The deep midnight-violet blue of tanzanite is unrivaled by any other stone, precious or otherwise. With intense indigo hues evocative of deep, still waters, tanzanite is among the most breathtaking of all gems.
A Singular Beauty
Tanzanite is a rare and unique variety of a mineral called zoisite. While other types of zoisite are pink, green, and shades of brown, yellow, and gray, tanzanite ranges between violet and deep cobalt blue, colors bestowed by inclusions of vanadium. It exhibits the property of trichroism, showing three different colors: blue, violet/purple, and green. In addition to its beauty, tanzanite is particularly valuable because of the extreme rarity of its ore: it is mined in just one small region of the globe—the Merelani tanzanite mines just southeast of the town of Arusha, Tanzania.
A Tale of a Tailor, Herdsmen, and Chance Discovery
Until the 1960s, tanzanite spent millennia of human history shrouded in secrecy deep in the earth in the Merelani Hills, foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Although colored gemstones, including deep-blue sapphires, have been avidly sought after by treasure hunters since ancient times, tanzanite eluded them all—until a chance sighting by a Maasai herdsman. The year was 1967, and 28-year-old Jumanne Ngoma had spotted a cluster of violet-blue crystals while grazing his cattle in the Merelani Hills. According to Ngoma, he then took the samples to the regional city of Moshi for analysis; from there, they were sent to the capital, Dodoma, where mineral inspectors confirmed that they were a rare type of zoisite. (Amid many confirmations made during the early days of tanzanite's discovery, it was Dodoma-based government geologist Ian McCloud who first correctly identified the stones as zoisite, according to MIT geologist Dr. John Saul, who sent the first tanzanite samples to the U.S.)
Meanwhile, a series of serendipitous events brought a local tailor and amateur prospector, Manuel d'Souza, to the site. Ngoma showed d'Souza the stones, and the adventurous tailor was immediately intrigued, initially thinking the stones might be sapphires. Although d'Souza's own testing eliminated that possibility—the stones were much too soft to be sapphires—he quietly registered mining claims for the closest mineral he could find, olivine (a mineral that includes the gem peridot). He showed them to Dr. Saul, who determined that they were not olivine, but could not confidently identify what they were. Dr. Saul then sent the samples to his father, Hyman Saul, then the vice president of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, who submitted them the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) for testing. The mysterious mineral was ultimately identified as blue zoisite by the GIA and multiple academic institutions, although McCloud, the Tanzanian geologist, has been acknowledged as the first to correctly identify it.
The elder Mr. Saul had two beautiful tanzanite rings made from the samples, and proposed that Saks Fifth Avenue market the stones. Saks declined, however, so he showed them to Tiffany and Company, where their beauty was immediately appreciated. Changing the tentative designation of "blue zoisite" to "tanzanite" was a move by Tiffany's Harry Platt, who thought that blue zoisite sounded too close to "blue suicide"—too risky for marketing! Once Tiffany unveiled the rare gemstone, with its glamorous new name, it took the world by storm. Almost overnight, its popularity grew to rival that of rubies, sapphires, and emeralds. Suddenly, every jewelry connoisseur wanted a tanzanite ring or a tanzanite necklace. The knowledge that the supply of tanzanite was finite only served to fan the flames of desire for this indigo beauty.
From Gold-Rush Lawlessness to Benefits for Tanzanians
While Tiffany was fashioning blue zoisite into exquisite tanzanite jewelry, d'Souza and fellow miner Ali Juuyawatu—the first black African to actually own a mine, according to a Life magazine story on the miners—were exhausting their energy fighting off thieves, who smuggled out the vast majority of the stones from the claims. Eventually, with recognition from academics like Dr. Saul and two German professors, Drs. Strunz and Baker, and help from the Tanzanian government to maintain security, the wild tanzanite rush has subsided into a more organized mining operation.
After 50 Years, Jumanne Ngoma Finally Gets his Due
Alongside improved regulation of mining, the government has also sought to honor the original discoverer of tanzanite, the Maasai tribesman Jumanne Ngoma who originally showed the stones to Manuel d'Souza, way back in 1967. Before his death in January of 2019, Ngoma was given both recognition and a cash award, coinciding with the April 2018 ceremonial launch of the protective Merelani periphery wall. It was in Ngoma's honor that the Tanzanite Foundation was started, with the goal of ensuring that the Tanzanian people and culture will benefit alongside the lucky wearers of this beautiful stone.
When it comes to developing new beverages, the field of consumption nanotechnology has radically expanded our options. Nanotechnology products based on nanoemulsion and microemulsion make the development of creative drinks supplemented with lipophilic ingredients like CBD painless and straightforward. With user-friendly tools to help you supplement a beverage with nonpolar ingredients, designing new nutraceutical-fortified drinks has never been easier.Here, we propose combining two wellness heavyweights, CBD and omega-3 fatty acids, into a single tasty and satisfying beverage.
CBD, a Potent and Legal Cannabinoid
CBD, understudied in the past due to restrictions on using cannabis, has exploded in popularity based on anecdotal reports. These stories are being steadily backed by a growing body of research confirming the helpfulness of CBD for ailments like anxiety, epilepsy, and others. CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a cannabinoid—a natural component of the cannabis plant. The cannabis plant, with all of its component cannabinoids, has been historically valued as an herbal medicine.While it's most well-known for treating cancer, patients have also found it to be helpful for a number of other ailments, including epilepsy, ADHD, glaucoma, and pain.
Unlike CBD, omega-3s are legally available via foods you can buy in the grocery store. The best way to get your daily omega-3s is by eating specific types of whole foods, such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, English walnuts, fish, and other seafood (including seaweed). If you have a busy lifestyle, though—one that doesn't include a lot of time for cooking or even shopping for these rather high-end ingredients—you might find it hard to get enough omega-3s from foods. For people who find it difficult to get enough omega-3s in their diet, a beverage supplemented with them would be a very welcome helping hand. How Two Good Things Go Well Together
It's fairly common knowledge that omega-3s are good for your heart, and there's strong evidence that they're good for joint problems like rheumatoid arthritis too.Less well-known is that CBD also confers benefits for inflammation-related illnesses like these.As an anti-inflammatory agent, CBD could help with cardiovascular health, and has been shown in a mouse model to protect against rheumatoid arthritis. Both CBD and omega-3s have also shown promise against cancer. CBD, Omega-3s, and Neurocognitive Health
Both CBD and omega-3s have shown promise in treating or preventing neurocognitive disorders like dementia (and Alzheimer's disease specifically) and attention disorders.While CBD has not been extensively studied in this regard, strong evidence supports its efficacy as an anxiolytic. Since anxiety can interfere with thinking and learning—even to the point of damaging parts of the brain involved in memory—it stands to reason that if CBD can reduce anxiety, it will in turn be protective of memory and general cognition. In addition to reducing anxiety, cannabis is widely (albeit unofficially) used to treat ADD. In a study of 268 forum threads, published in PLoS One in 2016, 25% of the posts asserted that the posters found cannabis to be therapeutic for ADHD. While there have been few scientific studies on CBD's treatment efficacy for ADD, there is good evidence regarding omega-3s. In both children and adults, evidence points to a link between attention deficit disorder symptoms and omega-3 deficiency. Finally, omega-3s appear to be neuroprotective against spinal injury, and CBD appears to be protective against neurotoxicity. CBD, Omega-3s, and Mental Health
Finally, evidence is growing that both CBD and omega-3s can not only help you think better, but also feel better. Both CBD and omega-3s have been shown to be helpful in treating depression. Of course, improved physical health and diminished pain can make it easier to engage in depression-fighting activities like daily exercise and social engagement.Both CBD and omega-3s have been protective against psychosis as well. The Problem of Solubility
With all these benefits, a beverage supplemented with CBD and omega-3s is bound to be popular.It's easier said than done, though, because CBD and omega-3s are both nonpolar molecules, whereas water is a polar molecule, and nonpolar molecules do not naturally dissolve in polar ones. CBD and omega-3s do not dissolve at all well in water, and while they could be shaken before drinking (like oil & vinegar salad dressing), they would have very low bioavailability. That is, although they can easily enter their target cells once they get to them, they will never reach those target cells if they cannot be absorbed into the body from the intestines. No absorbance means no effects. In order to be well absorbed, they need to be water soluble.
Their only hope is to get help from an emulsifier—a molecule that is polar on one end and nonpolar on the other, allowing it to "grab" onto both the nonpolar solutes (CBD and omega-3s) and the polar solvent (water). Unfortunately, traditional emulsifiers are not strong enough for this task. That's where the power of nanotechnology comes in.
The Solution of Consumption Nanotechnology
Using nanotechnology, it's possible to formulate water-soluble CBD and water-soluble omega-3s in a single drink.This can be done using nanoparticles, such as polymeric micelles—tiny spheres that are nonpolar on the inside and polar on the outside—that coat and encapsulate the CBD and omega-3 molecules, or nanoemulsions, colloidal systems that can carry fat-soluble substances like CBD and omega-3s in a polar solvent. Using this technology, CBD and omega-3s can readily dissolve into a water-based beverage.
Dr. Christian Otto on NGS-based research, empowering medical professionals through user-friendly software, and achieving work-life balance
As Head of Software Development at the bioinformatics support company ecSeq Bioinformatics, GmbH, Dr. Christian Otto has spearheaded the development of Seamless NGS Genetic Testing Software, a platform he initially created through his own company, Seamless NGS UG (which merged with ecSeq in 2017). With a PhD focused on bioinformatics applications, Dr. Otto is a natural practical innovator. He is also interested in the biological and medical advancements made possible by bioinnovation, and has participated in a diverse array of biomedical research projects. With publications ranging from oncogenic and tumor suppressor pathways to mitochondrial RNA editing to the genomes of exotic organisms like the Baikalian amphipodEulimnogammarus verrucosus, it should come as little surprise that he is interested in both supporting biomedical researchers and participating in collaborative research with university-based partners.
As in any small company, ecSeq members play multiple roles, and Dr. Otto is no exception. In addition to software development, he is an active participant in customer training and support, NGS-based research, and the evolution of the direction of ecSeq. This month, he spoke with me about bridging the gap between academic bioinformatics researchers and biomedical professionals looking to increase their impact through advanced sequence analysis.
In the March 2018 issue of Science, Chinese and American researchers Zhao et al. have reported that specific dietary fibers designed to promote healthy, short-chain fatty acid-promoting bacteria, can aid in alleviating type 2 diabetes symptoms.
The six-year study was based on two premises: (1) deficiencies in short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) have been associated with type-2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), and (2) dietary fiber that supports SCFA-producing bacteria can alleviate T2DM symptoms.
Zhao et al. first compared patients on a high-fiber diet with those on a conventional anti-diabetes diet. Both groups of patients were taking acarbose as a standardized medication. In the high-fiber group, diabetes severity, as measured by hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels and other measures such as fasting blood glucose, decreased significantly, compared with the control group.
Then, they transplanted gut bacteria samples from the patients into mice. The mice who received the microbiome transplant from the high-fiber patients had the lowest fasting and post-meal blood glucose, showing that the bacteria grown on the high-fiber diet were not only associated with improved diabetes in human patients, but also improved glucose metabolism when transplanted into mice.
Next, the researchers used metagenomic analysis to characterize the bacterial populations. They found that some types of gut bacteria increased in number in response to the high-fiber diet (“positive responders”), while others showed no change, and still others decreased in response to the high-fiber diet (“negative responders”). The bacteria showed a clear relation to one another: every one of the positive responders had an inverse relationship with at least one negative responder. In other words, they showed the exact pattern of beneficial bacteria crowding out other types of bacteria, with the end result of lowering diabetes symptoms.
Taking a closer look at the expressed genes, those involved in the metabolism of starch and inulin were increased in expression, while those involved in the digestion of mucin and pectin were decreased. Genes involved in producing acetic acid and butyric acid—two SCFAs— were enriched; bacteria that produce these compounds are thought to be components of a healthy microbiome.
As a final experiment, Zhao et al. transplanted Bifidobacterium pseudocatenulatum, one of the most positive responders, into obese mice. In response, the mice lost weight, decreased their body fat, and reduced their fasting glucose and insulin resistance.
The diverse approaches taken by this research group show not only a correlation but a causative role for SCFA-promoting fiber in the reduction of diabetes symptoms and related health problems like obesity. The original paper reporting this study can be found at http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6380/1151.
References and further reading:
1. Science Magazine: Gut bacteria selectively promoted by dietary fibers alleviate type 2 diabetes. Zhao L, Zhang F, Ding X, Wu G, Lam YY, Wang X, Fu H, Xue X, Lu C, Ma J, Yu L, Xu C, Ren Z, Xu Y, Xu S, Shen H, Zhu X, Shi Y, Shen Q, Dong W, Liu R, Ling Y, Zeng Y, Wang X, Zhang Q, Wang J, Wang L, Wu Y, Zeng B, Wei H, Zhang M, Peng Y, Zhang C. Science. 2018 Mar 9;359(6380):1151-1156. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6380/1151.long
Bed bugs are blood-feeding insects that can cause anaemia and allergic hypersensitivity, not to mention disgust and horror. Due to increases in international travel, trade in secondhand furniture, and insecticide resistance, bed bug infestations are a growing problem in the Unites States. (Orkin has released the 2017 top 50 list of U.S. cities for bed bug treatment, and the cities span all climates, from coast to coast, north to south. The list can be found here.) Once established, infestations are extremely difficult to treat, so early detection is very important. Some early signs of bed bugs are live bugs, bug bites on your skin, spotting on furniture, fabric or carpet, “shed skins”, and eggs.
Live Bed Bugs
Live bed bugs look like tiny cockroaches about the size of apple seeds, about 5-9 mm long, oval and flattened in shape, and brown or pale yellow in color. The most likely places to find bed bugs are near where you sleep-- around boxsprings, mattresses, bed frames, and under the edges of carpet. Other places to look are in the seams of chairs and couches, between cushions, in the folds of curtains, in drawer joints, in electrical receptacles and appliances, under loose wall paper and wall hangings, or at the junction where the wall and the ceiling meet. However, bed bugs are notoriously difficult to detect—the width of a credit card, they can hide in tiny cracks and crevices, so they are seldom seen.
Bed Bug Bites
While bed bugs are very good at hiding, they must feed on blood to survive. When they do, they might leave bites. Bed bug bites can be red and itchy—similar to mosquito or flea bites. If your skin is covered in itchy red spots that you are fairly certain did not come from mosquitoes or fleas, this could be a sign of bed bugs. If you don’t have any visible bites, though, this doesn’t mean you don’t have bedbugs—sometimes the bites are not detectable, or differ in appearance from a mosquito bite.
Spotting on Furniture
One of the most easily detectable early signs of bedbugs is the spotting they leave when they are crushed and when they defecate. When they are crushed, they leave rust-colored stains. When they defecate, they leave dark spots that resemble ink spots from the tip of a marker. Shed Exoskeletons and Eggs
Insects do not have bones; they have exoskeletons. The exoskeleton is an external hard skin-like layer that encases the insect’s body. Young bed bugs must molt when they grow, shedding their exoskeletons and leaving them as telltale signs of an infestation. Bed bug exoskeletons are pale yellow in color and about 2-9 mm long. Eggs are another telltale sign; they are tiny, about 1 mm long, whitish in color, and oval shaped.
Dogs and Monitoring Devices to Detect Bed Bugs
Monitoring technology can substantially increase the likelihood of detecting bed bugs before an infestation becomes serious. Passive monitoring devices simply catch the bugs. For example, bed bug interceptors are small plastic trays with inner and outer rings that are placed under bed legs. The bed bugs are caught in the trays, allowing both detection of the bugs and prevention of bites. Active monitoring devices lure the bugs using bait such as bed bug pheromones. Dogs can be trained to use their keen sense of smell to detect bed bugs.
If you suspect you may have a bed bug infestation, it is best to call a professional company that uses these methods-- and don't delay! Once entrenched, bed bug infestations are very hard to fight. The sooner you catch an infestation, the easier it will be to rid your home of these tenacious pests.
Opiate withdrawal is unpleasant and difficult, but there are some things you can do to make it easier. First, make plans to leave town to quit in a place devoid of environmental cues like needles or pill bottles. (Your body responds to these cues by anticipating a dose of "poison", making withdrawal worse.) Enroll in a treatment program or leave town, if possible, or take a "mini-staycation" in a place not associated with using, such as the house of a family member. Also, avoid people you've taken the drugs with-- it may seem like a good idea to quit together, but the very presence of your previous drug buddy may trigger your body's addiction response. Second, prepare by maximizing your general health before quitting, through regular exercise, meditation, and good nutrition-- the healthier you are when you quit, the better you'll be able to face the struggle of withdrawal. A daily multivitamin can help you cover your nutrition bases. In addition, while vitamins are not going to make withdrawal easy, certain vitamins and supplements, as well as herbs, might be able to help lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
While no studies have been done in humans, preliminary studies in guinea pigs and rats indicate that ascorbic acid, more commonly known as vitamin C, may be able to decrease withdrawal symptoms, especially at high doses. Vitamin C also decreased rats' attempts to press a lever to obtain a dose of morphine, indicating that vitamin C may ease craving as well as ameliorating withdrawal symptoms. While there is no evidence yet that vitamin C helps with withdrawal in humans, it is a very safe supplement-- daily doses as high as 2,000 mg/day or more in certain individuals are considered safe-- so it won't hurt to take it.
Alpha-lipoic acid, or ALA, is an anti-oxidant like vitamin C, but whereas Vitamin C is water-soluble, ALA is both water- and fat-soluble, passing into the brain easily. ALA is generally considered safe for most people, but it has not been studied in pregnant or breastfeeding women, and it could be dangerous if you have a thiamin (vitamin B1) deficiency. Taking a multivitamin with thiamin before you quit will help you get enough, as will eating thiamine-rich foods. Sunflower seeds and peanuts are good sources of vitamin B1 that are easy to obtain and require no preparation. In addition, ALA can lower blood sugar level, and interact with diabetes medications and chemotherapy medications. If you fall into any of these categories, you should consult your doctor before taking ALA for any reason.
Other supplements and drugs
Several traditional Chinese medicines have been approved by the Chinese Food and Drug Administration for use in opiate detoxification, including Fukang, Lingyi, Yian, Jitai, Fuzhengkang, Anjunning, Kangfuxin, Xuanxia, Shifusheng, and Zhengtongning. These and other traditional Chinese medicines should be used under the supervision of a trained Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner. Western medicine doctors can also prescribe a number of drugs known to mediate withdrawal symptoms, including the non-opiates clonidine and lofexidine and the opioid buprenorphine, as well as drugs to treat specific symptoms, such as antispasmodics for gut cramps. Finally, herbal medicine practitioners can recommend herbs to help calm anxiety, facilitate sleep, and ease digestive symptoms.
From detox to recovery
One you've made it through withdrawal, your journey to lifelong recovery has just begun. To avoid relapse, keep your body healthy through good nutrition and exercise. A daily multivitamin supplement can help make sure your nutritional bases are covered. In parallel with keeping your body healthy, it is vitally important that you both avoid bad influences and develop good ones. Narcotics Anonymous is a tried-and-true group of former addicts helping recovering addicts to stay clean through support and the wisdom gained through their own experience. Detox is step one; step two is total lifestyle change-- a change to the happier and healthier person you will become when you've left addiction behind.
Pinelli et al. Plasma malondialdehyde levels and opiate withdrawal signs observed in rats treated with morphine plus naloxone: effects of alpha-lipoic acid administration. Fundam Clin Pharmacol. 2008 Aug;22(4):439-45. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18705754
In nature, humans are diurnal, so sleeping at night is our natural biological rhythm. In our modern world of artificial light and 24/7 activity, though, night shifts are common. Unfortunately, working the night shift can interfere with our sleep-wake cycle, and that can lead to health problems ranging from obesity to cancer to injuries. Your mental health can suffer as well.
One of the most serious health effects of night shift work is an increased risk of cancer. The effect of night shift work is significant enough that, in 2007, the World Health Organization listed “shiftwork that causes circadian disruption” as a probable carcinogen. Women who work at night, mainly flight attendants and nurses, have an increased risk of breast cancer. This increase in risk is consistent with experimental animal research showing increased tumors in animals kept in constant light, dim light at night, or simulated chronic jet lag. A number of epidemiological studies have also associated circadian disruption with cancers in diverse human organ systems, including ovarian, lung, pancreatic, prostate, colorectal, and endometrial cancers, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, osteosarcoma, acute myeloid leukemia, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, and hepatocellular carcinoma.
Other Chronic Health Problems
In addition to cancer, epidemiological studies have found an increase in cardiovascular disease in night shift workers. Shift work is also associated with an increased rate of gastrointestinal, metabolic, and reproductive problems. Moreover, night shift workers show greater rates of overweight and obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, night work is also associated with an increased risk of diabetes, impaired immune function, and aging.
Mental health and well-being
Working the night shift can lead to impaired mental and physical functioning, including emotional fatigue and a weakened immune system. The sleep disorder known as shift work disorder leads to a number of psychological difficulties, including difficulty concentrating, insomnia, sleep that feels unrefreshing or insufficient, and excessive sleepiness when you need to be awake. Night shift work also tends to strain personal relationships, such as marriage and family. As a result, night shift workers suffer from a higher risk of depression.
When we don’t get enough quality sleep, we wake up less alert and able to concentrate, make decisions, and engage fully in activities. This can lead to injuries from accidents, from car crashes to needle sticks. Especially at risk are transportation workers, such as truck drivers who drive long distances at night, an especially high-risk profession. Nurses working at night, another occupation with substantial risk, are injured more often than those working during the day. According to a recent review by University of Basel researchers Uehli and colleagues, approximately 13% of work injuries could be attributed to sleep problems.
Solutions: sleep hygiene, light therapy, pharmacology, and daily exercise
As living beings, we have a hard-wired biological clock known as the circadian timing system. This circadian rhythm is based on two things: an endogenous timing system of approximately 24 hours, and a system that takes into account cues like daylight and activity. In order to minimize problems associated with night shift work, you can do two things. One is to try to make the night shift more regular, in line with our natural 24-hour biological clock. If you rotate, it is better if you work the night shift for a few weeks, then do the day shift for a few weeks, rather than doing a few night shifts and a few day shifts every week. In addition, try to shift in the positive direction—that is, change your shifts so that you are waking up later for the new shift rather than earlier.
The other thing you can do is adjust your environmental cues. Light is a big one. Make sure that your sleeping area is darkened when it’s time to sleep, and if you wake up in the dark, use a light therapy box. Light therapy boxes emit either bright white or blue light. Simply sit in front of the box, with the box shining on your face at about a 45 degree angle, for about 15 minutes when you first wake up. You will find that you are less sleepy throughout the day, and that you will adjust more quickly to the new routine; people often wake up just before their regular light box time, just as they would wake up with the sun on a natural schedule. Exercise is also key; regular exercise during your awake time can counteract many of the health effects associated with night shift work. Some individuals find the natural supplement melatonin, taken just before the time they want to go to sleep, to be helpful. Finally, while medications can help you get to sleep and stay awake, these are options of last resort, as they can be habit-forming and can be harmful to natural sleep architecture. Your doctor can help you decide whether it makes sense for you to take any medication, and if so, which type would be best for you.
So-called “good parasites” in the human body have been linked to protection against a number of disease conditions, from colon cancer to obesity. They also perform beneficial functions like synthesizing vitamins and helping to protect against infection from pathogenic microorganisms. These organisms living inside us are not, by definition, parasites. Symbionts, or organisms that live inside us or on us, can be divided into three types: parasites, which cause us harm, mutualists, which help us or do us good, and commensals, which do not necessarily do us good, but which do not hurt us. The “good parasites” are the mutualists.
One of the most important categories of mutualists is that of the intestinal bacteria. The colon is colonized by more than a trillion organisms per gram of intestinal contents. In fact, there are more bacterial cells than human cells in our bodies! These include the familiar E. coli, a natural gut-inhabiting bacterium, as well as bacteria commonly ingested in probiotic foods, such as Lactobacillus from yogurt. The vast majority of the bacteria fall within four phyla (major groups): Firmicutes (including Lactobacillus), Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria, and Proteobacteria (including the familiar E. coli). Methanobrevibacter smithii, an archaean (a microorganism that looks like a bacterium but is not a true bacterium), is another major intestinal resident in humans. Minority gut residents include the fusobacteria, cyanobacteria, spirochaetes, and verrucomicrobia. Probiotic supplements can help you boost many of these good symbionts.
In addition to these directly beneficial bacteria, there may also, paradoxically, be benefits to infection with true parasites that cause disease. Illustrating the axiom “what does not kill me makes me stronger”, immunologists have found that infection with parasites can aid in the healthy development of the immune system. The prevention of infection with helminth parasites (worms) and other infectious organisms in developed countries has been linked to increased rates of allergy and asthma, and this is thought to lead to abnormal development of the immune system. It seems that such infections are integral to the natural “wiring” of the immune system. Without them, immune systems can develop inappropriately, attacking benign substances such as pollen—these are allergic reactions. Infectious organisms that have been shown to provide protection against allergy include the nematode (roundworm) parasites Heligmosomoides polygyrus, Nippostrongylus brasiliensis, and species of Ascaris; the platyhelminth (flatworm) parasites Schistosoma mansoni and Schistosoma japonicum, bacteria such as Mycobacterium, Chlamydia, and Listeria, viruses, including influenza virus and respiratory syncytial virus, and even fungal pathogens, such as Aspergillus fumigatus.
Clearly, the microbiome, the population of organisms that live inside us, is an important part of who we are, playing roles in gastrointestinal function, immunity, and other aspects of human health. Future molecular and genomic studies should lead to further discovery of as-yet unknown mutualistic organisms.
References and further reading:
Tsai F, Coyle WJ. (2009)The microbiome and obesity: is obesity linked to our gut flora? Current Gastroenterology Reports: 11(4):307-13.
Kinross JM, von Roon AC, Holmes E, Darzi A, Nicholson JK. (2008) The human gut microbiome: implications for future health care. Current Gastroenterology Reports: 10(4):396-403.
Bik EM. (2009) Composition and function of the human-associated microbiota. Nutrition Reviews: 67:S164–S171.
Ley RE, Peterson DA, Gordon JI. (2006) Ecological and Evolutionary Forces Shaping Microbial Diversity in the Human Intestine. Cell: 124(4):837-848.
Roumier T, Capron M, Dombrowicz D, Faveeuw C. (2008) Pathogen induced regulatory cell populations preventing allergy through the Th1/Th2 paradigm point of view. Immunologic Research: 40(1):1-17.