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It sounds like a plot summary from the latest sci-fi novel: Super strains of harmful bacteria impervious to even the strongest antibiotics. But recent evidence of an antibiotic-resistant gene originating in India has medical experts on high alert and was a topic of much discussion at a recent American Society for Microbiology conference in Boston.

Three people from the U.S. and two from Canada—all of whom had recently traveled to India—became severely sick as the result of the gene scientists are calling NDM-1, which seems to prefer latching on to bacteria that cause intestinal or urinary tract infections. India is well known for its overpopulation and widespread disease, and in each case the individual had either received emergency medical care while visiting or had gone there for medical treatment.  

In recent decades drug-resistant bacteria have become a growing concern, and many experts worry that America’s hygiene obsession and dependence on antibiotics will soon backfire, breeding more and more “superbugs” that don’t respond to normal antibiotic treatment. Essentially, antibiotic resistance happens when our bodies actually become resistant to the effects of a certain antibiotic (or antibiotics) over time because of misuse or overuse of those particular drugs. Widespread use of antibacterial soaps and cleansers also adds to the problem by actually increasing the resistance of certain harmful bacteria.

In addition to practicing good hygiene, experts recommend only taking antibiotics when absolutely necessary, always completing the prescribed dose, and never taking antibiotics prescribed for someone else. Taking a daily probiotic supplement is also recommended to help strengthen the body’s natural defense system, much of which is found in the gut.

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A lot of folks these days are trying to make smarter choices about what they eat. Why? Because the reality is that everything is related to what we put on our plate—digestive problems, cholesterol, weight gain—and statistics show that as a country our poor eating habits have been the driving force behind a rise in obesity and obesity-related disease that has reached epidemic proportions.

In an effort to lose weight and improve their health, many Americans are paying more and more attention to food labels, and it seems their attentiveness is paying off. Experts recently analyzed data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and found that people who look at things like ingredients, serving size and nutrition facts are likely to be healthier than their non-label-reading counterparts.

Specifically, label readers consume fewer calories and more fiber in their daily diet, along with less sugar, sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol, and as a result they tend to be slimmer and in better shape overall. Health experts hope that as more and more people start paying attention to labels, food manufacturers will do their part and clearly display important nutrition information. So here’s to smart reading and smart eating!

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