Baby poop capsules: Coming soon to a pharmacy near you?
While the probiotic trend has been suspect at best, there is one therapeutic application that keeps holding up: fecal transplant.
The emergence of probiotics on supermarket shelves is further proof of our habit of putting the cart before the horse. Researchers discover a potential breakthrough; the public gain a little knowledge of this before extensive clinical studies can be conducted; bottles of probiotics—echoing the American mantra, “more is better!”—fly off the shelves. A wonder-cure is born.
Probiotics might possess incredible healing powers, but specificity matters. You can’t overload on any old bacteria and expect the results to only be positive. As science writer Ed Yong points out, destroying “harmful” bacteria can ultimately cause chaos in the microbiome ecosystem.
A recent study from Augusta University brought more bad news:
Probiotic use can result in a significant accumulation of bacteria in the small intestine that can result in disorienting brain fogginess as well as rapid, significant belly bloating, investigators report.
That study only involved 30 patients, so we should take those results with caution. Yet caution is the last thing companies mailing you home microbiome kits are displaying. A whole host of businesses promise to shed insight on your insides when you mail in a vial of your poop; the results have not been sound.
And yet, poop holds the key to understanding your insides. It just requires more extensive testing. The only therapeutic application regarding the microbiome that’s holding up, according to Yong, is fecal microbiota transplant—using someone else’s poop to colonize your colon, through a colonoscopy, enema, orogastric tube, or by ingesting freeze-dried poop in capsule form. While the gag reflex often follows the explanation, this therapy is being used to treat a variety of gastrointestinal disorders and even neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s.
Not all bacterial sets will treat every symptom, Yong continues; patients with the same illness will not be healed with the same poop. That’s because microbiome diversity is an essential component of individual health. Bacterial combinations have to be tailored to each patient. "These are not one-size-fits-all solutions. They will need to be personalized," says Yong.
Personalized medicine is an important evolution in our understanding of treatment; it will require vigilant research and large populations to study. Some treatments really are universal, such as vitamin C treating scurvy. Yet when it comes to what’s inside of our guts, too many individual factors need to be considered: diet, genetics, environment, stress and fitness levels, just to begin with.
The microbiome is one of the most fascinating areas of research despite so-called holistic companies capitalizing on an uncertain trend, which made this news raise a few eyebrows last week:
Scientists at Wake Forest School of Medicine have developed a probiotic “cocktail” derived from gut bacteria strains found in infant feces that may help increase the body’s ability to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).
Hariom Yadav, lead author and assistant professor of molecular medicine, notes that patients with diabetes, obesity, autoimmune disorders, and cancers often have low levels of SCFAs. He speculates that increasing these acids might improve their conditions, leading to better overall health.
Yadav also states that the over-the-counter variety of probiotics has deceived the public. Clinical research has only been conducted on animals and humans with diseases, not disease-free subjects. Buying supplements for general health and well-being is unfounded, with the research being inconsistent as to its actual benefit.
For this study, published in the Nature journal, Scientific Reports, Yadav’s team collected fecal samples from 34 healthy infants, totaling 321 diaper samples. They analyzed the best ten samples they collected, treating mice and human feces with the same cocktails in either single- or five-dose feedings.
While the study didn’t focus on any specific disease, Yadav was focused on the proliferation of SCFAs, observing if they could repopulate ecosystems. He felt confident in the results:
This work provides evidence that these human-origin probiotics could be exploited as biotherapeutic regimens for human diseases associated with gut microbiome imbalance and decreased SCFA production in the gut. Our data should be useful for future studies aimed at investigating the influence of probiotics on human microbiome, metabolism and associated diseases.
Given that we often don’t understand the chemistry inside many of the capsules we consume, freeze-dried poop might be the future of treatment, at least for certain diseases. While Yadav’s evidence is not conclusive—you might want to reconsider any solution by Gerber’s in the near future—the state of our guts continues to fascinate. And if a colony of bacteria proves helpful in treating some of our most deadly diseases, swallow away.
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
- Push Past Negative Self-Talk: Give Yourself the Proper Fuel to Attack the World, with David Goggins, Former NAVY SealIf you've ever spent 5 minutes trying to meditate, you know something most people don't realize: that our minds are filled, much of the time, with negative nonsense. Messaging from TV, from the news, from advertising, and from difficult daily interactions pulls us mentally in every direction, insisting that we focus on or worry about this or that. To start from a place of strength and stability, you need to quiet your mind and gain control. For former NAVY Seal David Goggins, this begins with recognizing all the negative self-messaging and committing to quieting the mind. It continues with replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones.
Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
- Master Execution: How to Get from Point A to Point B in 7 Steps, with Rob Roy, Retired Navy SEALUsing the principles of SEAL training to forge better bosses, former Navy SEAL and founder of the Leadership Under Fire series Rob Roy, a self-described "Hammer", makes people's lives miserable in the hopes of teaching them how to be a tougher—and better—manager. "We offer something that you are not going to get from reading a book," says Roy. "Real leaders inspire, guide and give hope."Anybody can make a decision when everything is in their favor, but what happens in turbulent times? Roy teaches leaders, through intense experiences, that they can walk into any situation and come out ahead. In this lesson, he outlines seven SEAL-tested steps for executing any plan—even under extreme conditions or crisis situations.
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