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There is strong evidence for a link between the foods a person eats, the microbes that live in the person's gut (gut microbiome), and the person's health, according to a large international study. Yes, it's all related.

The researchers were able to find clear patterns of the types of foods eaten and the microbes in the gut. They found that the presence of 15 specific bacteria are consistently associated with good health ("good microbes") and some other bacteria ("bad microbes") are associated with poor metabolic health (including inflammation, blood sugar control).

Study researcher Tim Spector (of King's College London) said: "When you eat, you're not just nourishing your body, you're feeding the trillions of microbes that live inside your gut."

They found that a diverse diet rich in minimally processed plant-based foods (e.g. fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grains, dietary fiber) and fish supports and feeds "good" gut microbes associated with health, with favorable blood sugar levels (glucose control), lower levels of inflammation, improved metabolism, and thus lower risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions (e.g. type 2 diabetes).

On the other hand, persons that ate more highly processed foods, added sugars (desserts!), low fiber foods, artificial sweeteners, foods with additives were more likely to have "bad" microbes linked to poor health, inflammation, unfavorable blood sugar levels, and obesity.

They were able to see that specific foods clearly had an effect on specific bacteria, for example eating tomatoes with an increase in beneficial species of Roseburia. Eating a variety of plant based foods was also associated with an increase in diversity of bacteria (this is considered good), and also with the presence of beneficial keystone bacteria such as  Faecalibacterium prausnitzii.

VERY IMPORTANT: The beneficial bacteria the researchers list are NOT in probiotic supplements. Instead, you must eat a variety of foods that feed beneficial bacteria (e.g. eating a Mediterranean style diet). In fact, some of the microbes the researchers found have not yet been named. Foods also contain bacteria, and these are ingested. For example, an apple contains about 100 million bacteria!

From Science Daily: Link between gut microbes, diet and illnesses revealed

Diets rich in healthy and plant-based foods encourages the presence of gut microbes that are linked to a lower risk of common illnesses including heart disease, research has found.  ...continue reading "Your Diet, Your Gut Microbes, And Your Health"

Well... once again a study found that frequently eating fried food is not good for health - that it is linked to a higher risk of major heart disease and major cardiovascular events (e.g. heart attack, stroke).

Apparently there has been some debate over this issue, so researchers at  Shenzhen University in China reviewed 19 studies on fried food consumption. They found that there is a linear increase - the more fried food is eaten each week, the higher the risks of heart disease, major cardiovascular events, and heart failure.

The risk for a major cardiovascular event or heart disease increases by 2 to 3% with each additional serving (one serving = 114 g or 4 oz) of fried food per week. Which bring us to the bottom line: Eat fried food sparingly!

From Science Daily: Fried food intake linked to heightened serious heart disease and stroke risk

Fried-food intake is linked to a heightened risk of major heart disease and stroke, finds a pooled analysis of the available research data, published online in the journal Heart. And the risk rises with each additional 114 g (4 oz) weekly serving, the analysis indicates.  ...continue reading "Fried Foods and Risk of Heart Disease"

The common parasite Toxoplasmosa gondii is associated with an increased risk of a rare form of aggressive brain cancer called glioma, according to a recent study. Toxoplasmosis is a disease that results from infection with the microscopic Toxoplasma gondii parasite.

People can be exposed to this parasite from infected cat feces, drinking  contaminated water, eating infected undercooked meat (especially pork, lamb, venison). Mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy can also occur. [CDC toxoplasmosis page] Most healthy people recover from toxoplasmosis without treatment, but it can be dangerous for certain groups (e.g. the fetus during pregnancy)

Toxoplasma gondii Credit: CDC

The study found that persons with gliomas are more likely to have antibodies to T. gondii (which means they've had a prior infection), than a similar group that was cancer free. The researchers thought the parasite can sometimes form cysts in the brain, and the inflammation associated with the cysts might be responsible.

The study looked at 2 groups of people, both in the US and in Norway. Another finding was that "some people with glioma have no T. gondii antibodies, and vice versa". (Whew...) The study showed an association, and does not prove cause and effect. However, other studies found similar results.

Gliomas make up the majority of malignant brain tumors, and glioblastomas (with a 5 year survival rate of 5%) are the most common type. Gliomas occur in approximately 6.6 per 100,000 individuals each year. In comparison, it is estimated that 11% of the US population to 60% in some areas of the world have been infected with the T. gondii parasite. And yet the brain cancer is very rare.

From Science Daily: Study identifies exposure to common food-borne pathogen linked to rare brain cancer

A new study suggests a link between toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) infection and the risk of glioma, a type of brain cancer, in adults. 

...continue reading "Link Between Common Parasite and Brain Cancer"

Breastfeeding
Wikimedia Commons/ Anton Nosik

There are a lot of health reasons why breast milk is better for a baby then formula, and now another reason can be added to the list. A recent study found that specific immune cells (regulatory T cells) expand more in the first three weeks of life in breastfed human babies - nearly twice as abundant as in formula fed babies.

These cells control the baby's immune response against maternal cells transferred with breast milk and help reduce inflammation. In other words, breast milk is good for the baby's immune system development.

The University of Birmingham researchers also found that specific beneficial bacteria, called Veillonella and Gemella, which support the function of regulatory T cells, are more abundant in the gut of breastfed babies.

Breast milk is considered the best food for infants. It contains a range of complex nutrients, antimicrobial proteins, bacteria, human milk oligosaccharides, and hormones from the mother. Thus it isn't surprising that whether the baby receives breast milk or formula influences the gut microbiome (community of microbes in the gut).

From Science Daily: New insight into why breastfed babies have improved immune systems

Research led by the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Women's and Children's NHS Foundation Trust has revealed new insight into the biological mechanisms of the long-term positive health effects of breastfeeding in preventing disorders of the immune system in later life.  ...continue reading "Beneficial Effect of Breast Milk On the Baby’s Immune System"

It's getting hotter! NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) just released a short dramatic video stating that 2020 tied 2016 for the warmest year on record. They also released an article pointing out that while the last few decades have shown a "dramatic warming trend", the last seven years have been the warmest seven years on record.

The NASA video (under 1 minute):

It is expected that Earth's temperature will continue increasing (climate change!), and that records will continue to be broken. Rising temperatures are resulting in a loss of sea ice, sea level rise, longer and more intense heat waves, shifts in plant and animal habitats, etc. Temperatures are increasing due to human activities, specifically emissions of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane.

Are humans up to the challenge of climate change? We have no choice.

Doctors now have an easy test for determining your heart health, according to European researchers. Anyone can take the test - just need access to staircases and wear comfortable sneakers or shoes. The test: time it takes to climb 4 flights of stairs or 60 steps.

According to the researchers, the best is being able to climb the stairs at a fast pace, without stopping, in 45 seconds or less (heart health!). A sign of poorer ("suboptimal") heart health is taking 1 1/2 minutes or more to do it. The researchers go on to discuss how heart health is linked to risk of death over the next ten years.

From Science Daily: Test your heart health by climbing stairs

Climbing four flights of stairs in less than a minute indicates good heart health, according to research presented at EACVI -- Best of Imaging 2020, a scientific congress of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).   ...continue reading "Climbing Stairs Is An Easy Test Of Heart Health"

Thankfully this rarely occurs, but so horrifying that it does. A study found that occasionally babies can contract cancer from their mothers during childbirth.

The Japanese study described the (rare) transmission of cervical cancer to two babies during birth, when the babies must have inhaled tumor cells as they were being born. Both later developed lung cancers, which were exact genetic matches to their mothers' cancers.

This is how rare it is: Approximately one in 1000 live births involves a mother who has cancer, but transmission of the cancer is estimated to only occur to one infant for every 500,000 mothers with cancer. 1 in 500,000. Most other cases have involved leukemia, lymphoma, and melanoma cancer cells crossing the placenta during pregnancy (transplacental transmission).

From Medical Xpress: Women may transmit cancer to infants in childbirth, reports suggest

In extremely rare instances, newborns can contract cancer from their pregnant moms during delivery, a new case report suggests.  ...continue reading "Rare Cases of Babies Contracting Cancer From the Mother During Birth"

Great news for men who eat a Mediterranean style diet! A study found that after a diagnosis of prostate cancer, those men who ate a Mediterranean style diet had less progression of the cancer over the next three years.

These were men who were diagnosed when the cancer was still localized and who were doing "active surveillance", that is, just actively watching the cancer  and not having cancer treatments.

A Mediterranean style diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, legumes, nuts, fish, and extra virgin olive oil. It is a diet high in fiber, and low in processed meats, fats, sugar, and highly processed foods.

The Mediterranean diet is associated with health in a number of ways, such as lowered risk of death and a number of diseases (e.g. heart disease), and also lowered levels of chronic inflammation. It also has a beneficial effect on gut microbes, resulting in an increase in beneficial microbes that are associated with health and lower levels of chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is linked to cancers and a number of diseases - thus the goal is to keep inflammation levels down.

The Univ. of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center researchers said that the findings support the idea that a Mediterranean diet can affect prostate cancer progression through lowering of systemic inflammation. The researchers write: "The Mediterranean diet may be beneficial for men with localized prostate cancer on active surveillance  because of its anti‐inflammatory, antilipidemic, and chemopreventive properties." [chemopreventive means it "prevents or slows the development of cancer"; antilipidemic is something that "reduces lipid levels in the blood"]

From Science Daily: Mediterranean diet may decrease risk of prostate cancer progression

In a study to examine a Mediterranean diet in relation to prostate cancer progression in men on active surveillance, researchers from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center found that men with localized prostate cancer who reported a baseline dietary pattern that more closely follows the key principles of a Mediterranean-style diet fared better over the course of their disease.   ...continue reading "Mediterranean Diet May Lower the Risk of Prostate Cancer Progression"

It turns out that people experiencing a major depression have differences in their gut microbiome (community of microbes) when compared to healthy people who are not depressed. A persistent and prolonged period of extreme sadness or depression is called a major depressive disorder (MDD).

A team of researchers (in both China and the US) analyzed stool samples from 311 people  with either MDD or healthy and not-depressed (the control group). They used modern genetic sequencing to see what microbes were in the stools. They found differences in 47 bacterial species, 3 bacteriophages (a virus that infects bacteria), and 50 fecal metabolites - which suggested to the researchers that depression is characterized by gut microbiome problems (it's imbalanced or out of whack).

There actually was a "signature composition" of gut microbes in the depressed persons, all of whom were unmedicated. They found higher levels ("increased abundance") of 18 bacterial species in people with MDD (mainly belonging to the genus Bacteroides) and 29 were less common (mainly belonging to Eubacterium and Blautia), when compared to healthy persons.

The researchers point out that other studies also find the gut microbiome to be imbalanced in MDD, and there are animal experiments showing that the gut microbiome has a role in causing MDD (e.g. transplanting gut microbes from a depressed person into a rat results in the rat exhibiting depressive behaviors).

Excerpts from The Scientist: Distinct Microbiome and Metabolites Linked with Depression

The human gut microbiome is a world in miniature, populated by a chatty community of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa nestled within various gastrointestinal niches. Over the past decade, researchers have linked disturbances within this complicated microbial society to a variety of diseases. Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one such condition, but the studies have been small and the findings imprecise.   ...continue reading "Gut Microbiome Is Altered In Persons With Major Depression"

The issue of plastics, the chemicals they contain, and the harms to human health has been documented in a new report from the international Endocrine Society. This is a problem that won't go away because plastic use is increasing throughout the world, we use plastic products every day, we are surrounded by plastics, and they are now everywhere in our environment.

Chemicals leach out of the plastics and so get into us, wildlife, and the environment. Plastics also degrade into tiny particles called microplastics over time - which is why we find tiny plastic particles in our water, air, house dust, foods, beverages, and even in our bodies and feces.

Plastics can contain endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals, which can disturb or disrupt the body’s hormone systems. They can cause cancer, diabetes, reproductive disorders (e.g. fertility problems, lowered sperm count), neurological impairments (e.g. lower IQ) of developing fetuses and children, and death. Fetuses, babies, and young children are especially vulnerable to these chemicals. [More posts on this topic.]

More than a thousand manufactured chemicals that are used nowadays are endocrine disrupting chemicals, also called EDCs. Some examples of common EDCs are bisphenols (e.g.BPA and BPS), phthalates, flame retardants, water and stain-resistant chemicals, and non-stick coatings in cookware. They are found in many household and personal care products, and toys (e.g. vinyl toys).

And no, the US government is doing nothing about this issue. Right now it is up to us individually to try to protect ourselves and to lower our exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals and other harmful chemicals. List of things you can do: Tips to reduce harmful chemical exposures and levels in your body. [For ex.: Microwave food only in regular dishes. Not in plastic containers or pouches.]

The Endocrine Society (a global society of physicians and scientists) came out with a report documenting the harms of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in plastics. Their Dec. 10, 2020 announcement: Plastics, EDCs & Health: Authoritative Guide, contains a link to the full report.

The Endocrine Society has a two page really nice summary and explanations of the types of chemicals found in plastics: 7 Harmful Chemical Types in Plastics [They are bisphenols, alkylphenols, phthalates, perfluorinated chemicals, brominated flame retardants, dioxin, and UV stabilizers.]

From Medical Xpress: Plastics pose threat to human health

Plastics contain and leach hazardous chemicals, including endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that threaten human health. An authoritative new report, Plastics, EDCs, & Health, from the Endocrine Society and the IPEN (International Pollutants Elimination Network), presents a summary of international research on the health impacts of EDCs and describes the alarming health effects of widespread contamination from EDCs in plastics.   ...continue reading "New Report On Harms to Human Health From Chemicals In Plastics"