Being alone may be the central anxiety of our time but, as it turns out, you are never really alone — at least in a biological sense: Every single cell of you — that is, every cell made of human DNA — is kept company by ten cells of microbes that call your body home. And because microbes are single-celled organisms that each carry their own DNA, the difference is even starker in genetic terms — you carry approximately twenty thousand human genes and two to twenty million microbial ones, which makes you 99% microbe. What’s more, although you and I are 99.99% identical in our human DNA, we are vastly different in our individual microbiomes — you have only one in ten of my microbes. Even more striking than the sheer number of these silent and invisible cohabitants is their power over what we consider our human experience — they influence everything from our energy level to how we handle illness to our moods to how tasty we are to mosquitoes. [continue]
This is mind-boggling. From Nautilus: How to Unlearn a Disease.
My father, a neurologist, once had a patient who was tormented, in the most visceral sense, by a poem. Philip was 12 years old and a student at a prestigious boarding school in Princeton, New Jersey. One of his assignments was to recite Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven. By the day of the presentation, he had rehearsed the poem dozens of times and could recall it with ease. But this time, as he stood before his classmates, something strange happened.
Each time he delivered the poem’s famous haunting refrain—“Quoth the Raven ‘Nevermore’ ”—the right side of his mouth quivered. The tremor intensified until, about halfway through the recitation, he fell to the floor in convulsions, having lost all control of his body, including bladder and bowels, in front of an audience of merciless adolescents. His first seizure. [continue]
How hard is it to fool people with “news” about nutrition and weight loss? Not hard at all, as it happens. From io9.com I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.
“Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. It was discussed on television news shows. It appeared in glossy print, most recently in the June issue of Shape magazine (“Why You Must Eat Chocolate Daily”, page 128). Not only does chocolate accelerate weight loss, the study found, but it leads to healthier cholesterol levels and overall increased well-being. The Bild story quotes the study’s lead author, Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D., research director of the Institute of Diet and Health: “The best part is you can buy chocolate everywhere.”
I am Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D. Well, actually my name is John, and I’m a journalist. I do have a Ph.D., but it’s in the molecular biology of bacteria, not humans. The Institute of Diet and Health? That’s nothing more than a website.
Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.
Here’s how we did it. [continue]
See also: Why a journalist scammed the media into spreading bad chocolate science at NPR.
From The Times: More eggs, please. Cholesterol is OK now.
If you are reading this before breakfast, please consider having an egg. Any day now, the US government will officially accept the advice to drop cholesterol from its list of “nutrients of concern” altogether. It wants also to “de-emphasise” saturated fat, given “the lack of evidence connecting it with cardiovascular disease”.
This is a mighty U-turn, albeit hedged about in caveats, and long overdue. The evidence has been building for years that eating cholesterol does not cause high blood cholesterol. A 2013 review by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology found “no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum [blood] cholesterol”.
Cholesterol is not some vile poison but an essential ingredient of life, which makes animal cell membranes flexible and is the raw material for making hormones, like testosterone and oestrogen. Your liver manufactures most of the cholesterol found in your blood from scratch, and adjusts for what you ingest, which is why diet does not determine blood cholesterol levels. Lowering blood cholesterol by changing diet is all but impossible.
Nor is there any good evidence that high blood cholesterol causes atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease or shorter life. It is not even a risk factor in people who have already had heart attacks. In elderly people — ie, those who have the most heart attacks — the lower your blood cholesterol, the greater your risk of death. Likewise in children. [continue]
Well, well, well. From Healthy Diets and Science: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics say that cholesterol and saturated fat do not cause heart disease .
About time. Everybody else who pays attention to nutrition and health matters has known this for a very long time.
From Science Daily: Agriculture, declining mobility drove humans’ shift to lighter bones.
Modern lifestyles have famously made humans heavier, but, in one particular way, noticeably lighter weight than our hunter-gatherer ancestors: in the bones. Now a new study of the bones of hundreds of humans who lived during the past 33,000 years in Europe finds the rise of agriculture and a corresponding fall in mobility drove the change, rather than urbanization, nutrition or other factors. [continue].
Excuse me while I go off to become ridiculously active.
This Vox article is awesome: This is why you shouldn’t believe that exciting new medical study.
We don’t wait for scientific consensus; we report a little too early, and we lead patients and policymakers down wasteful, harmful, or redundant paths that end in dashed hope and failed medicine.
This tendency could be minimized if we could only remember that the overwhelming majority of studies in medicine fail. [continue]
From abcnews.go.com: Ecuadorean Dwarfs May Unlock Cancer Clues.
Twenty years ago, when Guevara began treating and studying the dwarfs of southern Ecuador, it was because he wanted to help them. But an interesting and quirky pattern started to emerge. He realized that there has never been a single incidence of cancer or diabetes among them.
"I start noticing that somehow in this area that we all know in Ecuador is an area with high rates of cancer, not one of these patients has ever died of cancer," he says. "And I’m talking about a total of 135 names that I can think of. None of them has ever died of cancer. To me the possibility that that is a coincidence is almost none, because every single family in this case has at least one or two or three relatives that have died of cancer." [continue]
From the New York Times: Stretching: The Truth.
When Duane Knudson, a professor of kinesiology at California State University, Chico, looks around campus at athletes warming up before practice, he sees one dangerous mistake after another. "They’re stretching, touching their toes. . . . " He sighs. "It’s discouraging."
If you’re like most of us, you were taught the importance of warm-up exercises back in grade school, and you’ve likely continued with pretty much the same routine ever since. Science, however, has moved on. Researchers now believe that some of the more entrenched elements of many athletes’ warm-up regimens are not only a waste of time but actually bad for you. The old presumption that holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds — known as static stretching — primes muscles for a workout is dead wrong. It actually weakens them. In a recent study[continue].
From discovery.com: Egyptian Mummies Yield Earliest Evidence of Malaria.
Two Egyptian mummies who died more than 3,500 years ago have provided clear evidence for the earliest known cases of malaria, according to a study presented this week in Naples at an international conference on ancient DNA.
Pathologist Andreas Nerlich and colleagues at the Academic Teaching Hospital München-Bogenhausen in Munich, Germany, studied 91 bone tissue samples from ancient Egyptian mummies and skeletons dating from 3500 to 500 B.C.
Using special techniques from molecular biology, such as DNA amplification and gene sequencing, the researchers identified ancient DNA for the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum in tissues from two mummies.
"We now know for sure that malaria was endemic in ancient Egypt. This was only been speculated on the basis reports by [the 5th century B.C.Greek historian] Herodotus and some [continue]
From WebMD.com: CPR Gives “Stayin’ Alive” New Life.
The Bee Gees disco song "Stayin’ Alive" might help people stay alive when they get cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) — if their rescuer knows the 1977 tune.
It turns out that “Stayin Alive” has a beat that’s in sync with the recommended pace for chest compressions given during CPR. So researchers put the pop tune to the test.
In a small study, [continue]
From Rice University: Better beer: college team creating anticancer brew.
College students often spend their free time thinking about beer, but a group of Rice University students are taking it to the next level. They’re using genetic engineering to create beer that contains resveratrol, a chemical in wine that’s been shown to reduce cancer and heart disease in lab animals. [continue]
From csmonitor.com: A ‘miracle tree’ that could feed sub-Saharan Africa.
As a child growing up in India, I greeted the appearance of one particular vegetable on my plate with exaggerated distaste: tender seedpods from the moringa tree, locally known as "drumsticks." Imagine my surprise when I heard a health worker from sub-Saharan Africa describe this backyard tree as a possible solution to malnutrition in tropical countries — he called it a "miracle tree," no less.
Ounce for ounce, says Lamine Diakite, a Red Cross official from French Guinea in West Africa, moringa leaves contain more beta carotene than carrots, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more Vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than bananas. Its protein content is comparable to that of milk and eggs, and its leaves are still available for harvest at the end of the dry season, when other food may be scarce. Malnourished children gained weight when put on a timely dietary supplement made from the leaves, Mr. Diakite says. He passed around pouches of the green, hennalike powder at a recent international summit in Boston.
Until a decade ago, [continue]
From the Globe and Mail: The buzz over caffeine: It can help your workout.
Will drinking coffee help or hinder my workout?
Until 2004, caffeine was a banned substance for elite athletes, who could test positive if they drank as few as three cups of strong coffee. That, one would assume, means it’s a performance enhancer.
Then, frustrated with trying to regulate such a commonly used substance, the World Anti-Doping Agency removed caffeine from its restricted list — and the strangest thing happened. After the ban was lifted, caffeine levels in WADA urine tests decreased in most sports. If it wasn’t worth banning, athletes apparently figured, it wasn’t worth taking.
They were wrong. [continue]
From the BBC: Body exhumed in fight against flu.
The body of an aristocrat who died nearly 90 years ago has been exhumed in the hope that it will help scientists combat a future flu pandemic.
Yorkshire landowner Sir Mark Sykes died in France in 1919 from Spanish flu.
Sir Mark was buried in a lead coffin which scientists hope may have helped preserve the virus.
They believe his remains will help piece together the DNA of Spanish flu, which could have a similar genetic structure to modern bird flu.
This knowledge, added to major breakthroughs by American scientists last year, could help prevent a modern pandemic through the development of new drugs. [continue]
From the Beeb: Dancing death.
Sometime in mid-July 1518, in the city of Strasbourg, a woman stepped into the street and started to dance.
She was still dancing several days later. Within a week about 100 people had been consumed by the same irresistible urge to dance. The authorities were convinced that the afflicted would only recover if they danced day and night.
So guildhalls were set aside for them to dance in, musicians were hired to play pipes and drums to keep them moving, and professional dancers were paid to keep them on their feet. Within days those with weak hearts started to die.
By the end of August 1518 about 400 people had experienced the madness. Finally they were loaded aboard wagons and taken to a healing shrine. Not until early September did the epidemic recede.
This was not the first outbreak of compulsive dancing in Europe. In fact, there had been as many as ten dancing epidemics before 1518, one in 1374 engulfing many of the towns of modern day Belgium, north-eastern France and Luxembourg. [continue]
From The Telegraph: Britons may be more vulnerable to Aids due to Roman invasion.
Researchers found that people who live in lands conquered by the Roman army have less protection against HIV than those in countries they never reached.
They say a gene which helps make people less susceptible to HIV occurs in greater frequency in areas of Europe that the Roman Empire did not stretch to. [continue]
From the Washington Post: In Our Genes, Old Fossils Take On New Roles.
Over the past 15 years, scientists have been comparing the inherited genetic material — the genomes — of dozens of organisms, acquiring a life history of life itself. (…) It turns out that about 8 percent of the human genome is made up of viruses that once attacked our ancestors. The viruses lost. What remains are the molecular equivalents of mounted trophies, insects preserved in genomic amber, DNA fossils.
The thousands of human endogenous retroviruses, or HERVs, sketch a history of rough times during the 550 million years of vertebrate evolution. The best-preserved one, HERV-K113, probably arrived less than 200,000 years ago, long after human beings and chimpanzees diverged from a common ancestor.
But these retroviruses are more than just curiosities. They are some of the most important enemies we ever had. They helped mold the immune system that is one of the evolutionary marvels of life on Earth. [continue]
From the Beeb: Robo-skeleton lets paralysed walk.
A robotic suit is helping people paralysed from the waist down do what was previously considered impossible – stand, walk and climb stairs.
ReWalk users wear a backpack device and braces on their legs and select the activity they want from a remote control wrist band.
Leaning forwards activates body sensors setting the robotic legs in motion.
Users walk with crutches, controlling the suit through changes in centre of gravity and upper body movements.
The device effectively mimics the exoskeletion of a crab. [continue, see photos and video]
From Information Week: Solar-Powered Nanotech-Purified Air In Medieval Churches.
The glaziers who created gold-painted stained glass windows for medieval churches in Europe inadvertently developed a solar-powered nanotech air-purification system.
According to Zhu Huai Yong, an associate professor at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, the gold paint used in medieval-era stained glass windows purified the air when heated by sunlight.
"For centuries people appreciated only the beautiful works of art, and long life of the colors, but little did they realize that these works of art are also, in modern language, photocatalytic air purifier with nanostructured gold catalyst," said Zhu in a statement. [continue]
Link found at The Cranky Professor.
From the Washington Post: Survivors of 1918 Flu Pandemic Immune 90 Years Later.
People who lived through the 1918 flu pandemic that killed 50 million worldwide are still producing antibodies to the virus 90 years later, researchers report.
"Most people have a notion that elderly people have very weak immunity or they have lost immunity," said lead researcher Dr. James E. Crowe Jr., a professor of pediatrics, microbiology and immunology at Vanderbilt University.
"This study shows that extremely elderly people have retained memory of being infected with the 1918 flu, even 90 years later," Crowe said.
This is the first evidence that shows that people developed significant immunity to the 1918 flu virus, Crowe said. "It’s important to know that you can develop immunity to such a pandemic virus. That has implications for new pandemic viruses," he said. [continue]
Broccoli is good for you — really good for you! From the BBC: Broccoli may undo diabetes damage .
Eating broccoli could reverse the damage caused by diabetes to heart blood vessels, research suggests.
A University of Warwick team believe the key is a compound found in the vegetable, called sulforaphane.
It encourages production of enzymes which protect the blood vessels, and a reduction in high levels of molecules which cause significant cell damage.
Brassica vegetables such as broccoli have previously been linked to a lower risk of heart attacks and strokes. [continue]
From The Economist: Of sommeliers and stomachs.
Fine food sings on the palate, but pairing it with the right wine creates a chorus. Among those in the know, the plum, chocolate and spice flavours of Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Pinot Noirs and Sangioveses best accentuate the rich flavours of red meats. Now, however, a group of researchers led by Joseph Kanner of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has discovered that pairing red wines like these with red meat appears to be more than just a matter of taste. If the two mix in the stomach, compounds in the wine thwart the formation of harmful chemicals that are released when meat is digested. [continue]
From discovery.com: Biblical Text-Writing May Have Poisoned Monks.
Medieval bones from six different Danish cemeteries reveal that monks who wrote Biblical texts and other religious materials may have been exposed to toxic mercury, which was used to formulate just one of their ink colors: red.
The study, which will be published in the August issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, also describes a previously undocumented disease, called FOS, which was like leprosy and caused skull lesions. Additionally, the researchers found that mercury-containing medicine had been administered to 79 percent of the interred individuals with leprosy and 35 percent with syphilis.
Since the monks, who were buried in the cloister walk of the Cistercian Abbey at Øm, did not have these diseases but contained mercury in their bones, scientists believe the monks were either contaminated while preparing and administering medicines, or while writing the artistic letters of incunabula, or pre-1500 A.D. books.[continue]
This is the best news I’ve heard today. From the CBC: Coffee drinking not harmful and may help against heart disease: study.
Drinking copious amounts of coffee is not harmful to your health, and particularly if you’re a woman, may actually protect you from heart disease, new research suggests.
Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School and the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid studied the effects of coffee consumption on 41, 736 men and 86, 214 women over 18-year and 24-year periods respectively. (…)
They discovered that women who drank two to three cups of caffeinated coffee per day had a 25 per cent lower risk of death from heart disease during the study’s followup period (1980 to 2004) than non-coffee drinkers. They also had an 18 per cent lower risk of dying from an illness other than cancer or heart disease during followup. [continue]