Category Archives: Health

Gut microbes, antibiotics linked to diabetes


Graph of the relationships between groups of bacterial species called OTUs found to occur together in mice either treated with antibiotics or not. Antibiotic-treated mice (red) have a very different, and less diverse, set of OTUs than the control mice (blue). Image courtesy of Nature Microbiology.

Graph of the relationships between groups of bacterial species called OTUs found to occur together in mice either treated with antibiotics or not. Antibiotic-treated mice (red) have a very different, and less diverse, set of OTUs than the control mice (blue). Image courtesy of Nature Microbiology.

Most of the cells in our bodies don’t belong to use; instead, they represent the host of micorganisms in our digestive tracts and play a critical role in extracting the nutrients from the foods we eat.

Yet until recently, scientists have paid little attention to the role these critters may play in our health, other than to ensure we get the nourishment we need to keep our own cells alive and well.

But as regular readers know, studies are revealing that they may play roles in the onset of a wide range of illnesses, ranging from multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis [our own affliction] to anorexia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Alzheimer’s disease.

We also know that antibiotics, the drugs we’ve invented to treat once-fatal bacterial infections, can have a lethal impact on those same internally resident creatures, as we’ve sometimes experienced in the diarrhea often accompanying a heavy dose of antibiotics.

By killing off much of our internal alien population, could we actually be contributing to the rise of other dangerous conditions?

Specially, in this case, diabetes?

The answer may well be yes.

From the New York University Langone Medical Center:

In doses equivalent to those used regularly in human children, antibiotics changed the mix of gut microbes in young mice to dramatically increase their risk for type 1 diabetes. That is the finding of a study led by researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center with support from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), and published August 22 in Nature Microbiology [$32 to download].

The study results center on the microbiome, the bacterial species in our guts that co-evolved with humans to play roles in digestion, metabolism, and immunity. As children’s exposure to microbe-killing antibiotics has increased in recent decades, the incidence of autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes has more than doubled. The average American child currently receives 10 courses of antibiotics by age 10.

Specifically, the new study found that short pulses of antibiotics cause mice that are susceptible to type 1 diabetes to develop the disease more quickly and more often than mice not treated with antibiotics.

“Our study begins to clarify the mechanisms by which antibiotic-driven changes in gut microbiomes may increase risk for type 1 diabetes,” says Martin Blaser, MD, the Muriel G. and George W. Singer Professor of Translational Medicine at NYU School of Medicine, and the study’s senior author. “This work uses NOD mice, the best model of type 1 diabetes to date, and doses of antibiotics like those received by most children to treat common infections.”

“This latest study result is compelling, linking the effects of use of antibiotics in mice to type 1 diabetes,” says Jessica Dunne, director of discovery research at JDRF. “This is the first study of its kind suggesting that antibiotic use can alter the microbiota and have lasting effects on immunological and metabolic development, resulting in autoimmunity. We’re eager to see how these findings may impact the discovery of type 1 diabetes preventive treatments in the future and continued research in the area of vaccines.”

More after the jump. . .
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Plastic food packaging to get edible replacement


We posted extensively about the health dangers posed by the plastics used to contain the foods we eat. The stuff ha been linked to everything from cancer obesity to ADHD and and the growth of man boobs.

And now comes word that scientists are developing a replacement, one we can eat.

From Bloomberg:

Much of the plastic packaging we see in the grocery store can be recycled, from egg containers, to milk jugs, to butter tubs. But what about that thin plastic film stretched around wedges of manchego in the cheese bin or the 16-ounce rib-eye in the chiller case?

It turns out that kind of plastic is tougher to recycle and might even be adding harmful chemicals to your food. Oh, and it’s not even good at doing what it’s supposed to do: prevent food spoilage.

Luckily, researchers are investigating alternative forms of food packaging—the kind you can eat.

U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers have discovered that a milk protein called casein can be used to develop an edible, biodegradable packaging film. The casein-based film is up to 500 times better than plastic at keeping oxygen away from food because proteins form a tighter network when they polymerize, the researchers found. It’s also more effective than current edible packaging materials made from starch and protects food products that are sensitive to light.

To produce a more practical packaging material, the team added glycerol and citrus pectin to the casein film, which is made by spreading a mixture of water and commercially available casein powder. Glycerol made the protein film softer, and citrus pectin added more structure to the film, allowing it to resist humidity and high temperatures better. Bonnaillie said the additives used by researchers also distinguish their packaging, because pectin is good for us.

Flavorings, vitamins, and other additives can be used to make the packaging, and the food it surrounds, tastier and more nutritious.

Sounds like a good idea.

Nuclear waste blast: Nation’s most costly mess


We begin with an excerpt from a 24 April 2014 post:

Valentine’s Day was anything but happy for workers at the at the Department of Energy’s New Mexico Waste Isolation Pilot Plant [WIPP] near Carlsbad Caverns. At 11:14 p.m., alarms shrieked warning of a radiation release from an exhaust vent moving air out of the underground storage facility.

Part of the waste stored in the interim facility [no permanent repository has yet been approved as each site, in turn, proved vulnerable to leaks] hailed from the nearby Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where University of California  scientists work with others to build next generation nuclear weaponry.

What happened that day was an explosion caused by [really] organic cat litter used to fill out drums containing deadly radioactive waste.

The blast and subsequent fire released plutonium, the deadliest substance on the planet, and reminded us that in our hubris, we have yet to devise safe ways of containing the products of the military/industrial. academic complex.

And now we’re discovering that the Valentine’s Day disaster [previously] is the most costly yet in the nation’s always-troubled nuclear program.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Energy Department officials declined to be interviewed about the incident but agreed to respond to written questions. The dump is operated by Nuclear Waste Partnership, which is led by the Los Angeles-based engineering firm AECOM. The company declined to comment.

Federal officials have set an ambitious goal to reopen the site for at least limited waste processing by the end of this year, but full operations can not resume until a new ventilation system is completed in about 2021.

The direct cost of the cleanup is now $640 million, based on a contract modification made last month with Nuclear Waste Partnership that increased the cost from $1.3 billion to nearly $2 billion. The cost-plus contract leaves open the possibility of even higher costs as repairs continue. And it does not include the complete replacement of the contaminated ventilation system or any future costs of operating the mine longer than originally planned.

An Energy Department spokesperson declined to address the cost issue but acknowledged that the dump would either have to stay open longer or find a way to handle more waste each year to make up for the shutdown. She said the contract modification gave the government the option to cut short the agreement with Nuclear Waste Partnership.

It costs about $200 million a year to operate the dump, so keeping it open an additional seven years could cost $1.4 billion. A top scientific expert on the dump concurred with that assessment.

NIH warns: Zika could spread across Gulf states


From Reuters:

One of the top U.S. public health officials on Sunday warned that the mosquito-borne Zika virus could extend its reach across the U.S. Gulf Coast after officials last week confirmed it as active in the popular tourist destination of Miami Beach.

The possibility of transmission in Gulf States such as Louisiana and Texas will likely fuel concerns that the virus, which has been shown to cause the severe birth defect known as microcephaly, could spread across the continental United States, even though officials have played down such an outcome.

Concern has mounted since confirmation that Zika has expanded into a second region of the tourist hub of Miami-Dade County in Florida. Miami’s Wynwood arts neighborhood last month became the site of the first locally transmitted cases of Zika in the continental United States.

“It would not be surprising we would see additional cases perhaps in other Gulf Coast states,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the allergy and infectious diseases unit of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said in an interview on Sunday morning with ABC News.

Fauci noted that record flooding this month in Louisiana – which has killed at least 13 people and damaged some 60,000 homes damaged – has boosted the likelihood Zika will spread into that state.

Chart of the day: Targets of U.S. hate crimes


The latest available breakdown from the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

BLOG Hate crimes
Given the tenor of the current presidential election, we expect the numbers for 2016 may be higher.

And bear in mind that these figures are only for crimes actually reported to police, and given the mistrust of police in minority communities, the actual proportions could be significantly different.

Map of the day: The U.S. makes the WHO Zika map


From the Pan American Health Organization, a subdivision of the World Health Organization, the latest map of nations in the Americas with active transmission of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, finally includes the U.S., following the outbreak in Florida:

BLOG Map

And from the World Health Organization, the latest update on countries with active transmission:

BLOG Chart

Map of the day: Global tuberculosis prevalence


From Nature Reviews Rheumatology, using date from 2011:

BLOG TB