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Drawing of colon seen from front (the appendix is colored red). Credit: Wikipedia.

Over  time researchers have learned that the appendix is more complex than originally thought, and that it is beneficial to health. It's where good bacteria go to hideout during sickness (e.g., food poisoning) or when a person is taking antibiotics, and it acts as a "training camp" for the immune system.

This is the direct opposite of what was thought for years - that it is a vestigial organ with no purpose. Instead, research found that removing the appendix increases the risk for irritable bowel syndrome and colon cancer. It also plays a role in several medical conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, colorectal cancer, Parkinson's disease, and lupus.

One possibility is that it protects against diarrhea. The appendix acts as a safe house for beneficial bacteria. We now know that it contains a thick layer of beneficial bacteria. People who've had their appendix removed have a less diverse gut microbiome, and with lesser amounts of beneficial species.

By the way, recent research found that antibiotics can successfully treat up to 70% of uncomplicated appendicitis cases. For this reason, it is recommended that antibiotics should be tried first in uncomplicated appendicitis cases. And if needed (e.g., if there are recurrences of appendicitis) surgery can be done.

Excerpts from Medscape: The 'Useless' Appendix Is More Fascinating Than We Thought

When doctors and patients consider the appendix, it's often with urgency. In cases of appendicitis, the clock could be ticking down to a life-threatening burst. Thus, despite recent research suggesting antibiotics could be an alternative therapy, appendectomy remains standard for uncomplicated appendicitis.

But what if removing the appendix could raise the risk for gastrointestinal (GI) diseases like irritable bowel syndrome and colorectal cancer? ...continue reading "The Appendix Has Health Benefits"

Basil plant in a pot Credit: Wikipedia

There is a simple and easy way to improve your skin microbiome and immune system, even if you live in the city - it's indoor gardening. A new study found that just 1 month of urban indoor gardening improves the skin microbiome (community of bacteria, viruses, fungi) and boosts the immune system.

What appeared to be critical for the skin and immune system health benefits was using a good quality soil, one with lots of microbes in it, such as a compost based soil.  Avoid peat based soil, which is commonly available, because it is not rich microbially. The researchers found that growing plants in the peat based soil did not have any health benefits.

The study used flower or planter boxes filled with soil, and 7 kinds of plants (lettuce, white mustard, radish, garlic, ginger, pea, and fava bean) were planted into them. A grow lightbulb was used in a lamp because the study started in winter. Fertilizer sticks were used in the peat based soil group, while nutrients came from the compost in the rich soil group.

The participants in the study were instructed to monitor, water, harvest, and then consume the produce. That's it.

Bottom line: Set some plants on a sunny windowsill or buy grow lights for some indoor plants. Make sure the soil is a rich soil (compost based) and not peat-based. Enjoy!

From Science Daily: Urban gardening may improve human health: Microbial exposure boosts immune system

A one-month indoor gardening period increased the bacterial diversity of the skin and was associated with higher levels of anti-inflammatory molecules in the blood demonstrated a collaborative study between the University of Helsinki, Natural Resources Institute Finland and Tampere University. ...continue reading "Growing Some Plants Indoors Benefits Skin and Immune System"

Severe rosacea Credit: Wikipedia

A recent study confirmed that in the skin condition called rosacea, the skin microbiome is out of whack (dysbiosis). Of course. The study also confirmed that treatment with a topical ivermectin cream helps with the inflamed red skin rashes on the face and lowers the number of Demodex mites found on the skin.

Demodex mite Credit: Wikipedia

But while the cream improved symptoms in 44% of the patients, it didn't correct the skin dysbiosis. In rosacea, there is a big increase of Demodex mites (compared to normal levels) at the site of the red rashes or lesions. After the topical ivermectin cream treatment, the number of mites decreased in 88% of the rosacea group to more normal levels. [Yes, we all have Demodex mites living on our skin.]

However, other bacterial species are still different in the rosacea group compared to healthy persons without rosacea. The researchers found Cutibacterium species are predominant in healthy persons without rosacea, but are not found in persons when they have rosacea inflammation. Instead Staphylococcus species take over (just like in atopic dermatitis).

The skin microbiome is the community of bacteria, viruses, fungi that live on our skin. Rosacea is an inflammatory skin condition that typically affects the face resulting in redness, pimples, swelling, and dilated blood vessels. It frequently begins with flushing (redness) of the face in symmetrical patches, and it may or may not progress.

Excerpts from the medical site Medscape: Topical Ivermectin Study Sheds Light on Dysbiosis in Rosacea

Topical ivermectin has significant clinical efficacy and decreases the density of Demodex mites found in the skin of people with rosacea, but cutaneous dysbiosis remains, according to a report presented at the recent European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (EADV) 2023 Congress. ...continue reading "The Skin Microbiome Is Different In Persons With Rosacea"

Oral microbiome Credit: Wikipedia

People have questions about the direct to consumer (DTC) gut microbiome tests that are now available from at least 31 companies. What do the results mean and can we believe them?  Well... according to a recent article in the medical site Medscape, the tests may be appealing to the consumer, but right now they don't mean anything at all.

This is because the tests are both unreliable and unregulated. Results of microbes found in the stool will vary from day to day, and from test to test. The same stool samples sent to different companies or even to the same company come back with different results. Generally the tests are offered by companies that want to sell you something - their supplements or other products in order to "improve your gut health."

However, there is no evidence backing up their claims. The tests are also not consistent - some do genetic sequencing, but others are just culture or a microscopic analysis (which find only a few of the microbes in the microbiome). Researchers stress that standardization of these tests is needed.

Yes, the gut microbiome has a tremendous effect on health and disease, and microbiome therapies definitely have potential. But right now it's buyer beware!

Excerpts from Medscape: Are Direct-to-Consumer Microbiome Tests Clinically Useful?

Companies selling gut microbiome tests directly to consumers offer up a variety of claims to promote their products.

"We analyze the trillions of microbes in your gut microflora and craft a unique formula for your unique gut needs," one says. "Get actionable dietary, supplement, and lifestyle recommendations from our microbiome experts based on your results, tailored to mom and baby's biomarkers.…Any family member like dads or siblings are welcome too," says another. ...continue reading "Problems With Gut Microbiome Tests Available to Consumers"

Intestines Credit:Wikipedia

New discoveries about our gut microbiome (the community of viruses, bacteria, fungi) keep occurring. There is growing evidence that certain bacterial species in the gut are associated with cholesterol levels and heart disease.

Adding to the evidence, a recent study found that people with higher levels of several species of Oscillibacter bacteria had lower cholesterol levels than people without or diminished levels of these bacteria. The researchers than  found (in the lab) that these species of Oscillibacter bacteria actually take up and metabolize artery-clogging cholesterol, which could explain the lower cholesterol levels.

By the way, other species (e.g., Eubacterium coprostanoligenes)  were also associated with lower cholesterol levels in the study. The same people with higher levels of beneficial bacteria also had greater diversity of gut bacteria, which is considered a sign of gut health.

Species of Oscillibacter bacteria are not available in any supplements at this time. You'll just have to eat a diet that feeds and nurtures beneficial gut microbes.

And what is a health-promoting diet? A recent study found that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and olive oil promotes healthy bacteria in the gut, which are associated with good health. This also is a diet high in fiber. Think along the lines of a Mediterranean diet.

From Science Daily: Scientists link certain gut bacteria to lower heart disease risk

Changes in the gut microbiome have been implicated in a range of diseases including type 2 diabetes, obesity, and inflammatory bowel disease. Now, a team of researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard along with Massachusetts General Hospital has found that microbes in the gut may affect cardiovascular disease as well. In a study published in Cell, the team has identified specific species of bacteria that consume cholesterol in the gut and may help lower cholesterol and heart disease risk in people. ...continue reading "Certain Gut Bacteria Are Associated With Lower Cholesterol Levels"

Credit: Wikipedia

Cancer tumors have a different microbiome (community of microbes) than healthy tissue. Researchers have been finding the bacteria Fusobacterium nucleatum (F. nucleatum) in a number of cancers, with high levels of its presence associated with a poorer outcome for the person (more metastases and death).

A recent study found that one strain or subtype of  F. nucleatum (called Fna C2)  is found in tumors of about 50% of aggressive colon cancers.

Interestingly, F. nucleatum is a normal oral bacteria - one found in the mouth of people, and also associated with periodontal disease. It is rarely found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of healthy persons.

It is thought that the bacteria somehow travels from the mouth to the stomach, where it can withstand stomach acid, and then grows there in the gastrointestinal tract. F. nucleatum is cancer promoting - for example, it has a supporting role in tumor progression. It appears to be resistant to cancer treatments.

Researchers are now wondering if certain beneficial or good bacteria ingested by the person or somehow delivered to the tumor site  can battle the F. nucleatum, perhaps as part of cancer therapy. Stay tuned....

From Science Daily: Bacteria subtype linked to growth in up to 50% of human colorectal cancers

Researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center have found that a specific subtype of a microbe commonly found in the mouth is able to travel to the gut and grow within colorectal cancer tumors. This microbe is also a culprit for driving cancer progression and leads to poorer patient outcomes after cancer treatment. ...continue reading "A Specific Bacteria and Colorectal Cancer"

Small intestine Credit: Wikipedia

It turns out that artificial sweeteners alter the gut microbiome, specifically the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine after the stomach). And not in a good way.

The gut microbiome is the community of microbes (bacteria, fungi, viruses) that lives in the small intestine - and it looks different in persons who use artificial sweeteners compared to persons who don't.

Researchers found that artificial sweeteners lowered microbial diversity (not good), and increased numbers of harmful bacteria in the duodenum. They also alter inflammation markers that circulate in the blood in a negative way. The use of non-aspartame artificial sweeteners (sucralose, saccharin, stevia) had slightly different effects than aspartame, but both overall had negative effects (when compared to gut microbiomes of persons not ingesting artificial sweeteners in their diet).

From Medical Xpress: Could artificial sweeteners alter your microbiome?

You may think that artificial sweeteners can help you lose some weight, but a new study finds they are no good for your gut's microbiome. ...continue reading "Artificial Sweeteners Alter the Gut Microbiome"

There is much concern with the amount of highly or ultra-processed foods the typical American eats - over 50% of the calories eaten daily! Ultra-processed foods are linked to all sorts of health issues (e.g., diabetes, heart disease). One reason is because these foods are not good for the gut microbiome - they feed microbes linked to poor health and not the microbes linked to good health.

So how does one know if a food is ultra-processed? An easy way is to look at the ingredients list on the package or container and look for one or more ingredients not normally found in our kitchens at home. Instead, these ingredients will have chemical sounding names.

What ingredients indicate a food is ultra-processed? Some examples indicating a food is ultra-processed: soy lecithin, carrageenan, high-fructose corn syrup,  hydrogenated oils, interesterified oils, hydrolysed proteins, invert sugar, dextrose, lactose, gluten, whey protein, nitrates, flavors, colors, titanium dioxide, caramel color, and emulsifiers. The list goes on and on. Even the innocent sounding "natural flavors" is a laboratory concoction.

These ingredients have typically been added to extend shelf-life or manipulate the taste, flavor, or appearance. Ultra-processed foods are "formulations of ingredients" that result from a series of industrial processes (thus "ultra-processed"). Researchers of the following article say that "ultra-processed foods are not real food" due to all the modifications and alterations.

Note that ultra-processed foods can be on the grocery shelf right next to similar foods with all natural ingredients. Examples are breads, cereals, and maple syrup (is it real maple syrup or an ultra-processed concoction?). This is why you should read ingredient lists.

Also, these foods are generally ultra-processed: soda, candy, margarines, cake mixes, hot dogs and processed meats (e.g., cold cuts), instant soups, mass-produced breads and cookies, frozen meals, fast food meals, energy bars and drinks, and protein bars.

By the way, most foods that we buy or cook at home are processed to some extent, for example pasteurization of milk, freezing or boiling foods, fermentation, seasoning foods, cooking food, or even baking bread. Using real foods to prepare (process) food is OK for our health. It's totally fine.

Foods can be unprocessed (e.g., raw fruits and vegetables), minimally processed, processed, and finally ultra-processed. The ingredients will tell you if it's just processed food (contains only normal foods or culinary ingredients - e.g., flour, sugar, salt, eggs) or whether it's ultra-processed (contains one or more chemical sounding ingredients).

These foods are NOT ultra-processed: pasteurized milk, raw fruits and vegetables, starchy roots and tubers (e.g., potatoes, yams), chilled meat and fish, plant oils (e.g., olive oil), sugar, oats, and salt.

A big problem is that ultra-processed foods are replacing unprocessed or minimally processed foods in our diet. This is also why we are getting less and less fiber in our diet, which is linked to health problems. Simple way to think about it: fiber from foods feeds beneficial gut microbes.

Excerpts from an April 2019 article in Public Health Nutrition: Ultra-processed foods: what they are and how to identify them

Ultra-processed foods are defined within the NOVA classification system, which groups foods according to the extent and purpose of industrial processing.

...continue reading "How to Identify An Ultra-Processed Food"

Kidney stones Credit: Wikipedia

What causes a person to develop kidney stones has long been debated. A recent study found that in persons who develop kidney stones, there are alterations in the gut, salivary, and urinary microbiomes. In other words, the community of fungi, viruses, and bacteria at each of these sites are out of whack or imbalanced.

In the study, not only were the 3 microbiomes imbalanced in the persons with kidney stones (when compared to healthy people without kidney stones), but they also had less diversity (fewer species) in their microbiomes. For example, persons with kidney stones had significantly fewer gut health associated bacteria F. prausnitzii, and significantly more inflammation associated E. lenta.

Those with kidney stones also had a history of having taken more antibiotics (antimicrobials).

The researchers conclusion: To avoid kidney stones a healthy diet is essential (for a healthy gut microbiome). One should also avoid taking antibiotics unless necessary. [BTW, the bacteria F. prausnitzii has long been viewed as a keystone microbe in a healthy gut microbiome. It can be increased by increasing fiber in the diet - e.g., fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grains, legumes.]

From Medical Xpress: New study sheds light on the connection between the microbiome and kidney stones

A new study from Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University published in the journal Microbiome has found changes in the microbiome in multiple locations in the body are linked to the formation of kidney stones. ...continue reading "Kidney Stones and the Gut Microbiome"

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

We all have a skin microbiome - the community of millions of microbes (bacteria, fungi, viruses) that normally live on the skin. New research shows that when we get the ears pierced and start to wear earrings, it causes a disruption to the skin microbiome of the earlobes, and there is an actual shift to different microbes. A new normal develops.

The researchers found that before piercing, the earlobe skin to be pierced is disinfected (which disrupts and kills off microbes), and then after the piercing and insertion of an earring that area of the skin is permanently more moist - thus there is a shift in the community of microbes (their composition). It becomes more complex, with a greater variety of microbes, and some moisture loving species move in.

Therefore. the researchers say that ear piercing represents "ecosystem engineering on the human body". Yes. And wow.

From Science Alert: After an Ear Piercing, Your Skin Microbiome Changes in a Fundamental Way

You may not have ever realized it, but there are many trillions of microorganisms living on our skin – and puncturing the skin and inserting a metal object, also known as getting a piercing, creates a significant shift in that microbiome. ...continue reading "Ear Piercing and the Skin Microbiome"