Category Archives: Health

A Vaccine for Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer killed 685,000 women worldwide last year. But the Cleveland Clinic has a new drug that could change that:

Cleveland Clinic researchers have opened a novel study for a vaccine aimed at eventually preventing triple-negative breast cancer, the most aggressive and lethal form of the disease.

Triple negative breast cancer only accounts for 12-15% of cases, but it’s unusually deadly.

Unlike most vaccines, the breast cancer vaccine could even help people who already have cancer:

“We are hopeful that this research will lead to more advanced trials to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine against this highly aggressive type of breast cancer,” said G. Thomas Budd, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute and principal investigator of the study. “Long term, we are hoping that this can be a true preventive vaccine that would be administered to healthy women to prevent them from developing triple-negative breast cancer, the form of breast cancer for which we have the least effective treatments.”

Dr. Vincent Tuohy, inventor of the breast cancer vaccine, thinks vaccines may also work against ovarian and endometrial cancers:

“If successful, these vaccines have the potential to transform the way we control adult-onset cancers and enhance life expectancy in a manner similar to the impact that the childhood vaccination program has had.”

The idea of a vaccine for cancer isn’t as crazy as it may sound. BioNTech, producer of the first COVID vaccine approved in the United States, was working on cancer vaccines when the pandemic hit.

BioNTech currently has a colorectal cancer vaccine in Phase 2 clinical trials. That drug is even customized to each person’s body for maximum effectiveness.

We may be headed toward a world where if you have cancer, a few injections could stop the tumors in their tracks. And if you don’t have cancer, a preventive vaccine could ensure you never develop it.

The breast cancer vaccine’s Phase 1 trials should wrap up in September of 2022. I can’t wait for the results!

More on tech:

Male Contraception With an Ultrasound Device?

How Tech Could Stop Wildfires

What if Everyone on Earth Had Super Fast Internet for $1?

Photo: “Breast Cancer Cells” by National Institutes of Health (NIH) is marked with CC PDM 1.0

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Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Amazon Business American Express Card

You already shop on Amazon. Why not save $100?

If you’re approved for this card, you get a $100 Amazon gift card. You also get up to 5% back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, 2% on restaurants/gas stations/cell phone bills, and 1% everywhere else.

Best of all: No fee!

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. 

Why Aren’t Flu Vaccines Free for Everyone?

If you have health insurance in the United States, you can usually get a flu vaccine for nothing. But for the 28.9 million Americans who are uninsured, a flu vaccine can cost up to $50. For a population that is often hard pressed, this can be unaffordable. And if you have a family of 4 to vaccinate, the numbers are even worse.

Meanwhile, COVID vaccines cost absolutely nothing, whether you have insurance or not. Why aren’t we doing the same for flu vaccines?

Medicare pays $10-60 for flu vaccines, with an average price of $36 across all the vaccines they cover. If the federal government bought one for every uninsured American, the price would be $1.04 billion.

In the midst of the COVID pandemic, it’s easy to forget just how deadly the common flu can be. But the flu has killed between 12,000 and 61,000 Americans per year since 2010.

How do we decide if a policy is worth it compared to the number of lives it could save? The government uses a figure called the “statistical value of a human life” to measure whether many policies, such as environmental regulations, are worth it or not. That figure is about $10 million.

At that rate, giving a free flu shot to every uninsured American would only have to save 100 lives a year in order to pay for itself entirely. That’s just 0.2% to 0.8% of all flu deaths. Offering free flu vaccines to 8.8% of the entire population would probably prevent a lot more than a fraction of a percent of flu deaths.

Let’s give this policy a try!

For more on health, check out these posts:

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Check out the Stuff I Use page for some great deals on products and services I use to improve my health and productivity. They just might help you too!

Photo: “01a.UStreet.NW.WDC.13September2015” by Elvert Barnes is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This Tiny Country Beat COVID

On the southern tip of Spain, the tiny UK territory of Gibraltar has vaccinated almost its entire population. COVID deaths have dropped to zero:

Life is beginning to get back to normal. Masks are no longer required outside, curfews are gone, and bars and restaurants are full. Even sporting events have resumed:

Events have also returned to the Rock as Gibraltar hosted what’s thought to be the first fully vaccinated major sporting fixture in the world on Saturday.

Five hundred spectators, each tested for Covid-19 prior to the event, were able to witness British heavyweight fighter Dillian Whyte claim victory over Russia’s Alexander Povetkin at Gibraltar’s Europa Sports Complex.

The fight, called the Rumble on the Rock, was originally meant to take place at the Matchroom HQ, a venue in southeastern England, but was switched to Gibraltar thanks to its Covid-19 safe environment.

Soccer fans were also allowed to witness sporting matches starting with Gibraltar’s World Cup qualifier clash against the Netherlands on Tuesday.

Victoria Stadium welcomed 600 attendees who had previously received two doses of the vaccine and tested negative for the virus on the day of the match.

Only 3% of residents refused the vaccine, which may be one reason why Gibraltar’s results are so good. That may be difficult to recreate in the US or other nations, but Gibraltar provides a welcome view of what life could look like soon as the world races to vaccinate.

I encourage you to get your shot if you haven’t already. Let’s get back to normal life!

For more on COVID and vaccines, check out these posts:

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Check out the Stuff I Use page for some great deals on products and services I use to improve my health and productivity. They just might help you too! 

Photo: “Gibraltar – Rosia” by Roy McGrail (krm gib) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

How I Eat Delicious Organic Produce for Next to Nothing: Introducing Misfits Market

Last Saturday, my wife went to a farmer’s market with her friend. As her friend loaded up on yummy veggies, my wife noticed something: she was paying $40 for a small bag of vegetables while we pay $26 for twice as much. And ours is 100% organic, whereas the farmer’s market haul was only about half.

Do we have special connections down on the farm? Sort of…

For over a year, my wife and I have gotten almost all our produce from Misfits Market, a subscription service that sends a big box of delicious, all-organic fruits and vegetables to your door every week. The quality is absolutely exceptional. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless chunks under harsh lights on salad bars until I tried theirs! Colorful, peppery, crispy, delicious!

Misfits is a great way to introduce yourself to new kinds of produce. I’ve tried golden beets, turnips, rutabagas, chard, collard greens, and countless other delicious things I never would’ve thought to buy otherwise. Getting the surprise veg each week is like Christmas! But if you prefer to choose your produce, they offer that as well.

We pay $26.25 a week for more than enough veggies for both of us. In fact, we often have to delay our next shipment (easy to do), so our real cost is probably barely over $20/week.

Before we got Misfits, I would buy a smaller assortment of veggies at Aldi for about $20. To get as much produce as Misfits, Aldi would run at least $30, even for non-organic! And Aldi is about the cheapest grocery store there is.

So let’s review:

1) Cheaper than any grocery store
2) Incredible taste
3) All-organic
4) Shipped to your door

What’s not to like? Well, nothing, which is why my wife and I have been loyal Misfits customers for so long! If you want to join us, use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

They have plans for households of 2-3 and a larger box for bigger households. FYI: Single-person households won’t be able to eat all this.

Enjoy in good health!

For more posts about health and nutrition, check out some of these:

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Check out the Stuff I Use page for some great deals on products and services I use to improve my health and productivity. They just might help you too! 

I Got The Moderna Vaccine! Here’s What It’s Like.

At 1:48pm today New Jersey time, I got my vaccine!

I’ve been waiting for this moment for many months, and I’m so grateful to have a chance to get it. It was the Moderna vaccine and I got it through the Hudson County vaccination site. So far, I feel 100%!

Having lived through the dark period of spring 2020 in the New York City area, when sirens were almost constant and my neighbors were dying in huge numbers, reaching this moment is cathartic. It prompted a lot of feelings for me: relief, gratitude, and hope!

So, what’s it like? This is a drive through site, and I don’t own a car, so I took an Uber. The driver very patiently waited with me in the lengthy line to get the jab. Many cars slowly snaked ahead in the cold snow.

Once we finally made it to the front, I showed a QR code on my phone that the county had e-mailed me. Shortly therafter, the nurse came up and asked if I had been feeling sick today. Then, she gave me the shot!

I barely felt a thing, which was surprising. Since then, I’ve had no side effects that I can discern. I hope it stays that way!

Just after the shot, we took the picture above. It’s actually staged…she had already given me the jab before we ever thought to document the moment for posterity! So she posed with the needle near my arm, and I took a snap to record this wonderful moment in my life that I’ve waited so long for.

“This is a historic moment,” she said. I agreed.

If you’re still trying to get an appointment, don’t give up! I’ve been checking every area provider’s website repeatedly for months. And I almost wasn’t going to check again today, but I did, and found an appointment for just 90 minutes away! Perhaps someone cancelled last minute. The best strategy seems to be to check over and over.

Now, I can begin to plan for a life after COVID. A week after the 2nd dose, which will be around the end of March, it should have achieved its full 94% efficacy. I will finally be able to get on a plane and visit my mom for the first time since December 2019! And I’m looking forward to getting some great protection even sooner: just 2 weeks after the first dose, the vaccine is 80% effective.

I really encourage everyone to get this vaccine, although I know each person has to make their own decision. COVID may be something to fear, but this really isn’t! If I didn’t keel over after, you won’t either! 🙂

The Miracle Particles Behind COVID Vaccines

The particles that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines rely on are 1/1000th the width of a human hair. They’re called lipid nanoparticles, and they’re revolutionizing medicine as we speak.

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines work by sending mRNA to your cells. The mRNA tells the cells how to make proteins that block the virus. But you can’t send the mRNA on its own, because it would be repelled and flushed out through the kidneys.

The mRNA needs a wrapper, and that’s where the lipid nanoparticle comes in. The mRNA molecules are negatively charged and so are our cells. These two negatives push each other away. But, the nanoparticle can make it inside the cell.

Once inside the cell, the particle faces another barrier. The cell wraps it in a container called an endosome, because the cell doesn’t want to be contaminated. So, the lipid nanoparticle has to be specially designed to escape that endosomal prison.

Decades of research has gone into these particles, and they can now escape and spread the necessary information into the watery substance inside the cell (called the cytoplasm). Our commitment to funding basic science decades ago is paying off today in ways we could never have anticipated.

I learned a great deal about these incredible particles today at an online seminar hosted by the journal Nature with Kathryn Whitehead of Carnegie Mellon University and Yizhou Dong of Ohio State University. They gave some great perspective on the development of this amazing technology.

One thing Professor Whitehead mentioned was that despite concerns that the mRNA vaccines are too new and unproven to be safe, the lipid nanoparticles they use have existed for decades. In fact, she said she’s had research rejected for publication because these particles are considered too old hat!

I also finally learned why the vaccines have to be stored at such cold temperatures: molecules will start moving around too much once the temperature rises, so the lipid nanoparticles could come apart. Perhaps one reason Moderna’s vaccine doesn’t need quite as cold of storage is that they’ve been researching these particles for much longer than Pfizer/BioNTech, so their particles may be a bit more stable.

Beyond COVID, lipid nanoparticles and the mRNA therapies they’re a part of could be used for other viruses like the flu, Zika and Ebola. They may also be used as cancer immunotherapies. (This echoes what the co-founders of BioNTech said recently.)

These particles seem likely to underlie an entire new generation of medicines. I’ll be keeping a close eye on them, microscopic as they are!

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Photo: “2020_06_020100 – a human cell attacked by Covid-19” by Gwydion M. Williams is licensed under CC BY 2.0

How I Fall Asleep Instantly, Night After Night

I was chatting with some friends during the UFC fight on Saturday, and they both mentioned the same problem. Neither could fall asleep for at least an hour, night after night.

Many people I meet seem to have the same issue. They lay down, ready to get a good night’s rest, and wind up tossing and turning endlessly. Entirely too soon, the alarm clock sounds and they’ve lost out on precious time to restore themselves.

This stands out to me because I fall asleep instantly, night after night. Why do I seem to be (almost) immune to this common problem?

It’s because of the system I have around me that promotes sleep. I’m going to break that system down right now, so you can get the same benefits of health and relaxation that I do:

  1. Avoid screens for 30-60 minutes before bed time. The glowing, the clicking, the distraction, the endless stream of largely pointless information…none of this is conducive to winding down for the day. Instead, I like to read a physical book or magazine or chat with my wife. Although occasionally, I find a BBC nature documentary by David Attenborough lulls me right to sleep.
  2. Lower the lights. About 30-60 minutes before bed time, I dim the lights, generally to the lowest setting. This helps the wind down process. That gradual winding down gets me in the mood to sleep.
  3. No screens in the bedroom. Ever. Extra points if you turn your phone completley off a solid 30-60 minutes before bed. It’s so freeing!
  4. Sleep mask. A recent addition to my routine that has cut my middle of the night tossing and turning to almost 0. I didn’t think light affected my sleep much, but turns out it did!
  5. Humidity. In this drier part of the year, dry nasal passages tended to make it harder for me to breathe. Then, I’d wake up. When I got a humidifier, the problem was solved. And sure enough, if I forget to turn it on before bed, my labored breathing comes back!
  6. Physical exhaustion. I work out 5 times a week and also walk 4-8 miles in a typical day. This means that when I lay down, I’m exhausted and grateful to be off my feet! That goes a very long way to helping me sleep. It’s hard to sleep if you’re not really tired.
  7. Meditation/journaling. I usually do these in the morning, not the evening. But, they could easily be used at night if you’re struggling to relax. If thoughts are keeping you awake, you can get up and write them down. Then, they’re preserved and you can pick them all up tomorrow! But more likely you’ll never look at it again. 🙂
  8. Temperature. 60’s is generally best. But, my wife would turn blue if I kept the bedroom that cold. So, I’ll often sleep with just a sheet, even in the New Jersey winter. I find I fall asleep more easily and stay asleep longer.
  9. Bed. Not as important as you might think. But, I’ve taken no chances here either. I bought a Tempurpedic memory foam mattress 11 years ago and it’s still as good as the day I bought it. It wasn’t cheap: $1700. But there are memory foam mattress toppers you can get for far less. I’ve gotten great sleep in much less expensive beds, and as long as you’re comfortable, so can you!
  10. Shower before bedtime. The gradual lowering of your body temperature after you come out of a hot shower promotes sleep. If you want to take another in the morning, you always can and I sometimes do.
  11. Remove stress from your life. Easier said than done, I know! But you can gradually work toward a lower stress existence. I often found my work in tech stressful, so over a period of years I transitioned to running my own investment business instead. And I’m sleeping better than ever.

A lot of this system came out of the superb book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD. He directs a sleep lab at the University of California-Berkeley and knows as much as anyone about the subject. He helped me enormously. If you want to understand sleep and improve your sleep, get this highly readable volume ASAP.

What I Don’t Do

Ambien. Dangerous and doesn’t provide real sleep. Unconsciousness and sleep aren’t the same thing.

What About Melatonin?

Not helpful for sleep unless you’re jet lagged according to the Walker book, but if you feel like it’s helping you, go for it! I do actually take 5 mg a day at around 8:30 pm generally, but I made that decision based on its possible ability to prevent COVID rather than sleep benefits.

And finally, when you get to lay down after a long day, enjoy it! Avoid anxiety over whether you’ll fall asleep.

Walker recommends an 8 hour “sleep opportunity.” I love that phrase because it focuses on what you can control (laying down), rather than what you cannot (falling asleep). If you’re there ready to rest, you’re doing what you can do.

Don’t worry too much if you can’t fall asleep sometimes, because that’s normal. Just keep giving yourself that opportunity to rest!

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Photo: “Baby sleeping POV” by robscomputer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Man Who Wrote the Book on CRISPR and What He Taught Me

Kevin Davies literally wrote the book on CRISPR, the revolutionary new gene editing technology that earned Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier a Nobel Prize a few months ago. Today, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a talk he gave on that superb book, Editing Humanity.

If you’re not familiar, CRISPR is a technology based on the immune systems of bacteria. Bacteria find a particular genetic sequence they recognize from past infections and cut the genes in order to protect themselves. Scientists have harnessed this primordial system to cut and splice genes.

In today’s talk, Davies highlighted how accessible this revolutionary new technology really is. The equipment is not expensive and many labs could potentially use it. This presents great opportunities but also very real risks of misapplication.

CRISPR has been used successfully to treat sickle cell anemia in early trials. Davies noted that it has also been used to treat progeria in mice, which might some day bring an end to this deadly disease that ages children before their time.

I even got the opportunity to ask Davies a question, and inquired which other applications of CRISPR excite him most. He mentioned possible applications for cystic fibrosis and cancer therapy. He also said that as a graduate student in genetics, the idea of precisely editing genes seemed like science fiction, but today is a reality. It amazed me to think of how much the field has evolved.

Another interesting tidbit from the talk: due to COVID, Doudna accepted her Nobel Prize in the backyard of her home in Berkeley! I found that image to be quite a beautiful one.

One great silver lining of COVID has been how much easier it’s become to attend talks like this! In the past, one might have had to be in Cambridge, MA to attend, but now it’s open to everyone. I hope we continue to offer a remote option for these discussions even once in person events are possible again.

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Photo: “File:Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna.jpg” by For Emmanuelle Charpentier portrait, credit Bianca Fioretti of Hallbauer & Fioretti. For Jennifer Doudna portrait, credit User:Duncan.Hull and The Royal Society. is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Numerous COVID Vaccines are 100% Effective at Preventing Death

Of all the possible outcomes from COVID infection, clearly death is the one we want to prevent above all. We commonly see vaccine efficacy numbers from the 60’s to the 90’s, but that figure generally refers to how successful the vaccine is at preventing a COVID infection with any symptoms.

How effective are the vaccines at preventing you from dying of COVID? Turns out, regardless of whether you look at trial data from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax or the Russian Sputnix V vaccine, you don’t see a single COVID death.

I came across this information in fascinating Twitter thread today from the eminent Yale virologist Dr. Akiko Iwasaki:

This is a simple and highly relevant message I’d like to see broadcasted far and wide…vaccinated people don’t die of COVID. Period.

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My Top 3 Exercises for Core Strength (The First One Will Make You Cry)

Do them until the vein in your forehead bursts!

Yesterday, I was speaking with a relative who’s nearing 60. She’s been doing a ton of hard work to strengthen her legs after dealing with a knee issue. Now, she wanted to add some serious abdominal exercises for extra power and stability. I thought that if she needed this information, you guys might too!

Many of us know how to do a push-up, but the best exercises to work your core aren’t as well known. The classic crunches have never given me the burn and strength increases that these do.

See the video below for an introduction to all three!

  1. Flutter Kicks

A mainstay of Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUDS) training. If it’s hard enough to challenge aspiring Navy SEALs, it should challenge us too! Lay on your back and move your legs in a scissor pattern without putting them down. After 90 seconds of this, my abs are fried from top to bottom.

  1. Plank

Until I started yoga, I had probably never done a plank properly in my life. The key is to get your shoulders above your wrists. When you do this, your core muscles will engage and you’re well on your way to serious strength gains.

  1. Boat Pose

Just did this in yoga this morning! You sit down, holding your legs up and bent and your arms alongside them, and open and close your body in a V shape. I find this particularly challenging for the lower abs.

Like all strength training exercises, I suggest doing them until failure. Keep going until your muscles give out. And if you’re hungry for more strength training resources, see this post.

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