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It turns out that we're all eating tiny bits of plastic in our food. Yes, teeny tiny bits of plastic that are smaller than 5 mm and are called microplastics. Why are there tiny plastic pieces in our food? Is it doing anything to us, to our health? What can we do about it? After all, it's not normal or desirable to eat plastic.

Most of us have heard of the "garbage patches" in the oceans - consisting of many pieces of plastic debris, both big and small. But the reality is that tiny pieces of plastic are all around us, not just far away in the ocean. Microplastics can be found in our drinking water, bottled water, in the seafood we eat, in honey and sugar, in beer, table salt, even in our house dust (which includes tiny synthetic fibers, such as polyester, that are constantly being shed from soft furnishings, clothing, and carpet fibers), and outside air (e.g. from tires). This is microplastic pollution, and unfortunately this pollution is increasing each year because we are increasing our use of plastics. [Other posts on this topic here, here, here.]

Every time we eat a meal we ingest any plastics that are in the food, as well as any plastic particles floating in the air that settle on our food and which we then ingest. One recent study found that about 80 to 100 pieces of tiny plastic particles are eaten over the course of each meal in this way!

Currently no one knows what ingesting all these microplastics is doing to us, if anything. The research hasn't been done. However, there are questions and concerns, especially because toxic chemicals (carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, etc) used in plastic manufacturing are in the microplastics, as well as any contaminants that the plastics were exposed to in the environment. There may  even be microbes (including pathogens) on the plastics. A recent study found that we excrete microplastics  in our feces.

A 2017 United Nations report about microplastics and food safety said that while much remains unknown, microplastics in our food doesn't appear to be health threat: "It is thought that only the smallest particles (1.5 µm or less) will penetrate into the capillaries of the organs and the remaining will be excreted." and "Based on the available scientific evidence, it is safe to state that microplastics neither seem to pose a significant food safety threat and the health benefits associated with the intake of fishery products will exceed the potential risks.Nonetheless, there are many knowledge gaps..."

From National Geographic: Microplastics found in 90 percent of table salt ...continue reading "We Are All Eating Microplastics"

Can pesticides be detected in your home? A Cornell University study found that every single home they studied in different areas of upstate New York had detectable pesticide residues in the homes. Every single one of the 132 rural homes. Pesticides are colorless and odorless, but they still may be in your home from applications in the home or around the home from long ago. Pesticides can also be tracked in by your shoes or bare feet, on fur and clothing, or come in on the air (drift from pesticides being applied nearby), even off-gassing from soil. They stay in the dust in homes, and are absorbed by soft materials (such as rugs and upholstery, and even stuffed toys). Pesticides stay around so long (some even years) inside homes because they are not broken down easily (as they can be outdoors in the sun and rain).

The researchers pointed out that Americans use over 1 billion pounds of pesticides each year. Pesticides have health risks, even at low doses - for example, higher risks of various cancers, birth defects, neurological and immunological problems. Pregnant women (developing babies) and children are especially vulnerable to pesticide effects. For example, children are playing and crawling around on the floor sticking objects and their hands into the mouth. Pets also have health risks from pesticides, such as cancer.

While the pesticide residue samples in this study were taken in 2001 to 2002, the findings should apply today because pesticide use has risen tremendously since then - both on farms and elsewhere. And they tested for pesticides that are still commonly used today - such as 2.4-D (a commonly used herbicide, e.g. weed & feed for lawns, and on crops genetically modified to resist 2,4-D). The researchers didn't test for all the possible pesticides commonly used - just 15 of them. Unfortunately they didn't test for glyphosate , which is in Roundup, and heavily used nowadays - in crops and elsewhere as an herbicide (weed killer).

Think about it - at least in in the northeast, more people are using lawn pesticide services to get that "perfect, carpet-looking lawn" (really a monoculture that is environmentally horrible -  to bees and butterflies, soil organisms, birds, and anyone walking on it). How many people do you know get monthly or annual pesticide treatments in or around their homes "just in case"? In every instance  people are getting exposed to pesticides - breathing them in, getting them on their shoes, feet, clothing, bodies. Besides this study, other studies have also found pesticides in household and daycare center dust. How do studies measure pesticides in people? Typically by measuring their levels in blood and urine.

So what can one do to lower the amount and number of pesticides in the home? 1) First of all, don't use pesticides casually or routinely in your him. Use non-toxic alternatives instead - this is called least toxic IPM (Integrated Pest Management), which emphasizes monitoring the problem, looking for what causes the pest problem (moisture getting into the house, holes in the wall, etc.) and then treating the cause. It uses alternatives to "just spraying a pesticide" such as baits, traps, vacuuming of pests!, caulking where needed, fixing wet areas. It means thinking like a pest and what attracts the pest (the cause), and using the most non-toxic way possible to correct the problem. 2) Very important: take off shoes when entering your home. 3) Wipe up dust and vacuum frequently in the home. Other contaminants are also in the dust, such as lead and fire retardant chemicals. 4) Use organic approaches to gardening and taking care of your lawn. [Click on category PESTICIDES for all posts on pesticides, including their health effects. All 2,4-D posts. All pregnancy and pesticide posts.]

The study by Laquatra et al in JSM Health Education & Primary Health Care: Common Pesticide Residues in Rural Homes of New York State

Excerpts from Beyond Pesticides discussion of this study in its Daily News Blog: Study of New York State Homes Finds Pesticides In Every Sample Tested ...continue reading "Can Pesticides Be Detected In Your Home?"

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I'm always on the lookout for probiotics (beneficial bacteria) that can somehow  suppress or dominate Staphylococcus aureus  - because that bacteria is implicated in many illnesses, including sinusitis. Some strains of S. aureus are antibiotic resistant and the cause of serious illnesses, such as MRSA  (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). However, S. aureus is also found in the microbiomes (microbial communities) of healthy people - including on the skin, nose, and gut - but it appears to reside there harmlessly in healthy people.

So finding species of bacteria that suppress or controls S. aureus is noteworthy. Researchers (from National Institute of Health and Thailand) found that in both humans and mice strains of Bacillus, especially B. subtilis, which is already added to many probiotic products, suppressed all strains of S. aureus. Interestingly, the researchers found no S. aureus in any of the gut and nasal samples from humans where Bacillus species were present.The researchers think that the Bacillus species eradicate S. aureus - in both the gut and nasal passages. So the researchers tested further using mice - they gave B. subtilis to the mice every 2 days, and it eliminated S. aureus in the guts of the mice.

But why did I title this post '"another probiotic" ? Because from research and personal experiences told to me - Lactobacillus sakei seems to have the same effect against S. aureus. Stay tuned for more research with B. subtilis and other probiotics versus S. aureus. [UPDATE: Since I posted this, I've read some concerns over B.subtilis. Be careful.]  From Science Daily:

Probiotic bacillus eliminates staphylococcus bacteria  ...continue reading "Another Probiotic That Treats Infections?"

So many of us seem to not get enough sleep, and then there are those that sleep and sleep. But .. it seems the sweet spot for sleep and our brain health (cognitive performance) is about 7 to 8 hours - at least according to a large study from Canadian researchers at Western University. People reporting typically sleeping 4 hours or less a night had the most impairments in how they performed on a variety of cognitive tests - equivalent to aging 8 years.

Reasoning, verbal skills, and overall cognition were impaired by less than 7 hours or more than 8 hours of sleep. But not short term memory. Actual age of the person made no difference on the results - everyone performed best at 7 to 8 hours of sleep. (Volunteers completed a series of 12 tests online which measured a broad range of cognitive abilities.) By the way, about half of the 10886 persons participating in the study reported typically sleeping 6.3 hours or less a night. Not enough. The good news is that just one night of sleeping a little more than the usual too little had a positive effect on cognitive abilities - thus cognitive improvement. From Science Daily:

World's largest sleep study shows too much shut-eye can be bad for your brain  ...continue reading "What Is Optimal Amount Of Sleep For Our Cognitive Processes?"

Many people take probiotics in the belief that the probiotics will help their gut microbiome (microbial community) recover after taking antibiotics. This is because antibiotics kill both beneficial and pathogenic bacteria, and research shows it may take months for the gut to recover (it depends on the antibiotics taken). However, 2 studies (in both mice and healthy humans) conducted by a group of researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel challenge that belief. The researchers used both mice and healthy humans in both well-done studies. They found that taking probiotics after a week of antibiotics actually delayed recovery of the gut microbial community in humans - months longer!

In summary: As expected, taking antibiotics had a big effect on the gut microbiome - the researchers wrote "a dramatic impact"  and "profound microbial depletion" (after taking one week of standard doses of "broad-spectrum antibiotics").  However, they found large differences among the 3 groups in gut microbial recovery after antibiotics. The spontaneous recovery group (they did not take probiotics after antibiotics) showed recovery of gut microbes within 3 weeks. The fecal transplant group (of their own fecal microbes which was collected before they took antibiotics) showed gut microbial recovery within 1 day of the fecal microbial transplant. In contrast, the group taking daily  probiotics for 28 days did not show full recovery (to where they were before antibiotics) by day 28, and the gut microbial community was still out of whack (dysbiosis) even 5 months after stopping probiotics (actually even at 180 days when the study ended).

What species were in the probiotics? Eleven species commonly found in ordinary probiotics: Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. casei, L. casei subsp. paracasei, L. planatrum, L. rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium longum, B. bifidum, B. breve, B. longum sbsp. infantism, Lactococcus lactis, and Streptococcus thermophilus.  These are all considered beneficial species. But keep in mind that the human gut has hundreds of microbial species - not just the few found in probiotics.

Bottom line: Eat well after taking a course of antibiotics so as to feed beneficial microbes, and do not routinely take probiotics thinking it will help the microbes in the gut.

What was also interesting was that in the first study where healthy individuals took the probiotics (and no antibiotics), they found that the probiotic species did not colonize the gut in everyone - only some species and in some people. It's as if there is a "resistance to colonization". This resistance is perhaps what other studies show - that within one week of discontinuing probiotics, they are gone from the gut.

From Science Daily - Human gut study questions probiotic health benefits  ...continue reading "Research Suggests Not Taking Probiotics After Antibiotics"

Is the Mediterranean style diet the future in breast cancer prevention? The following study was done in primates, but it makes sense that the results would also be true for humans: that the type of diet eaten influences the breast microbiome. This means the community of microbes that live in the breast. Yes, it's true - studies show that there is a breast microbiome and it varies between those who have breast cancer and those who don't (healthy breasts).

The study looked at macaque monkeys who were fed either a Mediterranean style diet or a Western style diet for 31 months, and then their breast tissue was examined. They found microbial differences in the breast tissue among the 2 groups, including  greater numbers (abundance) of Lactobacillus species in the primates that had been eating the Mediterranean diet.

Lactobacillus species are generally considered beneficial to humans (which is why they are added to many foods and supplements) and studies suggest they may have anti-tumor effects. Some research has found microbial differences between healthy and malignant (cancerous) human  breast tissue  - including lower Lactobacillus numbers or "abundance" in the malignant breast tissue (compared to those with benign breast lesions). Researchers say it suggests that microbial imbalances (dysbiosis) of breast tissue could be a possible driver of breast cancer .

Studies already show that a person's diet influences the gut microbiome. This study shows diet directly influences microbial communities far away from the gut - in the breasts. Unfortunately it is not stated in the study what Lactobacillus species increased in the breast tissue of primates fed a Mediterranean diet. There are many Lactobacillus species, and they are not equal in their effects (as our experiences with Lactobacillus sakei and sinusitis has shown).

Of course more studies are needed, but in the meantime - eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans), nuts, and seeds. There are many other documented health benefits from a diet rich in those foods (frequently referred to as a Mediterranean diet). The diet is low in processed foods and high in fiber, and rich in "real foods". From Science Daily:

Diet affects the breast microbiome in mammals

Diet influences the composition of microbial populations in the mammary glands of nonhuman primates, researchers report October 2 in the journal Cell Reports. Specifically, a Mediterranean diet increased the abundance of probiotic bacteria previously shown to inhibit tumor growth in animals ...continue reading "Diet And The Breast Microbiome"

There's a microbial, particulate, and chemical cloud surrounding each one of us that is like the one around Pig Pen in the Peanuts comics. It's called the exposome. Researchers from the Stanford University of Medicine found that we each have our own distinct  personal cloud - which is everything we're exposed to both indoors and outdoors (pets, rain, household chemicals, air pollution, pesticides, etc.), and what we use on our bodies. It is influenced by geographical regions of where a person lives, works, and travels, as well as a person's lifestyle.

The study followed the personal exposomes of 15 individuals for varying times and over 66 geographical locations (one of the researchers was followed for more than 2 years, during which time he traveled extensively). This was done by having the individuals wear a sensitive air filtering device - which collected what was in the air (environmental airborne exposures). The results showed that each person is exposed to thousands of species (plant pollen, bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc.) and chemicals. From Science Daily:

We are bombarded by thousands of diverse species and chemicals

We are all exposed to a vast and dynamic cloud of microbes, chemicals and particulates that, if visible, might make us look something like Pig-Pen from Peanuts.

Using a re-engineered air-monitoring device, scientists from the Stanford University School of Medicine have peered into that plume and discovered a smorgasbord of biological and chemical minutia that swirl in, on and around us. Their findings show, in unprecedented detail, the variety of bacteria, viruses, chemicals, plant particulates, fungi, and even tiny microscopic animals that enter our personal space -- a bombardment known as the human "exposome."  ...continue reading "There Is A Personal Cloud Around Each Person"

An interesting study about exposure to household cleaning products (regular cleaning products compared to eco-friendly products) and the gut microbiomes of young children was recently published. Canadian researchers found that the use of household cleaning disinfectants in the home was associated with changes in gut microbial communities in infants (more of some bacteria and less of others) - when compared to infants living in homes where eco-friendly cleaners were used. These changes occurred in a dose dependent manner (the more they were used, the bigger the changes).

Also interesting was that the more disinfectants (which are antibacterial) were used in a home, the more Lachnospiraceae was found in the infant's gut microbiota in infancy (age 3 to 4 months), and this was associated with a higher body mass of the child at 1 and 3 years, and increased odds of being overweight or obese at age 3. Use of eco-friendly products was associated with decreased odds of the child being overweight or obese at age 3. What was heavy use of household disinfectants? Daily or weekly. Just keep in mind that these are associations - not a definite cause and effect. But animal studies find similar results. And I wonder - what is frequent use of disinfectants doing to adult gut microbiomes? From Medical Xpress:

Household cleaning products may contribute to kids' overweight by altering their gut microbiota

Commonly used household cleaners could be making children overweight by altering their gut microbiota, suggests a Canadian study published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). The study analyzed the gut flora of 757 infants from the general population at age 3-4 months and weight at ages 1 and 3 years, looking at exposure to disinfectants, detergents and eco-friendly products used in the home. 

...continue reading "What Are Household Disinfectants Doing To Our Gut Microbes?"

Many people have chronic low-grade inflammation, which is associated with a number of chronic diseases, and increased risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and early death. Thus there is a lot of interest in things a person could do to lower the inflammation. A number of studies have found a person's general diet may influence chronic low-grade inflammation - either increase it or decrease it, as well as whether they smoke or not. A recent large Swedish study found that persons who ate an anti-inflammatory diet for at least 16 years had a lower risk of dying early from any cause (all cause mortality), as well as dying from cancer, or dying from heart (cardiovascular) disease.

In the study an anti-inflammatory diet was a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, whole grain bread, coffee, tea, red wine (low to moderate levels), beer (low to moderate levels), chocolate, nuts, olive and canola oils. These foods are both anti-inflammatory and also rich in anti-oxidants. Pro-inflammatory foods were: red meat, processed red meat, offal, chips, soft drinks. In other studies a pro-inflammatory diet was also one with lots of processed foods, low fiber, and refined grains. From Science Daily:

Anti-inflammatory diet linked to reduced risk of early death

Adhering to an anti-inflammatory diet was associated with lower risks of dying from any cause, dying from cardiovascular causes, and dying from cancer in a recent Journal of Internal Medicine study. ...continue reading "Diet, Inflammation, and Health"

Studies finding health effects from BPA keep appearing. BPA (bisphenol-A) is a chemical used in many everyday products (e.g. the lining of soda and food cans, store receipts) and so almost all humans are exposed to it daily. Researchers are getting increasingly worried about BPA and related chemicals (including substitutes for BPA such as BPS) because they are endocrine (hormone) disruptors with health effects in humans and animals. This chemical is so widely used that more than 7 billion metric tons of it are produced annually throughout the world.

Unfortunately the US government keeps agreeing with the chemical industry that the chemical is "safe", and disregarding the results of studies finding health effects (reproductive effects, obesity, etc). Of course the chemical industry is fighting tooth and nail to discredit studies done by independent researchers - a lot of money is at stake.

The following are excerpts from an article describing the latest study finding health effects from low dose exposure from BPA - it altered the amount of insulin released by the person (and so perhaps influencing the development of type 2 diabetes). What was worrisome is that the dose is considered "safe" by the US government - and in the study people were exposed to it once, while in real life humans are exposed to such doses multiple times daily.

The good news is that BPA is excreted within a day, but the bad news is that we the keep being exposed to it. By the way, substitutes for BPA (such as BPS) are just as bad, and are also endocrine disruptors - after all, they're all related chemically. So buying BPA-free canned food or plastic won't help a person avoid endocrine disruptors - these also leach into food. From an article written by Lynn Peeples at Environmental Health News:

In a scientific first, researchers gave people BPA — and saw a link to precursor of type 2 diabetes

In a scientific first, researchers gave people BPA — and saw a link to precursor of type 2 diabetesThe controversial study suggests that BPA exposure deemed safe by the feds could alter the amount of insulin released and elevate people's type 2 diabetes risk. 

A first-of-its-kind study of a small group of people exposed to a very small amount of bisphenol-A (BPA) is raising questions about the federal government's stance that low doses of the common chemical are safe — as well as the ethics of conducting such an experiment on humans.

...continue reading "Exposure to BPA Has An Effect on Insulin Levels"