Our Amazing Microbiome: 3 New Studies Spotlight Gut Bacteria

bacteriaDid you know there are more bacteria cells than human cells in your body? Most of them reside in and around your digestive tract, and your personal collection of cells is called your microbiome. The key to a healthy microbiome is making sure the good and neutral bacteria outnumber the harmful bacteria, which is why we so often hear about the importance of maintaining a balanced gut. Here are three new microbiome studies making headlines:

Further Praise for Fecal Transplants
Fecal transplantation refers to the process of transplanting stool from a healthy donor to a recipient in need—typically someone suffering from the infection Clostridium difficile, or C. diff. A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota and published in the journal Microbiome found that when people suffering from recurrent C. diff infections received healthy fecal matter (populated with beneficial bacteria) from a donor, positive changes were noted to their intestinal bacteria. What’s more, those changes had long-term benefits—lasting up to five months or more.

Can Poop Predict Obesity?
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee recently embarked on a groundbreaking microbial study that reveals a link between what a population “eliminates” and its estimated level of obesity. Scientists collected and analyzed hundreds of sewage samples from more than 70 metropolitan areas and found they were able to predict the obesity rate of each city with more than 80% accuracy. Weighing in at the top was St. Joseph, Missouri, with a 37.4% obesity rate. At the other end of the scale was Steamboat Springs, Colorado, with a 13.5% obesity rate.

Can Miniaturized Microbiomes Reveal More Gut Bacteria Benefits?
Just think about the more than 100 trillion bacterial cells in your body and how they impact your well-being. Might there be benefits even beyond optimal digestion and immune health? That’s what researchers from Duke University and the University of North Carolina hope to find out. Using human tissue, scientists have discovered a way to create microscopic bacterial colonies they are calling “mini-guts.” About 15,000 mini-guts will fit on a small chip, which researchers will inject with different types of bacteria in order to test the impact of specific microbes on human health.

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New Research Links Air Pollution to Anxiety, Increased Stroke Risk

smoke-stacksTwo new reports featured in The British Medical Journal point to air pollution as a potential threat to both mental and cardiovascular health. Specifically, higher exposure to fine particulate matter (from industrial sources such as automobile exhaust and power plant emissions) as well as gaseous emissions was linked to increased anxiety and stroke risk.

One report focused on data collected as part of a long-term study of more than 70,000 female nurses in the United States. From the information gathered, researchers were able to determine that the women who lived closer to major roads—and therefore higher levels of pollution—were more likely to experience increased anxiety symptoms such as fearfulness, worrying, and withdrawal. Additionally, symptoms were found to be strongest when exposure was more recent.

So, why the increased risk? Experts believe part of the reason may be because air pollution triggers an inflammation response in the body, which in turn causes the release of certain chemicals linked to psychological distress as well as changes in mood and behavior.

A second report focused on more than 100 different studies conducted worldwide. The goal was to determine whether or not a relationship exists between short-term air pollution and a higher number of stroke-related hospitalizations and fatalities. Indeed, populations exposed to higher levels of both fine particulate matter and gaseous pollutants (including carbon monoxide and sulphur dioxide) saw a significant rise in stroke rates—which rose exponentially as exposure levels increased.

The takeaway, say researchers involved in analyzing the data, is that we need to take steps to reduce exposure to air pollution and improve overall air quality, especially in highly populated areas where pollutants pose a serious risk to human health.

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