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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"

Some good news for those with Rh negative blood (whether it is A, B, AB, or O), and also for those with type O blood. A large Canadian study found that both the O and Rh- blood groups are associated with a slightly lower risk of COVID-19 infection and also severe COVID-19 illness and death. In other words, both are somewhat protective from the new coronavirus, especially O-negative blood.

Among 225,556 Canadians who were tested for the virus, the risk for a COVID-19 diagnosis was 12% lower and the risk for severe COVID-19 or death was 13% lower in people with blood group O versus those with A, AB, or B, researchers reported in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The researchers point out that some other studies had a similar finding regarding type O blood. Interestingly, the O blood group is associated with a decreased risk for venous thromboembolism (blood clots in the veins) - which can be a big complication of COVID-19.

How many people have O negative blood? One study of 3.1 million American blood donors found that O− was seen in 8.0% of White non-Hispanic donors, 3.9% of Hispanic donors, 3.6% of Black non-Hispanic donors, and 0.7% of Asian donors. So not that common in the US.

From Medscape: More Evidence for Lower Risk With Certain Blood Groups

A large study adds to evidence that people with type O or Rh−negative blood may be at slightly lower risk from the new coronavirus.  ...continue reading "Some Good News About Having Rh- Blood"

Holy mackerel! Currently COVID-19 kills someone in the United States every 107 seconds! And the U.S. is reporting more than 70,000 new coronavirus cases each day.

Wear a mask! Wearing a mask protects us from others exhaling the virus, protects us from inhaling the virus, and lowers how much virus we are exposed to (cloth and surgical masks protect us from most virus particles, but not all). There is evidence that wearing masks so lowers the amount of virus a person is exposed to (viral load), that if a person gets the infection, the body can deal with it much better and the infections may be asymptomatic or minor. This is huge - the possibility that up to 95% of infections could be asymptomatic!

Excerpts from Medscape: US Cases Spike as COVID Kills Every 107 Seconds

The U.S. is reporting more than 70,000 new coronavirus cases each day, and 41 states are reporting at least 10% more cases this week than the week before, according to CNN. ...continue reading "An American Dies of COVID-19 Every 107 Seconds"

To boost the immune system of young children, as well as improve their skin and gut microbiomes - send them out daily to play in a natural environment. That means outdoors in a natural park-like setting with grass, plants, soil, and trees. Yes, germs and dirt!

Finnish researchers found that replacing the gravel and pavement in urban daycare playground areas with natural forest-type vegetation (forest plants, shrubs, sod, mosses, and peat blocks for climbing) resulted in beneficial changes to young children's immune systems, and skin and gut microbiomes. This happened in just one month!

The researchers studied 75 children (3 to 5 years old) at 10 daycare centers in 2 Finnish cities (urban areas). Four of the daycare centers had their gravel/paved playgrounds turned into a forest-type natural area (where the children played), 3 daycare centers weren't changed (kept the gravel/pavement), and 3 daycare centers were already nature-oriented with children visiting forests daily. All children spent the same amount of time outside each day.

An important finding was that after 28 days the skin and gut microbiomes (microbial communities) of children playing in the transformed forest-type playgrounds had shifted to become more similar to children attending nature-oriented daycares. This change was also reflected in their immune systems: they developed a higher ratio of anti-inflammatory proteins to pro-inflammatory proteins in their blood (this is good).

The researchers point out that getting exposed to all the microbes in a natural forest-type setting (environmental microbial diversity) is beneficial. On the other hand, playing outside on man-made landscaping materials does not result in beneficial changes. Translation: playing outside in the dirt and plants is good for you.

From Medical Xpress: Replacing asphalt with forest-type plants at daycare centers found to strengthen immune defenses in children

A team of researchers affiliated with multiple institutions in Finland and one in the Czech Republic found that replacing asphalt in play areas at daycare centers with natural vegetation can lead to stronger immune defenses in the children at the centers. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the group describes removing asphalt from play areas at several daycare centers and replacing it with forest floor vegetation, and what they found when they tested the children who attended the centers.  ...continue reading "Playing Outside In Nature Is Healthy For Young Children"

A study looked at how long the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) which causes COVID-19 lives on human skin. Researchers in Japan used human cadaver skin (because they didn't want to infect living humans) to compare influenza and the new coronavirus. They found that coronavirus lives up to 9 hours on undisturbed skin! And influenza A virus (a flu strain) less than 2 hours.

They also found that both viruses are easily washed away with soap and water or a hand sanitizer containing 80% alcohol.

Yes, it is thought that aerosol and droplets are the main ways to get the new coronavirus. But you do want to wash it off your hands after exposure. Proper hand hygiene!

From Medscape: New Coronavirus Survives Nine Hours on Human Skin

Left undisturbed, the new coronavirus can survive many hours on human skin, a new study has found.  ...continue reading "Wash Your Hands!"

Today while waiting in a line at the store, everyone wearing the required masks, the woman in front of me told me that the masks are useless and that there isn't good evidence that the coronavirus is spread through the air. Huh? Where did she get that idea? Of course there is airborne transmission of the virus!

It's true that some government agencies are hedging about airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus which leads to COVID-19 infection) , but the scientific evidence for aerosol and droplet transmission of the virus is growing and very clear. [Aerosols are smaller than droplets, and both carry the virus.] Fortunately, the evidence just isn't there for getting this particular virus from touching surfaces (such as doorknobs or faucets) - which originally was a big worry.

The following are some articles that discuss how airborne transmission occurs, why wearing a mask protects us from others exhaling the virus, and also protects us from inhaling the virus and lowers how much virus we are exposed to (cloth and surgical masks protect us from most virus particles, but not all). In fact, some scientists are wondering whether wearing masks so lowers the amount of virus a person is exposed to (viral load), that if a person gets the infection, the body can deal with it much better and the infections may be asymptomatic or minor.

In case you're wondering: being outdoors dilutes and disperses the virus. If you are concerned about the virus spreading indoors - then open a window (to dilute and disperse the virus).

This is a really big deal - the possibility that up to 95% of infections could be asymptomatic! Excerpts from an interesting article by Dr. Monica Gandhi (Prof. of Medicine at Univ. of California) at The Conversation: Cloth masks do protect the wearer – breathing in less coronavirus means you get less sick

It seems people get less sick if they wear a mask.   ...continue reading "Masks Protect Us Several Ways From the Coronavirus"

The relationship between mold and sinuses is something I've been thinking about lately. Why do so many people after prolonged exposure to ordinary mold eventually develop sinusitis? What is going on?

This is a really interesting question because we are exposed to mold (which is actually fungi) every single day just from ordinary breathing. Fungi are all around us - in the wind, in the air, in the soil, and we always have a little in our homes. For example, in the bathroom tub or shower area, in moldy food, or around the kitchen sink. These are common molds. And we're normally just fine.

In addition, we all have some fungal species living in and on our bodies, and they are part of the normal human microbiome (the community of bacteria, fungi, and viruses living on and in us). In fact, different species of fungi live in different parts of our body, even some species that we tend to think of as harmful, such as yeast and aspergillis. In a healthy person, any potentially harmful microbes are kept in check by the other microbes in the microbiome so that they are living there harmlessly.

Yes, sometimes fungi can multiply to the point of doing harm (such as during a fungal skin infection, e.g. athlete's foot) or in an immunocompromised person, but normally fungal species live in a complex ecosystem in harmony with all our other millions of microbes.

Ordinary common molds can sometimes cause problems

But sometimes people get exposed to a lot of ordinary or common molds over a prolonged period of time. And this is where problems can develop if they breathe in a lot of the fungi.

The most important thing to know is that fungi (mold) grow in wet or moist conditions. Especially where it is not well ventilated. For example, when air conditioning systems that are not draining properly result in mold growing in the unit and the ducts. Or a water leak from the roof causes mold to grow on a wall or ceiling right in your bedroom. In both cases people are breathing it in for prolonged periods.

What kind of health problems can result? The health problems from common molds are generally of an inflammatory  or allergic nature, such as respiratory symptoms, respiratory illnesses (sinus infections), asthma, allergic responses, immunological, and other inflammatory responses. [This is according to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), WHO, and other major associations.]

But here's another thing - responses to large mold exposure vary, with some people having big responses (respiratory infections or asthma), some minor (perhaps drippy nose), and some no effects at all.

The good news is that more extreme health effects from mold exposure are very rare according to the CDC, the World Health organization, and some other health groups, with only some individual cases reported. Whew.

Looking back on my own history of sinus infections, it all makes perfect sense! After developing non-stop sinus infections years ago, I went to an ENT specialist who, after careful examination of my nasal passages, said that I was showing a massive inflammatory response, an allergic response. And only when I figure out what was causing the allergic response would I start to improve. Which turned out to be true.

[NOTE: This post is not going into the issue of mycotoxins (of fungi that release toxins), and of molds that take over houses making them uninhabitable, for example after floods.]

Deal With A Mold Problem As Soon As Possible

The CDC says don't bother with blood tests for mold - there aren't any. There are only tests that look at allergic responses to mold. And don't worry about what type of mold is in the house. Just clean it up, replace what needs replacing, make repairs, fix whatever needs fixing, etc. as soon as possible.

Once the mold problem is fixed and mold removed, the mold exposure is gone. And any health symptoms related to too much mold exposure health can finally improve.

Final thoughts about mold and sinusitis: For a while in the 1990s it was thought that people with sinusitis all had fungal problems in the sinuses and sinusitis should be treated with antifungals. Nope. When genetic sequencing tests were developed, researchers discovered hundreds of microbial species in healthy and sick people - and they realized that we all had fungi as part of our microbiome.

Which is why physicians now generally view sinusitis as an "inflammatory process", maybe due to an allergic response. Fungal sinusitis is considered one type of sinusitis, and only in a small minority of sinusitis cases.

Indoor mold by window Credit: Wikipedia

Are human papilloma viruses (HPV) causing some prostate cancers? And could getting the HPV vaccine help in preventing some cases of prostate cancer? Sure sounds like it according to a recent study published by Australian researchers.

The researchers reviewed 26 studies and came to the conclusion that while prostate cancer likely has many causes, it appears to also have an infectious viral cause - specifically certain human papilloma viruses (HPVs). They point out that HPV vaccines protect against the high risk HPV types 16 and 18, which cause the majority of cervical cancers, and also appear to be implicated in some prostate cancers.

From Medical Xpress: Potential causal role of human papilloma viruses (HPVs) in prostate cancers

Human papilloma viruses (HPVs) - a common group of viruses known to cause cervical cancers—may also have a causal role in prostate cancer, according to a literature review published in the open access journal Infectious Agents and Cancer, supporting the case for universal HPV vaccination. 

James Lawson and Wendy Glenn, at the University of New South Wales, Australia reviewed results from 26 previous studies on HPVs and their links to prostate cancer. They assessed the existing evidence using a common set of nine causal criteria, including the strength and consistency with which HPVs were associated with prostate cancers and whether HPVs were detected in prostate tissues that later went on to develop cancer.  ...continue reading "Prostate Cancer and Human Papilloma Viruses"

The number of people who have Crohn's disease has been rising steadily over the years. Crohn's disease is a debilitating intestinal bowel disease (IBD) which causes severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and fatigue. A number of studies have focused on gut bacteria in those with Crohn's disease and found dysbiosis (microbial community out of whack), but there is disagreement over the cause of Crohn's and the dysbiosis.

Up to this point no treatments (drugs, surgery, diet, etc.) have had long-term success, and so patients have to take medications throughout life. This is why a small study (10 patients) finding long-term remissions (3 to 23 years) with medicines no longer required is exciting.

According to the Australian researchers success was achieved by having the individuals take a variety of antibiotics over a long period (about 3 years!), and for some also a fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) in the form of a "crap" or "poop" pill  (freeze-dried donor fecal microbiota).

The researchers felt that Crohn's disease is caused by an infection, perhaps  Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP), and they chose courses of various antibiotics that they thought would work against MAP.

Symptoms of Crohn's disease totally cleared up, intestines (including fistulas) healed, and patients discontinued all medications and treatments. The authors called it a "prolonged remission" in the study. But they did point out that this group was special, and that others treated that same way also achieved remission, but were unable to totally go off all medications.

So we'll see. It needs to be duplicated in more people first.

Excerpts from Medical Xpress: Study: Antibiotic and 'crapsule' therapy eliminate need for further treatment of Crohn's disease

The Centre for Digestive Disease (CDD) headed by Professor Thomas Borody has cured Crohn's disease as reported today by Dr. Gaurav Agrawal in Gut Pathogens.  ...continue reading "Successful Treatment for Crohn’s Disease?"

Two big risk factors are emerging over who will develop severe COVID-19 infections that lead to hospitalizations and needing intensive care. A number of studies throughout the world are reporting that the main risk factor in persons under 60 years is being significantly overweight, especially obesity, and the other risk factor is being over 65 years of age.

What is significantly overweight? A body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more is considered obese - probably 40 pounds or more overweight. For example, a 5 ft 5 inch person weighing 181 pounds or more, or a 5 ft 10 inch person 210 pounds or more. [see BMI chart]

Two studies of New York City hospital patients had similar findings. Doctors at NYU Langone Health (Lighter et al) found that overweight patients who were under age 60 were twice as likely to be hospitalized as their thinner peers, while those who were obese were three times as likely to need intensive care, the study found. And this is in patients who didn't have any other diseases or conditions - they were healthy, but overweight. The medical thinking is that this may because obesity is a state of chronic inflammation.

The scary part is that the US has a very high obesity rate - with the NYU researcher Jennifer Lighter pointing out that nearly 40% of adults in the US are obese with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more!

A French study found that a key finding was that those with a BMI of greater than 35 had more than sevenfold increased risk of requiring mechanical ventilation (compared to those with a BMI of less than 25). Studies are also finding that disease severity increased with increasing BMI.

Interestingly, obesity wasn't a predictor of severe disease leading to hospital admission or the ICU (intensive care unit) in those over the age of 60 years. But in those younger than 60 years, it was.

Excerpts from Medscape: Obesity Link to Severe COVID-19, Especially in the Under 60s

It is becoming increasingly clear that obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for severe COVID-19 disease, particularly among younger patients ...continue reading "Being Overweight Is Higher Risk For Severe Coronavirus Infections"