Category Archives: Health

Gut bacteria can aggravate spinal injuries

Yet another report reveals profound links between the bacteria in our guts and the health of our bodies, cells which have been the subject of numerous previous posts.

Medical science is only starting to wake up to the role played by the majority of cells in our, cells that aren’t even ours.

And now comes a study showing a link between those visceral microbes and recovery from spinal injuries.

From the Rockefeller University Press via Newswise:

Researchers from The Ohio State University have discovered that spinal cord injury alters the type of bacteria living in the gut and that these changes can exacerbate the extent of neurological damage and impair recovery of function. The study, “Gut dysbiosis impairs recovery after spinal cord injury” [free access to registered users], by Kristina A. Kigerl et al., which will be published online October 17 ahead of issue in The Journal of Experimental Medicine, suggests that counteracting these changes with probiotics could aid patients’ recovery from spinal cord injuries.

The trillions of bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal tract are collectively known as the gut microbiome. Disruption of this microbial community, or dysbiosis, occurs when nonpathogenic gut bacteria are depleted or overwhelmed by pathogenic inflammatory bacteria. Autoimmune diseases (including multiple sclerosis, type I diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis) have been linked to dysbiosis, and it has been implicated in the onset or progression of neurological disorders, including autism, pain, depression, anxiety, and stroke.

Traumatic spinal cord injuries have secondary effects or comorbidities, including loss of bowel control, that are likely to cause dysbiosis. The authors reasoned that if any changes in the gut microbiome occur, they might, in turn, affect recovery after spinal cord injury.

Under the direction of Phillip G. Popovich at the Center for Brain and Spinal Cord Repair, the researchers found that spinal cord injury significantly altered the gut microbiome of mice, inducing the migration of gut bacteria into other tissues of the body and the activation of proinflammatory immune cells associated with the gut.

Mice that showed the largest changes in their gut bacteria tended to recover poorly from their injuries. Indeed, when mice were pretreated with antibiotics to disrupt their gut microbiomes before spinal cord injury, they showed higher levels of spinal inflammation and reduced functional recovery. In contrast, when injured mice were given daily doses of probiotics to restore the levels of healthy gut bacteria, they showed less spinal damage and regained more hindlimb movement.

The probiotics, containing large numbers of lactic acid–producing bacteria, activated a type of gut-associated immune cell—regulatory T cells—that can suppress inflammation. These cells could prevent excessive damage to the spinal cord after injury. Additionally, the probiotic bacteria may boost spinal cord recovery by secreting molecules that enhance neuronal growth and function. “Either or both of these mechanisms could explain how post-injury disruption of the gut microbiome contributes to the pathology of spinal cord injuries and how probiotics block or reverse these effects,” Popovich explains.

“Our data highlight a previously unappreciated role for the gut-central nervous system–immune axis in regulating recovery after spinal cord injury,” Popovich continues. “No longer should ‘spinal-centric’ repair approaches dominate research or standards of clinical care for affected individuals.”

Chart of the day: Univ. of Calif. workers go hungry

From Food Insecurity Among University of California Employees, a report from the Occidental College Urban & Environmental Policy Institute

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Seven in 10 University of California workers in clerical, administrative and support services struggle to put adequate food on the table, according to a new Occidental College study.

The study, set for release Monday, found that 45% of 2,890 employees surveyed throughout the 10-campus UC system went hungry at times. An additional 25% had to reduce the quality of their diet.

The problems persisted even though most of those surveyed were full-time employees with college degrees and average earnings of $22 an hour.

Peter Dreier, an Occidental professor of politics who conducted the study with two colleagues and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 2010, said the results were startling.

“This is a systemwide problem; it exists on every campus,” Dreier said. “This is not a handful of people who happen to be down on their luck. They need a living wage so they can afford to feed their families.”

France ends mandatory transgender sterilization

Goof lord.

Mandatory sterilization?

Although it wasn’t all that long ago, many states in the U.S. mandated sterilization for the “feeble minded,” part of the the same eugenics movement that gave inspiration to Hitler.

From the  Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Rights activists celebrated a major victory in France on Thursday after the country passed legislation allowing transgender people to legally change their gender without undergoing sterilization.

The move comes after a handful of European nations strengthened the rights of transgender people by scrapping requirements such as undergoing medical procedures in order to have their desired gender legally recognized.

Since 2014, Denmark, Malta and Ireland have allowed people to legally change their gender by simply informing authorities, without any medical or state intervention.

The practice of involuntary sterilization has been widely condemned as a human rights violation, including by the United Nations.

Map of the day: Spread of a deer-killing disease

A lethal plague is spreading the deer population of North America, a disease threatening to annihilate a critical species in already endangered ecosystem.

Dubbed Chronic Wasting Disease [CWD], the ailment is similar to the human affliction Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease [mad cow disease], and like the human ailment, it attacks the brain and nervous system, resulting in erratic behavior and a wasting away of bodily tissues.

Both diseases appear to be caused by prions, particles smaller than viruses.

From the U.S. Geological Survey:

Chronic wasting disease may have long-term negative effects on white-tailed deer, a highly visible and economically valuable keystone species, according to a new study from the USGS and published in Ecology [$38 to read].

CWD is an always-fatal, neurological disease of the deer family, scientifically referred to as cervids that include white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and moose. The disease is an internationally-significant wildlife management issue for free-ranging and captive white-tailed deer. Originally described in captive mule deer about 35 years ago in Colorado, CWD has now been discovered in 24 states, two Canadian provinces, the Republic of Korea and Norway.

“Despite the health threat of CWD to deer populations, little is known about the rates of infection and mortality caused by this disease,” said Dr. Michael D. Samuel, USGS wildlife biologist and lead author on the report.

Researchers used mathematical models to estimate infection and mortality for white-tailed deer in Wisconsin and Illinois outbreaks. They found that adult male deer have three times the risk of CWD infection than female deer and males also have higher disease mortality than females.

“Additional research is needed to more fully understand how CWD is transmitted to healthy deer and the potential long-term impact of the disease on North American deer populations,” said Samuel. USGS scientists found that CWD-associated deaths can cause substantial reductions in deer populations in areas where CWD is not addressed.

Scientific understanding of the ecology and transmission of CWD in free-ranging wildlife is limited, but this information is critical for making management decisions and helping to better understand the ecology of CWD in free-ranging populations.

The paper, “Chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer: infection, mortality, and implications for heterogeneous transmission,” was published in Ecology and authored by Michael D. Samuel, USGS, Wisconsin Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Wisconsin; Daniel Storm, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin, and currently with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Big Pharma grabs up Peruvian native biosphere

The classic exemplar of the evils of modern capitalism is the pharmaceutical industry, extorting vast sums from the most vulnerable as they rush to create a new cartel beyond the dreams of the corporate bucaneers of yore.

Rushing drugs to market armed with tests performed by bought-and-paid-for academics isn’t enough for them.

Now they’re busily grabbing up the plants traditional cultures have relied on for their own pharmacopeia.

Consider their latest target, via teleSUR English:

The production and consumption of natural Andean and Amazonian ancestral products in Peru is threatened by the “biopiracy” of foreign companies who have filed over 11,690 patents for the domestic produce of the region, effectively poaching the natural heritage of the country. The resources are said to be rich in nutrients and vitamins and range from those with anti-aging properties to those that act as natural aphrodisiacs.

Small farmers could be among those worst affected if foreign companies obtain the patents. “Campesinos have been guardians of seeds and diversity generation after generation, from our ancestors to our fathers we have inherited the seeds,” said Director of the National Association of Ecological Products of Peru Moises Quispe.

“We campesinos are very conscious about it. These seeds are part of our lives, and if there’s a new owner who patents them for their own economic interests, it’s a very worrying situation.”

Peru has 4,400 species of native plants with various uses, including 1,200 which have medicinal properties. The products that have the highest number of patents filed are Tara with 3,989, Yacon with 3,211, Maca with 1,406, Cat’s Claw with 843, Cascarilla with 648 and Purple Corn with 294, among 23 others. The data was collected by the state-run National Commission Against Biopiracy, but they only monitor 35 of the 4,400 species facing this threat.

Headline of the day II: A one-woman crime wave

From the Washington Post:

Drug cops raid an 81-year-old woman’s garden to take out a single marijuana plant

Margaret Holcomb, an 81-year-old woman from Amherst, Mass., grew a single marijuana plant in her garden, tucked away behind the raspberries. She used it to ease the ailments of old age: glaucoma, arthritis and the occasional sleepless night.

Map of the day: Global air pollution levels

From the World Health Organization, a look at the state of Mother Earth’s air, revealing where the atmosphere has the highest concentrations of suspended particulate matter: