From women’s health to e-cigarettes to new apps and diets, there was plenty to choose from in health-related news this year.
So, where does the nation stand in terms of its health as 2018 comes to an end?
It seems to be a mixed bag.
It was a long, 12-month road to get here as health-related news cut across a wide variety of topics in 2018.
There were significant research developments in the treatment and prevention of a number of diseases, most notably cancer and diabetes.
The flu was in the news, ranging from concerns over the strength of the 2018 flu to preparations for this fall’s vaccine for the 2019 season.
The opioid epidemic, our top story from 2017, remained a major area of concern.
In addition, there was a lot of action surrounding both e-cigarettes and the growing use of cannabis-related products.
The nation also saw a flood of new health apps, providing information on everything from birth control to heart attacks.
However, the theme that cut across many of these fields was the effects they had on women.
In a year of the #MeToo movement and women being elected to state and congressional offices, the topic of women’s health was front and center.
The issues ranged from cancer to pregnancy to mammograms to diet.
In all, women’s health dominated much of this year’s medical news and stood out as our top subject of 2018.
There were concerns this year about several diseases that seem to be rising in women.
One was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The issue was raised after the death in April of former first lady Barbara Bush, who had the ailment.
COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States and was once considered a “man’s disease.”
However, the prevalence of COPD among U.S. women has increased sharply in the past 50 years.
Over 7 million women in the country now live with a COPD diagnosis.
One reason for this uptick is an increase in the number of women who smoke. It’s estimated that at least 85 percent of COPD cases are caused by smoking.
Women are also drinking more alcohol and this has caused a spike in the number of deaths caused by alcohol-related cirrhosis.
A seven-year study released in May reported that alcohol-related cirrhosis deaths increased by 30 percent in U.S. men and 50 percent among U.S. women.
Heart health was also a concern when it came to the country’s female population.
In June, researchers reported a new type of heart attack that primarily strikes women.
It’s called myocardial infarction with nonobstructive coronary arteries (MINOCA).
It isn’t caused by blocked arteries, but researchers aren’t sure exactly what causes this type of heart attack.
They did say the symptoms of these attacks aren’t being taken seriously by medical professionals.
In fact, researchers this year seem to feel women’s heart health wasn’t taken seriously enough in general — even though heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States.
In August, a study was published that concluded women have a better chance of surviving a heart attack if their doctor is female.
The researchers said women have longer to wait to get to the hospital after experiencing heart attack symptoms. They also wait longer once they arrive at a medical facility.
Pregnancy was also in the news.
In October, the British royal family announced that Meghan Markle, the new Duchess of Sussex, was pregnant.
The wife of Prince Harry is 37 years old and this is her first child.
That lead to a series of articles about so-called “geriatric pregnancies” where women over the age of 35 are pregnant for the first time.
That same month, the television show “This Is Us” aired an episode where the character Kate was trying to conceive via in vitro fertilization (IVF).
On the program, the doctor expresses concern about the procedure because of Kate’s obesity.
That sparked a discussion about the health dangers for overweight women who do go through the invasive IVF process.
Health concerns were also a focus for women who are already pregnant.
In January, Canadian researchers questioned the effectiveness of pyridoxine-doxylamine, which is sold under the brand name Diclegis in the United States.
It’s the most commonly prescribed drug for nausea during pregnancy.
In July, concerns were also raised about pregnancy and heart attacks.
Researchers reported that the number of women who have heart attacks during pregnancy, while giving birth, or in the two months following birth is on the rise.
The experts said lifestyle factors, as well as the fact that women are waiting until they’re older to get pregnant, might be among the reasons for the increase.
In another study, researchers in the United Kingdom reported that more women are becoming depressed during pregnancy.
They said women today are 51 percent more likely to experience prenatal depression than their mothers did in the 1990s.
Depression can affect both the mother and the developing fetus.
While last month, researchers reported that alcohol and cigarette use among pregnant women is down, the use of cannabis during pregnancy for nausea and other issues is rising.
The researchers called for awareness campaigns to educate women about the potential negative effects of cannabis on their offspring.
The birth process itself came under some scrutiny this year, too.
During the year, officials expressed concerns about the high mortality of women giving birth in the United States.
The officials reported that the U.S. maternal mortality rate is higher than any other developed nation.
They also said hospitals remain unprepared for maternal emergencies.
They noted that African American women are three to four times more likely to die from childbirth than non-Hispanic white women.
In a study this summer, researchers suggested that inducing labor at 39 weeks for first-time mothers might be safer than having a cesarean delivery later.
The researchers said the women who gave birth after the induced labor had fewer complications, reduced incidence of preeclampsia, and fewer newborns that needed respiratory assistance.
The health concerns for women didn’t stop at giving birth, though.
A study early this year recommended that women’s blood pressure should be monitored in the months after they give birth.
This is particularly true for women who have preeclampsia during pregnancy.
The researchers said there are a number of health risks for women if they continue to have high blood pressure after their pregnancy.
This study went along with another one released this spring.
In that, researchers said women should receive better and more attentive care in their “fourth trimester” after giving birth.
Among the recommendations was that women go in for a checkup three weeks after childbirth instead of six weeks.
The researchers also suggested a comprehensive 12-week checkup as well as better healthcare support.
This kind of care is no small matter.
In April, a study was published reporting that mothers who followed three healthy lifestyle habits lived about 14 years longer than those who didn’t.
Among the habits is watching your calorie intake. That includes not finishing the food your children don’t eat.
Regular exercise and reducing stress were among the others.
The health of women as they age also made headlines.
In August, researchers reported they had found a link between dementia and estrogen levels.
The researchers looked at women’s first menstrual periods, the number of children they had, and when they started menopause.
All three seemed to be factors in dementia risk.
This fall, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new blood test that can determine if a woman has entered menopause or when they will.
They said the test could help doctors with treatments and diagnosis for women of menopausal age.
The issue of older women and mammograms was in the news, too.
A study released in November stated that women who are healthy should continue to get mammograms after they turn 75.
The researchers said for women who aren’t in good health, they shouldn’t undergo the exam because mammograms aren’t essential for women whose life expectancy is shorter.
Also last month, a report from an association of radiologists recommended women with certain risk factors for breast cancer should start getting mammograms after they turn 30.
They also recommended women of average risk begin getting mammograms at age 45.
Cancer, in general, was a big story in 2018 and, once again, the health of women was a primary concern.
New developments in breast cancer research were reported throughout 2018.
In February, a report was released that warned that some treatments for breast cancer can create heart health issues for some women.
Researchers said some treatments can cause abnormal heart rhythms, damage heart cells, or weaken the heart muscle.
They urged oncologists and cardiologists to work together when treating people with breast cancer.
Along those lines, another group of researchers said in May that a year’s worth of Herceptin used to treat early stage HER2-positive breast cancer, may not be necessary.
The researchers said six months of this medication was just as effective as a year’s worth of the drug.
Herceptin has few side effects but has been known to create heart problems for a small percentage of women who take it.
In addition, a study was released in June that recommended that fewer women with the most common type of breast cancer be treated with chemotherapy.
The researchers said 70 percent of women with early stage HER2-negative cancer that hadn’t spread to their lymph nodes don’t get any extra benefits from undergoing chemotherapy.
They said these women should instead be treated with radiation, surgery, and hormone therapy.
In January, a new drug was approved by the FDA to treat a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer.
Lynparza was already being used to treat ovarian cancer.
The FDA extended its use to treat HER2-negative breast cancer for women who carry the BRCA gene mutation.
Researchers said in clinical trials that Lynparza added three months of progression-free survival for participants with breast cancer.
Yet they also noted Lynparza costs about $13,000 per month.
Also in January, a research team recommended that women over the age of 30 be tested for the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 gene mutations.
They said the testing would reduce the number of breast cancer and ovarian cancer cases.
Then in March, it was revealed that a rare lymphoma had been linked to breast implants.
The disease is known as breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL).
FDA officials said more than 400 cases had been diagnosed since the disease was first reported in 2011.
The death of singer Aretha Franklin from pancreatic cancer in August spurred a renewed conversation about the deadly dangers of this disease.
American Cancer Society officials noted that more than 40,000 people a year die from some form of pancreatic cancer.
Yet, they said, there’s a lack of knowledge and a lot of misinformation about it.
Concerns were also raised about the increase in deaths by liver cancer.
Officials at the CDC reported in July that deaths from liver cancer rose 43 percent among men and 40 percent among women between 2000 and 2016.
Alcohol use, smoking, hepatitis infections, and obesity were among the reasons for the increase.
There was also news on several fronts in cancer prevention.
In late September, researchers concluded that newer versions of birth control pills offer more effective protection against ovarian cancer.
The study was the latest in a long line of research connecting oral contraceptives with lower rates of ovarian cancer.
A few weeks later, researchers in Massachusetts stated that aspirin may reduce the risk of a common form of liver cancer.
They said people who take two or more doses a week of 325-milligram aspirin for at least five years had a significantly lower risk of developing primary liver cancer, also known as called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
Another study in July determined that it’s not only what you eat but when you eat that can determine your cancer risk.
Researchers said that eating dinner before 9 p.m. and having at least two hours between your last meal and bedtime can reduce your risk of breast cancer or prostate cancer by about 20 percent.
The causes of cancer continued to be in the spotlight in 2018.
In July, a St. Louis jury awarded more than $4 billion in damages to a group of women who say that Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based baby powder gave them ovarian cancer.
They accused the company of failing to warn them about the risks.
Company officials said they stand by their product and would appeal the verdict.
The following month in San Francisco, a jury ordered Monsanto to pay a school groundskeeper $289 million.
The jury decided the groundskeeper’s cancer was caused by decades of exposure to the pesticide Roundup.
In October, a judge reduced the award to $78 million.
Researchers say it’s uncertain if occasional exposure to the Monsanto weed killer could cause cancer in the average consumer.
It turns out that your height might even be a cancer risk.
Researchers this fall unveiled a study that explained why tall people appear to have a higher risk of cancer.
For one, taller people have more cells and, therefore, a greater chance of something going wrong.
The researchers, however, also focused in on hormones and genes that they said might also play a role.
There were also developments in detecting cancer once it’s started.
At a conference in May, scientists revealed a pill with dye that can be taken in the days before a colonoscopy to help doctors spot polyps in the colon more easily.
Scientists at the conference also discussed the combination of an existing DNA vaccine with antibodies that could help people with late-stage colorectal cancer.
They say vaccination might also be used as a preventive tool for people with a high risk of colon cancer.
In October, experts recommended that African American men get tested early for prostate cancer.
African American men are more likely to get prostate cancer and to die from it.
The experts said a PSA level test given to African American men between the age of 40 and 60 could strongly predict future development of prostate cancer.
Early screenings can also help detect lung cancer in its early stages.
However, a study in May reported that only 2 percent of heavy smokers in the United States get the recommended lung cancer screenings.
The American Lung Association has launched a campaign called “Saved by the Scan” to encourage more people to get lung cancer screenings.
New information on cancer treatments was also plentiful in 2018.
In January, researchers in Texas said the time of day you get treatment might make a difference in battling the most common malignant brain cancer in adults.
The researchers said circadian rhythms may be instrumental to developing new therapies for glioblastoma.
They suggested using the body’s internal clock to guide the timing of chemotherapy for this brain cancer.
Another front was opened during the summer in the battle against brain cancer.
Alabama researchers used a genetically modified version of the herpes virus to treat glioblastoma in six pediatric patients.
They said the modified virus helped kill tumors in five of the patients without any serious side effects.
There was also more encouraging news involving the drug Keytruda.
In April, it was reported that Keytruda had performed well in clinical trials involving people with lung cancer.
The immunotherapy drug has been effective in the past against other cancers, but this was the first time it was successful with lung cancer.
In June, scientists also reported progress in developing “natural killer cells” to fight cancer.
The killer cells are derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and researchers said they displayed heightened activity against ovarian cancer.
They said this immunotherapy-based therapy might eventually be more beneficial than even the highly effective CAR-T treatment.
A new synthetic protein that could help fight cancer was also unveiled.
Researchers said the protein might be able to kill cancer cells without harming healthy tissue.
The protein combined with a fat molecule might be particularly effective in treating brain cancer.
Another molecule was in the spotlight this fall, touted as an additive that could make a cancer vaccine stronger.
The molecule, called Diprovocim, was added to an existing vaccine during a study by Texas scientists.
The researchers said the molecule could help the vaccine bolster the immune system and even assist in fighting off the reoccurrence of cancer.
New treatments were also unveiled this year for dealing with the side effects of chemotherapy.
Healthline detailed new treatments such as aromatherapy and reflexology to help deal with the nausea, nerve problems, and other chemo side effects.
Life after cancer treatment was also part of the research world in 2018.
In June, specialists at the National Cancer Institute said “chemo brain” was becoming a “widespread problem” as more people survive cancer.
The specialists urged the scientific world to figure out why so many people with cancer have a “mental fog” after treatment.
They said it’s vital that we come up with solutions.
Children who survive cancer have special issues they have to deal with as they get older.
In July, the Endocrine Society reported that 50 percent of childhood cancer survivors will develop hormone-related disorders when they’re adults.
They urged that all childhood cancer survivors be screened regularly for pituitary hormone deficiencies, growth disorders, and early puberty.
The goal of helping cancer survivors of all ages have better lives was discussed at the 2018 Cancer NCRI Conference in November.
Conference participants said a new set of priorities should be established to help cancer survivors deal with the psychological, social, and economic fallout from their experience.
Cancer, however, was not the only disease making news in 2018.
There was a lot of activity in the world of diabetes this past year.
To show the extent of the disease, the CDC reported in September that more than 30 million people in the United States have diabetes.
Yet, it’s estimated that there are more than 7 million people who aren’t even aware they have the ailment.
The agency said the longer a person goes undiagnosed, the more severe their symptoms and health problems can be.
Those health concerns surrounding diabetes can even extend into other diseases.
In August, researchers said diabetes can raise your risk of developing most major forms of cancer.
The researchers said men with diabetes face a 19 percent greater risk while women with diabetes face a 27 percent greater risk.
Having type 2 diabetes can also raise your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
In November, the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association launched a campaign to educate people about the link between type 2 diabetes and heart health issues.
The groups said adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease.
It appears type 2 diabetes is also hitting people at a younger age.
CDC officials estimate there were 5,300 new pediatric type 2 diabetes cases diagnosed in 2012. That’s well below the 17,900 type 1 diabetes cases among children, but it’s certainly higher than the zero cases of type 2 diabetes cases in 1990.
Officials said obesity, changes in diet, and an increase of gestational diabetes in pregnant women have contributed to the increase.
Health officials also caution that the warning signs for type 2 diabetes for people of any age can start to show up years before diagnosis.
Medical experts said 80 million people in the United States may be living with ‘prediabetes.’
Being aware of the warning signs allows people to make changes that can help them avoid developing type 2 diabetes.
Vitamin D might be one of those ways to prevent type 2 diabetes.
This summer, researchers reported that there seemed to be a connection between a lack of vitamin D, gum disease, and type 2 diabetes.
They weren’t sure yet what the connection is. It may be that a lack of vitamin D causes gum disease and one or the other increases the odds of developing diabetes.
Another study published in October suggested that an appetite suppressant drug could help lower the risk of diabetes.
The drug is lorcaserin, known by its brand name Belviq.
In a study involving 12,000 participants, it showed promise in reducing blood glucose levels as well as the overall risk of kidney complications related to diabetes in people struggling with their weight.
Treating diabetes and its symptoms also made news in 2018.
The drug metformin is used by an estimated 120 million people with diabetes worldwide to control blood sugar and insulin levels.
Early this year, however, it was reported that the common medication is also the one people with diabetes are most likely to stop taking.
The reason is the disruption metformin sometimes causes in a person’s digestive system.
For many people with diabetes, the daily ritual of pricking their finger to apply a drop of blood on a test strip can be an obstacle to diabetes management.
In May, a new technology could eliminate that daily finger prick.
It’s a new needle-less temporary tattoo that senses blood sugar levels.
It turns out a new contact lens may also help people with diabetes.
In May, Healthline wrote about a “glowing lens” that people can wear at night to slow the progression of a common type of blindness caused by diabetes.
The lenses, developed at the California Institute of Technology, are designed to prevent damage to the blood vessels of the retina.
A new type of bandage for people with diabetes was introduced this summer.
Researchers at Northwestern University said the device is designed to heal wounds more quickly.
The hope is the bandage would lower the number of infection-related surgeries.
Another new device may make glucose monitoring simpler.
The Eversense device was approved by the FDA this summer.
The sensor can be implanted during a short visit to a doctor’s office and can be worn for up to 90 days.
It measures glucose levels with a light-based technology and sends that data to an app on a cell phone.
Exercise was also touted as a way to manage diabetes symptoms.
A study published in May concluded that six weeks of CrossFit could help ease diabetes symptoms.
However, some experts cautioned that such an intense, quick-paced exercise routine may not be ideal for everyone with diabetes.
New treatments for diabetes also made headlines in 2018.
In June, scientists unveiled a treatment that stimulates a specific part of the brain.
The treatment reportedly increases dopamine activity and can help with insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes.
Another new treatment has the potential to put type 2 diabetes into remission.
The procedure was detailed in a study released in November.
It reportedly encourages cell growth on a person’s small intestine.
These new cells would then encourage the pancreas to produce adequate amounts of insulin.
Scientists say this could allow people with type 2 diabetes who are taking oral medications to avoid insulin injections as well as put their disease into remission.
A blood pressure drug was also hailed as a possible new treatment for diabetes.
Researchers said verapamil could help prevent the loss of beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.
Insulin itself made some news this past year.
In October, Healthline reported on the rising cost of insulin in the United States.
A report from the American Diabetes Association noted that the cost of insulin tripled from 2002 to 2013 with some newer varieties priced at $500 for a box of five pens.
Some people have resorted to rationing their insulin and spreading out their injections.
A group of biohackers is trying to do something about that price.
The Open Insulin Project has created a site to help people produce their own insulin on a small scale.
The group says their protocol could help break the stranglehold the three major insulin manufacturers now enjoy.
Another group suggested this fall that the refrigerator may not be the best place to store insulin.
The recommended temperature for insulin is 36 degrees to 46 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, European researchers said a surprising number of refrigerators don’t stay within that range at all times.
Other scientists said this fall they may have “game changing” research that could lead to synthetic insulin.
The researchers say they now have a 3-D image of how insulin communicates with cells.
This knowledge could allow them to produce a synthetic insulin that would be comparable to insulin produced by the pancreas.
Preventing and treating HIV was also a top news item in 2018.
In January, Florida health officials announced a program to provide free HIV treatment for all residents by the end of this year.
The plan called for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to be available to individuals at no cost in all 67 county health departments in the state.
PrEP is promoted as a revolutionary medicine that prevents the transmission of HIV.
If taken correctly, PrEP reduces the risk of infection in individuals by 92 percent.
A study released in November backed those numbers up.
Researchers reported a 25 percent reduction in HIV diagnoses across New South Wales in Australia after a PrEP program was introduced.
A drug commonly used in PrEP therapy also made news.
In July, experts reported that the cost of Truvada was discouraging many people from using the drug.
The list price for Truvada is $2,000 per month.
Experts noted that 3,200 people filled prescriptions for Truvada during the first two years after its approval in 2012.
That compares with the 40,000 people a year in the United States who contract HIV.
In May, the FDA approved the use of Truvada as a preventive measure for at-risk adolescents who are currently HIV negative.
The CDC estimates there are about 60,000 young people living with HIV in the United States.
There’s some debate whether teens would faithfully take the once-a-day drug and whether they would feel protected and therefore more likely to engage in sexual activity.
There were also developments in treating HIV.
In January, Healthline reported on research that’s looking into whether cancer-fighting CAR-T treatments could be used to eradicate HIV.
The theory is these modified T cells could be used to enhance the body’s immune system to eliminate HIV-infected cells.
There was also encouraging results from some clinical trials on the latest HIV vaccine.
At a conference in July, researchers reported the new vaccine had performed well both in human adults and rhesus monkeys.
The vaccine is now undergoing a second phase trial with at-risk women in southern Africa.
In late August, the FDA approved two new medications for people who have HIV.
The antiretroviral medications, Delstrigo and Pifeltro, are made by Merck.
They’re designed for HIV-positive adults who haven’t previously received antiretroviral treatments.
The flu season hit the headlines hard at the beginning of 2018 and didn’t really seem to let up.
In early January, CDC officials reported there were already widespread flu illnesses in 36 states.
Texas and Arizona had been particularly rocked by the H3N2 strain.
Health officials expressed concern and urged everyone to get flu shots, if they hadn’t done so already.
A couple of weeks later, health officials said the strength of this year’s flu had already created regional shortages of antiviral medications. In addition, emergency room wait times had skyrocketed.
There were even concerns about flu outbreaks from Super Bowl parties in early February.
There were numerous announcements involving flu prevention techniques.
Beyond flu shots and avoiding people who are sick, some researchers put out a report in March that suggested that getting extra sunshine could help.
One nurse in Florida actually became so fed up with people coming into her hospital with the flu that she posted a rant on Facebook on how to best avoid the illness.
Among those tips was to “wash your stinkin’ hands” and not visit sick people in the hospital.
Despite all those efforts, this year’s flu ended up hospitalizing more than 900,000 people in the United States.
The CDC also reported 80,000 people died from the illness, making 2018 the worst flu season since 1976.
With that in mind, health officials began reiterating tips to avoid the flu in October.
Treating flu symptoms was also a big part of the story.
In February, the CDC announced a newly reformulated anti-flu nasal spray would be back on the shelves for the 2019 season.
Health officials also touted the effectiveness of antiviral medications such as Tamiflu to ease symptoms and reduce the length of the flu.
Excitement grew over the summer as clinical trials indicated that a new flu drug from Japan could be quite effective.
The single-dose drug, Baloxavir marboxil, can reportedly alleviate flu symptoms within 54 hours.
The positive results led to the FDA giving the drug speedy approval in October.
It’s the first new flu medication in the United States in 20 years.
That approval helped turn eyes toward the 2019 flu season.
The first question was if this coming flu season would be worse than the previous one?
The 2018 vaccine was only 25 percent effective against the H3N2 strain.
Health officials said they’re trying to learn from last year to make this year’s vaccine more powerful.
They also urged everyone to get a flu shot in preparation for the winter months when the flu virus is strongest.
In particular, they urged older adults and children to be vaccinated.
In addition, officials recommended people with diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and COPDget a flu shot.
They said people with these ailments can face serious consequences if they come down with the flu.
Finally, health experts made it official in November.
They said the main reason the 2018 flu season was so strong was because people didn’t get vaccinated.
Only 37 percent of Americans got flu shots. That was 6 percent lower than the previous year.
And that allowed the H3N2 strain to thrive.
The opioid epidemic showed little signs of slowing down in 2018.
In March, the CDC reported that 42,249 people died in the United States in 2016 from opioid-related overdoses.
That was more than the 40,200 deaths attributed to car accidents.
That led to a year worth’s of debate over the effectiveness of prescription painkillers and whether opioids are over-prescribed.
In March, researchers said that opioids are effective for short-term pain but in the long run they aren’t any better than non-opioid drugs.
They also noted that opioids have more side effects.
The debate over opioid prescriptions didn’t sit well with many people with chronic pain who rely on the painkillers to get through the day.
They objected to so-called “opioid contracts” in which doctors require them to agree to conditions such as random urine tests and pill counts.
Medical professionals say it’s a way to reduce misuse of opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.
However, people with chronic pain say it’s stigmatizing them and erodes the doctor-patient relationship.
Opioids are also heavily prescribed to patients after surgery, and that group was also under the microscope.
A report in November stated that most prescription painkillers go unused after surgery once a patient feels better.
The concerns is those opioids will end up in the hands of other people.
In October, concerns were also raised about the increasing number of opioid overdoses at job sites.
Companies were urged to adopt new programs to help ease the crisis.
Opioid addiction was part of the entertainment world, too.
In October, actress Jamie Lee Curtis told People magazine that she hid her opioid addiction from family and friends for 10 years.
On the television show “The Conners,” the Roseanne character died suddenly after overdosing on opioid pills she had hidden from her family.
Both instances sparked discussions about the signals that a friend or loved one was misusing opioids.
The continuing crisis did spur some action.
In April, Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams issued a national advisory urging a significant portion of the public to carry opioid overdose antidotes that contain the drug naloxone.
The targeted groups included people who take prescription drugs for pain, those misusing opioids, and those using illicit drugs — as well as their family members and friends.
One problem is that naloxone products aren’t necessarily readily available at local pharmacies.
In November, Healthline reported that it isn’t in every store and some outlets won’t sell you the antidote unless you have a prescription.
Other products for opioid addiction caught the eye of the FDA.
In February, the agency sent warning letters to 11 companies for what it called unproven claims about products sold to people with opioid addictions.
In November, FDA officials approved an opioid that can provide quick pain relief during extreme trauma such as gunshot wounds or major broken bones.
The so-called “super opioid” is stronger than fentanyl, causing critics to wonder why this drug was given approval in the midst of an opioid epidemic.
Supporters noted the tablet is given only in a supervised setting, such as an emergency room.
They added that it would reduce dosing errors and can also be given more quickly than a drug that requires an IV.
The concern over opioid addiction prompted some people to seek out alternatives to pain treatment.
Acupuncture was one of the alternatives people began to use to manage long-term, lower level pain.
New mothers were also seeking non-opioid treatments.
Opioids are many times prescribed to women after childbirth, especially for those who undergo cesarean section surgeries.
However, many new moms expressed reluctance to take prescription painkillers during or after giving birth.
They were concerned about the opioids’ effects on their child as well as their ability to take care of a baby.
E-cigarettes were also big news in 2018.
One of the hottest topics was Juuling.
This was the new trend by teenagers who latched onto the Juul brand.
Those particular e-cigarettes were vaped from a device that looked like a USB drive.
Juul also carries double the nicotine of others brands.
Parents and school officials raised concerns that the Juul devices were too easy to conceal.
In addition, FDA officials said that Juul and other e-cigarette brands that are marketed to young adults are beginning to reverse the decades-long trend of lower smoking rates for teens.
In mid-December, the Surgeon General called for an “all hands on deck” approach to reduce vaping among teens.
Other concerns surfaced this year about teens using e-cigarette devices to vape cannabis.
Officials reported that 1 in 11 middle and high school students in the United States had consumed cannabis using e-cigarette devices.
The officials said the surge in e-cigarettes and the legalization of cannabis products in some places was giving teens more options.
Those concerns were heightened by a report in December that stated vaping marijuana produced a significantly stronger high than smoking it.
Other health concerns were also raised about e-cigarettes this past year.
A big one was that flavored e-cigarettes might be causing health issues.
In particular, a study in May concluded that cinnamon-flavored e-cigarettes may harm lung tissue and cause permanent lung damage.
In October, it was reported that prescription drugs were turning up in some e-cigarette brands.
Of particular note was a company in China that advertised that the erectile dysfunction drug Cialis was an ingredient in its e-cigarette liquid.
All these developments convinced FDA officials to begin a crackdown.
In September, the agency’s commissioner said e-cigarettes are an “epidemic” among teens.
He said warning letters were sent to vaping manufacturers to come up with a “robust plan” to address the widespread use of their products by minors.
In November, the FDA made e-cigarettes a part of their campaign to fight underage tobacco use. Menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars were also part of the program.
The blowback against e-cigarettes even convinced some experts to urge the American Cancer Society to include vaping products as part of the organization’s annual Great American Smokeout.
There are now 33 states plus the District of Columbia where marijuana is legal in some form.
Ten of those states in addition to Washington, D.C., allow both recreational and medicinal marijuana use.
The remaining 23 states only permit medical marijuana.
The increasing availability has encouraged a number of groups to advocate for the use of cannabis to treat health problems.
One of them is military veterans.
In January, Healthline brought you the story of individual veterans as well as veterans organizations that want our nation’s military service professionals to have access to marijuana to treat chronic pain, depression, and other issues.
The advocates also want the Veterans Administration to conduct more research on marijuana’s medicinal properties.
A number of studies published this year highlighted the health benefits of cannabis.
In March, a meta-analysis of dozens of previous studies concluded that cannabidiol can lower the epilepsy seizure rate.
Researchers say the cannabis-related product can reduce seizures in half of people with epilepsy and improve their quality of life.
Cannabis may also help people with inflammatory bowel disease.
That’s what researchers announced in a study published in August.
The scientists said that cannabinoids mimic a compound our bodies naturally produce to regulate gut inflammation.
This process, they said, could be used to create more effective treatments for inflammatory bowel disease.
People with Crohn’s disease could also get some relief.
In October, Israeli researchers announced that cannabis oil may help reduce symptoms for people with Crohn’s.
They said half of the people participating in their study experienced clinical remission in their symptoms after eight weeks of using the oil.
Psychosis was another condition mentioned as a possible beneficiary of cannabis.
Experts said cannabidiol may reduce the symptoms of psychosis by “resetting” the brains of people with conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Despite all these benefits, there were also a number of health concerns involving cannabis in the news this past year.
A study released in July concluded that marijuana does not reduce chronic pain that isn’t caused by cancer.
The results of that research were hotly disputed.
Pregnant women also received a warning.
A study published in May stated that a majority of Colorado cannabis dispensaries were telling women to use marijuana for morning sickness.
However, officials at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said using marijuana during pregnancy can have harmful health effects on a developing fetus.
New mothers were also cautioned about a similar risk.
In August, researchers said that the compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) from marijuana can linger in breast milk for up to six weeks.
They warned of the health impacts of THC on newborn babies.
Parents also received a heads up in 2018.
In October, researchers released a report that proclaimed that cannabis use was worse for teenager’s brains than alcohol.
The scientists said cannabis has a negative impact on teens’ cognitive development.
They warned that regular use of marijuana can have long-lasting effects on teens’ brains.
In November, another study was released on the cognitive effects of marijuana on teens.
In it, researchers said teens who abstained from marijuana for 30 days had improved memory, especially when it came to verbal skills.
However, they said the abstinence didn’t improve the teens’ focus and attention spans.
Food allergies made headlines in 2018.
One of the more surprising items was the fact that more than 300,000 people in the United States may have an allergy to sesame seeds.
In July, Healthline reported on how sesame seed allergies are more common than most people think.
We also learned what people can do about them.
It turns out peanut allergies might be easier to diagnose soon.
In May, scientists in the United Kingdom announced they’re developing a safer and cheaper blood test for the common allergy.
They said their test could be used as a secondary tool if skin prick tests are inconclusive. Their test could eliminate the need for the risky oral food challenge.
The cause of food allergies was also in the spotlight this year.
In April, Northwestern University researchers said that items commonly found around the house could be a factor in the development of food allergies.
Among their suspects were dust mites and baby wipes.
Keeping children with food allergies safe was another theme.
In August, Healthline listed a number of ways parents can keep their children safe from allergic reactions when they returned to school.
In September, we also detailed how parents can safely introduce peanuts and other food allergens to babies.
In November, researchers announced they’re working on a treatment that would allow children and adults with peanut allergies to tolerate small amounts of the food.
The scientists noted the treatment isn’t a cure. Rather, it’s a way to manage these serious allergies.
In the meantime, people with food allergies need to rely on adrenaline auto injectors in the event of an exposure to peanuts or other allergens.
These devices can be expensive, but financial help may soon be on the way.
In August, a generic version of the commonly used EpiPen was approved by the FDA.
A set of two EpiPens usually costs about $700 and they generally need to be replaced every year, even if they aren’t used.
The generic version hit some store shelves in late November with a listed cost of $300.
Food — in particular how much and what you should eat — made big news once again in 2018.
There were stories on new types of diets as well as analyses of diets that have been around for a few years.
In May, we were told that vegetarian diets may actually be healthier for us than we thought.
Researchers said one-third of early deaths could be prevented if everyone ate a vegetarian diet.
In October, researchers also said that an anti-inflammatory diet could help us live a longer life.
The study authors recommended more fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods.
In November, other researchers told us that eating a diet full of organic foods could lower our cancer risk.
Those findings were questioned by some experts, but they agreed that a healthier diet will reduce a person’s risk of developing cancer.
Scientists were also trying to figure out how “healthy fats” fit into a balanced diet.
They suggested those fats can be part of a diet that’s low in sugars and refined grains.
Some nutritionists even suggested that being a boring eater can help you lose weight.
They said the well-known food pyramid may be outdated and eating the same healthy foods every day might be better than trying to enjoy a variety of foods.
During the summer, some experts suggested that your brain may be foiling your attempts to eat healthy foods.
They said in essence that your body doesn’t want to lose weight and will try to sabotage your plans to eat less.
Breakfast was the focus of a couple of studies.
In one, researchers said that 30 grams of protein at breakfast can help you lose weight.
They recommended eating that protein within a half-hour of waking up as part of a 30/30 plan.
Other researchers suggested that eating breakfast before a morning workout can help you burn more carbohydrates.
In their study, they said participants who ate porridge and milk two hours before a one-hour cycling exercise burned more carbs as well as increased their bodies digestion of food later in the day.
There were criticisms of some diets, too.
In July, the American Heart Association published a report that warned that the typical Southern diet might be delicious, but it’s also bad for your heart.
Bacon, sausage, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and other Southern staples are high in fats and can eventually cause heart disease.
High-protein diets were also labeled as unhealthy for our cardiovascular systems.
In July, researchers said eating plans such as the Atkins and keto diets can help you lose weight, but they also can be unhealthy for your heart.
The keto diet came in for other criticisms, too.
In July, Healthline listed what nutritionists consider to be some of the worst side effects of the keto diet.
Among them: a low libido and the “keto flu.”
Another report in May explained why the keto diet and other low-carbohydrate, high-fat food plans can harm some athletic performance.
The study concluded that such diets may help endurance athletes, but they can cause a drop in performance in sprinters and team sport members.
The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, received a lot of praise in 2018.
One of the most prominent was a study published in September that concluded for people over the age of 65, the Mediterranean diet can lower mortality by 25 percent.
The research said the diet is healthy for any age, but it’s particularly beneficial for older adults.
Another study suggested a Mediterranean diet can lower a person’s risk of depression.
The meta-analysis concluded that the plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts lowers inflammation, which in turn can reduce depression.
Other researchers suggested the Mediterranean diet may also help prevent a common cause of blindness.
They said the well-known diet reduces the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness in people over 50.
Another study indicated a Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Researchers said the breast has a microbiome and it therefore can be influenced by what you eat.
The praise directed toward the Mediterranean diet didn’t stop some folks from offering alternatives.
In June, Healthline told you about the Nordic diet, which some touted as an alternative for people tired of the Mediterranean diet.
This eating plan is based on the traditional cuisine found in the Northern European countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.
In June, Kelly Clarkson told her fans she had lost 37 pounds while on the Plant Paradox diet.
The singer said she had changed her eating habits after receiving a diagnosis of a thyroid condition and an autoimmune disease.
The diet is controversial because it urges people to eliminate proteins called lectins from their plates.
However, lectins are found in many fruits, vegetables, and grains.
Two sisters lit up the Internet this year by promoting their Trim Healthy Mama diet.
Pearl Barrett and Serene Allison say their eating plan reduces insulin spikes by encouraging people to eat every three hours, separate fats and carbs, and cut out all added sugars.
Another diet burned up social media and was met with a lot of criticism.
Mikhaila Peterson said her meat-only diet eased the symptoms of her autoimmune disease and other illnesses.
However, experts were dubious of Peterson’s claims, saying there’s no scientific evidence to back up her assertions.
Another diet that made waves on social media was also met with a storm of criticism.
The blood type diet was circulating in some internet circles this spring.
It was first developed in 1996 and offers different diets for different people, depending on their blood types.
However, nutritionists interviewed by Healthline said the science isn’t there to support the theory.
Vitamin D received plenty of positive press itself in 2018.
In January, researchers said the vitamin could help reduce symptoms from irritable bowel syndrome.
They reached that conclusion during a study that showed people with the ailment tended to have a deficiency in vitamin D.
In February, the mineral was touted for its heart-healthy qualities.
Researchers said vitamin D not only strengthens bones but also improves cardiovascular health.
In June, scientists said the vitamin could help reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.
They recommended the guidelines regarding minimal levels of the mineral be changed. They also noted sunshine is the best way to absorb this nutrient.
Breast cancer was also on the vitamin D checklist.
In July, researchers concluded that having adequate amounts of the mineral can lower the risk of breast cancer.
They dove down to the molecular level to try to figure out why.
This fall, researchers announced there are indications vitamin D can help children with obesity lose weight.
However, they said they wanted more research before recommending supplements to overweight kids.
Mothers and babies may also benefit from vitamin D.
In May, three studies discussed the benefits that pregnant women, new mothers, and infants can receive from the nutrient.
Finally, there were reports in November that vitamin D can help with exercise.
Researchers said the vitamin can increase the efficiency of oxygen use and therefore enhance your fitness routine.
It seems like there was an app for everything in 2018.
The health industry was no exception.
The first out of the gate was an app that helps pregnant women.
Babyscripts allows OB-GYNs to remotely monitor the health of their patients.
It also provides pregnant women with weekly updates.
In August, the FDA approved a controversial birth control app.
The app works by charting a woman’s fertility so she can determine which days to avoid intercourse.
The manufacturer said the app is 93 percent accurate.
Experts said the program might prove to be too much work for users. They also encouraged women to still use birth control.
Coffee also now falls under the auspices of an app.
A new app uses an algorithm to determine the perfect dose of caffeine for each individual.
Even a teenager got into the act, designing an app to help her peers.
In June, Healthline told you about Amanda Southworth, a 16-year-old who developed a program to help teens deal with anxiety and depression.
Another app may help you avoid the flu.
This program uses doctors’ reports, social media, and crowdsourcing to keep track of the spread of illnesses such as influenza and strep throat.
Finally, there’s an app that just might save your life.
This smartphone program uses a two-wire attachment to diagnose whether you’re having a heart attack.
Proponents say it works as well as an ECG test.
What top story list would be complete without a dash of the weird?
So, here are some of the unusual health stories from 2018.
In May, we told you about the audio clip that was making waves on social media.
The clip played a short sound and asked if you heard “Yanny” or “Laurel.”
People on both sides were adamant about which sound they heard.
Experts weighed in on why people heard different words.
Another sound-oriented item on the internet provoked debate this year.
Some claimed YouTube videos of people whispering were causing “brain orgasms” for viewers who listened in.
Experts said the phenomenon involved something called ASMR and did have numerous health benefits.
This summer, the odd-looking platypus made health news.
An Australian researcher said the venom from the duck-like mammal could help people with diabetes.
He said the venom contains a hormone that may assist the pancreas in producing insulin.
In September, Healthline told you about edible insects and how they might be the next superfood trend.
Proponents said the insects can be a healthy diet choice because they contain protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Finally, two celebrities help us round out our news of the weird.
In September, it was revealed that Chrissy Teigen took placenta pills after giving birth.
She was one of several well-known mothers who said it helped them recover from childbirth.
Experts, however, said the science is unclear on whether the pills have any actual health benefits.
And Kim Kardashian will help us finish it out here.
In September, a New Mexico spa issued a warning about HIV infections resulting from “vampire facials” given at their facility.
Kardashian and others helped popularize the facials this year, but experts said there were risks as well as benefits to the procedures.