Category Archives: Health

Gut microbes linked to Parkinson’s disease


Yet another in a long series of recent studies confirms that the largest cell population in our bodies, those bacteria residing in our guts, plays a central role in the health of the human organism.

This time, the link is with the development of the debilitating neurological affliction known as Parkinson’s disease, and the finding is that the right combination of visceral bacteria may delay it’s onset.

From the University of Iowa:

 University of Iowa researchers have found that the gut may be key to preventing Parkinson’s disease. Cells located in the intestine spark an immune response that protects nerve cells, or neurons, against damage connected with Parkinson’s disease. Acting like detectives, the immune intestinal cells identify damaged machinery within neurons and discard the defective parts. That action ultimately preserves neurons whose impairment or death is known to cause Parkinson’s. Illustration courtesy of Veena Prahlad.

University of Iowa researchers have found that the gut may be key to preventing Parkinson’s disease. Cells located in the intestine spark an immune response that protects nerve cells, or neurons, against damage connected with Parkinson’s disease. Acting like detectives, the immune intestinal cells identify damaged machinery within neurons and discard the defective parts. That action ultimately preserves neurons whose impairment or death is known to cause Parkinson’s. Illustration courtesy of Veena Prahlad.

Your gut may play a pivotal role in preventing the onset of Parkinson’s disease. And the reason may be its knack for sleuthing.

Researchers at the University of Iowa have found that the gut may be key to preventing Parkinson’s disease. Cells located in the intestine spark an immune response that protects nerve cells, or neurons, against damage connected with Parkinson’s disease. Acting like detectives, the immune intestinal cells identify damaged machinery within neurons and discard the defective parts. That action ultimately preserves neurons whose impairment or death is known to cause Parkinson’s.

“We think somehow the gut is protecting neurons,” says Veena Prahlad, assistant professor in biology at the UI and corresponding author on the paper [open access] published Aug. 30 in the journal Cell Reports.

Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that erodes motor control and balance over time. It affects some 500,000 people in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health. The disease occurs when neurons—nerve cells—in the brain that control movement become impaired or die. Normally, these neurons produce dopamine, and when they are damaged or killed, the resulting dopamine shortage causes the motor-control problems associated with the disease.

University of Iowa researchers have found that the gut may be key to preventing Parkinson’s disease. Cells located in the intestine spark an immune response that protects nerve cells, or neurons, against damage connected with Parkinson’s disease. Acting like detectives, the immune intestinal cells identify damaged machinery within neurons and discard the defective parts. That action ultimately preserves neurons whose impairment or death is known to cause Parkinson’s. Illustration courtesy of Veena Prahlad.

Scientists have previously linked Parkinson’s to defects in mitochondria, the energy-producing machinery found in every human cell. Why and how mitochondrial defects effect neurons remain a mystery. Some think the impaired mitochondria starve neurons of energy; others believe they produce a neuron-harming molecule. Whatever the answer, damaged mitochondria have been linked to other nervous disorders as well, including ALS and Alzheimer’s, and researchers want to understand why.

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Study links gut microbes to childhood obesity


We’ve long been fascinated with the growing body of studies focusing on the most-long-ignored cells within our bodies, cells that outnumber all the other cells of our flesh, blood, and bones combined.

And they aren’t even our own cells.

Rather, they are the bacteria inhabiting our viscera, cells without which we would quickly wither and die.

But more than that, the bacteria, which infuse our bodies with a host of chemicals derived from the food we eat, differ within each of our bodies and the differing populations have been linked to a whole host of afflictions, ranging from links between our intestinal microbes and multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, anorexia, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and even our emotional states.

And now comes a study establishing a link between intestinal microbes and childhood obesity.

From the Endocrine Society:

Children and teenagers who are obese have different microorganisms living in the digestive tract than their lean counterparts, according to a new study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

The study is the first to find a connection between gut microbiota, also called gut flora, and fat distribution in children and teenagers.

Obesity affects 17 percent of children and teens nationwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Childhood obesity is associated with an estimated $14.1 billion in additional prescription drug, emergency room visit and outpatient visit costs each year, according to the Society’s Endocrine Facts and Figures Report.

“Our findings show children and teenagers with obesity have a different composition of gut flora than lean youth,” said the study’s senior author, Nicola Santoro, MD, PhD, Associate Research Scientist in the Department of Pediatrics at Yale University in New Haven, CT. “This suggests that targeted modifications to the specific species composing the human microbiota could be developed and could help to prevent or treat early-onset obesity in the future.”

The study examined gut microbiota and weight in 84 children and teenagers who were between 7 and 20 years old. The participants included 27 youth who were obese, 35 who were severely obese, seven who were overweight and 15 who were normal weight. Researchers analyzed the participants’ gut microbiota. The participants underwent an MRI to measure body fat partitioning, provided blood samples and kept a three-day food diary.

The researchers found eight groups of gut microbiota that were linked to the amount of fat in the body. Four of the microbial communities tended to flourish in children and teens with obesity compared to their normal-weight counterparts. Smaller amounts of the other four microbial groups were found in participants who were obese compared to children and teenagers of normal weight. The gut microbiota found in youth who were obese tended to be more efficient at digesting carbohydrates than the gut flora of teenagers and children of normal weight.

In addition, the children with obesity tended to have higher levels of short chain fatty acids in the blood than children of normal weight. The study found short chain fatty acids, which are produced by some types of gut bacteria, are associated with the production of fat in the liver.

“Our research suggests that short chain fatty acids can be converted to fat within the liver and then accumulate in the fat tissue,” Santoro said. “This association could signal that children with certain gut bacteria face a long-term risk of developing obesity.”

The study, “Role of Gut Microbiota and Short Chain Fatty Acids in Modulating Energy Harvest and Fat Partitioning in Youth,” have been published online [open access] ahead of print.

Other authors of the study include: Martina Goffredo of Yale University in New Haven, CT, and Universita’ Milano Bicocca in Milan, Italy; Kendra Mass, Emily Ann McClure and Joerg Graf of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT; Elizabeth J. Parks of the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO; David A. Wagner of Metabolic Solutions Inc. in Nashua, NH; and Mary Savoye, Bridget Pierpont and Gary Cline of Yale University.

The research was funded by the American Heart Association, the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation, the Allen Foundation Inc., and the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

While folk and traditional medical practitioners weren’t aware of bacteria, they devoted considerable attention to the study of our feces, the most directly observable result of the action of the interaction of intestinal bacteria, our bodies, and the foods we consume.

What we find odd is that its taken so long for Western medicine to discover the proverbial elephant in the room.

What

Map of the day: Americans stricken with Zika virus


The latest report from the Centers for Disease Control, with only Florida reporting cases contracted within the continental U.S.:

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Miami Beach Zika hot zone triples in size


Zika hot zones in the City of Miami, left, and Miami Beach, right, with the uppermost region just added to the hot zone by the Florida Department of Health.

Zika hot zones in the City of Miami, left, and Miami Beach, right, with the uppermost region just added to the hot zone by the Florida Department of Health.

Almost all of Miami Beach, the home of posh hotels and plush mansions, has been declared a Zika hot zone, the Florida Department of Health of Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday.

With Miami already reeling from from confirmed cases if tiurusts who contracted the disease on their Miami vacations, Friday’s announcement may well lead to a major decline in those tourist dollars so vital to the regional economy.

From Reuters:

State officials in Florida on Friday tripled the active Zika transmission zone in the trendy seaside community of Miami Beach after five new cases of the mosquito-borne virus believed to cause a severe birth defect were identified in the area.

The active transmission zone grew from 1.5 square miles to 4.5 square miles and consists of a large portion of the popular tourist destination, Florida Governor Rick Scott said in a statement on Friday evening.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine told the Miami Herald that the city will begin truck-spraying of larvicide in the zone on Saturday.

“We have a serious problem,” he told the newspaper. “Once again, we must take all reasonable and safe action to eliminate this. This is a problem.”

More on the impacts from the Miami Herald:

By dramatically expanding the beach’s Zika zone, Scott has ramped up an area of caution that already has hotels warning of sharp slowdowns and elected leaders pleading with Florida and Washington for financial help if the region’s economy suffers the severe hit they fear might be coming.

Miami Beach began the day with some unsettling Zika news: two new cases in the original zone, south of 28th Street. Hours later, Scott announced the expanded zone and a total of five cases.

The number of locally transmitted cases is now 93, which includes at least 10 people who live outside the state but acquired the virus here.

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During an afternoon conference call between Miami Beach and county officials Friday, some local hotels reported their business has taken a serious hit in the past month. Many have lost group bookings.

The Fontainebleau hotel told the city manager’s office it has had its worst three weeks in 15 years. The Carillon Resort had lost $100,000 in short-term cancellations. And owners of the Mandarin Oriental — which is on Brickell Key, not Miami Beach — were concerned about bookings for Art Basel, which are not coming in at their usual pace. Art Basel is an annual art fair held in South Beach, a marquee event during the first week of December.

The governor’s cash pitch

From Scott’s announcement:

“While we’ve learned that we’re expanding the impacted area in Miami Beach, the good news is that we expect to lift the zone in Wynwood on Monday because of our aggressive mosquito control measures, outreach to the community, education efforts and the vigilant actions of the residents and businesses in Wynwood. The expansion of the Miami Beach area where local transmission is occurring highlights the need for continued aggressive mosquito control measures and for Congress to immediately approve federal funding to combat Zika. I went to Washington this week to meet with Congressional leaders and urge them to immediately provide funding for this national crisis. Every minute that passes that Congress doesn’t approve funding means more time is lost from researching this virus to find a vaccine to help pregnant women and their developing babies.

“Due to the inaction by Congress, I authorized an additional $10 million in state funds today to continue fighting Zika. I am also continuing to call on Congress to hold a field hearing in Miami on Zika preparedness and prevention by October 1. I know many members of Florida’s Congressional Delegation are fighting for Zika funding and it is critically important that members come to Miami and hear directly from those who are on the frontlines of batting this virus.

“Following today’s news, I am asking the CDC to provide Florida with an additional epidemiologist to support DOH’s efforts to combat and contain Zika and host a call with community leaders and clinicians in Miami Beach to answer questions and provide the latest guidance on Zika. In August, I asked the CDC to send additional lab support to Florida and while they have provided some resources, we need much more. That is why earlier this week I asked the CDC for more lab support. Additionally, I am renewing my call to the Obama Administration to provide 10,000 Zika Prevention Kits to protect pregnant women and a detailed plan on how they would like us to work with FEMA now that Zika is mosquito-borne in our state. We have continued to call on the CDC to quickly respond to these requests, and pregnant women who are most at-risk for the Zika virus deserve to have these requests immediately fulfilled.”

The governor stands to reap rewards

Cynics might think the Florida governor’s call for a major federal cash infusion to fight the disease-carrying mosquitoes, given a story reported 17 August by the investigative journalism website FloridaBulldog:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has an undisclosed financial interest in a Zika mosquito control company in which his wife, Florida First Lady Ann Scott, owns a multi-million dollar stake through a private investment firm she co-owns.

The company is Mosquito Control Services LLC of Metairie, LA. According to its web site, MCS “is a fully-certified team of mosquito control experts – licensed throughout the Gulf Coast, including Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.”

On June 23, Gov. Scott signed an executive order allocating $26.2 million in state emergency funds for Zika preparedness, including “mosquito surveillance and abatement, training for mosquito control technicians and enhanced laboratory capacity.”

It is not known whether MCS, whose services include monitoring and aerial spraying, stands to benefit from Florida government funds. Company manager Steven Pavlovich holds an active Florida “public health applicator” license with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services through April 2019, but MCS is not a registered state vendor. The Department of Health contracts with two other two mosquito control vendors.

MCS did not respond to two requests for comment.

Plastics prove pervasive in Great Lakes tributaries


The types of plastics pervasive in streams leading to the Great Lakes, via the USGS microplastics website.

The types of plastics pervasive in streams leading to the Great Lakes, via the USGS microplastics website.

As longtime readers know, one of our ongoing concerns here has been the growing body of evidence that plastics, still relatively new when esnl
was a child, are now being linked to a growing number of environmental woes and health problems.

And as with DDTvinyl chloride, asbestos, and a host of other compounds, we are only learning about the risks years after the substances have invaded our lives and environments.

Now comes word that plastics, present everywhere in our homes, workplaces, and oceans, have invaded the waters leading into Great Lakes.

From the U.S. Geological Survey:

Microplastics fall off decomposing bottles and bags, wear off of synthetic clothing and are manufactured into some toothpastes and lotions. Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and State University of New York at Fredonia studied 107 water samples collected from 29 Great Lakes tributaries in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and New York, and found microplastics in all samples. Together, these 29 tributaries account for approximately 22 percent of the total river water that flows into the Great Lakes.

“These microplastics, which are harmful to animal and possibly human health, will continue to accumulate in the Great Lakes well into the future,” said Austin Baldwin, a USGS scientist and the lead author of the report. “Our findings can help water managers better understand the types and sources of microplastics in rivers, and which rivers are the most polluted with microplastics.”

Baldwin noted that the study underestimates the actual microplastic concentrations in the rivers because the scientists sampled large microplastics greater than 0.33 millimeters (mm). The majority of microplastics are smaller than 0.1 mm.

Key findings from the study include:

  • The highest concentration of microplastics was detected in the Huron River at Ann Arbor, Michigan, at 32 particles per cubic meter, or p/m3;
  • High levels of microplastics were also detected in the Buffalo River at Buffalo, New York (31 p/m3), the Ashtabula River near Ashtabula, Ohio (23 p/m3), and the Clinton River near Mt. Clemens, Michigan (21 p/m3);
  • The median concentration of microplastics in all samples was 1.9 p/m3;
  • Urban watersheds had the highest concentrations of microplastics; and
  • Microplastics were also present in streams in forested and agricultural areas.

The scientists found various forms of microplastics in the river samples: fibers, fragments, films, foams, and pellets or beads. Plastic fibers, which come from items such as synthetic clothes, diapers and cigarette butts, were the most common type detected, at 71 percent of the total particles. The least common form found in the river water was microbeads, which are the only form banned by the United States Congress. This ban has not yet taken effect.

“We were surprised by the small amount of plastic beads and high amount of fibers found in the samples,” Baldwin said. “These unexpected findings demonstrate how studies like ours are critical to better understanding the many forms and fates of microplastics in the environment.”

Ingested microplastics can cause digestive and reproductive problems, as well as death, in fish, birds and other animals. Unhealthy additives in the plastic, including flame retardants and antimicrobials, have been associated with cancer and endocrine disruption in humans. Also, pollutants such as pesticides, trace metals and even pathogens can accumulate at high concentrations on microplastic particles.

Scientists have found microplastics nearly everywhere. Aside from rivers, microplastics are also common in lakes and oceans, in freshwater and marine fish, oysters and mussels, and in sediment. They are deposited onto land and water surfaces from the atmosphere.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funded the new study. For more information on USGS microplastics research, please visit the USGS Great Lakes Restoration Initiative website.

More health woes are linked linked to fracking wells


From the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

New research suggests that Pennsylvania residents with the highest exposure to active natural gas wells operated by the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) industry are nearly twice as likely to suffer from a combination of migraine headaches, chronic nasal and sinus symptoms and severe fatigue.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, reporting online Aug. 25 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives [open access], say their findings add to a growing body of evidence linking the fracking industry to health problems.

“These three health conditions can have debilitating impacts on people’s lives,” says first author Aaron W. Tustin, MD, MPH, a resident physician in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School. “In addition, they cost the health care system a lot of money. Our data suggest these symptoms are associated with proximity to the fracking industry.”

For their study, Tustin and his colleagues created a questionnaire and received responses from 7,785 adult primary care patients of the Geisinger Health System, a health care provider that covers 40 counties in north and central Pennsylvania.

The questionnaires were returned between April and October of 2014.

The researchers found that 1,765 respondents (23 percent) suffered from migraines, 1,930 people (25 percent) experienced severe fatigue and 1,850 (24 percent) had current symptoms of chronic rhinosinusitis (defined as three or more months of nasal and sinus symptoms).

The researchers used publicly available well data to estimate participants’ exposure to the fracking industry. Their models accounted for the size and number of wells, as well as the distance between wells and people’s homes.

While no single health condition was associated with proximity to active wells, those who met criteria for two or more of the health conditions were nearly twice as likely to live closer to more or larger wells.

“We don’t know specifically why people in close proximity to these larger wells are more likely to be sick,” says the study’s senior author Brian S. Schwartz, MD, MS, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School. “We need to find a way to better understand the correlation and, hopefully, do something to protect the health of these people.”

Previous research conducted by Schwartz and colleagues has linked the fracking industry to increases in premature births, asthma attacks and indoor radon concentrations.

Tustin and his colleagues say there are plausible explanations for how fracking could cause these health conditions. Well development generates air pollution, which could provoke nasal and sinus symptoms. This type of drilling also produces stressors such as odors, noise, bright lights and heavy truck traffic. Any of these stressors could increase the risk of symptoms. Migraine headaches, for example, are known to be triggered by odors in some individuals.

Hydraulic fracturing involves the injection of millions of liters of water into deep rock formations to liberate natural gas or petroleum. Energy companies moved toward fracking in the early 2000s when natural gas prices were high and supplies were low. Pennsylvania has embraced the industry. Over 9,000 fracking wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania in the past decade. Hydraulic fracturing has expanded rapidly in recent years in states such as Colorado, North Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia and Ohio. In contrast, New York has banned fracking and Maryland has delayed well production.

Maryland’s fracking moratorium is set to expire in October 2017. The moratorium was passed in 2015 out of concern about fracking’s potentially negative environmental effects, before the more recent health studies were completed. Schwartz says Maryland regulators should consider these new scientific findings when they decide whether to allow drilling.

“The moratorium was put in place before we even knew that there were health effects associated with these wells,” Schwartz says. “Now that we do, regulators need to carefully consider their next steps.”

“Associations between unconventional natural gas development and nasal and sinus, migraine headache, and fatigue symptoms in Pennsylvania” was written by Aaron W. Tustin; Annemarie G. Hirsch; Sara G. Rasmussen; Joan A. Casey; Karen Bandeen-Roche and Brian S. Schwartz.

Maps of the day: The Zika virus continues to spread


From the latest Zika virus epidemiological update from the Pan American Health Organization, two maps mark the spread of the disease in the Americas during the first eight months of the year:

Cumulative incidence rates of suspected and confirmed Zika cases in countries and territories in the Americas, January 2016 and September 2016.

Cumulative incidence rates of suspected and confirmed Zika cases in countries and territories in the Americas, January 2016 and September 2016.

And from the Florida Department of Public Health comes word that the Zika virus is now being actively spread by mosquitoes in two regions in Dade County, one in a trendy section of the City of Miami, and the second in the even trendier Miami Beach. As of Friday, 56 people have been infected locally:

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