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Leslie Ann Berg, MSPH

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If you’re like many of us, grasping for ways to protect yourself and your family during this vulnerable time has become a daily commitment. In doing so, you may have stumbled upon recommendations to take a vitamin D supplement for COVID-19 prevention. Many information outlets are promoting vitamin D as a lifesaving supplement during this time, and we’d like to present you with the facts and take a deep dive into this issue. First, we know that vitamin D plays a key role in our immunity by boosting the function of immune cells, both T-cells and macrophages, and by regulating our immune response in preventing an excessive release of cytokines. In the case of COVID-19, too many cytokines, referred to as a “cytokine storm”, can lead to excessive inflammation in the lungs and sometimes death. Studies have shown that insufficient vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of…

Weight gain during the coronavirus pandemic has become a thing and is jokingly referred to as “the Covid 19” – a play on “the freshman 15”; the 15 pounds many college freshmen gain when left to their own devices for the first time. If you find yourself turning to food to de-stress and can’t seem to break the cycle of overeating, oversnacking, or eating unhealthy foods that are easy on the palate but hard on the gut and waistline, the answer may not lie in the food itself, but instead, in the lifestyle practices surrounding the food. Here are our top 5 tips to adhering to a healthy diet during quarantine, and while some of them may not seem food-related, if you follow these tips, you’ll find yourself making better choices in the kitchen that may even lead to a few pounds lost. Tip 1: Sleep – Sleep is strongly…

The pandemic has brought forth challenges for many people dealing with autoimmune diseases and other chronic illnesses. This is also true for those with celiac disease. Many patients are wondering if having celiac disease puts them at a greater risk of coronavirus infection and complications. According to the National Celiac Foundation, in general, those with celiac disease experience the same risk as the general population. But there are some exceptions: Individuals who experience celiac symptoms more often or who experience more severe symptoms are more likely at a higher risk for COVID-19.Those on immunosuppressive drugs such as steroids or biologics are also at a greater risk due to the immune suppressing nature of their medications. If this is you, check out Dr. Chutkan’s discussion with Our Health Talks as well as our webinar on medications during the pandemic, where different classes of medications are addressed, as well as important questions…

With the increasing need for reliable GI information, we’re launching free webinars on gut health topics. This first series is focused on coronavirus and the gut. We’ll go deep into topics like whether antibiotics may actually increase your chances of contracting COVID-19, what to do if you’re taking an immunosuppressive medication, how autoimmune diseases like IBD influence risk, and lots more. Sign up below. If you have questions you’d like answered, or suggestions for future webinar topics, email us with your questions and ideas. Don’t miss out on invaluable gut health information – sign up today! Coronavirus & the GI tract: what you need to knowThursday, April 2nd @ 8:30pm EDTA 30-minute deep dive with Dr. Chutkan as she discusses symptoms & what to look for, underlying conditions, & when to seek medical attention. FULL Coronavirus & the GI tract: what you need to knowMonday, April 6th @ 8:30pm EDTA…

A January 2020 study, published in Nature, found that stress does actually cause hair to gray. While scientists have known this for hundreds of years, the physiological mechanisms weren’t discovered until now. When experiencing stress, the nervous system switches on its fight-or-flight response – a “hyperactivation of the sympathetic nerves” – which depletes the cells responsible for pigmentation (melanocyte stem cells) in hair follicles. To induce a stress response, scientists injected capsaicin (an active ingredient in chili peppers) into mice and found that in 5 days their hair turned white. After digging deep into what caused the change, scientists discovered that the nervous system was responsible. The fight-or-flight response triggers the release of the neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, which jump starts the process of melanocyte stem cell depletion. Takeaway: The COVID-19 pandemic is a stressful time for us all, from the challenges that come with social distancing to the fears associated with…

You work out daily at your local gym, get plenty of sleep, and eat mostly plant-based. You’re doing everything right. But could there be one area we could all improve on that will help us live happier, healthier, and longer lives? In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that spending time in green spaces can prevent premature death. While many of us live in urban environments and go days without spending an extended amount of time outside, much less in “green spaces”, this is something we should all put on our bucket list for 2020 – spend time outdoors, surrounded by greenery… every single day. The November 2019 study looked at 9 longitudinal studies (studies that follow large groups of people over a period of time) across 7 countries (Australia, Canada, China, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States) and included 8 million people. Researchers analyzed access to…

Could your medication be the cause of your weight gain or inability to lose weight? A recent study presented at the United European Gastroenterology week this year found that commonly prescribed medications significantly alter the gut microbiome, increasing the risk of infection, weight gain, obesity, and a host of other diseases and conditions related to gut bacteria imbalance (or dysbiosis). The study looked at stool samples from 1,883 individuals, some healthy and some with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and assessed the impact of single drug use as well as multiple drug use on the gut microbiome. Out of 41 drug categories analyzed, 18 were associated with significant alterations in the microbiome. These alterations varied depending on the medication, and included microbial changes such as bacterial overgrowth in the upper GI tract, alterations in fatty acid production, increased levels of E. coli and Eubacterium ramulus, and heightened antibiotic resistance within the…