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There may be another unexpected benefit to having a pet dog in childhood - a lower risk of developing schizophrenia later in adulthood. A recent study (conducted in the Baltimore, MD area) found the lowest risk of developing schizophrenia was in individuals who were exposed to a pet dog from birth or before the age of 3. So... early childhood exposure to household pet dogs is best.

On the other hand, there was no significant link between pet dogs and bipolar disorder, or between pet cats and either psychiatric disorder (schizophrenia and bipolar disorder).

Interestingly, the lower risk of schizophrenia in those having a household pet dog before the age of 3 matches research finding a lower incidence of allergies and asthma in those with early childhood exposure to pet dogs (and also pet cats). There could be a number of reasons, but one popular one is that the exposure to the dog microbes  in early childhood influences the child's gut microbes and affects the immune system in a beneficial way.

From Science Daily: Early-life exposure to dogs may lessen risk of developing schizophrenia  ...continue reading "Early Life Exposure To Pet Dogs and Lower Risk of Developing Schizophrenia"

What is the best way for cleaning hands to prevent the spread of flu viruses? Advertisers would have you believe that only their hand sanitizers can do the job, but... guess what? That's not true! Hand washing with soap and water is the best. One study found that even skipping the soap and just rubbing the hands with plain water for 30 seconds is better than most hand sanitizers!

classroom study illustrated nicely how handwashing with soap and water is better than hand sanitizers or doing nothing (dirty hands) in spreading germs. The photos show it wonderfully.

From Medscape: Plain Water Better Than Hand Sanitizer for Influenza A

Simple handwashing — even without soap — is more effective than many hand disinfectants for killing influenza A virus (IAV) in typical clinical situations, new data show.

The researchers say the key factor that determines the effectiveness of ethanol-based disinfectants (EBDs) is whether there is wet mucus surrounding the virus. Wet mucus prevents the disinfectant from reaching the virus, which means the virus remained active after 120 seconds of EBD exposure.

By contrast, washing hands under plain water for 30 seconds inactivated the virus, regardless of whether it was initially surrounded by wet or dry mucus.  ...continue reading "Is Hand Washing Better Than Hand Sanitizers For the Flu Virus?"

Back in 2015 I posted about Rogan Brown's amazing paper sculptures of microbes. I just looked at some of his latest work and it is still amazing and gorgeous!

He designs, then cuts by hand or laser thousands of paper microorganisms, including cell structures, bacteria, coral, fungi, pathogens, and diatoms.

Rogan Brown wrote an article in the March-April 2017 American Scientist about his work and the process he goes through in creating his incredibly detailed paper sculptures.

All of the photos on this page are from Rogan Brown's site:

 

Cytokinesis - paper sculpture by Rogan Brown of cell division (2019). 47 x 46"

 

 

 

 

 

Magic Circle Variation 2017 -  this paper sculpture by Rogan Brown refers to petri dish, microscope lens, coral, bacteria, fungi, etc. (2017)

 

 

 

Magic Circle Colour Variation (2018) - this paper sculpture by Rogan Brown refers to petri dish, microscope lens, coral, bacteria, fungi, etc. 38 x 37"

 

 

 

Magic Circle Colour Variation detail 

The results of a recent study makes sense - that different microbes are found in city and town apartments and homes versus rural homes and jungle huts. And of course one would expect these different exposures to have an effect on our health. Guess where one gets more fresh air and sunlight, and where one has more chemical exposures?

Inside modern city and town buildings is lots of exposure to all sorts of plastics, human made chemicals, cleaners (and disinfectants), pesticides, medications, lack of fresh air, and along with lack of sunlight - all sorts of fungi. On the other hand, in rural areas there is fresher air, more sunlight, and more natural materials. [Remember: it's plastics and modern chemical compounds that outgas into the air and are a cause of air pollution. And yes, get into our bodies and affect our health negatively.]

The study was conducted in Peru and Brazil by several big names in the microbiome field, including Martin Blaser, Rob Knight, and Maria Dominguez-Bello. As the researchers point out, we have replaced a natural environment with a synthetic environment. Bottom line: get out into nature as much as possible, even if it's just walks. Try to use natural materials in your home (e.g., wood and not just plastic furniture), try to use "natural" products, and fewer chemicals routinely (pesticides, disinfectants, etc)

From Futurity: More Fungi Live In Urban Homes Than In Jungle Huts  ...continue reading "Different Microbes Live In Urban Homes Versus Really Rural Homes"

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Researchers are starting to raise concerns about routine daily intake of probiotics for "gut health". Much is still unknown, but problems are starting to appear. A healthy gut contains hundreds of species (bacteria, fungi, viruses), and taking megadoses of a few species (a probiotic supplement) can overwhelm the normal gut microbial community. A healthy gut is one with a greater diversity of species, not just some species.

For example, one study found that daily probiotic ingestion can result in overgrowth of some bacterial species in the intestines, resulting in such symptoms as brain fogginess, bloating, and gas. Successful treatment was antibiotics and stopping the use of probiotics.   Another recent study found that after using antibiotics, those who took probiotics (thinking it would help microbial recolonization of the gut microbes) actually had slower recovery of the gut microbiome (microbial community).  The best recovery was in those who took nothing, no supplements at all, or those who received a fecal microbial transplant (where an entire microbial community is transplanted).

The evidence is showing that for gut microbial health, the best thing to do is eat a variety of real whole foods (and not highly processed foods) that have lots of fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and legumes (beans). In other words, feed the beneficial bacteria. A Mediterranean style diet is good.

A recent article in Medscape (the medical site) highlights these same concerns. [See below.] A study that looked at the gut microbiome of people who were about to undergo treatment for melanoma found that those who were taking probiotics actually had worse gut microbial diversity. [Remember, gut microbial diversity is considered an indicator of gut health.] And the cancer treatment (immunotherapy) did not work as well on them.

Bottom line: The evidence is showing that for gut microbial health, the best thing to do is eat a variety of real whole foods (and not highly processed foods) that have lots of fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and legumes (beans). In other words, feed the beneficial bacteria. A Mediterranean style diet is good. Don't take routine daily supplements or probiotics for  "gut health" - they won't help. Instead, if you want - only take probiotics for a short while for a specific symptom or problem.

Dr. Lorenzo Cohen wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal laying out those same points. Some excerpts from: Those Probiotics May Actually Be Hurting Your ‘Gut Health’  ...continue reading "Daily Use of Probiotics Can Hurt Gut Health"

Food is all important for health. A recent study (that analyzed data from 10 large studies in the US, Europe, and Asia) found an association between high fiber intake from foods and also frequent eating of yogurt with a lower incidence of lung cancer. Persons with the highest yogurt and fiber consumption had a 33% reduced risk of lung cancer (when compared to the group who did not consume yogurt and consumed the least amount of fiber).

Think of it this way: The fiber in foods feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut. High fiber foods that feed microbes in the gut are known as prebiotics. It is good to eat a variety of foods, because they provide a variety of fibers. High fiber foods are whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seed, nuts, and legumes (beans).

Gut microbes use fiber to generate short-chain fatty acids, and these are anti-inflammatory. Evidence suggests that the beneficial effects are not restricted to the gut, but reach organs throughout the body, including the lungs. The researchers suggest that both fiber and yogurt have anti-inflammatory effects, and the combination of fiber and yogurt is stronger against lung cancer than either alone. They also thought that the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species in yogurt somehow help improve the gut microbial system.

From Medical Xpress:  High fiber, yogurt diet associated with lower lung cancer risk  ...continue reading "High Fiber Foods, Yogurt, and Lung Cancer"

Bacterial vaginosis is a problem for many women, with estimates that up to a third of women of reproductive age get it at some point in life. Bacterial vaginosis is a condition where the microbes in the vagina are imbalanced or out-of-whack, especially with diminishing numbers and types of Lactobacillus species. Lactobacillus species are typically the dominant bacteria in healthy vaginal microbiomes.

Unfortunately, some women have recurring bacterial vaginosis (BV), many who wind up taking course after course of antibiotics to try to deal with it. Symptoms can include thin gray, white, or green vaginal discharge, vaginal itching, burning during urinbation, and a smelly fishy vaginal odor. Which is why a small study done in Israel finding success with vaginal microbial transplantation (VMT) from healthy donors to women with BV is very exciting.

Researchers transplanted vaginal fluid (with all its microbes) from 3 healthy women (and thus a healthy vaginal microbial community) into 5 women with severe BV that did not respond well to antibiotics. Afterwards four of the  recipients had long-lasting (up to 21 months) vaginal microbial changes and complete remission of BV (2 after the first transplant, 2 after 3 transplants) - becoming more like the donors' vaginal microbiome, and also rich in Lactobacillus. The 5th person had partial improvement of BV, but there were complications - she took a course of antibiotics for a throat infection, her BV symptoms returned, and then she received another vaginal microbiome transplant, after which her vaginal microbes were a mix of her original and the donors.

Of course larger studies are now needed, especially because there can be risks when receiving another person's microbes (e.g. accidental transfer of viruses). But I also want to point out that some of these Lactobacillus species (especially Lactobacillus crispatus) are easily available without a prescription, and women have been self-experimenting with them, many with good success.

Excerpts from Ars Technica - Vaginal-fluid transplants treat incurable condition in pilot study   ...continue reading "Vaginal Fluid Transplants Successfully Treat Bacterial Vaginosis"

Everyone is concerned with the problem of antibiotics not working due to antibiotic resistance, that is, when bacteria resist the effects of antibiotics. Researchers typically study genetic changes that occur in bacteria over time, but researchers at Newcastle University in the UK found evidence for a another reason that antibiotics may not work in treating an infection. They found that bacteria can change shape and shed their cell walls, which are their outermost defense and the primary target of most antibiotics. Then when the antibiotics are stopped, they can go back to their original shape. Sneaky!

The researchers suggest that in the future we may have to treat infections with combined antibiotics, that is use antibiotics that kill bacteria with cell walls and also antibiotics that kill bacteria forms without cell walls (called L-forms).

Excerpts from  the study researcher Katarzyna Mickiewicz's post in The Conversation: Antibiotic resistance: researchers have directly proven that bacteria can change shape inside humans to avoid antibiotics   ...continue reading "Antibiotics May Not Work If Bacteria Change Their Shape"

The number of people diagnosed with the infection Valley fever is increasing. According to a CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) report released this week, individuals diagnosed with the infection called Valley fever or Coccidioidomycosis has increased 74% since 2014.

Valley Fever is an infection caused by the fungus Coccidioides spp., which is typically found in the soil of warm, arid regions of the southwestern US (Arizona, California). It is found in a lesser degree in Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Texas, but has even been found as far north as central Washington. The fungus is inhaled and goes to the lungs, where it can cause a respiratory illness, but sometimes can also lead to disease throughout the body.

The CDC says on the Valley fever page: "People can get Valley fever by breathing in the microscopic fungal spores from the air, although most people who breathe in the spores don’t get sick. Usually, people who get sick with Valley fever will get better on their own within weeks to months, but some people will need antifungal medication. Certain groups of people are at higher risk for becoming severely ill. It’s difficult to prevent exposure to Coccidioides in areas where it’s common in the environment, but people who are at higher risk for severe Valley fever should try to avoid breathing in large amounts of dust if they’re in these areas."

What are the symptoms? Many people infected don't have any symptoms, while others (about 40%) may have flu-like symptoms lasting weeks to months, which may go away on their own. Valley fever can include symptoms such as: fatigue, cough, fever, shortness of breath, headache, night sweats, muscle aches or joint pain, and perhaps a rash on the upper body or legs. There is usually a 1 to 3 week incubation period. Unfortunately it may look like pneumonia, but typical pneumonia treatment with antibiotics does not help.

Much is still unknown in how to treat the illness, including whether antifungal medications lessen symptom duration or intensity in patients with uncomplicated Valley fever. [Antifungal medications are used to treat complicated cases.] About 5 to 10% of patients develop life-threatening severe lung (pulmonary) disease and in about 1% of people the infection spreads from the lungs to other parts of the body (e.g. brain and spinal cord, skin, or bones and joints). Some people may need lifelong treatment. While anyone can get Valley fever, the CDC says some risk factors include: immunosuppression (e.g. have had an organ transplant, have HIV, are on corticosteroids), being pregnant, having diabetes, people who are black or Filipino. The CDC lists some tips in preventing getting this fungus.

From Medscape: Valley Fever on the Rise and Spreading, CDC Says  ...continue reading "Valley Fever Infections Are Increasing In the United States"

The issue of antibiotic resistance, that is, of antibiotics no longer working for bacterial infections in humans is a huge concern. So why are we squandering the antibiotic oxytetracycline on orange trees sickened with the disease citrus greening when a recent study by University of Florida researchers says it doesn't work?

The US Environmental Protection Agency gave permission for large-scale agricultural use of 2 antibiotics (streptomycin and oxytetracycline) to try to combat the bacterial infection that is destroying vast numbers of orange trees in Florida, Texas, and other states. However, the 2 antibiotics are also used to treat a number of bacterial infections in humans. And the latest development is that a study found that when oxytetracycline was sprayed on citrus trees for 6 months according to manufacturer's directions, it was no more effective than spraying water against the harmful bacteria (Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus). 

Public health advocates, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) were all opposed to the EPA's antibiotic approvals for the citrus tree disease. They are very concerned that such large scale use could result in the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria, thus making these antibiotics useless in treating human illnesses. The CDC states that each year in the U.S., at least 2 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection, and at least 23,000 people die.

Keep in mind that the European Union has banned the agricultural use of both oxytetracycline and streptomycin. Brazil has also banned these 2 antibiotics for agricultural use, and there citrus growers are battling the same citrus greening bacteria in citrus groves.

Steven Roach, a senior analyst for the advocacy group Keep Antibiotics Working has said:  “To allow such a massive increase of these drugs in agriculture is a recipe for disaster. It’s putting the needs of the citrus industry ahead of human health.”

From the NY Times: Spraying Antibiotics to Fight Citrus Scourge Doesn’t Help, Study Finds   ...continue reading "Time to Reassess Spraying Antibiotics On Orange Trees"