I have been asked this same question countless times, “do you think it’s okay if I let my baby crawl on a dirty floor?”. Well depends how dirty. If you’re talking about the floor of a public restroom then you can be sure that it’s not the best idea. But what about the average household floor in America? I would say that it’s not just a good idea, but a great one and now there’s more research to back it up.
Scientists at the University of Cincinnati have just published a study in the journal Allergy, showing that exposure to certain indoor microbial elements (specifically something called fungal glucans) at an early age can decrease future wheezing and possibly the development of allergies in children. Infants are often exposed to indoor fungal glucans by crawling on a somewhat dusty floor.
This wonderful interplay between the indoor environment and our immune system is a classic example of evolution at play. Through natural selection, our immune systems were designed, to learn about the world around us and sense the differences between friend and foe (for more on this idea see here). By overusing antimicrobial cleaners or being generally overprotective, we rob our children’s immune systems the important chance to learn these lessons. In an attempt to keep your child healthy you might just be making them sicker.
Tens of billions of bees are missing. You may soon see their picture on the back of milk cartons and on billboards across the nation. Honeybees have gone missing. A recent New York Times article went into great detail describing the dire situation and all the competing theories as to what may be responsible for the die off. Some of these theories have included, poisoning due to transgenic crops such as Bt-corn (which is also used as the sweetener in Coke and other soft drinks) or even electromagnetic pollution (examples being cell phone towers and Wi-Fi networks).
The more immediate concern of course is our reliance on honeybees to pollinate many of agricultural products such as apples to zucchinis (it’s thought that they help produce a third of our food supply). In other words if things don’t change we’re set to lose a lot more than honey cake.
A few years back I did research involving the immune system of honeybees (what happens to them when they get sick) and fell in love with their amazing biology and complicated behavior. What worries me about this current situation is whether honeybees might be like the canaries in the coal mine, warning us of a much greater environmental threat underway.
Just came across a very strange game created by Scientific Illustrations for Genentech’s drug Avastin. The drug avastin works by preventing the vascularization of tumors, which means it prevents the tumors from becoming readily established by blocking them from getting hooked up to your circulatory system. If you want to try the game simulation go here.
Believe it or not mice given bacteria, that are normally found in dirt, starting behaving as if they were given an antidepressants. Researchers behind the study, published in the journal Neuroscience, are saying that they think their findings may help explain why people with immune imbalances are susceptible to changes in their mood such as depression.
The idea came about when researchers were originally treating some cancer patients with the bacterium commonly found in soil, Mycobacterium vaccae. Patients eating this bacteria reported to feel better and so a study was born to look into how this might be working.
When the researchers treated mice with the same microbes they found that neurons that produce serotonin became activated, possibly explaining the change in behavior seen in the mice and the uplifting effects seen in the cancer patients. In the most popular theory of depression, the lack of serotonin in certain parts of the brain that regulate mood is thought to be the cause of the blues.
It’s funny but when I was on Faith Sailes’ NPR show, Fair Game, this is exactly what I talked about, a dirt pill that people could take to replace the bacteria that they are not getting as the result of living in an over sanitized and developed society.
If you’ve ever wondered why some people who are obese never get diabetes, you’re not alone. There’s a new theory that is starting to get some traction and it has to do with some nasty chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These chemicals were used in many industries and as pesticides (DDT is just one example) and although many have been banned in developed countries they can persist in the environment for a really long time. The ability to persist is what can lead to a build up of these nasty substances in animals higher up in the food chain such as humans. These chemicals tend to be concentrated in fatty tissues. So it may not be obesity that is directly related to the diabetes, but rather the “beer belly” is acting as a repository for noxious chemicals. A study published in the journal Diabetes Care recently found that if you were obese and found to be harboring these pollutants than you were more likely to be insulin resistant, the harbinger of diabetes. Yet if you were obese and lacked the pollutants in your bloodstream than you were likely to have a normal insulin response, meaning no diabetes or prediabetes symptoms.
If you happen to suffer from recurring canker sores (medical term is apthous ulcers) you might want to give a new product a try. Apparently licorice can help alleviate the pain of a nasty canker and speed up healing (no one really knows what causes canker sores, there’s a lot of competing theories). People have tried licorice in the past for cankers but with mixed results. Cankermelts, as the product is called, comes as a disk that you stick on the sore and may be working because the licorice extract is in constant contact with the canker. Dr. Jeffrey Haley, one of the scientists behind cankermelts presented his research recently at the International Association for Dental Research in New Orleans. If you want to read up on their study (they used 23 people treated vs. 23 untreated), here’s the abstract from the conference. I haven’t seen the cankermelts in stores or know anyone who has tried it so this post is not an endorsement of cankermelts, but the product does sound interesting. If there’s anyone who has tried it let us know what you think.
A good friend sent me a link to a great article on durians in the New York Times that ran about a week ago, specifically about a new variety that has had the smell bred out of them. I’ll miss the stink.
For those of you that remember Aran Gordon and his incredible story from the first chapter of the book (he almost rusted to death from too much iron), you can catch him tonight at 10pm Eastern on Discovery Health’s, Mystery Diagnosis.
I had the pleasure of recently meeting up with Aran over lunch. Hearing him recount his ordeal was really inspiring. Here was someone whose medical complaints were not, at least initially, taken seriously by his physician putting his health at serious risk. Instead of having the entire experience embitter him, it seems to have had the opposite effect.
Maybe that’s what gave him the strength to finish another Marathon des Sable, probably the most grueling 6 day 151 mile ultra marathon on Earth. Here’s a few pictures from the 2006 race that Aran wanted me to share.
There was a few press releases over the weekend regarding the discovery of a number of genes related to Crohn’s disease. Until any of the genetic avenues of research bear fruit, there’s still hope that some of the studies underway using Wellbutrin as a treatment for Crohn’s will work. Wellbutrin is actually an antidepressant (one of the only antidepressants marketed to not have sexual side-effects) that was found, anecdotally, to help patients with Crohn’s who were not depressed. Why were people with Crohn’s, who were not depressed, taking an antidepressant? Wellburtin is also marketed under the name Zyban because it can work as a smoking cessation drug. Some of the people who were taking Zyban happened to also have Crohn’s and found that their symptoms improved. I know a lot of people with Crohn’s (it’s been a pet project of mine for a few years now) and just how debilitating this condition can be. Let’s hope that these latest genetic findings will help lead to a cure soon.
Following yesterday’s posting, about the looming possibility of the Cavendish bananas’ demise, I spent some time reflecting on extinction in general and then ran across an article in today’s issue of the journal Science. In the paper scientists used some soft tissue (collagen specifically) from a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil and found it similar to our modern day chicken. Which is interesting of course since although species can and do go extinct it makes me wonder if their relations taste the same. Now if we could only start cloning T. rex to solve world hunger. That’s a lot of chicken. What part of T. rex would you like to eat?