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Turmeric may ease pain of arthritis, clinical trial suggests

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It’s a must for any good curry, and a new clinical trial suggests that turmeric might ease arthritis pain, too.

Researchers found that an extract of the spice turmeric worked better than a placebo in easing pain from knee arthritis over three months. The treatment was not a home run — but the pain relief was a bit better than past studies have found with standard medication.

It all suggests that turmeric “can be considered an option” for knee osteoarthritis, said senior researcher Dr. Benny Antony, of the Menzies Institute for Medical Research/University of Tasmania in Australia.

Osteoarthritis is exceedingly common, affecting more than 32.5 million Americans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Knee arthritis is one of the main forms.

The condition arises when the cartilage cushioning the knee joint breaks down over time, leading to symptoms like pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion.

People with knee arthritis often take over-the-counter painkillers, including acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). But besides being only moderately effective, they can cause side effects like stomach upset. And prolonged use is linked to increased risks of heart disease and kidney damage.

So having other options is important, said Dr. Houman Danesh, a pain management specialist who was not involved in the study.

“This is a promising, encouraging study,” said Danesh, who directs integrative pain management at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

A broader point of the findings, he noted, is that it matters what people with arthritis ingest. Turmeric, or extracts of it, are thought to be anti-inflammatory. So if people continue to eat an inflammation-promoting diet — full of fried foods and highly processed carbohydrates, for example — that could negate the good of adding turmeric, Danesh said.

For the current study, Antony and his colleagues recruited 70 people with knee arthritis and randomly assigned them to one of two groups. One took Curcuma longa extract capsules every day for 12 weeks the other took placebo capsules.

Curcumin is a substance in turmeric, and the beneficial activities of turmeric are often ascribed to it. Supplement maker Natural Remedies supplied the capsules for the trial and partially funded it.

After 12 weeks, the researchers found, participants using the extract reported greater improvement in their pain, versus the placebo group. The average benefit was “modest,” according to Antony, but still better than past studies have found with pain medications.

There was no clear effect, however, on some MRI findings: swelling in the joint space and the composition of knee cartilage.

Danesh did not find that surprising, noting he would not expect to see those effects.

And people’s experience of pain does not necessarily correlate with the joint findings seen on MRI.

“An image is like a sentence in the story,” Danesh said. “There’s also a whole context around it.”

The findings, published online Sept. 14 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, are an initial step. Antony said larger studies are still needed, and it remains to be seen whether the pain relief holds up over time.

But turmeric is worth a try, according to Antony. In general, he said, the spice — and curcumin extracts — are considered safe in moderate doses — though very high doses could cause gastrointestinal trouble.

Danesh said his advice is to try turmeric, itself, rather than an extract. He also recommended adding black pepper, which enhances the benefits of turmeric. To make it palatable, the two could be mixed into a fruit smoothie, Danesh said.

Turmeric is not the only nondrug option for knee pain, though. Danesh said people can benefit from an exercise program focused on strengthening and activating the gluteal muscles, and developing a more balanced walking pattern.

He suggested first getting an evaluation from a doctor, which might result in a referral for physical therapy.

More information

The Arthritis Foundation has more on osteoarthritis.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Study: Restricting promotions of sweet foods cuts sugar, not profits

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Limiting marketing of high-sugar foods in supermarkets doesn’t cut into store profits, but it may improve public health, Australian researchers report.

Price promotions, end-of-aisle displays and putting products at eye level can stimulate sales. Ending these practices reduced purchase of sugar-sweetened drinks and candy in participating stores by the equivalent to nearly two tons of sugar, the researchers said. These included foods and drinks with added sugars, as well as natural sugar in honey, syrups and fruit juices.

The reductions in soft drink and candy purchases were particularly large, researchers said. Even so, profits were not affected, they added.

The study, published Oct. 7 in The Lancet Planetary Health, ran for 12 weeks and focused on 20 randomly selected stores in rural Australia. Some stores restricted promotion of sugary foods, others did not.

“Our novel study is the first to show that limiting [promotional] activities can also have an effect on sales, in particular, of unhealthy food and drinks,” said researcher Julie Brimblecombe, an associate professor of nutrition, dietetics and food at Monash University in Melbourne.

“This strategy has important health implications and is an opportunity to improve diets and reduce associated non-communicable diseases. It also offers a way for supermarkets to position themselves as responsible retailers, which could potentially strengthen customers’ loyalty without damaging business performance,” she said in a journal news release.

The changes affected sugar-sweetened drinks, candy and other sweets, table sugar and sweet biscuits or cookies. Among other things, these restricted price promotions, removed end-of-aisle and counter displays, and reduced refrigerator space for sugary drinks while placing large-size soft drinks elsewhere. Stores also promoted water and listed the amount of sugar in soft drinks.

As a result, added sugars purchased in foods and drinks fell 3%. Sugars in purchased sugar-sweetened drinks were cut by 7%, and from soda purchases it dropped 13%. Sugars from candy sales fell 7.5%, the researchers found.

Co-author Emma McMahon, a research fellow at Menzies School of Health Research in Casuarina, Australia, said researchers expected the strategy would work best on impulse items like sweet biscuits rather than on staples like table sugar.

“A different strategy for biscuits and items like table sugar should be explored to stimulate change in those buying behaviors,” she said in the release.

More information

To learn more about sugar and your health, see Harvard University.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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COVID-19 may have prolonged effect for pregnant women

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COVID-19 symptoms can last a long time in pregnant women, researchers say.

The new study included 594 pregnant women, with average age 31, across the United States who tested positive for the new coronavirus but were not hospitalized. Nearly one-third were health care workers.

On average, the women were about 24 weeks’ pregnant when they joined the study.

The most common early symptoms were cough, at 20%, sore throat, at 16%, body aches, at 12%, and fever, at 12%. By comparison, fever occurs in 43% of hospital patients who are not pregnant.

For 6%, loss of taste or smell was the first symptom. Other symptoms included shortness of breath, runny nose, sneezing, nausea, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea or dizziness.

While six out of 10 women had no symptoms after four weeks, symptoms lasted eight or more weeks for 25%, the study found.

Thirty-seven days was the median time for symptoms to resolve, meaning half took longer, half took less time. The findings were published this month in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.

“COVID-19 symptoms during pregnancy can last a long time, and have a significant impact on health and well-being,” said senior author Dr. Vanessa Jacoby. She is vice chairwoman of research in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.

Jacoby’s team also found that COVID-related symptoms were complicated by overlapping signs of normal pregnancy, including nausea, fatigue and congestion.

The majority of participants had mild disease and were not hospitalized, said first author Dr. Yalda Afshar, assistant professor in the division of maternal fetal medicine, department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Despite the potential risks of COVID-19 for pregnant women and their newborns, large gaps in knowledge about the disease’s course and prognosis remain, Afshar noted in a UCSF news release.

“Our results can help pregnant people and their clinicians better understand what to expect with COVID-19 infection,” Afshar said.

More information

There’s more on COVID-19 and pregnancy at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Pregnant women with COVID-19 don’t pass the virus to their newborns, study finds

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Oct. 12 (UPI) — New mothers infected with COVID-19 during pregnancy didn’t pass the virus to their babies, even if they breastfed and shared the same hospital room, according to a study published Monday by JAMA Pediatrics.

Mothers with severe COVID-19, however, delivered their babies, on average, one week earlier than healthy mothers, and their babies were four times as likely to need phototherapy to treat jaundice, the data showed.

“Between our findings and other studies, it is now known that there is a relatively low likelihood of vertical transmission from [COVID-19]-positive mothers to their newborns,” study co-author and pediatrician Melissa Stockwell told UPI.

“We also show that the risk remains low even with newborns rooming-in and direct breastfeeding practices, both of which had been concerns early in the pandemic,” said Stockwell, division chief of child and adolescent health at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

Pregnant women may be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, and reports have appeared that the risk for preterm delivery is higher among women infected with the virus, according to data released in June by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There remains a concern for the effect of this virus on pregnant women,” study co-author Dr. Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at NewYork Presbyterian, told UPI.

However, no indication exists — at least to date — that their newborns are at any risk from the virus.

To explore the issue further, the Columbia University researchers tested 101 babies born to infected mothers in New York City between March 13 and April 24 — the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in the region.

Two of the babes had low levels of the virus in their nasal and throat samples initially, but neither developed symptoms, and they later tested negative, the researchers said.

The remainder all tested negative at birth and, and the 31 infants who were retested several days later remained negative. All 101 babies “roomed in” — or shared the same hospital rooms as their mothers — and bathing was delayed, the researchers said.

Some studies have recommended early bathing of babies born to mothers with COVID-19 as a way to reduce risk for virus spread, but early bathing has other health risks, including hypothermia, they said.

Three of the 10 babies born to mothers with severe COVID-19, however, required phototherapy, while six of 91 born to mothers with mild to moderate disease required the treatment, the data showed.

“Treating babies as babies seems safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” study co-author Dr. Dani Dumitriu told UPI.

“This is particularly important given the continued spread of COVID-19 throughout the country and around the world,” said Dumitriu, a neonatologist at New York-Presbyterian.



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