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A number of people contacting me have indicated that living in a house or apartment with a mold problem led to their chronic sinusitis. And it wasn't the dreaded toxic black mold (varieties of mold which can cause serious neurological symptoms), but common molds that triggered their inflammatory reactions, respiratory symptoms, allergies, and eventually chronic sinusitis. All due to excessive mold exposure.

This summer's flooding caused by hurricanes and tropical storms will result in major mold growth in residences after the water recedes. What will be the health consequences? Article excerpts about mold (and with impressive photos) from The Atlantic:

The Looming Consequences of Breathing Mold

But the impact of hurricanes on health is not captured in the mortality and morbidity numbers in the days after the rain. This is typified by the inglorious problem of mold. Submerging a city means introducing a new ecosystem of fungal growth that will change the health of the population in ways we are only beginning to understand. The same infrastructure and geography that have kept this water from dissipating created a uniquely prolonged period for fungal overgrowth to take hold, which can mean health effects that will bear out over years and lifetimes.

The documented dangers of excessive mold exposure are many. Guidelines issued by the World Health Organization note that living or working amid mold is associated with respiratory symptoms, allergies, asthma, and immunological reactions. The document cites a wide array of “inflammatory and toxic responses after exposure to microorganisms isolated from damp buildings, including their spores, metabolites, and components,” as well as evidence that mold exposure can increase risks of rare conditions like hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic alveolitis, and chronic sinusitis.

Twelve years ago in New Orleans, Katrina similarly rendered most homes unlivable, and it created a breeding ground for mosquitoes and the diseases they carry, and caused a shortage of potable water and food. But long after these threats to human health were addressed, the mold exposure, in low-income neighborhoods in particular, continued. The same is true in parts of Brooklyn, where mold overgrowth has reportedly worsened in the years since Hurricane Sandy. In the Red Hook neighborhood, a community report last October found that a still-growing number of residents were living in moldy apartments.

The highly publicized “toxic mold”—meaning the varieties that send mycotoxins into the air, the inhaling of which can acutely sicken anyone—causes most concern right after a flood. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew in South Carolina last year, sludge stood feet deep in homes for days. As it receded, toxic black mold grew. In one small community, Nichols, it was more the mold than the water itself that left the town’s 261 homes uninhabitable for months.

The more insidious and ubiquitous molds, though, produce no acutely dangerous mycotoxins but can still trigger inflammatory reactions, allergies, and asthma. The degree of impact from these exposure in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina is still being studied.

Molds also emit volatile chemicals that some experts believe could affect the human nervous system. Among them is Joan Bennett, a distinguished professor of plant biology and pathology at Rutgers University, who has devoted her career to the study of fungal toxins. She was living in New Orleans during the storm, and she recalls that while some health experts were worried about heavy-metal poisoning or cholera, she was worried about fungus.

The smell of the fungi in her house got so strong after the flooding that it gave her headaches and made her nauseated. As she evacuated, wearing a mask and gloves, she took samples of the mold along with her valued possessions. Her lab at Rutgers went on to report that the volatile organic compounds emitted by the mold, known as mushroom alcohol, had some bizarre effects on fruit flies. For one, they affected genes involved in handling and transporting dopamine in a way that mimicked the pathology of Parkinson’s disease in humans. “More biologists ought to be looking at gas-phase compounds, because I’m quite certain we’ll find a lot of unexpected effects that we’ve been ignoring,” said Bennett.

 Mold in ceiling.  Credit: CDC

An opinion piece in a journal raises the question of whether having some parasites in the gut is beneficial. We tend to think of parasites as harmful (and yes, some parasite species cause tremendous human suffering and death), but some others seem to exist harmlessly in humans. I'm posting this article because the authors raise the question of whether with progress (sanitation, antibiotics, a Western diet, etc.) we have also lost something beneficial to humans - one-celled organisms (protozoa) that are parasites. They are found in people living in undeveloped countries, but people in developed countries have usually few or none.

Which leads to the question - is the loss of these parasites one of the reasons for the major increase in autoimmune disorders and such diseases as Crohn's disease and colitis? The answers to these questions are unknown at this time, so studies are needed. The authors point out that after millions of years of coevolution, the protists could be providing some beneficial effects to their human hosts - and that they may be part of a normal, healthy gut microbial community (microbiome).

As we know, studies show that in developed Western countries (as compared to undeveloped countries) there is lower microbial diversity in the gut - in other words, with industrialization comes lower bacterial diversity. But... higher microbial diversity is considered beneficial. Normally the human gut has hundreds of microbial species (bacteria, viruses, fungi) living in it and interacting. Some diseases or conditions result in alterations in these microbes, and even "microbial communities being out of whack" (dysbiosis).  The authors of the paper give examples of how the presence of certain non-pathogenic protozoan species in the gut is linked to higher gut microbial diversity and with the presence of bacteria that are anti-inflammatory and beneficial.

KEEP IN MIND: Gut protozoa are one-celled organisms (called protists) that live in the gut as parasites. Numerous protozoa can inhabit the gastrointestinal tract of humans.  According to a Tulane Univ. site "The majority of these protozoa are non-pathogenic commensals, or only result in mild disease", but some of these organisms can cause severe disease under certain conditions. [NOTE: commensal = characterized by a relationship in which one species is benefited while the other is unaffected]. In the following excerpts, a helminth refers to a parasitic worm, such as a fluke, tapeworm, or nematode.

Excerpts from Trends in Parasitology:  Gut Protozoa: Friends or Foes of the Human Gut Microbiota?

The importance of the gut microbiota for human health has sparked a strong interest in the study of the factors that shape its composition and diversity.... We argue that protozoa, like helminths, represent an important factor to take into account when studying the gut microbiome, and that their presence – especially considering their long coevolutionary history with humans – may be beneficial. From this perspective, we examine the relationship between the protozoa and their hosts, as well as their relevance for public health.

The human gut microbiota spans the tree of life and includes bacteria, viruses, and eukaryotes such as fungi, helminths, and protozoa. ...The observation that the gut bacterial microbiome is less diverse in populations from industrialized countries, compared to nonindustrialized countries, has been mostly explained by differences in dietary fiber intake, food sterilization, and the use of antibiotics. Here, we propose that the decreased prevalence of helminths and gut protozoa in industrialized countries is partly responsible for this loss of bacterial diversity.

We argue, based on the knowledge of helminths, that some intestinal protozoa might have beneficial effects on their host through their influence on the gut bacterial microbiome. The role of protozoa in shaping the gut microbiome of healthy individuals remains, however, largely unrecognized. The mechanisms through which protozoa influence the gut bacteria – and the consequences for human health of their absence in developed countries – are poorly understood and call for further attention. 

 The question is therefore whether gut eukaryotes are simply parasites that are detrimental to human health or whether, on the contrary, they could provide, after millions of years of coevolution, some beneficial effects to their hosts. Historically, protozoa and helminths have been considered parasites and assumed to have a detrimental effect on the host organism. Indeed, foodborne and waterborne parasitic diseases are important worldwide, resulting in considerable morbidity and mortality. However, while the focus remains on pathogens that have been investigated from a parasitological point of view, the eukaryotic residents of the gut are often commensal (i.e., benefiting from interacting with the host without affecting it) or even beneficial.

For example, even though some helminths can cause severe illness, infections are often asymptomatic, probably reflecting a long coevolutionary history (since at least 500 million years) and tolerance of these parasites by humans. Similarly, although the best-known protozoan microorganisms found in the human gut are pathogens (i.e., Cryptosporidium spp., Giardia intestinalis, Entamoeba histolytica), it is important to remember that many protozoa, in particular Blastocystis spp., can be found with high prevalence in healthy populations, and are common (and likely ancient) members of healthy microbiomes. Indeed, although protozoan cysts are not as resistant to decay as helminth eggs, they can be found in coprolites, confirming that protozoa, like helminths, were part of our ancestral gut community. 

Interestingly, recent findings also showed that the presence of commensal protozoa (Entamoeba spp. other than Entamoeba histolytica) was strongly associated with increased diversity and various shifts in composition of the gut bacterial microbiota in rural nonindustrialized populations. Higher diversity has also been found in subjects carrying Blastocystis spp., one of the few protozoa to be present at appreciable frequency in industrialized populations. These results suggest similarities between helminths and protozoa in their effect on the gut bacterial microbiome, and raise the possibility of a potentially beneficial effect of (some) protozoa on human health.

Here, we argue that some intestinal protozoan inhabitants could play an important, yet largely unrecognized, role in shaping the gut bacterial microbiota and in maintaining the host–microbe equilibrium, and they should be considered as ‘friends’ of the human gut.

Entamoeba coli - a non-pathogenic species that frequently lives as a commensal parasite in the human gastrointestinal tract. Credit: Wikipedia.

 A study was just published by researchers at the University of California that reviewed the role of Lactobacillus bacteria in a variety of diseases and conditions. What was surprising was that while we generally think of Lactobacillus bacteria as beneficial, some studies suggest that in certain diseases or conditions they may not be. But it is unknown if in those cases whether they're causing harm or why they are there in increased amounts.

Studies have found that Lactobacillus numbers are decreased ("depleted") in: some infectious diseases such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), in diarrhea-dominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, colorectal cancer, and maternal prenatal stress (resulted in the infant having decreased levels of Lactobacillus bacteria). Lactobacillus levels were found to be either increased or decreased (depending on the study) in: cancer [but breast cancer, head and neck squamous cell cancer had increases in Lactobacillus levels], type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Increased amounts (intestinal "abundance") of Lactobacillus species has been found in: Crohn’s disease (CD) patients and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. Studies also found benefits for consuming probiotics (with varying strains of Lactobacillus) for treating most of these diseases and conditions.

It used to be thought that Lactobacillus species were main species of the gut, but as genetic sequencing tests were developed, it became clear that Lactobacillus species are less than 1% of the bacterial species of the gut - thus a "minor member" of the gut microbiome. But as can be seen in the review study - much is still unknown about Lactobacillus species. What is true for one Lactobacillus species may not apply to another one. Studies find that feeding or nourishing beneficial microbes in the gut is good (e.g., eat foods with lots of fiber), as well as eating foods with lots of naturally occurring microbes (e.g., raw fruits and vegetables, cheeses, and fermented foods).

NOTE: In the following excerpts autochthonous = native (to the gut), and allochthonous - not native (originates elsewhere - such as from ingested probiotics). Excerpts from Current Opinion in Biotechnology:

Intestinal Lactobacillus in health and disease, a driver or just along for the ride?

Similarly, a number of recent publications in which culture independent methods were employed (e.g. 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing) identified Lactobacillus as being significantly enriched in the distal gut during either health or disease.....Lactobacillus species have been isolated from the entirety of the human GI tract (oral cavity to feces) as well as the skin and vagina. This genus is estimated to constitute 6% of the total bacterial cell numbers in the human duodenum and approximately 0.3% of all bacteria in the colon..... Lactobacillus can also dominate the human vaginal microbiota (90 to 100% of total bacteria present) and is found on the skin, but in much lower relative abundance.

Only a few out of the >200 known Lactobacillus species  have been consistently and repeatedly associated with the human GI tract. Recently, this number was increased to over 50 Lactobacillus species that were repeatedly detected in the stools of healthy volunteers. The most abundant Lactobacilli included L. casei, L. delbruckeii, L.murinus, L. plantarum, L.rhamnosus, and L. ruminus. Some of these species (e.g. L. rhamnosus and L. murinus) are rarely isolated from environments outside the intestine and are considered gut-autochthonous microorganisms. Other mucosal sites are colonized by distinct species (e.g. L. crispatus in the vagina). 

Both human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected humans and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV)- infected rhesus macaques harbor reduced numbers of intestinal Lactobacillus..... Several recent animal studies have indicated a broader role for Lactobacillus in prevention and resolution of infectious disease. Tryptophan metabolites (indole aldehydes) produced by indigenous L. reuteri strains activate host aryl hydrocarbon receptors (AHR) to promote gut and vaginal epithelial barrier and antimicrobial responses required for limiting the expansion of Candida albicans, an opportunistic pathogen. Autochthonous Lactobacillus might also have a role in the resolution of infectious disease and recovery of immune homeostasis.

A meta-analysis of reports investigating the fecal microbiomes from IBS patients and healthy subjects concluded Lactobacillus was depleted in diarrhea-dominant, IBS patients..... Consistent with these results, meta-analysis of probiotic intervention studies randomized controlled trials (RCTs)) for treatment of IBS concluded that multi-species probiotics diminish symptoms (abdominal pain, bloating, and flatulence scores). Conversely, intestinal abundance of Lactobacillus and other genera including Bifidobacterium were recently positively correlated with Crohn’s disease (CD)patients .... These findings contrast with ulcerative colitis (UC) in which probiotic Lactobacillus consumption has been with improved clinical symptoms.

The intestinal microbiota of patients with severe and early onset rheumatoid arthritis (RA) were shown to have increased proportions of L. salivarius, L. ruminus, and L. iners when compared to healthy, age-matched individuals..... These results are in opposition to recent RCTs of probiotics in RA patients.... Such findings might indicate species or strain-specific differences between autochthonous and allochthonous Lactobacillus on RA disease activity.

There are conflicting reports on the association of intestinal Lactobacillus with obesity in humans..... Moreover, metaanalysis of RCT studies found that probiotic Lactobacillus improved weight management outcomes in obese adults. Consumption of yogurt and other dairy products fermented by Lactobacillus is also correlated with protection from T2D and obesity. Because Lactobacillus species appear to be either associated with weight gain or weight loss, the disparate findings among obese individuals might be due to genetic differences among the lactobacilli. Strain and species distinctions could result in variations in carbohydrate metabolism and production of fermentation end-products, such as lactate.

In a systematic review of thirty-one studies, Lactobacillus along with a limited number of butyrogenic genera were consistently diminished in colorectal cancer patients. Preventative and therapeutic roles of Lactobacillus in cancer are supported in studies with preclinical, rodent models, including a recently study in which a multi-strain probiotic altered Th-cell polarization away from Th17 cells in a mouse model of hepatocellular carcinoma. However, Lactobacillus might not always be beneficial in certain extra-intestinal sites as shown by the higher levels of Lactobacillus in malignant breast cancer compared to benign-disease tissues. There was also a positive association between the levels of this genus in the oral microbiome and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.

Image result for psoriasis wikipediaCould probiotics have a role to play in the treatment of psoriasis? A recent analysis and review of studies suggests that they might. Psoriasis is a non-contagious, chronic disease affecting about 2 to 4% of the population, and which is characterized by patches of abnormal skin. These skin patches are typically red, itchy, and scaly, and can cover small areas to covering the entire body. There is no cure for psoriasis, but various treatments can help control the symptoms, such as steroid creams, vitamin D3 cream, ultraviolet light, and immune system suppressing medications. 

What did the researchers find? They said that "new evidence suggests that the microbiome may play a pathogenic role in psoriatic disease" - meaning the community of microbes (microbiome) may be involved in this disease. There is dysbiosis of the skin microbiome (microbial community is out of whack) in areas of skin lesions or patches. Areas of skin lesions had a different microbiome ("lesional psoriatic microbiome") compared to healthy skin - and in these skin lesions or patches some microbial species increase which leads to a decrease or elimination of others. Not just differences in bacteria, but also in fungi and viruses.

in psoriasis the microbial community of the gut is also out of whack (dysbiosis of the gut microbiome). And the gut microbiome is different in those with psoriasis limited to just skin patches, and those with complications of psoriasis (e.g., psoriatic arthritis) - and several studies found that these shifts in the gut microbiome occurred before the psoriatic complications became evident. That suggests that probiotics might help. But which ones?

The researchers state: "Other changes observed in gut microbiome studies include a decrease in Actinobacteria. This may suggest a protective role of Actinobacteria, a phylum which includes Bifidobacterium species that have been shown to reduce intestinal inflammation, suppress autoimmunity, and induce Tregs." They go on to state that one 2013 study by Groeger et al demonstrated that eating Bifidobacteria infantis 35,624 for 6–8 weeks in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial reduced inflammatory markers (plasma CRP and TNF-a) in psoriasis patients. Bifidobacterium species, including B. infantis, are commonly found in many multi-strain supplements. So I wonder, what happens if people with psoriasis take them over an extended period? Will the skin psoriasis skin patches improve? This is currently unknown. But...If you've had success with probiotics as a  psoriasis treatment - please let me know. What microbes? And for what symptoms of psoriasis?

From Current Dermatology Reports : The Role of the Skin and Gut Microbiome in Psoriatic Disease

Our review of studies pertaining to the cutaneous microbiome showed a trend towards an increased relative abundance of Streptococcus and a decreased level of Propionibacterium in psoriasis patients compared to controls. In the gut microbiome, the ratio of Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes was perturbed in psoriatic individuals compared to healthy controls. Actinobacteria was also relatively underrepresented in psoriasis patients relative to healthy individuals.

Summary: Although the field of the psoriatic microbiome is relatively new, these first studies reveal interesting differences in microbiome composition that may be associated with the development of psoriatic comorbidities and serve as novel therapeutic targets.

Image result for psoriasis medscape  Psoriasis.  Credit: Medscape

 Could something as simple as giving a probiotic and a sugar for 7 days prevent sepsis in babies? Sepsis is a life-threatening infection that is a HUGE problem in developing countries such as India. It is a major cause of death in babies throughout the world, even with antibiotic treatment. So this new research (done in India) finding that giving newborn babies a probiotic plus the sugar fructooligosaccharide (FOS) for only one week had the result of lowering the incidence of sepsis and death by 40%, and also infections is huge news. A game changer.

The researchers found that the strain given to the babies was very important. They first tried Lactobacillus GG and Lactobacillus sporogenes, but didn't have success. But a strain of Lactobacillus plantarum was amazingly effective. They gave it together with a sugar - fructooligosaccharide (FOS) - which together worked as a synbiotic. Synbiotics are combinations of probiotics with an FOS supplement that promotes growth and colonization of the beneficial bacteria. FOS (which is naturally found in breast milk and such plants as onion, chicory, garlic, asparagus, banana, artichoke, agave, leeks, wheat, barley), is food for the probiotic bacteria.

It must be pointed out that other studies have tried other probiotics in the prevention of sepsis, but have not been successful. Probiotics that did not work work in other studies were Streptococcus thermophilus, Bifidobacterium infantis, Bifidobacterium lactis, and Bifidobacterium breve. However, they did not also use prebiotic supplements (the FOS) - just the probiotic alone - and studied premature or low birth weight babies (while this study focused on healthy babies of approximately normal weight.) This is why research now needs to be done looking at other groups of babies. From Medical Xpress:

Study shows probiotics can prevent sepsis in infants

A research team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health has determined that a special mixture of good bacteria in the body reduced the incidence of sepsis in infants in India by 40 percent at a cost of only $1 per infant...... The special mixture included a probiotic called Lactobacillus plantarum ATCC-202195 combined with fructo-oligosaccharide (FOS), an oral synbiotic preparation developed by Dr. Panigrahi.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. Synbiotics are combinations of probiotics with an FOS supplement that promotes growth and sustains colonization of the probiotic strain. FOS, naturally found in breast milk and such plants as onion, chicory, garlic, asparagus, banana, artichoke and others, is food for the probiotic bacteria.

Sepsis is a severe complication of bacterial infection that results in around one million infant deaths worldwide each year, mostly in developing countries. It occurs when the immune system stops fighting germs and begins to turn on itself and can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death. It is estimated that 40 percent of patients with severe sepsis in developing countries do not survive.

The team enrolled more than 4,500 newborns from 149 villages in the Indian province of Odisha and followed them for their first 60 days, the most critical period when they get sick and die. During their first days of life, the newborns were administered the oral preparation for seven days. Results of the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that sepsis and deaths in the first two months of infancy were reduced by 40 percent, more than twice the anticipated reduction of 20 percent. The synbiotic treatment also lowered respiratory tract infections. The effectiveness demonstrated in Dr. Panigrahi's study was so successful the study was halted early. 

An interesting article about this research from The Atlantic: At Last, a Big, Successful Trial of Probiotics

  Finally some good news regarding ticks and the diseases they can transmit to humans. Currently ticks in the US are known to transmit at least 14 diseases, including Lyme disease. But a recent study done in the Netherlands found that the presence of predators such as foxes resulted in mice and voles having fewer ticks on them. A really big reduction in both tick numbers and the percentage of ticks infected with a disease. The researchers  thought that this was due to the mice and voles being less active when predators were nearby, and also that mice and voles that did venture further were preyed upon and eaten by the predators. So be happy if you see foxes in your neighborhood - they're beneficial. Excerpts from the NY Times:

Lyme Disease’s Worst Enemy? It Might Be Foxes

It is August, the month when a new generation of black-legged ticks that transmit Lyme disease and other viruses are hatching. On forest floors, suburban estates and urban parks, they are looking for their first blood meal. And very often, in the large swaths of North America and Europe where tick-borne disease is on the rise, they are feeding on the ubiquitous white-footed mice and other small mammals notorious for harboring pathogens that sicken humans.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. A new study suggests that the rise in tick-borne disease may be tied to a dearth of traditional mouse predators, whose presence might otherwise send mice scurrying into their burrows. If mice were scarcer, larval ticks, which are always born uninfected, might feed on other mammals and bird species that do not carry germs harmful to humans. Or they could simply fail to find that first meal. Ticks need three meals to reproduce; humans are at risk of contracting diseases only from ticks that have previously fed on infected hosts.

For the study, Tim R. Hofmeester, then a graduate student at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and the lead researcher of the study, placed cameras in 20 plots across the Dutch countryside to measure the activity of foxes and stone martens, key predators of mice. Some were in protected areas, others were in places where foxes are heavily hunted. Over two years, he also trapped hundreds of mice — and voles, another small mammal — in the same plots, counted how many ticks were on them, and tested the ticks for infection with Lyme and two other disease-causing bacteria. To capture additional ticks, he dragged a blanket across the ground.

In the plots where predator activity was higher, he found only 5 to 10 percent as many newly hatched ticks on the mice as in areas where predators were scarcer. Thus, there would be fewer ticks to pass along pathogens to the next generation of mice. In the study, the density of infected “nymphs,” as the adolescent ticks are called, was reduced to 6 percent of previous levels in areas where foxes were more active.“The predators appear to break the cycle of infection,’’ said Dr. Hofmeester, who earned his Ph.D. after the study.

Interestingly, the predator activity in Dr. Hofmeester’s plots did not decrease the density of the mouse population itself, as some ecologists had theorized it might. Instead, the lower rates of infected ticks, Dr. Hofmeester suggested in the paper, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, may be the result of small mammals curtailing their own movement when predators are around. [Original study.]

 Did you know that you exchange some skin microbes with the person you live with? A recent study looked at the microbial communities on different regions of the skin of 10 heterosexual couples living together. The researchers found that cohabitation resulted in microbes being shared, but that a person's own microbes were more important, as well as their biological sex and what region of the skin was sampled. In other words - people's microbes look more like their own microbiome than that of their significant other.

Skin is the largest organ of the body, and it is a protective barrier between a person and its environment. The skin contains a diverse microbial community of largely beneficial and benign microorganisms, and also protects the body from microorganisms with the potential to cause disease. Studies show that between one million and one billion microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses, archaea, etc.) each square centimeter of skin. Humans shed over one million biological particles per hour.

The researchers also found that female skin microbial communities were more diverse than that of males, and that spending more time outdoors, owning pets, and drinking less alcohol (or none) were all associated with higher levels of microbial skin diversity. They found that a person's biological sex could be determined 100% of the time from microbes on the inner thigh skin. The skin of the feet had the most matched microbes among couples - perhaps when they walk barefoot on floors and the shower, they are sharing microbes (from skin particles that had been shed). From Science Daily:

Not under the skin, but on it: Living together brings couples' microbiomes together

Couples who live together share many things: Bedrooms, bathrooms, food, and even bacteria. After analyzing skin microbiomes from cohabitating couples, microbial ecologists at the University of Waterloo, in Canada, found that people who live together significantly influence the microbial communities on each other's skinThe commonalities were strong enough that computer algorithms could identify cohabitating couples with 86 percent accuracy based on skin microbiomes alone, the researchers report this week in mSystems, an open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

However, the researchers also reported that cohabitation is likely less influential on a person's microbial profile than other factors like biological sex and what part of the body is being studied. In addition, the microbial profile from a person's body usually looks more like their own microbiome than like that of their significant other. "You look like yourself more than you look like your partner," says Ashley Ross, who led the study while a graduate student in the lab of Josh Neufeld.

Neufeld and Ross, together with Andrew Doxey, analyzed 330 skin swabs collected from 17 sites on the participants, all of whom were heterosexual and lived in the Waterloo region. Participants self-collected samples with swabs, and sites included the upper eyelids, outer nostrils, inner nostrils, armpits, torso, back, navel, and palms of hands. Neufeld says the study is the first to identify regions of skin with the most similar microbiomes between partners. They found the strongest similarities on partners' feet. "In hindsight, it makes sense," says Neufeld. "You shower and walk on the same floor barefoot. This process likely serves as a form of microbial exchange with your partner, and also with your home itself." 

The analyses revealed stronger correlations in some sites than in others. For example, microbial communities on the inner thigh were more similar among people of the same biological sex than between cohabiting partners. Computer algorithms could differentiate between men and women with 100 percent accuracy by analyzing inner thigh samples alone, suggesting that a person's biological sex can be determined based on that region, but not others. The researchers also found that the microbial profiles of sites on a person's left side -- like hands, eyelids, armpits, or nostrils -- strongly resemble those on their right side. Of all the swab sites, the least microbial diversity was found on either side of the outer nose[Original study.]

Image result for moldy wallpaper How many people know this? That wallpaper could have fungi (mold) living on it, and this fungi can release toxins (mycotoxins) that can pollute the air and sicken people when people inhale the toxins. The releasing of toxins from the fungi (mold) into the air is called aerosolization - and when this indoor air pollution causes people  living or working in the building to become sick, it is called sick building syndrome. This study looked at 3 common indoor fungal species: Penicillium brevicompactum, Aspergillus versicolor, and Stachybotrys chartarum, and the mycotoxins they produce after growing on wallpaper.

Why does fungi grow on some wallpaper?  The researchers write that: "Many fungi can develop on building material in indoor environments if moisture is high enough". So either high humidity in the home (especially when the weather is hot) or water damage can result in mold growth. It is estimated that in Northern Europe and North America about 20 to 40 % of buildings have visible fungal growth on surfaces. How do the mycotoxins get into the air and move around inside the home? Ordinary living, with people moving around rooms, slamming doors, air drafts from opening windows, and ceiling fans all cause "air velocities" that move around the toxins. Please note that we normally breathe in fungi and bacteria, but inhaling an overload of mycotoxins from moldy wallpaper can sicken a person. From News-Medical:

Fungal toxins from wallpaper source of illness says new research

According to a new study, there are several toxins from fungi that could be released into the air indoors and the source could be fungi living in the wall papers. These may lead to serious health problems say researchers. These ordinary fungi that live with the household wallpaper are basically of three types found the study researchers. They can grow and eventually spread to the air. This leads to serious health consequences. These effects of transmission of the airborne fungi and their toxins on human health have not been studied or considered with importance till date say researchers.

The toxins released from the fungi are called mycotoxins. They can pollute the indoor air and lead to indoor air pollution – a condition called sick building syndrome. Sick building syndrome is a condition where the residents start to feel ill according to the time they have spent in a building.... Study co-author Jean-Denis Bailly, a professor of food hygiene at the National Veterinary School of Toulouse in France in a statement explained that these mycotoxins are released from moldy material of growth of the fungi. They are eventually inhaled by the inhabitants of the home. While investigating the quality of air indoors especially at homes that have higher fungal contamination, the indoor air quality also needs to be tested for fungal toxins, he explained.

According to researchers, there has been extensive study of fungal contamination of food. However there has been little work in terms of fungal toxins in air. For this study they looked at three fungi that commonly also contaminated foods - Penicillium brevicompactum, Aspergillus versicolor and Stachybotrys chartarum. A piece of wallpaper was found to be contaminated with these three fungi. A flowing stream of air was allowed over the wallpaper and samples of air of the room were then collected for testing.

On analysis of the indoor air the researchers found that the small particles of dust floating around in the house which could then be inhaled easily, contained toxins from these fungi. Also all fungi did not spread the toxins at the same rates they found. Some spread more toxins than others and this could help researchers to decide on which fungi species to concentrate on in terms of disease prevention they said.

 Could probiotics be used to treat depression? The medical site Medscape reported on a very small preliminary study (only 10 people) that tested that idea, with findings that suggested that taking certain probiotics does help treat the symptoms of mild to moderate depression. The bacteria taken were Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum (in the product Probio'Stick). Specifically, the symptoms of mood, anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure), and sleep disturbance were significantly reduced after probiotoc therapy.

Sounds great, yes? But ....just a few months ago a much larger study was published where people were randomly assigned to either a placebo group or the treatment group (the same 2 probiotics: Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum). It was also "double-blind" - so no one knew who got the placebo or the treatment. And here the results were: the probiotics did NOT help the depression symptoms. This study found "no evidence that the probiotic formulation is effective in treating low mood, or in moderating the levels of inflammatory and other biomarkers".

Why the different results? Maybe the "placebo effect" was why the 10 person study had a positive effect. Wanting and thinking something works can definitely influence results. (This is why ideally studies are double-blind, randomized, and with a placebo.) Or was it because the study was done "in association" with the manufacturers of Probio'Stick? Yup, it's not surprising the manufacturer of a product finds a "positive effect" from its product. Bottom line: Be careful and critical when reading "study results".

However, after saying all that - there is a "gut-brain axis" in humans, and some researchers are examining whether probiotics can treat various symptoms such as anxiety (here and here). So perhaps some other probiotic bacteria might work to treat depression.

The problematic study from Medscape: Probiotics Promising for Mild to Moderate Depression

Probiotics may be effective in reducing core depressive symptoms in treatment-naive patients with a mild to moderate form of the disorder, results of a new pilot study suggest. Investigators led by Caroline Wallace, PhD candidate, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, found that symptoms of mood, anhedonia, and sleep disturbance were significantly reduced with probiotic therapy after just 4 weeks, with results maintained at 8 weeks..... The hypothesis is that the effects are mediated via the gut-brain axis by reducing inflammation and increasing serotonin levels.

To assess the efficacy of probiotics in treatment-naive patients with depression, the researchers carried out a pilot study using Probio'Stick, a probiotic supplement that combines two different strains known to act on the gut-brain axis ― Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175. The 8-week, single-arm, open-label intervention pilot study involved 10 treatment-naive patients with major depressive disorder who were experiencing a current episode of depression..... Next steps will be to confirm these findings in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of Probio'Stick. 

Same probiotic bacteria, but no effect from the treatment. From The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum for the symptoms of depression.

No significant difference was found between the probiotic and placebo groups on any psychological outcome measure or any blood-based biomarker.

This study found no evidence that the probiotic formulation is effective in treating low mood, or in moderating the levels of inflammatory and other biomarkers. The lack of observed effect on mood symptoms may be due to the severity, chronicity or treatment resistance of the sample; recruiting an antidepressant-naive sample experiencing mild, acute symptoms of low mood, may well yield a different result. Future studies taking a preventative approach or using probiotics as an adjuvant treatment may also be more effective. Vitamin D levels should be monitored in future studies in the area. The results of this trial are preliminary; future studies in the area should not be discouraged.

Image result for Thaumarchaeota Something new to add to the list of what is in our skin microbiome - the community of microbes (bacteria, fungi, viruses) living on our skin. It turns out we also have archaea, which are single-celled microorganisms that are thought to be beneficial.

The human skin microbiome acts as a barrier protecting our body from pathogens and other environmental influences. The most common archaea found in the samples (from the chest area of 51 volunteers between the ages of 1 to 75 years) is called Thaumarchaeota. The results reveal that archaea are more abundant in people older than 60 years or younger than 12 years (as compared to middle-aged persons). But there were no differences between males and females. From Science Daily:

What's on your skin? Archaea, that's what

It turns out your skin is crawling with single-celled microorganisms -- and they're not just bacteria. A study by the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the Medical University of Graz has found that the skin microbiome also contains archaea, a type of extreme-loving microbe, and that the amount of it varies with ageThe researchers conducted both genetic and chemical analyses of samples collected from human volunteers ranging in age from 1 to 75. They found that archaea (pronounced ar-KEY-uh) were most abundant in subjects younger than 12 and older than 60

In addition to the influence of age, they found that gender was not a factor but that people with dry skin have more archaea. "Archaea might be important for the cleanup process under dry skin conditions," said Moissl-Eichinger. "The results of our genetic analysis (DNA-based quantitative PCR and next-generation sequencing), together with results obtained from infrared spectroscopy imaging, allowed us to link lower levels of sebum [the oily secretion of sebaceous glands] and thus reduced skin moisture with an increase of archaeal signatures."

It was not until the 1970s that scientists realized how different archaea were from bacteria, and they became a separate branch on the tree of life -- the three branches being Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukarya (which includes all plants and animals). Archaea are commonly found in extreme environments, such as hot springs and Antarctic ice. Nowadays it is known that archaea exist in sediments and in Earth's subsurface as well, but they have only recently been found in the human gut and linked with the human microbiome.

Their study focused on Thaumarchaeota, one of the many phyla of archaea, as little evidence of the others was found in the pilot study. "We know that Thaumarchaeota are supposed to be an ammonia-oxidizing microorganism, and ammonia is a major component of sweat, which means they might play a role in nitrogen turnover and skin health," Holman said. .... the team also correlated archaeal abundance with skin dryness, as middle-aged persons have higher sebum levels and thus moister skin than the elderly. So far, most archaea are known to be beneficial rather than harmful to human health. They may be important for reducing skin pH or keeping it at low levels, and lower pH is associated with lower susceptibility to infections.  [Original study.]

Image result for Thaumarchaeota Thaumarchaeota archaea. These single-celled organisms have just one membrane sac that encloses their bodies. Credit: Univ. of Washington