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There are microbial differences (microbiome) in babies who are born by cesarean vs vaginal deliveries. Research shows that bacterial differences can be minimized by a simple procedure - swabbing the newborn infant with the mother's vaginal fluids (using a gauze pad).

An infant normally picks up bacteria during birth as it passes through the birth canal, and these bacteria "seed" (colonize) the baby's skin and gut microbial community. On the other hand, babies born by C-section are colonized by microbes floating around in the operating room (from doctors, nurses) and these are predominantly skin bacteria. These bacterial differences between babies born by vaginal birth or C-section persist and are thought to explain some health differences between babies born vaginally or by C-section.

Dr. Dominguez-Bello has been doing a long-term study in which babies born by cesarean section are immediately swabbed with a gauze cloth soaked with the mother's vaginal fluids (which contain the mother's microbes). This resulted in the infants' skin and gut microbial community being more like vaginally born babies. These microbial changes persisted during the first year of life.

Such big changes from such a small procedure!

From The Scientist: Maternal Vaginal Fluids Mimic Microbe Transfer of Vaginal Birth

Babies born by C-section carry an increased risk of immune and metabolic disorders later in life, which studies have suggested may be associated with the communities of microbes on and in their bodies at the time of birth.  ...continue reading "Missing Birth Canal Bacteria Can Be Restored to Cesarean Birth Babies"

Credit: NSF

Once again it is summer – the weather is hot, flowers are blooming, and pesticide application signs appear on lawns throughout the United States.

Americans love their lawns, and there seems to be a national obsession for one that looks like a lush weed-free carpet. Lawns can be thought of as the largest crop in the country, since they cover more area than any irrigated crop, even more than corn.

This has led to Americans applying nearly 80 million pounds of lawn care pesticides each year. One of the most common weed-killers is 2,4-D, a chemical used in Agent Orange, and linked to several types of cancers. It is found in many weed and feed products.

There are different types of pesticides. Harmless sounding “weed-killers” are actually herbicides, and “bug-killers” and “bug sprays” are insecticides. The purpose of pesticides is to kill or repel whatever is viewed as a pest, whether insects or weeds. Lawn care pesticides are considered to be “cosmetic” or non-essential use pesticides – meaning they are only used for aesthetic purposes.

There is a dark side to pesticides

Unfortunately, pesticides have effects beyond whatever was targeted. We may not see or smell pesticides after they have dried, whether applied to our lawns, gardens, crops, or homes, but they are still there and getting into our bodies.

We can breathe them in, absorb them through our skin and eyes, and ingest them in food, water, and dust. When children and pets are walking or rolling around on the grass after a pesticide application, they are absorbing those chemicals into their bodies. As far back as the early 1990s, studies showed that pesticides such as 2,4-D get into people and pets walking on treated lawns, especially on the first day they are sprayed (applied).

Pesticides are found in our air, water, soil, “drift” from neighboring properties and farms, and even in rain and fog. We track pesticides into our homes from the outside, where they linger in house dust and carpets. Scary, isn’t it?

Every year more evidence accumulates that pesticide exposures have harmful effects on humans, pets, wildlife, birds, bees, and other beneficial insects. Even on microbes in the soil, as well as microbes in the human gut microbiome!

Exposure to pesticides can be acute – a big amount at once, such as when a toddler walks over a recently treated lawn and winds up severely ill and possibly hospitalized. Yes, that actually happened to a child in my town. Or exposure to pesticides can be continuous and at low levels (chronic exposure).

Did you know that over 90% of all Americans, including pregnant women, have pesticide residues in their bodies? Pesticides can be measured in our blood and urine, breast milk, and even meconium (an infant's first feces). Studies show that while we are being exposed less to some now banned pesticides, other pesticide levels, such as glyphosate (which is used in Roundup), are rapidly increasing in human bodies.

The bad news is that we don’t really know what all the chronic low-level pesticide mixtures that we are exposed to are doing to us. Studies are finding health problems such as cancers, endocrine (hormone) disruption, reproductive problems, effects on mental development and behavior, and even effects on semen quality. Being exposed to pesticides at certain times of development can have the biggest effects, especially during pregnancy when the fetus is developing and during childhood.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in December 2012 warning of the dangers of pesticide exposure (including in the home) to children and during pregnancy. They stated that this includes common pesticides considered by many as “safe”, such as pyrethroids.

Our pets are at risk too. Dogs exposed to lawn pesticides develop the same cancers as humans. Researchers consider them early warning systems for human health because cancers take only a few years to show up in dogs, but many years in humans. ...continue reading "Are Lawn and Garden Pesticides Harming Us?"

Scientists have suggested for decades that a person's diet may play a role in the development of intestinal bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. This is because these diseases are dramatically increasing in industrialized countries (e.g. USA and Canada) where people eat western diets with lots of ultra-processed foods (additives and artificial ingredients) and a low fiber intake.

A recent large world-wide study found that a higher intake of ultra-processed foods was associated with an increased risk of developing intestinal bowel diseases. This association was seen for all ultra-processed foods, as well as different types of ultra-processed foods - such as processed meats, soft drinks, refined sweetened foods (e.g. packaged desserts, sugary cereals) and salty foods and snacks.

However, this association with IBD was not seen with higher intakes of white meat, red meat, dairy, starch, fruit, vegetables, and legumes. The 116,087 participants were from 21 countries and were followed for 9 to 11 years.

Processed and ultra-processed foods often include many non-natural ingredients and additives such as artificial flavors and colors, sugars, stabilisers, emulsifiers, and preservatives. Emulsifiers are added to most ultra-processed foods to aid texture and extend shelf life. Even "natural flavors" is a laboratory concoction used to alter a food product's taste.

Other studies have found increased rates of gut inflammation and alteration of gut microbes from foods containing emulsifiers (e.g. carboxymethylcellulose, polysorbate 80, soy lecithin, carrageenan), maltodextrin, and titanium dioxide (frequently in nanoparticle form).

Bottom line: For health, eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Eat less fast food, ultra-processed foods, processed meats, sugary packaged sweets, and soft drinks. Read ingredient lists!

From Science Daily: Ultra-processed food linked to higher risk of IBD

A higher intake of ultra-processed food is associated with higher risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), finds a study published by The BMJ today.  ...continue reading "Ultra-Processed Foods and Intestinal Bowel Disease"

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has failed the people of the United States with regard to pesticides and pesticide exposures, but absolutely given in to the wishes of the pesticide industry. This has resulted in pesticides being used in the US that are banned in other countries, and in Americans being exposed to unsafe pesticide exposures.

What is going on at the EPA? Cover-ups, studies finding health problems ignored, waiving of tests/studies that should have been done, political interference, pesticide industry lobbyists having a lot of influence at the EPA, punishment of scientists who speak out or point out harms about specific pesticides, top EPA officials leaving the EPA to work at pesticide companies, and on and on.

Yes, commonly used pesticides such as chlorpyrifos, Roundup, malathion, and neonicotinoids (neonics) all have had EPA suppression of research showing serious health harms (e.g. cancer, neurological harm).

Sharon Lerner at the Intercept has written a great piece of investigative journalism about pesticides and the EPA. She writes that the EPA “is often unable to stand up to the intense pressures from powerful agrochemical companies, which spend tens of millions of dollars on lobbying each year and employ many former EPA scientists once they leave the agency. The enormous corporate influence has weakened and, in some cases, shut down the meaningful regulation of pesticides in the U.S. and left the country’s residents exposed to levels of dangerous chemicals not tolerated in many other nations.”

From the Intercept: The Department of Yes - How Pesticide Companies Corrupted the EPA and Poisoned America

While it’s impossible to catalog all the ways in which the EPA has failed to protect the public from the harms of pesticides, this reporting has brought to light several instances in which the overlooking, burying, or scuttling of science has had direct consequences for human health.  ...continue reading "The Pesticide Industry’s Influence Over EPA Decisions"

The results of a large study adds more evidence to what we have long suspected: eating a Southern-style diet (fried foods and sugary drinks!) increases the risk for sudden cardiac death (up to 46% higher risk), while eating a plant-based or Mediterranean style diet appears to lower that risk.

Sudden cardiac death (SCD) occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating, and death occurs within one hour from the onset of symptoms. Heart disease (coronary artery disease) is the most common underlying cause of SCD (75 to 80% of cases), but it can also have other causes (e.g. heart failure, valve disease). Sudden cardiac death is quite common in the US - about 1 in every 7.5 deaths (or nearly 367,000 deaths in 2016).

Univ. of Alabama researchers looked at 5 dietary patterns that people ate over a 10 year period:  plant-based (Mediterranean), Southern, convenience food, alcohol & salad, and sweets. People generally eat foods from all 5 groups, but what is significant is the primary pattern - what the person mostly eats. The Southern diet is most prevalent in the southeastern US, which is also known as the "Stroke Belt", due to the higher stroke death rate there.

A Southern-style dietary pattern is characterized by fried foods, added fats,  eggs, organ meats (such as liver or giblets), processed meats (e.g. bacon, hotdogs, cold cuts), and sugar-sweetened beverages. A plant-based or Mediterranean dietary pattern is rich in fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grains, legumes (beans), and fish, and low in processed meats, added fats, and fried foods.

The bottom line here is that what you eat has an effect on your health, including heart health. Best is a diet rich in plant-based foods - which also happens to be fiber rich and best for feeding beneficial microbes in the gut. Try to eat at least a minimum of 5 to 6 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, but more (up to 8 or 9 servings) might be even better.

From Science Daily: The Southern diet - fried foods and sugary drinks - may raise risk of sudden cardiac death

Regularly eating a Southern-style diet may increase the risk of sudden cardiac death, while routinely consuming a Mediterranean diet may reduce that risk, according to new research published today in the Journal of the American Heart Association, an open access journal of the American Heart Association.  ...continue reading "A Southern Style Diet Linked to Increased Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death"

The findings of a recent study caught my eye - that eating milk chocolate daily was beneficial for health a number of ways. Consuming a 3.5 oz bar of milk chocolate daily did not cause weight gain, that it actually resulted in reducing hunger and desiring fewer sweets the rest of the day, increased beneficial polyphenols, improved the gut microbiome, and morning consumption decreased fasting glucose (good). Overall, it was best to eat the chocolate in the morning (as compared to the evening before bedtime). Yes!!!

The researchers studied postmenopausal women (48 to 62 years old) in Murcia, Spain who ate milk chocolate daily, or no chocolate for 2 weeks while eating as usual (regular dietary pattern), and then did the opposite for 2 weeks after a one week break. (Thus everyone ate chocolate daily at some point). This meant that the chocolate eaters actually ate slightly more calories during the study than those not eating chocolate.

The researchers state that a 2018 review of chocolate studies (clinical trials) found that overall eating chocolate daily for 2 to 24 weeks (each study lasted a different length) "does not change body weight or body fat distribution". Some studies also find that eating chocolate daily slightly reduces waist size (waist circumference reduction). And this is what they also found in this study.

How much chocolate? The women in this study ate 100 grams per day (3.5 ounces) - a normal sized chocolate bar! Chocolate lovers - rejoice!

From Medical Xpress: Starting the day off with chocolate could have unexpected benefits

A new study of postmenopausal women has found that eating a concentrated amount of chocolate during a narrow window of time in the morning may help the body burn fat and decrease blood sugar levels.  ...continue reading "Milk Chocolate Has Health Benefits"

According to a recent study, two commonly available treatments for chronic sinusitis don't work. Researchers tested xylitol, the probiotic Lactococcus lactis, and ordinary saline rinses separately for one month in a group of persons with chronic sinusitis. They found that none of these improved sinusitis symptoms or sinus microbial diversity (the sinus microbiome).

Interestingly, studies find that Lactococcus lactis occurs naturally in the sinuses of some people, yet in the study it didn't seem to have healing properties (in other words, not a keystone bacteria in sinus health). The finding of xylitol not helping with sinusitis symptoms is what most people have reported to me for years - so not a surprising finding.

Plain saline rinses may temporarily improve breathing, and are especially helpful when suffering from allergies, but it has long been known that they don't treat sinusitis.

The University of Rochester Medical Center researchers had study participants doing 1 treatment (either L. lactis or xylitol nasal rinse) for 1 month, then 1 month of saline rinse alone (the "wash-out" period), and then 1 month of the other treatment rinse. So each person tried all 3 methods. Their symptoms were assessed 4 different times with the SNOT-22 symptom questionnaire [some SNOT-22 problems]. 25 persons with chronic sinusitis (and a past history of sinus surgery) were enrolled, and 10 healthy controls (no chronic sinusitis).

So what should one try if suffering from sinusitis? Try  Lactobacillus sakei (it has helped many because it is a keystone bacteria, and also kills/dominates over many harmful bacteria). However, use it only when needed (when sinusitis symptoms start to appear) and stop when feeling better.

A month of using any product, as described in this xylitol and L. lactis study, is way too long usually and can even bring on feelings of sinus "imbalance". A few days or 1 week of L. sakei (whether kimchi or Lanto Sinus) may be enough! No need to repeatedly flood the sinuses with 1 product - normally healthy sinuses contain multitudes of species living in balance. ...continue reading "Some Treatments Don’t Work For Sinusitis"

It turns out that we are unknowingly being exposed to toxic chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in cosmetic products. A group of researchers tested 231 cosmetic products in both the US and Canada and found that about half of them had high levels of PFAS. And most of the time they were not listed on the ingredients list. Yikes!

PFAS are man-made chemicals commonly called "forever chemicals" because of how they stick around or persist in both humans and the environment. They are found in many products, such as food packaging, non-stick cookware (Teflon), and products containing stain and water-repellents.

They are known endocrine (hormone) disruptors associated with all sorts of harmful health problems, including cancers, reproductive harm (e.g. poorer semen quality), lowered sex and growth hormones in children, thyroid disease, immune effects, and liver and kidney damage. Unfortunately, they are already found in the bodies of almost all Americans (at varying levels), so we should try to reduce our exposure.

Out of 8 categories of commonly available cosmetic products tested, the ones with the highest levels of PFAS levels were foundations, mascaras, and lip products. This was especially true of cosmetics advertised as “wear-resistant” to oils and water (e.g. waterproof mascara) or “long-lasting. This means that when a person applies the cosmetics, the chemicals are getting into the person through the skin, by inhaling the chemicals, or even through the tear ducts (for example - mascara).

The 8 categories of cosmetic products tested included: lip products, eye products, foundations, face products, mascaras, concealers, eyebrow products, and miscellaneous products. Unfortunately, the researchers did not list what products had high levels, low levels, or even no PFAS.

So, if it's not in the ingredient list, then how does a person know which cosmetics are safe and which are harmful? Right now the best thing to do is to go to Environmental Working Group (EWG), and go to their consumer guide page - click on "Skin Deep" for their cosmetic data base.

In addition, this past week Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced the "No PFAS in Cosmetics Act". Collins said: “Our bill would require the FDA to ban the addition of PFAS to cosmetics products.”

From Science Daily: Use of PFAS in cosmetics 'widespread,' new study finds

Many cosmetics sold in the United States and Canada likely contain high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a potentially toxic class of chemicals linked to a number of serious health conditions, according to new research from the University of Notre Dame. ...continue reading "Many Cosmetic Products Contain Harmful Chemicals"

We've known for a while that exposure to microbes during the baby's first year is important (and good) for the developing immune system. In addition, recent research suggests that during the second trimester of pregnancy the developing fetus already has microbes in its body which help "educate" the developing immune system.

An international team of researchers found that bacterial species are present in the fetus during the second trimester. They examined and found bacteria in the  gut, lungs, skin, and placenta of the fetuses. Gardnerella, Lactobacillus, and Staphylococcus species were found in most of the fetal organs. Streptococcus, Enterococcus, and Prevotella species were also frequently found, as well as other species. The view is that the microbes came from the mother ("vertical transmission of microbes").

What the researchers found exciting was not just that there were microbes living already in the fetus in the second trimester, but that these microbes "educate" the developing immune system, especially memory T cells. This prepares the newborn with all sorts of exposures (including harmful microbes) once it is born.

The researchers used genetic sequencing (16S ribosomal RNA sequencing) on fetal and placental tissues, which were obtained from second trimester (starting with week 13) abortions.

Excerpts from The Scientist: Microbes in Human Fetuses Spur immune Development

Over the last decade, scientists have shown that the fetal immune system comes online much sooner than was initially thought, but what type of antigens train nascent immune cells and how this affects subsequent development remain open questions. In a study published June 1 in Cell, researchers determined that second-trimester human fetuses harbor live bacteria in tissues all over their bodies that can activate fetal T cells.  ...continue reading "Bacteria Are In the Developing Baby By the Second Trimester"

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached a new high in May 2021 - 419 parts  per million (ppm). This monthly average is the highest level in more than 4 million years! Yikes! (By the way, last year the highest level ever recorded occurred in May 2020.) Well...  we topped that number this year.

The carbon dioxide levels slightly fluctuate daily (they are measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory). But over the years they have been rising (an average of 2.37 ppm per year in the last decade), and each year the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air are enough to set a new record. Each year more carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) piles up in the atmosphere and oceans, where it remains for thousands of years.

This is of concern not just because the earth is warming (resulting in more extreme weather, wildfires, drought, flooding), but also what higher and higher carbon dioxide levels might do to our thinking processes (thinking gets worse at high levels - think of a stuffy room where it's harder to think). Yes, this is climate change.

Pieter Tans, a senior scientist with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory said:

“We are adding roughly 40 billion metric tons of CO2 pollution to the atmosphere per year,” said Tans. “That is a mountain of carbon that we dig up out of the Earth, burn, and release into the atmosphere as CO2 - year after year. If we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, the highest priority must be to reduce CO2  pollution to zero at the earliest possible date.”

The US has rejoined the Paris Treaty (good), but much, much more needs to be done to stop emitting carbon dioxide. Solar energy, wind energy, and other alternative fuels. We can do it if we really want to.

See latest reading of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels - watch it rise month by month. (Check out all the links, and be horrified.)

Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Credit: NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory

Excerpts from NPR: Carbon Dioxide, Which Drives Climate Change, Reaches Highest Level In 4 Million Years

The amount of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere reached 419 parts per million in May, its highest level in more than four million years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced on Monday.  ...continue reading "Carbon Dioxide Levels Highest In 4 Million Years"