Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Food May Be Too Clean For Our Gut’s Good Health

Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph sh...
Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph showing Salmonella typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the recent recalls of millions of liters of ice cream as well as several tons of hummus, pine nuts, frozen vegetables and various meat products, you might think the American food supply is an unholy mess. It’s not. It’s arguably the safest in the world.

Yet despite continually improving processing methods and quality controls, the number of cases of food-borne illness has remained high since the 1990s, with the incidence of people getting sick from some pathogens increasing.

Some experts wonder if we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns in food safety-whether our food could perhaps be too clean.

Industrial food sanitation practices – along with home cooks’ antibacterial veggie washes, chlorine bleach kitchen cleaners and sterilization cycle dishwashers – kill off so-called good bacteria naturally found in foods that bolster our health. Moreover, eliminating bad or pathogenic bacteria means we may not be exposed to the small doses that could inoculate us against intestinal crises.

“No one is saying you need to eat a peck of dirt before you die to be healthy,” said Jeffrey T. Le Jeune, a professor and head of the food animal research program at Ohio State University in Wooster. “But there is a line somewhere when it comes to cleanliness. We just don’t know where it is.”

The theory that there might be such a thing as “too clean” food stems from the hygiene hypothesis, which has been gaining traction over the last decade. It holds that our modern germaphobic ways may be making us sick by harming our microbiome, which is the system made up of all the microbes-bacteria, viruses, fungi, mites-that live in and on human bodies.

A result of a diminished microbiome is an immune system that gets bored, spoiling for a fight and apt to react to harmless substances ad even attack the body’s own tissues. This could explain the increasing incidence of allergies and autoimmune disorders such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

There is also the suggestion that a diminished microbiome disrupts hormones that regulate hunger, which can cause obesity.

When it comes to food-borne illness, the idea is that fewer good bacteria in your gut means there is less competition to prevent colonization of the bad microbes, leading to more frequent and severe bouts of illness. Moreover, an underutilized immune system may lose its ability to discriminate between friend and foe, so it may marshal its defenses inappropriately (against gluten, for example) or not at all.

Animal experiments have lent some credence to the theory. Researchers at Texas Tech University in Lubbock have found that guinea pigs fed less virulent strains of listeria are less likely to get sick or die when later fed a more pathogenic strain. And anyone who has visited a country with less than rigorous sanitation knows the locals don’t get sick from foods that can cause tourists days of toilet-bound torment.

“We have these tantalizing bits of evidence that to my mind provide pretty good support for the hygiene hypothesis, in terms of food-borne illness,” said Guy Loneragan, a professor of food safety and public health at Texas Tech.

This is not to say we’d be better off if chicken producers eased up on the salmonella inspections, we ate recalled ice cream sandwiches and didn’t rinse our produce. But it raises questions about whether it might be advisable to eradicate microbes more selectively.

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, The New York Times International Weekly, May 23, 2015

Thursday, July 9, 2015

In a Drop of Blood, A History of Infections


Using less than a drop of blood, a new test can reveal nearly every virus a person has ever been exposed to, scientists said.

The test, which is still experimental, can be performed for as little as $25 and could become an important research tool for tracking patterns of disease in various populations, helping scientists compare the old and the young, or people in different parts of the world.

It could also be used to try to find out whether viruses, or the body’s immune response to them, contribute to chronic diseases and cancer, the researchers said.

“I’m sure there’ll be lots of applications we haven’t even dreamed of,” said Stephen J. Elledge, the senior author of the report, published in the journal Science, and a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“That’s what happens when you invent technology- you can’t imagine what people will do with it,” Dr. Elledge said. “They’re so clever.”

The test can detect past exposure to more than 1,000 strains of viruses from 206 species-pretty much the entire human “virome,” meaning all the viruses known to infect people. The test works by detecting antibodies, highly specific proteins that the immune system has made in response to viruses.

Tried out in 569 people in the United States, South Africa, Thailand and Peru, the blood test found that most had been exposed to about 10 species of virus-mostly the usual suspects, like those causing colds, flu, gastrointestinal illness and other common ailments.

But a few subjects had evidence of exposure to as many as 25 species, something the researchers had yet to explain, Dr. Elledge said.

There were some differences in patterns of exposure from continent. In general, people outside the United States had higher rates of virus exposure. The reason is not known, but the researchers said it might be due to “differences in population density, cultural practices, sanitation or genetic susceptibility.”

Scientists not associated with the work said it had vast potential.

“This will be a treasure trove for communicable disease epidemiology,” said Dr.William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. “It will be like the introduction of the electron microscope. It will allow us to have more resolution at a micro level.”

One possibility, Dr. Schaffner said, would be to deploy the test in large populations to find out the ages at which children are exposed to various illnesses in order to help with timing vaccinations.

Another idea, he said, would be to test collections of frozen blood samples to learn about patterns of disease.

By showing all the antibiotics a person has produced against viruses, the test may shed light on many illnesses, said Adolfo Garcia-Sastre of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “A lot of diseases could be affected by the type of antibodies a person has elicited by infectious agents,” he said.

The most obvious candidates are autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and Type 1 diabetes. Researchers have long suspected that viruses may contribute to such ailments, by provoking the immune system to produce antibodies that mistakes a person’s own cells for viruses and attack them. To look for such viruses, scientists had to test for them one by one.

The new test, Dr. Garcia-Sastre said, “in an unbiased way, allows you look at the whole repertoire,”

The technology could help answer questions about cancer, he said, such as why the same disease progresses faster in some patients than in others.

There were some surprises, Dr. Elledge said. One was “that the immune response is so similar from person to person.” Different people made similar antibodies that targeted the same region on a virus.

Another surprise came from people infected their immune responses to other viruses to be diminished. “Instead, they have exaggerated responses to almost every virus, “he said.

The test can take up to two months, but it could be done in two or three days, Dr. Elledge said, if a company were to streamline the process. “That’s what can make it work for people, “he said.

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, The New York Times International Weekly, June 20, 2015

Monday, July 6, 2015

Lifesaving Stents Get a Closer Look


Millions of patients have had stents-small wire cages - inserted in their coronary arteries to prop them open. And many are convinced the devices are protecting them from heart attacks. After all, a partly blocked artery is now cleared, and the pain in a heart muscle starved of blood often vanishes once the artery is open again.

But while stents unquestionably save lives of patients in the throes of a heart attack or a threatened heart attack, there is no convincing evidence that stents reduce heart attack risk for people suffering from the chest pains known as stable angina. These are people who feel tightness or discomfort walking up a hill, for example, because a partly blocked coronary artery is depriving their heart of blood. And there is a reasonable argument that drugs-cholesterol- lowering statins in particular-might be just as good at reducing such pain.

Now, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute is trying to find out whether stents do in fact prevent heart attacks. The answer could change the standard of care for patients who receive a new diagnosis heart disease.

The typical treatment for angina is to thread a catheter up from a blood vessel in the groin to the heart, squirt in a dye that allows a cardiologist to see blockages on X-ray, and then insert a stent in the blocked areas. Stents are safe but expensive; in the United States, they generally cost more than $10,000. And stents are not always a permanent solution to chest pain.

Stents were introduced in the 1990s, and because they relieved pain and were far less invasive than bypass surgery, they became the treatment of choice. Doctors and patients started to believe they also saved lives in stable patients.

“The thought was, better to go in and open it up,” said Dr. Harmony R. Reynolds, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York and a principal investigator in the study.” But now meds have gotten so good that it is not clear surgery adds anything for stable patients.”

Researchers tried to get an answer with a big study in 2007. But many cardiologists did not believe its conclusion that stents failed to prevent heart attacks and deaths. Skeptics said most patients in the study were at such low risk that it did not matter which treatment they received. They were certain to do well, so the study proved nothing about whether stents worked.

Because of the doubts about that study and ingrained habits, medical practice was largely unchanged by its findings. A recent study, which analyzed recorded conversations between cardiologists and patients with stable angina, found that 75 percent of the cardiologists recommended stents and when they did, their patients almost always complied. And, the study found, on the rare occasion when the cardiologists presented both stents and medical treatment as options, none of the patients chose stenting.

The new study aims to avoid the methodological flaw in the 2007 study. Patients are not given angiograms, the test in which dye is injected into the coronary arteries, before being assigned a treatment. Instead, they are accepted on the basis of noninvasive tests that indicate blocked arteries and high risk of a heart attack. Their doctors know only that an artery is blocked-not which or how much-so they are not able to pluck out patients they believe need stents and prevent them from entering the trial.

Underlying the debate about the utility of stents is an uncertainty about how and why heart attacks occur. For years, the common notion was they were caused by a plumbing problem. In this view, plaque-pimplelike lumps-partly blocked a coronary artery and grew until no blood could get through, and a stent was needed to open an artery before it closed completely.

But a leading hypothesis says there is no predicting where a heart attack will originate. It could start anywhere there is plaque, even if the plaque is not obstructing the flow of blood in an artery. Unpredictably, a piece of plaque can burst open. Blood starts to clot on the injured area. Soon, the blood clot clogs the artery. The result is a heart attack. Certain plaques, with thin walls and bursting with fat-filled white blood cells, are prone to rupture. A study published in 2011 found only a third of heart attacks originated in plaques that were blocking at least half of an artery, as seen on an angiogram. The rest began with the rupture of plagues that appeared to be no problem.

According to this view of how and why heart attacks happen, the partly blocked area visible in an angiogram is no more likely to be the site of a heart attack than any other with plaque. But statins could work because they change the nature of plaques, making them less likely to rupture.

Although stents relieve chest pain, medical therapy can, too, though it may take months.

The issue potentially affects many heart patients. “Half the people over 65 have blockages,” said Dr. Gregg W. Stone of Columbia University in New York.

And once a stress test or an angiogram reveals a blockage, it can be hard to ignore it.

“People believe that if they have a blockage, they have to fix it mechanically,” said Dr.Judith S. Hochman, a cardiologist at NYU Langone and chairwoman of the study. “It seems logical, but in medicine, many things that seem logical are not true.” 

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, The New York Times International Daily, July 4, 2015

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Club Where I Belong

Obvious as it may be, I must say that I belong to 2 groups: Jeunesse Global and Melaleuca, where the products are all-natural, organic, non-hazardous, non-toxic - and simply effective!

Would you care to find out more?

Here is a 15-min video on Jeunesse.

See if this makes sense. If it does, join us!