocado is not only rich in monounsaturated fat; it also contains both soluble and insoluble fiber. Enjoy this fruit sliced in salad, pureed into dip, or mashed and spread on a slice of whole-grain toast.

4. Eggplant. Although not everyone’s favorite, these deep purple vegetables are one of the richest sources of soluble fiber. One idea: oven-roast or grill whole eggplants until soft and use the flesh in a Middle Eastern dip called baba ghanoush.

5. Carrots. Raw baby carrots are a tasty and convenient snack — and they also give you a decent dose of insoluble fiber.

6. Almonds. Among nuts, almonds are highest in fiber, although other popular varieties such as pistachios and pecans are close behind. Walnuts have the added advantage of being a good source of polyunsaturated, plant-based omega-3 fatty acids.

7. Kiwi fruit. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to peel these fuzzy, brown fruits. But to avoid the skin, slice one in half and scoop out the inside with a spoon for an easy, fiber-rich, sweet snack.

8. Berries. Because these fruits are packed with tiny seeds, their fiber content is higher than most other fruits. Raspberries and blackberries provide the most, but strawberries and blueberries are also good sources.

9. Cauliflower. This cruciferous veggie not only provides fiber, but it can also serve as a substitute for white rice. Just shred or whirl in a food processor until it resembles rice, then sauté with a little olive oil until tender.

10. Soy. Eating soybeans and foods made from them, such as soymilk, tofu, and tempeh, was once touted as a powerful way to lower cholesterol. More recent analyses showed the effect is modest, at best. Still, protein-rich, soy-based foods are a far healthier choice than a hamburger or other red meat.

11. Salmon. Likewise, eating cold-water fish such as salmon twice a week can lower LDL by replacing meat and delivering healthy omega-3 fats. Other good fish options include chunk light canned tuna and tinned sardines.

A recent study has revealed that an antibody-based blockade might effectively treat cytokine release syndrome (CRS) and alleviate severe cases of COVID-19.

A team of researchers at the Osaka University and Osaka Habikino Medical Center in Japan conducted the recent study. They have now published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The global race to develop a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 continues. In the meantime, researchers are looking for ways to effectively treat COVID-19, testing both existing drugs and new, experimental therapies.

Because scientists do not fully understand the mechanisms behind severe COVID-19, many doctors are treating it by following the sepsis treatment guidelines.

Could cytokines be the solution?

In this recent study, the scientists focused on cytokines. These are a group of small proteins that modulate the immune response to trauma, infection, and conditions such as cancer.

Among other things, cytokines activate inflammation, which is part of the healing process.

Sometimes, the body releases an excess of cytokines. This causes excess inflammation, which can damage tissues. This response is called a cytokine storm.

Cytokine storms, or CRS, occur in a number of conditions, including multiple sclerosis, pancreatitis, and COVID-19.

Without treatment, CRS can cause multiple organ failure and, sometimes, death.

The body releases various cytokines during CRS, including interleukin (IL)-2, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, interferon-gamma, monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP-1), and tumor necrosis factor-alpha. However, there are no specific immunotherapies for its treatment.

High levels of several specific cytokines

“Despite knowing which cytokines are involved, there is still no specific immunotherapy for CRS, and treatment is limited to supportive care,” says study lead author Sujin Kang.

“To better understand the molecular mechanisms of CRS pathogenesis,” she adds, “we first studied the cytokine profiles of 91 patients diagnosed with CRS associated with bacterial sepsis, acute respiratory distress syndrome, or burns.”

The researchers found that all three groups of people had similar cytokine profiles.

Specifically, the researchers measured high levels of IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, and MCP-1, as well as a protein called plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1). This protein can cause small blood clots in vessels in the lungs and other organs.

PAI-1 levels significantly higher

Previous studies have shown that increased PAI-1 levels are linked to more severe cases of pneumonia, which is a leading cause of death among people with COVID-19.

“Examination of cytokine profiles in severe COVID-19 patients revealed an increase in IL-6 early in the disease process, causing release of PAI-1 from blood vessels,” says senior study author Tadamitsu Kishimoto, a professor at the Osaka University Immunology Frontier Research Center.

“Interestingly, PAI-1 levels were significantly higher in COVID-19 patients with severe respiratory impediment.”

Higher levels of IL-6 were associated with higher levels of the other cytokines and PAI-1. Therefore, the researchers believe that IL-6 signaling might be an important driver of CRS.

Arthritis drug decreases PAI-1

To investigate the role of IL-6 in CRS, the researchers gave the participants injections of a human monoclonal antibody-based drug called tocilizumab (Actemra), which blocks IL-6 signaling. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved tocilizumab as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

The results showed that when people with severe COVID-19 received tocilizumab, the levels of PAI-1 decreased in the blood. Also, the drug alleviated symptoms and improved critical illness in those with severe COVID-19.

Overall, the researchers conclude that IL-6 signaling blockade with the anti-inflammatory medication tocilizumab may reveal new therapeutic opportunities for the treatment of both CRS and the severe respiratory complications of COVID-19.