Antioxidants and free radicals explained

antioxidant

Professor Barry Halliwell, Tan Chin Tuan Centennial Professor at NUS Biochemistry and the Life Sciences Institute, is one of the world’s foremost experts in the field of antioxidants and free radicals. He began investigating this important research area over 40 years ago when little was known about their effects on the human body.

It is often said that antioxidants can prevent diseases and that free radicals are responsible for many health issues including cancer, as well as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. But does this hypothesis still stand up to modern scientific scrutiny?

The second part is true, damage by free radicals, or “oxidative damage,” does play a role in these diseases. Oxidative DNA damage contributes significantly to the development of many cancers, and oxidative damage to fats and other molecules within the body contributes significantly to cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases, such as dementia.

However, scientists have now learned that free radicals are crucial in several aspects of normal body function, so modulating their levels to avoid harm and prevent disease whilst not affecting their useful roles is not an easy task.

Prof Halliwell shares his insights on the latest research findings and explains the current thinking in this field.

Q: How has scientific thinking regarding antioxidants and free radicals changed over the past 50 years?

A: In the early days of my research, the field of antioxidants and free radicals appeared simple. The idea was that free radicals were bad, and antioxidants were good. Hence, taking antioxidants will prevent disease, and since free radicals are implicated in ageing, antioxidants will make you live longer.

We now know all aspects of aerobic life involve free radicals and antioxidants—you cannot escape them, nor should you wish to. For example, hydrogen peroxide—a common producer of free radicals—regularly occurs in nature and is an important signalling molecule in living organisms.

Q: How did this shift come about?

A: The old idea is that taking antioxidants will prevent disease. Some, such as vitamins C and E, are essential in the diet in small amounts. However, taking higher doses does not seem to help.

For example, intervention trials with high doses of vitamin E over long periods showed no beneficial effects for cardiovascular disease, cancer, Down syndrome, or mild cognitive impairment, and actually suggested an increase in the risk of stroke.

Q: Do these findings show that antioxidants are ineffective at preventing disease?

A: Yes, they showed that taking high doses of the commonly-studied diet-derived antioxidants to prevent disease is ineffective. Many of the early studies with high dose antioxidants did not actually examine whether there was a reduction in oxidative damage after feeding high doses, they just assumed that there would be. When we studied this in humans, in fact, there usually wasn’t.

Q: If antioxidants rarely change oxidative damage levels in humans, what does?

A: We know that several factors can increase oxidative damage levels in humans. Obesity, high blood glucose, elevated cholesterol levels, diabetes, cigarette smoking and lack of exercise are all potential risk factors and should be limited as much as possible. Indeed, the positive health effects of controlling them may actually be due to decreasing oxidative damage in the body to “normal” levels.

Q: What antioxidants look promising for future research?

A: One of our major research areas is on ergothioneine. Ergothioneine is a diet-derived antioxidant (although it has other protective properties as well) that can be found mainly in mushrooms.

Once consumed by humans, ergothioneine is avidly retained by the body and is not rapidly metabolised, suggesting that it may play an important function. This is because our bodies possess a transporter responsible for the uptake of ergothioneine from our diets and transport into cells and tissues.

We and others have seen evidence of decreased levels of ergothioneine in the blood of individuals with certain disorders, including mild cognitive impairment, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and heart failure. It was also observed by others that blood ergothioneine levels decline with advancing age in the elderly and this decline was highly correlated with an increase in markers of frailty. So, evidence suggests this antioxidant is important to overall health, especially as we age. Some studies have suggested that ergothioneine may be involved in the generation of new blood cells and in early brain development.

Due to the unique chemistry of ergothioneine, it doesn’t seem to interfere with the normal physiological roles of free radicals such as signalling, but may only come into play when their formation is excessive, as seen in many diseases. Our collaborative studies investigating the benefits of ergothioneine on laboratory disease models of heart failure, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, dementia and Parkinson’s disease have yielded positive outcomes. Studies are ongoing on the role of ergothioneine in disorders of the eye and motor neuron disease.

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The Real Difference Between Mineral Sunscreen And Chemical Sunscreen

Whether you’re spending the day at the beach or just walking to a local coffee shop, it’s important to wear sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful rays. Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun can cause wrinkles, liver spots, and even skin cancer. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, melanoma is the 19th most common type of cancer in the world, and other types of skin cancer are the fifth most common. Experts recommend wearing sunscreen year-round, and even on cloudy days. But which one of the two main types of sunscreen works best to keep you safe?

When you go to the store to buy sunscreen, you may notice that many of them are labeled as natural or mineral. These types are known as physical sunscreen. That’s because they form a physical barrier between the UV rays and your skin (via Byrdie). They are normally made of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Tiny bits of these minerals act like little mirrors, deflecting sunlight back out and away from your skin. Mineral sunscreens can protect against UVA and UVB light. UVA rays cause premature aging and UVB rays can burn your skin.

Sensitive skin? Try this, not that

Besides protecting you from most UV light, mineral sunscreens, also known as natural sunscreens, also tend to be less irritating to skin. They are less likely than other types to clog pores and cause breakouts, according to Byrdie. And if you want a greater degree of UVA protection, stick with zinc oxide since titanium dioxide isn’t as strong on that front (via Women’s Health). Unfortunately, you may find yourself having to reapply a mineral sunscreen more frequently than other types since they tend to wear off more quickly. So how do they compare to the other player in the sunscreen game, chemical formulas?

With carbon-based ingredients like oxybenzone and avobenzone, chemical sunscreens work much differently than their mineral counterparts. In fact, instead of deflecting sunlight, they actually absorb it. The chemicals set off a reaction that changes UV light into heat energy. Chemical sunscreens can often be applied more evenly than mineral sunscreens, and are more commonly included in makeup or other beauty products because of their ability to mix in easily (via The Washington Post). You can also use less of a chemical sunscreen because of its ability to be applied in a thinner layer and still offer excellent protection. They don’t go without their problems, however.

Not all sunscreen ingredients are equal

Chemical sunscreens tend to irritate the skin more, and can cause skin issues because of the excess heat that they generate when absorbing UV light. The FDA also released a small preliminary study that suggested that high levels of oxybenzone are being rapidly absorbed into the skin, and has been found in both blood and breastmilk (via Prevention). It’s important to remember that while the FDA is requiring sunscreen companies to do more research on the safety of their products, there has so far not been any data showing harmful effects in humans.

Whichever type of sunscreen you choose to apply, be sure to put it on early and often. Experts recommend re-applying at least every two hours, or more often if you’ve been sweating or in the water (via Allure). Both mineral and chemical sunscreens offer great protection from UV rays if used correctly, but your best bet is avoiding the sun at peak hours and covering up with a hat and clothing to keep your skin happy and healthy.

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See Drake and Sophie Brussaux's Son Adonis' Baby Album

Curly-haired cutie! Drake and Sophie Brussaux’s son, Adonis, arrived in October 2017 and made his social media debut more than two years later.

The rapper posted pictures of himself and the toddler in March 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, writing, “I love and miss my beautiful family and friends and I can’t wait for the joyful day when we are all able to reunite.”

Pusha T first revealed in May 2018 that Drake was a dad, sharing the news in “The Story of Adidon,” rapping, “You are hiding a child / Let that boy come home / Deadbeat motherf–ka, playin’ border control.”

The “God’s Plan” rapper confirmed the news the following month. “Yesterday morning was crazy / I had to come to terms with the fact that it’s not a maybe / That s–t is in stone, sealed and signed / She not my lover like Billie Jean, but the kid is mine,” the Degrassi alum rapped in “March 14,” released in June 2018. “[My mom] Sandi used to tell me all it takes is one time, and all it took was one time / S–t, we only met two times, two times.”

The Canadian star went on to rap directly to his baby boy, saying, “Fairytales are saved for the bedtime stories I tell you now / I don’t want you to worry about whose house you live at / Or who loves you more or who’s not there / Who did what to who ‘fore you got here.”

In December 2019, the Grammy winner opened up about why he waited to address the news about Brussaux’s birth. “To be honest with you, I did a DNA test for my son and it came back to us and it said the DNA test got ruined in transit and they couldn’t be 100 percent sure that that was my son or not,” he said during a “Rap Radar” podcast episode. “I was in a really weird pending situation where I didn’t want to go tell the world that that was my son and it wasn’t.”

Drake now has “no desire” to mend his and Pusha T’s relationship. “He told the world that the biggest artist at the time has a kid that he hasn’t told you about,” the American Music Award winner explained at the time. “I knew, for me, it was over at that point. It wasn’t even about battle rap.”

Keep scrolling to see photos of Drake’s son, Adonis, from family portraits to toy time.

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Ten-minute ballet dancer full-body stretch routine relieves aches and pains

Reverse shoulder stretch

Supine crocodile spine release

Lower back stretch

Rotating hip and stomach stretch 

Seated frog stretch

Face-down frog stretch 

Down facing dog arabesque 

Grand plie hip opener 

Barre hamstring stretch 

Standing quad stretch 

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Mass COVID testing at UK universities is haphazard and unscientific, finds BMJ investigation

covid test

The costly rollout of asymptomatic screening for COVID-19 at UK universities has found very few positive cases following its launch in December as part of the Government’s ambitious £100bn Moonshot programme, finds an investigation published by The BMJ today.

It reveals that almost two thirds of higher education institutions are not collecting data on the number of students being tested and a third are not logging how many test positive. Experts have described campus testing as haphazard and messy with a price tag that is “outrageous.”

On 17 Feb 2021 The BMJ sent Freedom of Information requests to the 216 universities and colleges eligible to receive public funding for twice weekly lateral flow testing for students, asking how much they received, how many tests they had carried out, and how many positive tests came back.

Among 69 institutions that disclosed three months worth of data, 1,649 positive results were reported from 335,383 tests carried out, a 0.5% positive rate.

The BMJ also found widespread reluctance among universities and colleges to share information about costs and the effects of testing on containing the virus.

Only 16 institutions disclosed complete data on their funding, the number of tests carried out, and the number of positive results. These showed that the government spent roughly £3,000 per positive test result yielded.

But experts said this is likely to be a vast underestimation of the full cost, as factors such as staffing of testing sites were not included.

Allyson Pollock, professor of public health at Newcastle University, and a vocal critic of the testing programme, said, “The clear message from the data is that the mass testing is haphazard, fragmented, disjointed and absolutely the antithesis of public health.”

And she urged universities to abandon asymptomatic testing and instead focus on testing those with symptoms, particularly as students return to campuses and prevalence of COVID is falling to low levels.

Jon Deeks, professor of biostatistics at the University of Birmingham and leader of the Cochrane Collaboration’s COVID-19 test evaluation activities, points to data from England’s Test and Trace service which suggest that the cost of asymptomatic testing in schools could be as much as £120,000 per case found, and said it was crucial that the Department of Health and Social Care published an analysis of data that it was collecting from universities in England.

Angela Raffle, consultant in Public Health and honorary senior lecturer at Bristol University, who has worked for the UK National Screening Programmes since their inception in 1996, described the rollout of asymptomatic testing as “a lost opportunity.”

She said the whole thing is “a desperate exercise in trying to get favourable publicity for number 10, trying to get rid of the Innova test mountain, and trying to change the culture in this country so that we start to think that regular tests for everybody is a worthwhile use of public resources, which it isn’t.”

The government told The BMJ that it was up to universities to determine their testing approach, but said it was committed to working with them to offer twice weekly asymptomatic testing to all students on campus.

A government spokesperson said, “Protecting communities and saving lives is always our first priority and every pound spent is contributing towards our efforts to keep people safe. Testing at universities is a key pillar in reducing transmission risks, and allowing more students to return to face-to-face study as safely as possible.”

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Encouraging COVID vaccine results for children and pregnant women

vaccine

After being safely administered to millions of adults around the world, new data shows that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is effective in teenagers as well. A US trial of more than 2,000 12-15 year olds found that the vaccine had an efficacy rate of 100% and produced a strong antibody response, according to a press release from Pfizer. That’s good news, as children will eventually need to be vaccinated to prevent infection, says pediatrician James B Wood.

These results follow earlier positive results relating to the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines during and after pregnancy. A small study of pregnant and breastfeeding women who had been given the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines found they too produced a robust immune response, and that vaccinated mothers were also able to pass on immunity to their newborns. Immunologists Catherine Thornton and April Rees explain here how it works.

The Moderna and Novavax vaccines are due to arrive in the UK in the coming months, with the latter to be entirely produced and packaged domestically. This will provide hope for those who are still waiting for their first doses, say supply chain experts Liz Breen and Sarah Schiffling, and it will hopefully bolster the country’s slow emergence from lockdown.

In the US, 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been contaminated at a manufacturing site after ingredients were conflated with those destined for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The boost for UK production of COVID-19 vaccines will take some of the heat out of disputes with the EU over the export of doses manufactured within the bloc. The World Health Organization has described the EU rollout as “unacceptably slow”, and the UK has claimed it has preferential access to AstraZeneca vaccines because it negotiated a better contract with the drugmaker. But that’s not strictly true, writes EU law professor Gareth Davies.

The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, reportedly hailed the lightning-fast development of COVID-19 vaccines as a victory for “greed” and “capitalism,” but the free market has not proven effective in bringing the world new vaccines in the past, writes David Whyte. The real unsung hero of the pandemic, he says, is the publicly funded research sector.

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Homelessness associated with increased HIV and HCV risk among people who inject drugs

HIV

Homelessness and unstable housing are associated with a substantial increase in HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) acquisition risk among people who inject drugs, according to research led by the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioral Science and Evaluation at the University of Bristol.

The study, published in The Lancet Public Health today [26 March] found that, among people who inject drugs, recent homelessness and unstable housing were associated with a 55 percent and 65 percent increase in HIV and HCV acquisition risk, respectively.

The study is the first systematic review and meta-analysis (a statistical method used to combine the results of multiple studies) to assess whether homelessness or unstable housing increases HIV or HCV risk among people who inject drugs. The researchers extracted and pooled data from 45 previous studies providing 70 estimates (26 for HIV and 44 for HCV) to work out a more robust measure of the risks.

Globally, there are an estimated 15.6 million people who inject drugs; over one in six are infected with HIV and over half have been infected with HCV. People who inject drugs are at high risk of HIV and HCV infection through the sharing of needles, syringes and other injecting equipment and experience high levels of homelessness and unstable housing.

Globally, an estimated 22 percent of people who inject drugs reported experiencing homelessness or unstable housing in the past year, with this increasing to 42 percent in England (having increased from 28 percent in the last decade), and 50 percent in North America.

A high proportion of people in unstable housing have substance misuse problems, with 30 percent reporting they used heroin in the last month in the UK, highlighting the overlapping risks of drug use and homelessness.

Previous research also suggests that homeless or unstably housed drug users are less likely to access HIV and HCV treatment and use opioid substitution therapy and needle-syringe programs, two important HIV and HCV prevention interventions. They may also be more likely to engage in high-risk injecting and sexual behaviours and more likely to have been recently imprisoned, another factor associated with increased HIV and HCV acquisition risk.

Chiedozie Arum, lead author from the University of Bristol, said: “Our study highlights the overlapping bio-social problems that worsen health inequalities among homeless people who inject drugs. Expanding access to prevention and treatment services and improving housing provision for this population should be prioritized.”

Dr. Jack Stone, Senior Research Associate from the University of Bristol and joint senior author, said: “Our findings suggest housing instability is an important driver of HIV and HCV transmission among people who inject drugs. Further research is now needed to better understand how homelessness or unstable housing increases the risk of HIV and HCV acquisition, and what interventions could have most impact in reducing this risk.”

Peter Vickerman, Professor of Infectious Disease Modelling from the University of Bristol and joint senior author, said “This research adds to the growing evidence on the damaging effect of housing instability on health and social outcomes. A comprehensive policy approach that not only provides housing but also addresses many of the interlinked health and social concerns of this population is necessary in order to reduce HIV and HCV risk.”

The study has important implications for policy and public health, including:

  • the need for housing interventions tailored to people who inject drugs that address their competing health and social concerns
  • the need for improved access to HIV and HCV prevention and treatment interventions among those who are homeless or unstably housed
  • the need for these interventions to be integrated within services that provide for the wide ranging health needs of these vulnerable populations
  • the need to reduce stigma towards homelessness and drug use that act as barriers to accessing care.

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Times 2! See Hilaria Baldwin Nursing Both Eduardo and Lucia

Breast-feeding her brood! Hilaria Baldwin has nursed all five of her and Alec Baldwin’s children over the years.

The Living Clearly Method author and the Saturday Night Live star welcomed their eldest child together, a daughter named Carmen, in 2013. The “Mom Brain” podcast cohost nursed the little one for 15 months.

Breast-feeding Carmen’s brother, Rafael, was a different story, Hilaria told Fit Pregnancy and Baby in 2016.

“I prided myself on being a Super Breat-Feeding Mommy, but I was only able to breast-feed Rafa until he was 10 months old,” the Spain native told the magazine at the time, adding that her “milk supply went way down” when she became pregnant with their third child, Leonardo.

“The fact that I didn’t breast-feed him for as long as I’d intended is OK,” the former yoga instructor explained. “We beat ourselves up for not being perfect, but there’s something to be said for letting go.”

Hilaria went on to give birth to sons Romeo and Eduardo in 2018 and 2020, respectively. (As for Alec, the actor also shares daughter Ireland Baldwin with his ex-wife, Kim Basinger.)

While raising their children, the Yoga Vida co-founder depends on her “community” for help, she wrote via Instagram in August 2020.

“My family is so far they can’t be here,” Hilaria wrote in a comment at the time. “I feel really lucky with my community of friends, godparents, nanny and honorary uncles and aunts who support me. I never want it to seem as though I am doing all of this with no support.”

The fitness guru added that she doesn’t “sit with [her] feet up while other people parent” Carmen, Rafael, Leonardo, Romeo and Eduardo. “Parenting is hard — and when you have a ton of kids, an extra set of hands is to keep everyone safe. When one baby runs one way and another runs the other way, we look at each other and chase after one babe. It’s hectic!! But amazing and I feel so lucky for so many reasons. I also know that they grow up so fast and one day I’ll be able to rest again — I’m trying to be present and hold onto it for as long as possible.”

Keep scrolling to see Hilaria’s breast-feeding photos over the years.

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Study ratifies link of processed meat to cardiovascular disease and death

processed meat

A global study led by Hamilton scientists has found a link between eating processed meat and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. The same study did not find the same link with unprocessed red meat or poultry.

The information comes from the diets and health outcomes of 134,297 people from 21 countries spanning five continents, who were tracked by researchers for data on meat consumption and cardiovascular illnesses.

After following the participants for almost a decade, the researchers found consumption of 150 grams or more of processed meat a week was associated with a 46 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease and a 51 percent higher risk of death than those who ate no processed meat.

However, the researchers also found moderate levels of consumption of non-processed meats had a neutral effect on health.

“Evidence of an association between meat intake and cardiovascular disease is inconsistent. We therefore wanted to better understand the associations between intakes of unprocessed red meat, poultry, and processed meat with major cardiovascular disease events and mortality,” said Romaina Iqbal, first author of the study and an associate professor at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan.

“The totality of the available data indicates that consuming a modest amount of unprocessed meat as part of a healthy dietary pattern is unlikely to be harmful,” said Mahshid Dehghan, investigator for the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences.

The Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study was launched in 2003 and is the first multinational study that provides information on the association between unprocessed and processed meat intakes with health outcomes from low, middle and high-income countries.

“The PURE study examines substantially more diverse populations and broad patterns of diet, enabling us to provide new evidence that distinguishes between the effects of processed and unprocessed meats,” said senior author Salim Yusuf, executive director of the PHRI.

Participants’ dietary habits were recorded using food frequency questionnaires, while data was also collected on their mortality and major cardiovascular disease events. This allowed researchers to determine the associations between meat consumption patterns and cardiovascular disease events and mortality.

The authors believe that additional research may improve current understanding of the relationship between meat consumption and health outcomes. For example, it is unclear what study participants with lower meat intakes were eating instead of meat, and if the quality of those foods differed between countries.

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Relationship between psoriasis treatments and cardiovascular risk explained

psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic disease that causes patients to develop patches of dry, scaly, itchy skin. It is an autoimmune disorder, which means that it arises from a person’s immune system inappropriately targeting that person’s own body. It is a deeply unpleasant condition, and patients commonly take medications so that they can live their lives more comfortably.

Professor Min Chen of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and the Peking Union Medical College has conducted extensive research on psoriasis. “There are many patients with psoriasis who also have cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia and coronary heart disease,” she notes. The presence of such cardiovascular diseases is an important consideration when treating patients with psoriasis because, as Prof. Chen explains, “Some of the drugs for psoriasis may increase the risks of these diseases, while some can reduce them.” Now, in a recent review article published in Chinese Medical Journal, Prof. Chen and her colleagues provide a summary of the existing scholarly knowledge concerning the associations between the different treatments for psoriasis and risks of cardiovascular diseases.

The authors explore how various drugs influence the long-term risks of what is known as MACE, an acronym that encompasses myocardial infarction (i.e., heart attack), cerebrovascular accidents (i.e., strokes and similar events), and cardiovascular mortality. They note that some psoriasis treatments such as tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) inhibitors and methotrexate may actually reduce long-term MACE risk. Conversely, they also note that some interleukin (IL) inhibitors may increase MACE risk. For example, the IL-12/23 inhibitor briakinumab increased MACE risks so much across multiple studies that investigators had to suspend all clinical trials. However, other IL inhibitors such as tildrakizumab and guselkumab do not appear to increase MACE risks. The widely used immunosuppressant cyclosporine A can cause damage to heart muscle tissues. Ultimately, these findings indicate that more research is needed before scientists can rank psoriasis treatments in terms of their effects on long-term MACE risks.

There is currently no consensus among medical scientists on whether systemic treatments for psoriasis can mitigate or worsen arterial plaques, vascular function, and vascular inflammation. There is some evidence that treatments for psoriasis counter inflammation of coronary tissues and can lessen the coronary plaque burdens that contribute to coronary artery disease. Conversely, it has also been found that treatment with TNF-α inhibitors may contribute to an undesirable thickening of the carotid arteries, which are found in the neck and provide blood to the head. Scientists do not yet know whether methotrexate, IL-17 inhibitors, and IL-12/23 inhibitors also have any effect on arterial wall thicknesses.

In addition to the heightened risk of cardiovascular diseases, patients with psoriasis are at an increased risk of developing various risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. These risk factors include obesity, diabetes mellitus, and high blood lipid levels, and the existing literature points to several varied relationships between psoriasis treatment options and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. For example, TNF-α inhibitors may contribute to increased body weight, but IL-17 and IL-12/23 inhibitors may help patients lose weight. Cyclosporine A can increase the risk of diabetes, worsen hypertension, and contribute to unhealthy lipid metabolism profiles.

In conclusion, different psoriasis treatments have different effects on cardiovascular diseases and their risk factors, necessitating a more thorough consideration of each patient’s clinical situation before picking a treatment. For example, TNF-α inhibitors and methotrexate are good therapeutic options for patients with psoriasis who are at high risk of experiencing MACE, and inhibitors of IL-17 and IL-12/23 may be beneficial for patients who have arterial plaques.

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