The Benefits of the Daily Probiotic

While browsing through my science news items this morning, I came across an article discussing the effects probiotics have on heart health. Seeing as I haven’t yet discussed probiotics on this blog, I thought this would make a good opportunity.

The article was published in Authority Nutrition. Within there are many citations, and appears to be evidence based, but does the evidence actually support the claim? Turns out not really.

Probiotics: A review

Before I get into the article, I want to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to probiotics.

The definition of probiotic is officially described as: denoting a substance that stimulates the growth of microorganisms, especially those with beneficial properties (such as those of the intestinal flora)

Before researching for this post, I was under the impression probiotics were a recent invention (within the last few decades) and was surprised to find that the idea is much older.

The hypothesis that your gut microbiome (the good bacteria living within your gut) could be altered was first coined by Russian scientist and Nobel laureate Élie Metchnikoff, who in 1907 believed that aging was caused by bad bacteria that excreted harmful substances into the gut. These toxic molecules then act on the body and cause characteristics of old age.

Élie Metchnikoff

After witnessing that certain European countries who drank milk fermented by lactic-acid bacteria had relatively long healthy lives, Metchnikoff decided to incorporate the sour milk into his diet. Soon afterwards he had convinced many of his colleagues, and doctors were prescribing sour milk to treat various ailments.

After the initial sour milk product, many foods have been developed and labelled through the decades as a probiotic; including yogurt, buttermilk, kombucha fermented tea, and sauerkraut.

Recently, probiotics have gained momentum with the release of probiotic pill captures, or fermented drinks (such as kombucha) containing what is believed to be good bacteria meant to alter your gut flora and cure a plethora of diseases.

And the data suggests that the usage of probiotics has increased with the release of these new products. Data from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey show about 4 million U.S. adults use or have used a probiotic.

Nowadays, you can’t enter a grocery store without seeing 10 different brands of probiotics, all promising to cure disease or maintain gut microbiome diversity.

The Science Behind Probiotics:

Image result for microbiome
Source

When you type in the keyword probiotic into PubMed, 18,605 results are returned, with an exponential growth starting in the early 2000’s. However, much of the data coming out suggests probiotics are not as beneficial as companies would have you believe (as always).

Much research has been preformed discussing what scientists call the microbiome (the variety of bacteria that exist within us or on us , primarily referring to the intestine and skin.

Evidence suggests that an unhealthy microbiome with the wrong type of bacteria, or too little of good bacteria can contribute to many health defects. Those with disrupted microbiota can experience digestive tract issues, and possibly have an increased risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and many other medical issues. While the evidence is young, there does appear to be a link with the gut microbiome and many diseases we fight today.

Recent mice studies further confirm this hypothesis. Unhealthy mice who receive a microbiome replacement with the microbiome of another healthy mouse, under go a great change. One example shows that mice who are typically more afraid (hide, don’t jump from ledges, etc..) and get their microbiome replaced with mice who are more courageous, appear to become more brave. Other studies have shown that normal mice who get a microbiome replacement with obese mice end up actually gaining weight to similar levels as the original obese mouse.

This preliminary data needs to be further evaluated, but it does bring forward an interesting discussion of how microbiomes make up our human personality.

And so, probiotics on the surface have the potential to modify our microbiome and increase the health of those who take them by replacing them with beneficial bacteria. It seems that probiotics have in general two types of bacteria; Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.

However, these probiotics have mixed effects when it comes to the claims companies promote. In short, they are not the miracle cure.

Probiotics have been shown to relieve symptoms of certain medical ailments, such as inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or diarrhea caused by antibiotics. These however have not been conclusively tested, and much more work needs to be completed before we can actually consider probiotics a valid treatment.

What does seem to be clear though, is that if you are not suffering from a true, diagnosed medical disease, there is little or no benefit of taking probiotics. So don’t think of probiotics as something everyone should be taking. And if you have a compromised immune system for whatever reason, there is a risk of developing infections. Therefore, it is best to avoid probiotics.

Probiotics Contributing to Healthy Hearts:

Image result for microbiome heart
Source

Getting back to the article I initially found today, what I found was even more suspicious evidence suggesting probiotics are able to prevent heart disease and lower cholesterol.

The article is titled “Do Probiotics Benefit Heart Health?” and is on the surface a well cited article with what appears to be good information. The news item covers several review meta-articles that  suggest probiotics decrease your cholesterol, your blood pressure, inflammation, and triglycerides.

However, after checking the sources my suspicions were confirmed.

Several review articles were cited, each being a meta-analysis of multiple studies involving human subjects. Almost all of which seemed to be double blind, placebo control studies. And there does appear to be at least some interesting data. However, these articles to the best of my knowledge are not using commercially available probiotics. In fact, I had a difficult time trying to find out exactly how much bacteria was added, and how it compares to those on the market.

In addition, I also found articles published in journals such as BMC Complimentary and Alternative Medicine that publish articles supporting traditional Chinese medicine (in children I might add), acupuncture, and other pseudo-scientific methods. This suggests to me the “peer review” of these journals may not stand up to the standards of evidenced based articles.

Being as probiotics are a drug, you would expect to find any evaluation of the proper dosage and potential toxicity (in this case probably likelihood of infection), but I found none.

All in all, the evidence provided by this news item does not impress me. It is impossible to prove anything in science, but these articles to me fall extremely short of suggesting probiotics contribute to lowering cholesterol or cure heart disease. The news items does not explicitly say that probiotics are the miracle cure, but I don’t believe it leaves the viewer with an accurate statement of the current research, and is not as evidence based as it suggests. There was however one true statement in the news item. Every article mentioned used patients either with high cholesterol, high BP, or high triglycerides. Therefore we cannot make the claim probiotics prevent high cholesterol or high BP

Takeaways:

So far, I cannot conclusively say probiotics are completely useless. There does seem to be preliminary evidence suggesting benefits to those with medically diagnosed diseases, and the evidence of reducing cholesterol levels and preventing heart disease is shaky at best.

There seems to be no evidence suggesting it should be taken for normal healthy individuals, and there is too much discrepancies between the companies to suggest all of them work the same. If indeed there is a benefit towards ingesting one type of bacteria, the probiotic industry needs to police themselves and use the proper amount and type of bacteria shown to be clinically effective. There is very little evidence on safety of probiotics, and little evidence on efficacy over long periods of time.

To wrap up, until more evidence is released showing probiotics are more effective, and the probiotics are controlled by an agency responsible for developing them safely, stay clear of probiotics.

Thank you for reading. I hope you learned something. I know I did.

If you have any comments, suggestions, or sources you would like to share with me, please do not hesitate to leave a comment below. You can always email us at copernicuscalledblog@gmail.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter.

As always, remember to stay curious, and be mindful!

 

 Please note that is article is not intended to be medical advice. If you are struggling with a medical disease, please refer to a physician for proper advice and treatment.

Sources:

  1. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/probiotics-and-heart-health
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Probiotic
  3. Arteriosclerosis and intestinal poisons. [a contemporary review of Metchnikoff’s work] JAMA1910, 55:2311-12.
  4. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm
  5. Featured Image Credit: https://benefitsofprobiotics.com/probiotic-supplements-gut-health/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Making Art With DNA

Since the 1980’s, scientists have been making shapes out of DNA. In recent years, technological advances have increased to the point where we can now make beautiful designs from the molecule that encodes our existence. It’s called DNA Origami.

The idea is relatively simple. A single strand of a DNA molecule is used as a scaffold. The scaffold is then molded to design the shape desired with “staple molecules” or short complementary sequences of DNA that will fold the scaffold strand.

2_1
An example of Scaffold and Staple DNA construction. Source

With the right computer programs, you can make a wide variety of shapes, including smiley faces, teddy bears, or even a box equipped with a lid and a lock.

Of course, it’s always fun when scientists get to play around, but there are some pretty impressive applications to this technique as well.

Scientists have been adapting DNA origami to form various objects (a sphere, or a box) able to carry drugs to a target site within the body. For example, chemotherapy and immunotherapy drugs for cancer patients wreak havoc on the body. However, if they are able to be transferred to the tumor itself, not only would you have reduced toxicity, you would also potentially increase your chance of destroying the tumor.

2016_SL_Origami_twosmileys
An example of various shapes that can be made with DNA origami. Source

Others have also worked to create “nanobots” (extremely small functional robots) from DNA. These nanobots reportedly have the capability of being pre-programmed to travel to certain areas and perform basic functions. While the technology is very new and has not been tested in humans yet, it appears to be a promising avenue of research.

While DNA origami technology has come a long way, scientists have been limited on one aspect; size.

Currently, the largest a DNA origami shape could be is about 100 nanometers. If larger than that, the shapes loose their stability.

Yesterday however, four papers published in Nature describes methods of evading this problem.

origamiexamples
DNA Origami box. Source

By creating small DNA origami V-shaped structures and allowing them to link together, scientists have overcome the size restrains. These structures can then be used to make large, stable structures like the sphere below.

nature origami 1
A representation of the DNA V building blocks. Source

These larger spheres then possess the capability of carrying a wide variety of items, including drugs for various diseases.

 

Researchers also developed a new design software that can generate pictures and make DNA origami representations of pictures, like the Mona Lisa for example.

 

 

nature origami 2
Representations of the size of molecules able to be generated with new DNA origami techniques. Source

Another complicating aspect to DNA origami is price. Creating the proper strands to make these complex structures takes a lot of time, and a lot of resources. One way to overcome the price is to develop a long single stranded DNA molecule that possess not only the staple and scaffold strands, but also section able to break apart the other sections of the same molecule (called a DNAzyme). This one strand will therefore be able to cleave the scaffold and staple strands from itself and be able to make the structure, thus decreasing the cost.

 

The advancement of creating DNA structures has been fascinating to watch the last decade, and with these new advancements, DNA origami technology will quickly become a pioneer technique in a variety of scientific fields.

As always, if you have questions, please comment below or email us directly at copernicuscalledblog@gmail.com.

You can also reach us on our various social media outlets, including Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Sources:

  1. Service, Robert F., Scientists shape DNA into doughnuts, teddy bears, and an image of the Mona Lisa. Science. http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/12/scientists-shape-dna-doughnuts-teddy-bears-and-image-mona-lisa
  2. Zhang, Fei, Yan, Hao. DNA self-assembly scaled up. Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-017-07690-y#ref-CR2
  3. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-017-07690-y#ref-CR2
  4. Wagenbauer, K. F. et al. Nature 552, 78–83 (2017)
  5. Tikhomirov, G. et al. Nature 552, 67–71 (2017).
  6. Featured image- https://www.yourgenome.org/activities/origami-dna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teenage Nutrition Study Goes Wrong

In research, it is crucial to not only ensure that data collected is meaningful and sound, but also that subjects (whether it be animals or humans) are treated properly.

Recent stories have been released in regards to a nutrition study from researchers at Purdue University that highlight examples of what not to do in a scientific study.

The purpose of the study was to evaluate the effects of low sodium diets on adolescent children with high blood pressure. Children were signed up for a seven week trial over a summer that placed them in campus housing. The project was dubbed Camp DASH, an abbreviation for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension(1,2).

Everything went awry after a video of one of the girl participants showering appeared on social media. The police were notified and other accusations arose involving additional children within the study.

It appears from the start, the study was inadequate in planning, and was not fully prepared for hosting the adolescent children.

Within the first week of the study, it was reported that two participants were arrested due to violence among the adolescent children. Injuries were severe enough warrant a hospital visit for one of the participants. Both of the children were removed from the study, but this highlights the first of many faults in this study; lack of proper supervision(1,2)

Just one week after the two were dismissed, another accusation arose involving one male participant sexually harassing several of the female participants. The male was ejected from the study, but the harassment was not reported to necessary university personnel.(1)

During an unsupervised sauna session, a male reportedly burned another male participant with a hot rock that left second degree burns(1,2)

These are just a few examples of the many incidences that occurred during the time of the study.

The principal investigator of Camp DASH, Dr. Connie Weaver, has been brought under scrutiny for the research, and from the reports, it appears to be just.

Dr. Weaver was notified throughout the entire study of the misconduct going on, and did not make the proper corrections to ensure the safety of the children within the study(1)

In a statement released earlier this week, Dr. Weaver commented on allegations arising from the study.

“I am deeply saddened by the instances that caused Camp DASH to end early. As the principal investigator, I accept responsibility for events that occurred at Camp DASH. The safety and security of research participants always comes first.” (3)

Not only were the accusations hidden, but personnel staff were not properly screened before beginning the study.

Every hired member of the camp  were required to undergo a detailed background check. Only seven of the 132 members were screened (2). Furthermore, each member on the staff was required to complete online training before the study began. Thirteen percent of staff members did not complete the training, including the Camp Manager, who did not complete his training until the day he was terminated.

As a result of the problems within the study, the university ended it two weeks prior to its scheduled completion date, and all of the data generated from the study was discarded.

This is a perfect example of research misconduct during human trials. Not only did the principal investigator overlook accusations, she did fulfill the duties of keeping the subjects safe that were specifically written during her proposal.

This neglect thus resulted in directly wasting 8.8 million dollars from the NIH (federal funding source), and placing over 70 adolescent children in an environment leading to violence and sexual harassment(2).

While the principal investigator and university staff overseeing Camp DASH have not been directly reprimanded, we expect more news to be released as the story develops.

Be sure to look for our updates as news continues.

 

We recommend that if you are interested, to read this detailed report written by Alysa Rollock, the Vice President for Ethics and Compliance at Purdue University.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to comment below or email us directly at copernicuscalledlblog@gmail.com

 

You can also reach us on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

 

Written By: Cody Wolf

Sources

  1. Rollock, Alysa. “Report on Review and Assessment of Purdue University’s Actions in Connection with the Camp DASH Research Study. Accessed online 12/1/2017. https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/documents/campdash-report.pdf

 

  1. Gastelum, Amy. “Purdue University Mounted a Child Nutrition Study. It Went Very, Very Wrong.” Undark.org. https://undark.org/article/purdue-camp-dash-nutrition-weaver/

 

  1. Menchaca, Mateo. “Purdue review board throws out Camp DASH data.” The Exponent. https://www.purdueexponent.org/campus/article_5ec9584b-1565-502d-a6f5-f49498411138.html