Killer fat cells help protect against bacterial infections

Fat is bad. This is what doctors and nutritionists have preached for years, making fat public enemy number one in the battle against obesity. We now know that not all fat is bad. Unsaturated fats, like those found in fish and nuts, have many potential health benefits while saturated and trans fats should be avoided. For the first time, researchers have shown how fat cells in our skin can directly help protect against a bacterial infection.  Continue reading

Between the Pages: Missing Microbes

Welcome to the first instalment of Between the Pages, where I read and review books about science. 

Missing Microbes:  How the overuse of antibiotics is fueling our modern plagues. By Martin J. Blaser, MD. (HarperCollins)
Missing Microbes: How the overuse of antibiotics is fueling our modern plagues. By Martin J. Blaser, MD. (Source)

If science was Hollywood, the microbiome would be its new It Girl. The paparazzi report on its every move to see which new disease or condition it will be associated with next. Fans clamor to buy the newest supplement that promises to restore your microbiome to a “healthy” state.

Feeling a bit late to the party? Let’s bring you up to speed. Simply put, the human microbiome is the collection of microorganisms that share our body. These include the bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live on our skin, in our mouths and digestive tracts, and in all our bodies’ little nooks and crannies. Even though they are microscopic in size, their numbers are daunting: there are 10 microbial cells for every human cell in our body! Most of these microorganisms are beneficial to us. They help us digest food and extract nutrients that we wouldn’t be able to get on our own. They strengthen our immune system so that it can better recognize and fight off invading pathogens. They prevent harmful microbes from taking hold in our bodies by depriving them of important nutrients. So, that’s great! Three cheers for our microbiome!

But what happens when our microbiome changes and the balance of species is shifted? As Dr. Martin Blaser argues in his book Missing Microbes, that’s when things start to go wrong. Continue reading

Rethinking cholera treatment: is rice a better option?

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Poor sanitation conditions and lack of infrastructure have contributed to the re-emergence of cholera globally. (Source)

What if the cold medication you’re taking is actually helping to make your cold last longer and your symptoms worse? How could that happen? What effect would it have on your ability to infect other people? Those are the types of questions that researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland tried to answer in a study about cholera. The team led by Drs. Melanie Blokesch and Andrea Rinaldo studied whether the currently used standard treatment for cholera could be improved upon by substitution of a key ingredient. Continue reading