Microbes & you: A partnership millions of years old

It doesn't matter how much you wash, you're crawling with microbes – inside and out. Eye of Science / Getty Images

It doesn’t matter how much you wash, you’re crawling with microbes – inside and out.
Credit: Eye of Science / Getty Images

We are not alone. Our bodies are teeming metropolises of microscopic life – and the microbes that call us home influence everything from bowel to brain.

Over the past decade, technological advances in the lab have allowed us to take a census of our microbial entourage – known as the microbiota – like never before. Instead of seeing only the small fraction of microbes from our skin or poo that blossom on a petri dish, we can now blend, extract and read the genetic essence – the DNA – of all microbes, called the microbiome, to get a better idea of who’s there.

The picture that has emerged is one of staggering complexity. From nostrils to armpits, wisdom teeth to bowels, lungs to vaginas, unique communities of bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites have got us covered.

“Every single surface of our body is colonised with microbes,” says Laura Cox, a biologist at the Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston in the US.

Bacteria alone are as numerous as the cells of our own body. The genes they harbour dwarf our own genetic endowment more than a hundred times over. Together, we work in concert in what some consider a ‘super-organism’ – with our existence as reliant on theirs as theirs is on us.

Gut microbes synthesise vitamins, while those on our skin earn their keep by eating dead cells and transforming oils into natural moisturiser. And microbes everywhere play a role in keeping harmful pathogens at bay.

Families of gut microbes diverged from a common ancestor some 15 million years ago.

On the other side of the ledger, a mother’s milk contains some nutrients useless to her baby, but essential for the early microbial colonisers of her baby’s gut.

The assemblages of species inhabiting each bodily niche represent complex ecosystems that have evolved with us over millennia. The microbes lurking on the doorknob of the public toilet might give us the heebie-jeebies. But those that take up residence on or in us aren’t usually picked up from the environment. They are passed down from generation to generation, and have been for millions of years.

Families of gut microbes living in both us and other apes diverged from a common ancestor some 15 million years ago.

And bacterial strains from Africa and America diverged 1.7 million years ago, around the time early humans made their first forays out of Africa. If you wanted to, you could trace the history of human migrations around the globe using our microbiome.

Our microbes continue to evolve with us, and in response to our modern lifestyles. People living in industrialised societies have less diverse microbial communities than people in places such as Malawi.

Microbiome composition ebbs and flows depending on the food we supply and the various chemicals and drugs we send their way. Not surprisingly, the fluctuations in our microbial residents have clear implications for our health – from immune responses to how we think and act.

Tomorrow, we’ll explore how gut microbes tinker with our metabolism.

Resolving the ‘Hispanic paradox’

Study co-authored by a UCSB researcher reveals Latinos age slower, neutralizing higher health risks of obesity and diabetes

University of California – Santa Barbara

A new paper co-authored by a UC Santa Barbara researcher reveals that Latinos age at a slower rate than other ethnic groups. The findings, published in the current issue of Genome Biology, may one day help scientists understand how to slow the aging process for everyone.

“Latinos live longer than Caucasians, despite experiencing higher rates of diabetes and other diseases. Scientists refer to this as the ‘Hispanic paradox,’ ” said lead author Steve Horvath, a professor of human genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Our study helps explain this by demonstrating that Latinos age more slowly at the molecular level.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latinos in the United States live an average of three years longer than Caucasians, with a life expectancy of 82 versus 79. At any age, healthy Latino adults face a 30 percent lower risk of death than other racial groups, according to a 2013 study in the American Journal of Public Health.

The UCLA team used several biomarkers, including an “epigenetic clock” developed by Horvath in 2013, to track an epigenetic shift in the genome that’s linked to aging. Epigenetics is the study of changes to the DNA molecule that influence which genes are active but don’t alter the DNA sequence.

“Our findings show that ethnic disparities in health risk are not just due to socioeconomic differences, which we adjust for in the analyses,” explained co-author Michael Gurven, a UCSB professor of anthropology. “The epigenetic analyses show biological differences in aging-related processes — but in a novel way — in how the genome is maintained and expressed through methylation, rather than conventional differences in genetic alleles.”

Horvath and his colleagues analyzed 18 sets of data on DNA samples from nearly 6,000 people. The participants represented seven ethnicities: two African groups, African-Americans, Caucasians, East Asians, Latinos and an indigenous people called the Tsimane, who are genetically related to Latinos. The Tsimane live in Bolivia.

When the scientists examined the DNA from blood — which reveals the health of a person’s immune system — they were struck by differences linked to ethnicity. In particular, the scientists noticed that, after accounting for differences in cell composition, the blood of Latinos and the Tsimane aged more slowly than that of other groups.

According to Horvath, the UCLA research points to an epigenetic explanation for Latinos’ longer life spans. For example, the biological clock measured Latino women’s age as 2.4 years younger than non-Latino women of the same age after menopause.

“We suspect that Latinos’ slower aging rate helps neutralize their higher health risks, particularly those related to obesity and inflammation,” said Horvath, who is also a professor of biostatistics at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “Our findings strongly suggest that genetic or environmental factors linked to ethnicity may influence how quickly a person ages and how long they live.” Gurven added “Epigenetic aging measures are fascinating because they subsume many environmental and psychosocial factors we know matter in life. One hypothesis to explain the Hispanic paradox emphasizes the strong family ties and social support found in many Hispanic families. Such a social support network may leave its biological signature in the epigenome.”

The Tsimane aged even more slowly than Latinos. The biological clock calculated the age of their blood as two years younger than Latinos and four years younger than Caucasians. This possibly reflects the group’s minimal signs of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, or obesity, the researchers said.

“Despite frequent infections, the Tsimane people show very little evidence of the chronic diseases that commonly afflict modern society,” Gurven said. “Our findings provide an interesting molecular explanation for their robust health.”

In another finding, the researchers learned that men’s blood and brain tissue ages faster than women’s from the same ethnic groups. The discovery could explain why women have a higher life expectancy than men.

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The research was supported by grants from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Institute on Aging.

Now Even the US Attorney General Is Slandering Supplements!

Like the flawed Frontline documentary, like New York state’s attorney general, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch is spreading gross misinformation about dietary supplements. Action Alert!

Last week, Attorney General Lynch released a video for National Consumer Protection Week about supplements. Excuse us, but since when is the US attorney general an expert on this subject? Since she obviously isn’t, she must be relying on distortions and untruths she has been fed by other agencies of the government such as the FDA and Centers for Disease Control.

For instance, Ms. Lynch warns consumers against “ingesting substances whose safety and efficacy are not guaranteed” by FDA study. As we pointed out in our response to PBS, pharmaceutical drugs are also not studied by the FDA. The agency relies on industry studies to determine if new drugs can come to market. No independent review is done to check the industry’s results, which has led to all kinds of manipulation and sometimes disastrous outcomes (see the examples of Vioxx and Avandia). And after approval is granted, the actual medicine itself is never tested, even though it may be manufactured in Chinese plants or other faraway locales.

FDA approval is certainly no guarantor of safety. Consider that pharmaceutical drugs, when properly prescribed, cause an estimated 1.9 million hospitalizations and 128,000 deaths each year. And that’s just in hospitals—deaths outside hospitals would add considerably to this total if they were recorded. In stark contrast, dietary supplements caused zero deaths in 2013, the last year reported.

Ms. Lynch also charges that supplements “endanger public health” by containing harmful ingredients. The supplement industry—like all industries—has some bad actors. But supplements that contain unsafe ingredients are already “adulterated” which means that the FDA has a responsibility to remove them and prosecute the makers. Nor does Ms. Lynch mention that supplement companies must follow stringent guidelines known as current good manufacturing practices (cGMPs) intended to ensure the safety and quality of dietary supplements. In other words, supplements are federally regulated.

Finally, Ms. Lynch says that many supplements “falsely claim to cure illness and disease.” As a student of the law, Ms. Lynch must be aware that the FTC and FDA regulate what can be said on supplement labels. By law, supplements cannot make disease claims—only drugs can. Any supplement that does make such claims is therefore breaking the law. We don’t agree with this law, but if it isn’t being followed why doesn’t the government simply enforce the law. In past years, FDA memos have indicated that sometimes the agency does not enforce the law on purpose, in the hopes that an ensuing scandal will lead to even more federal control over supplements. The cost of this would in turn drive their cost sky high and largely eliminate them as competition for drugs.

No, Ms. Lynch, supplements are regulated, are safe, and are effective. Just the opposite of what you suggested. You are not a doctor or scientist. But as the top law enforcement official of the country, you can at least get your law right.

Action Alert! Write to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and urge her to correct the misinformation she spread to consumers about dietary supplements. Please send your message immediately.

Source:  anh-usa.org

Global Research Shows Dairy Products and Calcium Supplements Do Not Make Bones Stronger

The dairy industry has finally been given one big swift kick where they need it most, in the scientific credibility department where top officials have been falsely linking dairy and bone strength for decades. The study, published by the British Medical Journal, found that people don’t get stronger bones by eating dairy products or taking calcium supplements.

pg_10_mrsa_gettyDairy products, specifically milk is one of the beverages still aggressively pushed on children as a health promoting food, especially relating to strong bones.

What interesting about cow’s milk is that the more people drink, the more likely they are to die or experience a bone fracture and other diseases. The risks are especially pronounced for women.

Taking into account studies from around the world, the systematic review and meta-analysis found that those who took calcium were just as likely to suffer from fractures as those who did not.

Dr Ian Reid from the University of Auckland in New Zealand stated that the focus on treating bone diseases, such as osteoporosis, needs to be elsewhere.

“I think we’ve actually misdirected a whole lot of effort into the use of calcium supplements, in particular in North America, where use has been higher for last 30 years,” he said.

The dairy industy has been hard at work the last 50 years convincing people that pasteurized dairy products such as milk or cheese increases bioavailable calcium levels. This is totally false. The pasteurization process only creates calcium carbonate, which has absolutely no way of entering the cells without a chelating agent. So what the body does is pull the calcium from the bones and other tissues in order to buffer the calcium carbonate in the blood. This process actually causes osteoporosis.

Pasteurized dairy contains too little magnesium needed at the proper ratio to absorb the calcium. Most would agree that a minimum amount of Cal. to Mag Ratio is 2 to 1 and preferably 1 to 1. So milk, at a Cal/Mag ratio of 10 to 1, has a problem. You may put 1200 mg of dairy calcium in your mouth, but you will be lucky to actually absorb a third of it into your system.

Over 99% of the body’s calcium is in the skeleton, where it provides mechanical rigidity. Pasteurized dairy forces a calcium intake lower than normal and the skeleton is used as a reserve to meet needs. Long-term use of skeletal calcium to meet these needs leads to osteoporosis.

Dairy is pushed on Americans from birth yet they have one of the highes risk of osteoporosis in the world. Actually, people from the USA, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Australia, and New Zealand have the highest rates of osteoporosis.

The research investigated putative mechanism by which calcium intake affects bone health namely by increasing bone mineral density (BMD). BMD is a surrogate endpoint for fracture risk that allows biological effects to be explored in randomised controlled trials of modest size.

Following old information

The results from the new study flies in the face of long-held beliefs that calcium makes for stronger, better bones.

For years, US guidelines have advised men and women to take anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium per day to help prevent fractures and improve bone density.

Reid said this likely lasted for so long due to an overreliance on studies from the 1970s and 1980s.

Now, there are more sophisticated bone density studies, and none have shown the need for anything more than 500mg of calcium per day for bone density health.

Going a step further, the study said too much calcium may cause build ups in the arteries or in the kidneys, which can cause ailments such as heart disease or kidney stones respectively.

“Dietary calcium intake is not associated with risk of fracture, and there is no clinical trial evidence that increasing calcium intake from dietary sources prevents fractures,” the study said.

“Evidence that calcium supplements prevent fractures is weak and inconsistent.”

Methodology of the study

The researchers looked at two studies, finding in one that increasing calcium intake from supplements increases bone density by 1% to 2%, something they said is unlikely to create a meaningful reduction in the risk of fracture.

“This is not a cumulative benefit,” Reid said. “It’s only 1% at any year. It’s a one off small gain. When you look at the fracture data in the large high quality studies carried out in the last 10 to 15 years, we found there is no total benefit to total number of fractures. There may even be an increase. I think we should really be deleting calcium as a significant tissue in management of osteoporosis.”

In another study, researchers found that dietary calcium is not associated with risk of fracture, with no clinical evidence finding that increase in consumption helps prevent fractures.

Professor Karl Michaelsson from Uppsala University in Sweden wrote in an accompanying commentary with the study that the although recommendations point to those over 50 taking calcium, most will not benefit by increasing their intakes.

“The weight of evidence against such mass medication of older people is now compelling, and it is surely time to reconsider these controversial recommendations,” he wrote.

Supplement Quality Key

While some dairy may be useful to help the elderly keep weight on their body as they get older, many low-quality calcium supplements appear to be ineffective for bone health.

Most supplements on the supplement market today contain calcium carbonate which is an inferior form of calcium and manufacturers attach a simple chelating agent like citric acid to make it more absorbable, however the end product is inferior to other calcium supplements such as calcium orotate, which is the only known form of calcium which can effectively penetrate the membranes of cells.

Many of these supplements are increasing the risk of kidney stones and abdominal problems and whose risks are greater than the benefits.

“They’ve been so entrenched and supported by industry for so long that it’s taking a while to turn around,” Reid said.

Effective Supplementation

If you want to supplement for calcium intake you must seek a reputable and balanced calcium/magnesium formula. Researchers examined 21 formulations of calcium carbonate (both natural [i.e., oyster shell] and refined). Four out of seven natural products and four out of 14 refined products, including brand products, had measurable lead content. A research team in California found essentially the same contamination in calcium supplements.

Acid rebound. Calcium carbonate may cause acid rebound: the stomach overcompensates for the high dose of calcium carbonate, which is alkaline, by churning out more acid. For that reason, people with a history of stomach ulcers are advised that they may not tolerate it and may have to switch to calcium citrate.

Constipation. Calcium supplements can have a mild binding effect but by themselves don’t usually cause serious constipation. But if you’re taking another supplement or medication that binds the stool, the addition of calcium supplements could cause a problem.

Too much calcium. Although it doesn’t happen often, some people have taken so much calcium that it causes hypercalcemia, an above-normal level of calcium in the blood since most of the calcium carbonate is not absorbed. Hypercalcemia may cause nausea, vomiting, confusion, and other neurological symptoms.

The type of minerals in the formula determines the absorption levels: Opti-Cal/Mag with Vitamin K2 is a co-enzyme complex, heat-stabled molecules that must be associated with another enzyme for them to perform their function in the body. It is necessary in the utilization of vitamins and minerals for proper delivery to the cell nucleus. One study found that Opti-Cal/Mag complex is 8.79 times more absorbed into the blood than calcium carbonate and 2.97 times more than calcium gluconate.

6 WAYS TO BUILD STRONG BONES

1. Eat calcium rich foods
Eat foods high in calcium. The best food sources are non-pasteurized raw dairy sources such as raw milk/yogurt, as well as bony fish, such as sardines. Leafy green veg such as kale, broccoli and spinach are also rich in calcium. Dried herbs and dried fruits such as figs and currants are also good choices. Seeds such as sesame, chia and flax are also rich sources of calcium. Also, enjoy foods that contain sulfur such as garlic and onions.

2. Food selections/combinations are critical
Try not to eat whole grains and calcium-rich foods at the same time. Whole grains contain a substance that binds with calcium and prevents proper absorption. Some foods that contain compounds such as oxalic or phytic acids, such as sweet potatoes, beans, rhubarb, celery and beets, can also decrease the amount of calcium that’s absorbed when eaten at the same time as calcium-rich foods.

3. Avoid the causes of mineral excretion
Pass on phosphate-containing foods such as soft drinks. Phosphorus causes the body to excrete calcium. Limit or avoid high-protein animal foods. A diet high in protein causes calcium to be excreted from your body. Decrease caffeine consumption. People who smoke have significantly lower bone density, while drinking alcohol can also prevent your bones from absorbing the maximum nutrients from your food.

4. Get more Sunlight and Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Although some is found in oily fish, our main source comes from the effect of sunlight on your skin. It’s estimated that half of us have a deficiency because we don’t get outside enough or because we always use sunblock. It is especially important to maximize sun exposure between May and September to keep vitamin D levels topped up. Just 10 minutes of sunlight a day on bare arms and your face can cut your risk of bone fractures by a third. A half hour exposing your torso is equivalent to roughly 10,000 units of Vitamin D.

5. The right exercise
Another vital way to boost your bones is weight-bearing exercise –basically anything that has you upright and using your body weight. Good choices include squatting, rope skipping, aerobics, plyometrics, dancing or brisk walking. “Research shows that if you don’t exercise you end up weeing out all the calcium you take in instead of storing it in your bones,” warns Professor Dawn Skelton, an aging and health specialist at Glasgow Caledonian University. “Ideally we should aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. “Put simply, the more hours we spend on our feet, the fewer bone breakages we should have in later life.”

6. Avoid Medications and Medical Therapies
Acid-blocking medications used for heartburn and other gastrointestinal conditions can block the absorption of calcium through the stomach walls. Stomach acids break down food during the digestive process, allowing the nutrients to become absorbed into your body. Medications designed to stop acid production or decrease the amount of acids present in your stomach can have a negative effect on calcium.

Lecture on vitamin C by brilliant Suzanne Humphries

CDC map reveals that the ‘most distinctive’ cause of death in your state may surprise you

cdcmap-800x430Heart disease and cancer can be easily branded as the two most notorious and common killers in the United States. However, there are other causes of death which are less common with the nation as a whole but are actually much more typical in specific states.

A new color-coded map has been created by the CDC in order to categorize the most likely causes of death for each of the 50 U.S. states.

According to Francis Boscoe, a research scientist at New York State Cancer Registry the most distinctive causes of death in majority of cases is not so surprising. In several northern states, including Maine, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming the flu is considered as the most distinctive cause of death. In Alaska and Idaho the most distinctive causes of death is considered to be plane crashes or boat accidents. In mining states such as Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky pneumoconiosis, a group of lung diseases caused by inhaling dusts, are branded as the most distinctive causes of death.

There were however, some unexpected findings. In New Jersey, Sepsis is categorized as the most distinctive cause of death and deaths by legal intervention. Surprisingly the most distinctive cause of death in New Mexico, Nevada and Oregon is that caused by law enforcement officers, excluding legal executions.

In order to determine the most distinctive causes of death for each individual state, the researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initiated a list of 113 causes of death.

Then, the researchers began determining the estimate of death from each cause, for each state and divided this by the rate of death from that particular cause in the United States as a whole. This theory allowed the researchers to observe which of the states had higher rates of death from certain causes than the rest of the United States.

In Alaska, for instance the rate of death for plane crashes and boat accidents was about 4 deaths per 100,000 people; whereas the national rate is 0.6 deaths per 100,000 people. This essentially proves beyond reasonable doubt that deaths from plane crashes or boat accidents are seven times more likely in Alaska than entire United States. According to Boscoe, this “distinctive” cause of death makes sense, since some parts of Alaska are accessible only by boat or plane.

In Florida, HIV was identified as the most distinctive cause of death, where about 15,000 people died from the disease. But in numerous cases, the most distinctive cause of death was still quite uncommon. Although Syphilis caused only 22 deaths in Louisiana, it is considered as the most distinctive cause of death in that particular state.

Distinctive-causes-of-deathSource: http://www.rawstory.com