It’s been a busy week — from lab leak theories at a COVID-19 origins hearing to the Supreme Court’s eagerly anticipated decision on access to the abortion pill mifepristone. But that’s not all that’s going on in the health space. Here are some interesting updates you may have missed, as reported by Yahoo News partners.
A new study might explain why your hair turns gray as you age
Researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine studied melanocyte stem cells in mice — a type of cell that’s also found in humans — and discovered that these cells may eventually get “stuck” as one ages, eventually losing the ability to move between growth compartments in hair particles and produce the pigment that provides hair color.
If this result is also applicable to humans, researchers are hopeful it could lead to the discovery of a way to prevent hair from losing its youthful hue.
“The newfound mechanisms raise the possibility that the same fixed-positioning of melanocyte stem cells may exist in humans,” Qi Sun, the study’s lead investigator, said in a press release. “If so, it presents a potential pathway for reversing or preventing the graying of human hair by helping jammed cells to move again between developing hair follicle compartments.”
UNICEF report finds 12.7 million children in Africa missed vaccinations
A new report released by UNICEF on Thursday found that between 2019 and 2021, 12.7 million children in Africa missed one or more vaccinations thanks to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a “child survival crisis” on the continent, Yahoo News partner the Canadian Press reported UNICEF blamed “intense demands on health systems, the diversions of immunization resources to COVID-19 vaccination, health worker shortages and stay-at-home measures” as well as conflicts, climate change and vaccine hesitancy for the decline in vaccination rates, which now leaves the continent more vulnerable to severe diseases. Last year, 34 of the 54 countries in Africa experienced outbreaks of measles, cholera and poliovirus. According to the World Health Organization, Africa needs to vaccinate about 33 million children by 2025 to recover from COVID-19’s “disruptive wake.”
Immunization rates also took a hit in other countries worldwide. The report found that about 67 million children missed out on routine immunizations, with vaccination coverage falling across 112 countries. Vaccine skepticism was also on the rise during this time period, including in South Korea, Japan, Papua New Guinea and Ghana, where confidence fell by more than a third.
Elite athletes live longer than the general public, study finds
A study published by the International Longevity Center UK (ILC) on Wednesday found that elite athletes may live up to five years longer than the rest of us, Yahoo News partner the Evening Standard reported.
Researchers looked at records from competitors at the Commonwealth Games since 1930 and found significant differences in the lifespan of medal winners versus the lifespan of people in the general population born in the same year.
“We’ve long known that playing sport has a variety of health benefits, but our research shows what a significant impact top-level sport can have on the longevity of the world’s athletes,” said Professor Les Mayhew, associate head of global research at the ILC.
Men’s longevity was boosted 29% in aquatics, 25% in track and 24% in indoor sports, which researchers said translates to between 4.5 and 5.3 extra years of life. Women’s longevity was boosted 22%, or 3.9 years, across all sports.
Some other interesting findings noted by the researchers: Wrestlers live longer than boxers; long-distance runners’ longevity is marginally higher than that of short-distance runners; and cycling was the only sport not associated with longer lives.
New study links sugary drinks to early death in certain people
According to a study published by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health on Wednesday, high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas, fruit punch and lemonade was associated with an increased risk of premature death and cardiovascular disease among people with Type 2 diabetes, Yahoo News partner USA Today reported.
The study’s authors say that the report, which includes data from 1980 to 2018, is among the first large-scale studies to examine links between death or disease and beverages among people with Type 2 diabetes.
“Beverages are an important component of our diet, and the quality can vary hugely,” lead author Qi Sun said in a press release. “People living with diabetes may especially benefit from drinking healthy beverages — but data has been sparse. These findings help fill in that knowledge gap and may inform patients and their caregivers on diet and diabetes management.”
The study found that replacing one sugar-sweetened beverage a day with an artificially sweetened drink was also associated with an 8% lower risk of “all-cause mortality” and a 15% lower risk in cardiovascular disease mortality; replacing a sugary drink with an unsweetened beverage like coffee, tea, water or low-fat cow’s milk was associated with even greater health benefits.