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Starting this month, it will finally be possible to buy upholstered furniture without added toxic flame retardants. From the December 31, 2013 Scientific American:

Cancer-Linked Flame Retardants Eased Out of Furniture in 2014

From the January 4, 2014 Huffington Post:

Flame-Retardant Furniture May Leave A Toxic Legacy

California's new Technical Bulletin 117 removes a decades-old requirement that flame retardants be included in the filling of upholstered furniture. The state rule, which became the de facto standard for the rest of the nation, meant use of the chemicals flourished for years nationwide, despite mounting evidence implicating them in neurological and reproductive disorders, and cancers. For all their ills, the chemicals may not actually slow fires.

"Right now, most people have harmful flame retardants in their homes and in their bodies," said Blum, a University of California, Berkeley, chemist. "And the chemicals don't serve a benefit.

As for finding new flame retardant-free furniture, Blum recommended looking for the new "TB 117-2013" tag and asking retailers whether a specific item contains flame retardants. It may be best to wait a few more months to allow new products to arrive in stores and old stock to be sold out, she noted.

A tomato rich diet may help protect women from breast cancer.From Science Daily:

Diet Rich in Tomatoes May Lower Breast Cancer Risk

A tomato-rich diet may help protect at-risk postmenopausal women from breast cancer, according to new research accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.Breast cancer risk rises in postmenopausal women as their body mass index climbs. The study found eating a diet high in tomatoes had a positive effect on the level of hormones that play a role in regulating fat and sugar metabolism.

"The advantages of eating plenty of tomatoes and tomato-based products, even for a short period, were clearly evident in our findings," said the study's first author, Adana Llanos, PhD, MPH, who is an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at Rutgers University. "Eating fruits and vegetables, which are rich in essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals such as lycopene, conveys significant benefits. Based on this data, we believe regular consumption of at least the daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables would promote breast cancer prevention in an at-risk population."

The longitudinal cross-over study examined the effects of both tomato-rich and soy-rich diets in a group of 70 postmenopausal women. For 10 weeks, the women ate tomato products containing at least 25 milligrams of lycopene daily. For a separate 10-week period, the participants consumed at least 40 grams of soy protein daily. Before each test period began, the women were instructed to abstain from eating both tomato and soy products for two weeks.

When they followed the tomato-rich diet, participants' levels of adiponectin -- a hormone involved in regulating blood sugar and fat levels -- climbed 9 percent. The effect was slightly stronger in women who had a lower body mass index.

Breast milk contains hundreds of species of bacteria.From the December 8, 2013 Scientific American:

The bacteria in breast milk

Several recent studies have found that breast milk contains a healthy dose of commensal bacteria; all the staphylococci, streptococci, and lactic acid bacteria that are found in the infant gut. This isn’t just bacteria from the skin which have contaminated the samples, but bacteria that have come from inside the breast as an integral component of the milk.

In a study of 16 women it was found that while each milk sample contained hundreds of different bacterial species, around half of the microbiotic community was made up of nine species present in all samples. The other half varied from person to person. This pattern is also found in human gut microbes; a core set present in all individuals along with a large diversity of separate species to make up a unique individual microbiome.

So how do bacteria get into breast milk? Some of them may come from the mouth of the baby. During feeding the skin of both the mother and baby will be in contact with the baby’s open mouth and a certain amount of flow-back can occur between the mouth and nipple. More excitingly it’s been suggested that immune cells in the mothers gut may be able to pick up bacteria and carry them around the body using the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a network of vessels used to transport blood plasma. It’s a main highway for immune cells inside the body and is also involved in the absorption and transports of fats.

Like all humans, infants have a range of bacteria within their gut. It looks like these bacteria are initially supplied from the mother’vaginal and skin bacteria, before being replaced by bacteria from the breast milk. Researchers also found that when babies started eating solid food a whole new range of bacteria was introduced, forming the gut microbiome that persisted into adulthood.

The importance of 5 healthy behaviors in having the best chance of leading a disease free life. The 5 behaviors are: taking regular exercise, non-smoking, a low body weight, a healthy diet and a low alcohol intake. And as the researchers point out: "healthy behaviors have a far more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure".From Science Daily:

35 Year Study Finds Exercise Reduces Risk of Dementia

The study identifies five healthy behaviors as being integral to having the best chance of leading a disease-free lifestyle: taking regular exercise, non-smoking, a low body weight, a healthy diet and a low alcohol intake.

The people who consistently followed four or five of these behaviors experienced a 60 per cent decline in dementia and cognitive decline -- with exercise being the strongest mitigating factor -- as well as 70 per cent fewer instances of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, compared with people who followed none.

"The size of reduction in the instance of disease owing to these simple healthy steps has really amazed us and is of enormous importance in an aging population," said Principle Investigator Professor Peter Elwood from Cardiff University's School of Medicine. "What the research shows is that following a healthy lifestyle confers surprisingly large benefits to health -- healthy behaviors have a far more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure.

The Caerphilly Cohort Study recorded the healthy behaviors of 2,235 men aged 45-59 in Caerphilly, South Wales. 

From the December 11, 2013 National Geographic:

You Are What You Eat, All 100 Trillion Of You

By setting ten volunteers on either a vegetarian menu or a carnivorous one,Lawrence David from Duke University and Harvard University’s Peter Turnbaugh have shown that when our diet changes, our gut bacteria react very quickly. Within days, some species step into the limelight, while others fade into the background. They activate different genes, pull off different metabolic tricks, and secrete different substances. Our microbiome, it seems, can rapidly switch between plant-eating and meat-eating modes.

David’s team wanted to see what happens over days. If you flood your gut with different food, how long does it take for your microbiome to react?

They did this by recruiting ten volunteers who were willing to collect daily faecal samples. They each ate two different diets for five straight days —a plant-based one that was rich in grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables, and an animal-based one composed of meat, eggs and cheese.

In general, the animal diet led to more dramatic changes than the plant one. 

David and Turnbaugh’s team also found that the altered gut communities did different things. During the plant diet, they became better at breaking down carbohydrates; during the animal diet, protein digestion was their forte. On the meat-heavy days, they activated more genes for breaking down harmful chemicals found in charred meat, and for making vitamins.

And these changes happened very quickly. Some were obvious by day one. By day four, you could pick up a stool sample, list the active genes within it, and predict with total accuracy which diet the owners had been on.

Just two days after the volunteers stopped their diets, things were back to normal. The gut microbiome, it seems, is a fickle beast—easily changed, but not permanently so. The team also found that our food doesn’t just change the microbes that already exist in the gut—they also add some new ones. 

The point is that our gut microbiomes are more flexible than we previously thought. A recent study showed that most of the strains in our guts stay there for decades or more. But while the roster is clearly stable, their relative numbers fluctuate a lot, and food-borne newcomers can gain a foothold.

 According to a new report, exercise can be as effective as many frequently prescribed drugs in treating some of the leading causes of death. This is a major finding! From the Dec.11, 2013 NY Times:

Exercise as Potent Medicine

For the study, which was published in October in BMJ, researchers compared how well various drugs and exercise succeed in reducing deaths among people who have been diagnosed with several common and serious conditions, including heart disease and diabetes.

They ended up with data covering 305 past experiments that, collectively, involved almost 340,000 participants, which is an impressive total. But most of the volunteers had received drugs. Only 57 of the experiments, involving 14,716 volunteers, had examined the impact of exercise as a treatment.The researchers compared mortality risks for people following any of the treatment options.

The results consistently showed that drugs and exercise produced almost exactly the same results. People with heart disease, for instance, who exercised but did not use commonly prescribed medications, including statins, angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors or antiplatelet drugs, had the same risk of dying from — or surviving — heart disease as patients taking those drugs. Similarly, people with diabetes who exercised had the same relative risk of dying from the condition as those taking the most commonly prescribed drugs.

On the other hand, people who once had suffered a stroke had significantly less risk of dying from that condition if they exercised than if they used medications — although the study authors note that stroke patients who can exercise may have been unusually healthy to start with.

Only in chronic heart failure were drugs noticeably more effective than exercise. Diuretics staved off mortality better than did exercise.

Over all, Dr. Ioannidis said, “our results suggest that exercise can be quite potent” in treating heart disease and the other conditions, equaling the lifesaving benefits available from most of the commonly prescribed drugs, including statins.  

Some recent studies have explored the link between bacteria in the gut and colorectal cancer. The beneficial Prevotellaceae bacteria (mentioned in the Nov. 5 study below) have been discussed elsewhere as liking whole grain foods. So go feed your gut with some nice whole grain bread or cereal. And some fruits and veggies while you're at it. As mom used to say: "You are what you eat."

A study published December 6, 2013 found that decreased diversity of the gut microbiome and the presence of certain types of bacteria were associated with colorectal cancer in humans: Decreased Diversity of Bacteria Microbiome in Gut Associated Colorectal Cancer

From the November 5, 2013 Science Daily: Microbes in the Gut Help Determine Risk of Tumors

Transferring the gut microbes from a mouse with colon tumors to germ-free mice makes those mice prone to getting tumors as well, according to the results of a study published in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology. The work has implications for human health because it indicates the risk of colorectal cancer may well have a microbial component.

Scientists have known for years that inflammation plays a role in the development of colorectal cancer, but this new information indicates that interactions between inflammation and subsequent changes in the gut microbiota create the conditions that result in colon tumors.

Known risk factors for developing colorectal cancer include consuming a diet rich in red meat, alcohol consumption, and chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract (patients with inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, are at a greater risk of developing colorectal cancer, for instance).

The results were stark: mice given the microbiota of the tumor-bearing mice had more than two times as many colon tumors as the mice given a healthy microbiota. What's more, normal mice that were given antibiotics before and after inoculation had significantly fewer tumors than the mice that got no antibiotics, and tumors that were present in these antibiotic-treated mice were significantly smaller than tumors in untreated mice. This suggests that specific populations of microorganisms were essential for the formation of tumors...

Looking at the microorganisms, they found that tumor-bearing mice harbored greater numbers of bacteria within the Bacteroides, Odoribacter, and Akkermansia genera, and decreased numbers of bacteria affiliated with members of the Prevotellaceae and Porphyromonadaceae families. Three weeks after they were inoculated with the communities from the tumor-bearing mice, the germ-free mice had a gut microbiome that was very similar to the tumor-bearing mice, and they had a greater abundance of the same bacterial groups associated with tumor-formation. 

This is the story of my family's successful Sinusitis Treatment using an all natural, easy home remedy. (UPDATE: The treatment worked so well that we all have been cured of chronic sinusitis, and we have been off all antibiotics for over 3 years.)

Ten months ago my family was struggling with chronic sinusitis that no longer responded well to antibiotics. My oldest son had just been told to get another CAT scan and to prepare for ENT surgery to "open up the sinuses more". We were desperate for something that would help us that didn't involve antibiotics or surgery.

Background: This story started many years ago when we (husband, myself, 2 sons) moved into a house with an incorrectly installed central air conditioning system. We all developed mold allergies and repeated bouts of acute sinusitis, which then led to chronic sinusitis. Eventually we discovered the problem, ripped out and replaced the air conditioning system and all ductwork, but by then the damage was done. Even though antibiotics helped acute sinusitis symptoms which occurred after every cold and sore throat, we always felt like we had chronic sinusitis. Over the years we tried everything we could think of, including antibiotics, decongestants, allergy pills, nasal sprays, daily sinus rinsing with salt water, vitamins, steam inhalation, etc. Both sons even had balloon sinuplasties, which had helped for a short while, but no longer. We had avoided sinus surgeries because we didn't know of anyone who had been "cured" going that route, even with repeat surgeries.

The research:  But then last winter I read with great interest all the latest research about bacteria and how all of us have hundreds of species of microorganisms (our microbiome), and how they may play a role in our health.  In fact we are more microbes than cells!

Especially exciting was a small study published in September 2012 which looked at 20 patients about to undergo nasal surgery - 10 healthy patients (the controls) and 10 chronic rhinosinusitis (sinusitis) patients. The researchers found that the chronic rhinosinusitis sufferers had reduced bacterial diversity in their sinuses, especially depletion of lactic acid bacteria (including Lactobacillus sakei) and an increase in Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum (which is normally considered a harmless skin bacteria). They then did a second study in mice which found that Lactobacillus sakei  bacteria protected against sinusitis, even in the presence of Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum. The researchers were going forward with more research in this area with the hope, that if all goes well, of developing a nasal spray with the beneficial bacteria, but that was a few years away. (Source: Nicole A. Abreu et al - Sinus Microbiome Diversity Depletion and Corynebacteriumt uberculostearicum Enrichment Mediates Rhinosinusitis. Science Translational Medicine, September 12, 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22972842 )

But we were desperate now and didn't want to wait. What to do? 

The Experiment: I thought that the answer lay with Lactobacillus sakei (or L.sakei) and I read everything I could find on it. I tried to find a natural and safe source for it, and eventually decided on kimchi. Kimchi is a Korean fermented vegetable product which can be made with varying ingredients, usually with cabbage. According to studies done in Korea, many (but not all) brands of traditionally made kimchi contain L. sakei  (as well as many other species of bacteria) after fermentation. It seemed to me that my best bet was to try an all natural kimchi made with cabbage, without any additives, preservatives, and no fish or seafood in it (this last was personal preference). The kimchi brands I bought had to be refrigerated before and after opening. They could not be pasteurized because it was bacteria that I wanted, lots of bacteria. Kimchi fermentation is carried out by the various microorganisms in the kimchi ingredients, and among the bacteria formed are the lactic acid bacteria, one of which can be L. sakei.

In February of 2013 I was off all antibiotics, but feeling sicker (with sinusitis) each day, when I decided to go ahead with the Sinusitis Experiment and purchased several brands of cabbage kimchi (all natural, vegan). Over the next  2 weeks I tried two brands, one after another. Not only did I eat a little bit every day , but I also smeared a little bit of the kimchi juice in my nose, going up about 1/2" in each nostril - as if I were an extremely messy eater. I did this once or twice a day initially. And yes, I was nervous about what I was doing for this was absolutely NOT medically approved. Obviously I did not discuss this with any doctor.

What if harmful bacteria got up in my sinuses and overwhelmed my system?  What if the microbes in the kimchi did harm, even permanent harm?  What really was in the kimchi? Even if the kimchi contained L. sakei, it also contained many other species of bacteria. The studies said that the bacteria in kimchi varied depending on kimchi ingredients (and each brand was different), length of fermentation, and temperature of fermentation.  L.sakei is found in meat (and used in preserving meat), seafood, and some vegetables, but I was nervous about other microbes found in sea food. This was a major reason I avoided any kimchi with seafood in it. After all, the labels on the kimchi I purchased said it was a "live product" (fermentation). When I opened the jars sometimes the liquid inside was bubbling and sometimes even overflowed down the sides of the jar. It takes a leap of faith to put a bubbling strong smelling liquid in the nose!

Results of the Sinusitis Experiment: By the end of the week I found that the one brand worked and it truly felt like a miracle!  Within 24 hours of first applying it I was feeling better, and day by day my sinusitis improved. All the problematic sinusitis symptoms (yellow mucus, constant sore throat from postnasal drip, aching teeth, etc.) slowly went away and within about 2 to 3 weeks I felt great - the sinusitis was gone. After a few weeks the rest of the family followed, one by one, in the Sinusitis Experiment. All improved to the point of feeling great (healthy) and have been off all antibiotics since then. All four of us feel we no longer have chronic sinusitis. We are very, very pleased with the results.

To continue reading the story...

Last year a small study by Abreu et al raised the exciting possibility that the sinus microbiome (the microbial community in our sinuses) being seriously out of whack could be behind chronic sinusitis. Which some day could result in sinusitis treatment being the restoration of beneficial microorganisms that should be there, perhaps with a nasal spray. From Science Daily, September 12, 2012:

Sinusitis Linked to Microbial Diversity

A common bacteria ever-present on the human skin and previously considered harmless, may, in fact, be the culprit behind chronic sinusitis, a painful, recurring swelling of the sinuses that strikes more than one in ten Americans each year, according to a study by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco.

The team reports this week in the journal Science Translational Medicine that sinusitis may be linked to the loss of normal microbial diversity within the sinuses following an infection and the subsequent colonization of the sinuses by the culprit bacterium, which is called Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum.

In their study, the researchers compared the microbial communities in samples from the sinuses of 10 patients with sinusitis and from 10 healthy people, and showed that the sinusitis patients lacked a slew of bacteria that were present in the healthy individuals. The patients also had large increases in the amount of Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum in their sinuses, which are located in the forehead, cheeks and eyes.

The team also identified a common bacterium found within the sinuses of healthy people called Lactobacillus sakei that seems to help the body naturally ward off sinusitis. In laboratory experiments, inoculating mice with this one bacterium defended them against the condition. 

"Presumably these are sinus-protective species," said Susan Lynch, PhD, an associate professor of medicine and director of the Colitis and Crohn's Disease Microbiome Research Core at UCSF. What it all suggests, she added, is that the sinuses are home to a diverse "microbiome" that includes protective bacteria. These "microbial shields" are lost during chronic sinusitis, she said, and restoring the natural microbial ecology may be a way of mitigating this common condition.

Though the sinuses' underlying purpose is still unclear, they are all too familiar to American doctors and their patients because of what happens when the thin tissues lining them become inflamed, as occurs in chronic sinusitis -- one of the most common reasons why people go to the doctor in the United States. There are about 30 million cases each year, and the cost to the healthcare system is an estimated $2.4 billion dollars annually.

The pain of sinusitis can last for months. Doctors typically prescribe bacteria-killing antibiotics and, in more severe and long-lasting cases, conduct sinus surgeries. However, said Andrew Goldberg, MSCE, MD, the director of rhinology and sinus surgery at UCSF and a co-author on the paper, "the premise for our understanding of chronic sinusitis and therapeutic treatment appears to be wrong, and a different therapeutic strategy seems appropriate."

There is a new procedure in which microbiota (the microbes) from a healthy individual are introduced into the gastrointestinal system of a diseased individual via a fecal transplant.  The purpose of the fecal transplant is to replace good bacteria which has been suppressed or killed (usually by antibiotics) , and which has caused bad bacteria, such as Clostridium difficile, to overpopulate the gut. This is having amazing success rates.  It has been used the most for Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) infections, which sickens about half a million Americans annually. This infection can be so debilitating and so resistant to all antibiotics that about 14,000 Americans die each year from it. Even though not that many have been done, fecal transplants are gaining in popularity (some even being done by do-it-yourselfers using fecal enemas at home) because fecal transplants can have a 95 to 98% success rate.                      

New research is starting to see if the fecal transplant can be made even easier (via a "poop pill"), and also if fecal transplants will work for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD). This would mean the future treatment possibility of transplanting microbiota from healthy individuals to individuals sick with IBD. From the October 4, 2013 Science Daily:  

 Fecal Transplant Pill Knocks out Recurrent C. Diff Infection

C. diff infection can occur after people take antibiotics, wiping out the good bacteria in the gastrointestinal (GI) system, allowing C. diff to flourish and leading to severe diarrhea. In some patients, infection continues to recur despite standard treatment with antibiotics. For patients trapped in that cycle, doctors have transplanted feces from healthy donors into their GI system to rebalance the bacteria and stop infections from recurring.

University of Calgary researchers reported a 100 percent success rate -- none of the 27 patients who took the tablet-sized pills had a recurrence of C. diff, even though all of them previously had had at least four bouts of the infection. Patients ingested between 24 and 34 capsules containing fecal bacteria, often donated by family members.

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There is even the site The Power of Poop  which calls itself a "patient information resource dedicated to promoting safe accessible Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT) and to raising awareness of the role of the human microbiome in digestive illness."    http://thepowerofpoop.com