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Uh-oh, these research findings are not a surprise. A study conducted in 6 U.S. metro areas found that as income levels go up, peer pressure to apply pesticides on lawns increases. As well as to irrigate lawns and apply fertilizers. One can definitely see this in the NYC metro area - the wealthier the neighborhood, the more monochromatic fake-looking lawns. Some even keep their pesticide lawn signs on the lawn for days as a status symbol.

This has an incredibly large environmental impact because lawns can be thought of as the biggest crop in the USA. Lawns cover the most area (ahead of corn) and many lawns have intense chemical management (many have pesticides applied every month for most months of the year). Yikes!

Unfortunately, every year more evidence is accumulating of the harmful health effects of pesticides - in humans, pets, wildlife, water, air, and soil. Harmful effects include neurological and immunological effects, endocrine disruption, cancers, and birth defects. Fertilizers and water irrigation of lawns (sprinkler systems) also have a set of problems, including algae blooms in water and depletion of fresh water resources. [See posts on pesticides.]

And of course, last, but not least, pesticides disrupt the microbial life of the soil, as well as kill insects and worms. I will never forget young children in a classroom being shocked by all the worms found in good soil (in a bucket of organic dirt from my yard) - they had never seen them in their chemically managed yards.

Bottom line: Be a trend-setter in your neighborhood and embrace the natural wildflowers weeds in your lawn. Think of it this way: clover and dandelions can't give you cancer, but pesticides can. In addition, studies find that untreated lawns result in diversity of grasses growing in the lawn and are also important bee habitats for all sorts of bee species. All positive.

From Beyond Pesticides: High Income, Peer-Pressure Correlated With Chemical Intensive Yard Care Practices  ...continue reading "As Income Levels Rise, Chemical Use On Lawns Increases"

A new study has nicely illustrated how extreme air pollution gets quickly into a person and has negative health effects, but improvement occurs when the exposure to the air pollution ends.

It has long been known that long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with increased heart disease and death from heart disease (cardiovascular morbidity and mortality). But now University of California researchers showed that even relatively short term exposure to high levels of air pollution has negative health effects, such as an increase in inflammation and systemic oxidation (which are linked to heart disease).

The researchers looked at 26 healthy young adults from Los Angeles who visited Beijing for a 10 week period during the summers of 2014 and 2015. They looked at both health effects (such as levels of inflammation) and also what pollutants are found in their bodies. And yes, they found both markers for inflammation and heart disease, as well as high levels of pollutants after being in Beijing for 10 weeks.

Beijing is much more polluted than Los Angeles. For example, levels of small particles in the air (PM2.5) was on average 371% higher in Beijing than Los Angeles, and concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and ozone were also at higher levels in Beijing than Los Angeles. [Note: PAHs are a group of combustion-originated air pollutants.]

Interestingly, Los Angeles air used to be much more polluted, but environmental policies and regulations resulted in the air becoming cleaner. In other words, steps can be taken to lower levels of air pollution, with would result in health benefits for everyone.

Excerpts from Medical Xpress: Study finds even a short-term visit to a severely polluted city is bad for your health  ...continue reading "Even Short-term Exposure to High Levels of Air Pollution Is Bad For Your Health"

Back in 2015 I posted about Rogan Brown's amazing paper sculptures of microbes. I just looked at some of his latest work and it is still amazing and gorgeous!

He designs, then cuts by hand or laser thousands of paper microorganisms, including cell structures, bacteria, coral, fungi, pathogens, and diatoms.

Rogan Brown wrote an article in the March-April 2017 American Scientist about his work and the process he goes through in creating his incredibly detailed paper sculptures.

All of the photos on this page are from Rogan Brown's site:

 

Cytokinesis - paper sculpture by Rogan Brown of cell division (2019). 47 x 46"

 

 

 

 

 

Magic Circle Variation 2017 -  this paper sculpture by Rogan Brown refers to petri dish, microscope lens, coral, bacteria, fungi, etc. (2017)

 

 

 

Magic Circle Colour Variation (2018) - this paper sculpture by Rogan Brown refers to petri dish, microscope lens, coral, bacteria, fungi, etc. 38 x 37"

 

 

 

Magic Circle Colour Variation detail 

Several recent studies have highlighted the negative effects of air pollution on the brain, specifically from the tiniest particles in polluted air (called PM 2.5). These tiny particles get to the human brain and cause all sorts of damage. Even at levels within government guidelines.

Two studies found that with higher chronic (daily) exposure to PM2.5 air pollution there were structural changes to the brain. Which is negative to brain health, of course.

With chronic exposure to higher levels of  PM2.5 air pollution: one study found greater declines in memory and more Alzheimer's-like brain atrophy in older women in the USA; and the second study found that higher prenatal exposure was associated with a smaller corpus callosum (a part of the brain) later in childhood. Thus structural changes in the brain!

The tiniest particles are 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, about 1/30th the width of human hair - and referred to as PM2.5. These fine particles are produced by all sorts of combustion, including motor vehicles, power plants, residential wood burning, agricultural burning, some industrial processes, and forest fires. Typically there is much more exposure to PM2.5 in busy urban streets, and less in quiet suburban streets.

Researchers in Barcelona, Spain found that long-term higher prenatal exposure to PM2.5 particulate matter, especially during the last trimester of pregnancy, is associated with a smaller corpus callosum in children between the ages of 8 and 12 years. This is an important finding because a smaller (reduced volume) corpus callosum is found in ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), ASD (autism spectrum disorder), and hyperactivity. So here we see a structural change in the brain from air pollution at PM2.5 levels that are considered acceptable (within guidelines) by the European Union!

A report called The State of Global Air/2018 stated that studies show that long-term exposure to PM2.5  particles in the air "is the most consistent and robust predictor" of death from heart disease and stroke, lung cancer, and respiratory illnesses. And then there are nitrogen oxides and ozone, which are also linked to death. There are also nanoparticles (e.g., from friction of tires being used) that penetrate deep into the human body.

A 2018 The Guardian article called air pollution "the new tobacco". And that it's time to tackle this epidemic. Yup. Unfortunately, current air pollution standards are being relaxed in all sorts of ways under the current U.S. administration. Beware!

First study. Excerpts from Medical Xpress: Exposure to PM 2.5 pollution linked to brain atrophy, memory decline  ...continue reading "Air Pollution and the Brain, Part 1"

Americans are eating so much ultra-processed food that it's now more than 50% of their daily calories. And why shouldn't they eat these foods? They're easy to get (fast foods, prepackaged foods, take out foods), they taste good, and they're great for people pressed for time. That's why they're called "convenience foods" and include fast foods, prepackaged foods, many frozen meals, take out foods, soda, packaged snacks, and many cakes, candies, and cookies.

But... there's a dark side to highly processed food. It is linked to all sorts of harmful health effects (cancer, Alzheimer's disease, etc), to chronic inflammation, and now to worse heart health. Even our beneficial gut microbes don't like highly processed foods. Instead, they like real whole foods, especially plant based foods high in fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes.

There are all sorts of ingredients in ultra-processed foods that are laboratory concoctions, from artificial and natural flavors, colors, additives, preservatives, etc. Read the ingredient lists!

The results of a new study by researchers at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) found that  for every 5% increase in calories from ultra-processed foods a person ate, there was a corresponding decrease in overall cardiovascular (heart) health.

From Science Daily: Too much ultra-processed food linked to lower heart health  ...continue reading "Highly Processed Foods and Heart Health"

The last few years has seen a loosening of all sorts environmental rules here in the United States, including air pollution. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is not looking out for ordinary people, but doing its best to be as accommodating as possible to big industry. Pollution standards and rules are going backwards! A lot.

[NY Times Dec. 2018 list of 78 environmental rules on the way out. Since then things have only gotten worse - see regulatory rollback tracker from Harvard Law School. Posts on air pollution and health effects.]

Which is why I'm now posting an article about 5 personal air pollution monitors that measure what is in the air around you -  whether in your home, workplace,  or outside. Some can be carried around, others meant to be set up indoors. Most are small, portable, and under $250 (Aeroquel is more expensive). They measure particulates in the air plus other things such as VOCs.

They are Atmotube, Plume LabAwairAeroqual, and Purple Air monitors. Purple Air monitors smoke, dust, and particulate pollution, and connects a person into an air quality network, so that there is "real time" monitoring. They all are a little different, and all look good. I really, really want an air pollution monitor!

Since this NY Times article was published, it appears that new versions of the pollution monitors (more advanced) are available from these companies.

Excerpts from a Nov. 30, 2018 article by Nellie Bowles in the New York Times: Do You Know What You’re Breathing?  ...continue reading "You Can Easily Measure the Air Quality Around You"

Generations of people were raised thinking that when a person sleeps, that the brain is also resting. Well.... that was then, but the new view is that when we are sleeping, a number of important things are occurring. A main activity during sleep is that the brain is flushing out the garbage, that is, waste products or toxins. [Some other stuff going on includes cell repair, building of bone and muscle, memory consolidation, and strengthening of the immune system.]

A team of Boston researchers found that first a wave of electrical signal in the neurons of the brain occurs (known as a slow wave), and seconds after that a pulse of cerebrospinal fluid washes through the brain. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is the liquid that flows through the brain and spinal cord. The researchers, who studied sleeping humans, said that the waves were like a really slow wash cycle in the brain, and that this was happening every 20 seconds during deep sleep (non-rapid eye movement sleep). Their thinking is that the fluid washes away toxins associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Bottom line: Make sure to get enough sleep! Your health depends on it.

From NPR: How Deep Sleep May Help The Brain Clear Alzheimer's Toxins

The brain waves generated during deep sleep appear to trigger a cleaning system in the brain that protects it against Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.  ...continue reading "The Brain Flushes Out Waste and Toxins During Deep Sleep"

For years it has been known that eating foods with artificial trans fats has serious health effects. It has been linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, inflammation, and risk of early death, diabetes, and poorer memory in middle-aged men. Now the results of a study, which followed 1628 older residents of a Japanese community for a decade, found that we can add dementia and Alzheimer's disease to this list.

The researchers measured blood levels of elaidic acid, which is a biomarker for artificial (industrial) trans fats. Those persons in the groups with the highest levels of elaidic acid had higher levels of dementia and Alzheimer's disease after a decade (a linear association - the higher the levels, the higher the incidence), but there was no association with vascular dementia.

The researchers found that eating sweet pastries, margarine, sugar confections (e.g. candy, caramels, chewing gum), croissants, nondairy creamers, ice cream, and rice crackers were all the strongest predictors of having higher serum elaidic levels in this study. [Notice that margarine, which for years was considered "healthy", is now considered "unhealthy" because of its trans fats.]

The FDA banned the use of trans fats in foods starting June 2018, but there is a big loophole, a really big loophole. Foods containing less than 0.5 grams of trans fats are allowed to be labeled as ZERO grams of trans fats, because they are allowing the companies to round downward. So if a person eats a number of foods per day containing these "minimal" amounts, they add up. And in this way one can wind up with pretty high levels in the blood. [By the way, some countries still allow trans fats. Also, read the interesting story of the man behind the U.S. ban.]

Where are trans fats still found? Trans fats are found in partially hydrogenated oils, as well as in other types of refined oils, monoglycerides, diglycerides and other emulsifiers, and even in flavors and colors. They are found in a lot of processed food (e.g. baked goods, vegetable shortening, vegetable oils, whipped toppings), so read ingredient labels carefully and avoid them. As usual, best are real whole foods . If you see something that you don't routinely have and cook with in your kitchen, then avoid that ingredient. For example, do you have monoglycerides in your kitchen? NO? Then it's an ingredient to avoid.

From Medscape: Trans Fats Tied to Increased Dementia Risk  ...continue reading "Trans Fats and Dementia"

The results of a recent study makes sense - that different microbes are found in city and town apartments and homes versus rural homes and jungle huts. And of course one would expect these different exposures to have an effect on our health. Guess where one gets more fresh air and sunlight, and where one has more chemical exposures?

Inside modern city and town buildings is lots of exposure to all sorts of plastics, human made chemicals, cleaners (and disinfectants), pesticides, medications, lack of fresh air, and along with lack of sunlight - all sorts of fungi. On the other hand, in rural areas there is fresher air, more sunlight, and more natural materials. [Remember: it's plastics and modern chemical compounds that outgas into the air and are a cause of air pollution. And yes, get into our bodies and affect our health negatively.]

The study was conducted in Peru and Brazil by several big names in the microbiome field, including Martin Blaser, Rob Knight, and Maria Dominguez-Bello. As the researchers point out, we have replaced a natural environment with a synthetic environment. Bottom line: get out into nature as much as possible, even if it's just walks. Try to use natural materials in your home (e.g., wood and not just plastic furniture), try to use "natural" products, and fewer chemicals routinely (pesticides, disinfectants, etc)

From Futurity: More Fungi Live In Urban Homes Than In Jungle Huts  ...continue reading "Different Microbes Live In Urban Homes Versus Really Rural Homes"

Researchers in Canada found that sunlight (or UVB light) on the skin changes the gut microbes (gut microbiome), especially in people with lower levels of vitamin D, that is, who are vitamin D deficient. UVB (Ultraviolet B light) exposure increased beneficial gut microbe diversity and richness in these people, as well as increasing their vitamin D levels. However, people who had been taking vitamin D supplements prior to the study, and who had sufficient vitamin D levels, did not have significant gut microbiome changes.

The researchers viewed the study results as evidence that there may be a skin-gut axis. As the researcher Vallance said: “It is likely that exposure to UVB light somehow alters the immune system in the skin initially, then more systemically, which in turn affects how favorable the intestinal environment is for the different bacteria,” suggested Vallance.

The researchers also thought that these study results (which was conducted in Vancouver, Canada, in healthy human volunteers) could help explain the protective effect of UVB light against inflammatory diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). And how did the researchers know what bacteria were in the gut in the study participants? They analyzed the feces with modern genetic sequencing methods. By the way, these results match what has been found in earlier studies in humans and mice.

Bottom line: Sunlight on the skin is beneficial to the gut microbiome, by increasing gut bacteria linked to health. In the study the increases in bacteria (after UVB light exposures) were in the Lachnospiraceae, Ruminococcus, and Clostridiaeae families. And nope, none of those are found in currently available probiotics. By the way, this study was conducted in winter in Canada, so the effects of UVB light were clearly seen in the healthy volunteers. This study supports getting some sunlight exposure (on the skin), and perhaps supplementing with vitamin D in the winter.

From Medical Xpress: Where the sun doesn't shine? Skin UV exposure reflected in poop  ...continue reading "Exposure To Sunlight Improves Gut Microbes and Vitamin D Levels"