Microbes Are Everywhere, The Cold-Medicine Racket, More

Microbes Are Everywhere

Microbes seem to be overshadowed by larger forms of life, probably because they are so small, but they are still by far the most abundant life form on the planet, constituting some twenty-five times the total biomass of all animal life. There are well over a million different types, mostly harmless environmental microbes. They are in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat—and when they die they set about deconstructing us. Each ton of soil contains more than 10,000,000,000,000,000, microbes, many of which are employed in breaking down organic material to generate essential nitrates for plants to utilize; every year nitrogen-fixing bacteria recycle 140 million tons of atmospheric nitrogen back into the soil. (1)

When we have a Big Mac, medium fries, and a medium Coca-Cola for lunch, we’re not just consuming 1,070 calories, 64 grams of sugar, 43 grams of fat, and 1,150 milligrams of sodium, we’re also eating 238,000 microbes—mostly bacteria, with a few thousand yeast and mold organisms as well. That’s the finding from a trio of scientists at UC-Davis who, for the first time, tallied the number and type of microorganisms present in the average American diet, reports Ross Pomeroy. (2)

For their study, the researchers purchased and prepared a full day’s worth of meals for three separate diets: an average American diet, a USDA recommended diet, and a vegan diet. The Americna diet consisted of food from Starbucks and McDonald’s, as well as frozen and packaged food from the grocery store. The USDA diet offered cereal, a variety of vegetables, and a turkey sandwich, among other selections. The vegan diet had lots of vegetables, nuts, and fruits, and rounded out with tofu, almond milk, and vegetable protein powder. All of the diets tipped the energy scale at a little over 2,200 calories. The USDA diet contained the most microbes, roughly 1.26 billion. The vegan diet came in a distant second at just over 6 million, while the American diet lagged behind at 1.39 million. Aerobic and anaerobic bacteria dominated the counts. Yeast and mold constituted a far smaller portion. The reason the USDA diet was so high is because it had three foods- yogurt, Parmesan cheese and cottage cheese—which contain live and active bacterial cultures. (3)

A single 10-second kiss can transfer as many as 80 million bacteria, according to Dutch scientists. Studies suggest the mouth is home to more than 700 different types of bacteria—but the report reveals some are exchanged more easily than others. (4)

More on our mouths: Lyall Watson reports “With each 100 spoken words, particularly those with explosive consonants like ‘t’ or ‘p’, we put 250 tiny droplets into the air. Forty percent of these contain one or more bacteria, usually of the Streptococcus or Staphylococcus types.  A single cough is worth 2,000 words, wheeling out 5,000 potentially dangerous droplets. But a sneeze is the Rolls Royce of bacterial vehicles. With acceleration from a standing start to 400 meters per second, almost the speed of sound, most of them infected, this biological tornado burdens the air with as many bacteria as would normally be dispersed by someone speaking 400,000 words—which would mean talking non-stop for fifty-five hours or reading War and Peace out loud.” (5)

Our belly buttons house about 2,400 types of microbes—1,500 of which are new to science

Our belly buttons house about 2,400 types of microbes—1,500 of which are new to science. These data are from the lab of biologist Rob Dunn, an associate professor at North Carolina State University. In 2011, Dunn’s lab launched the Belly Button Biodiversity project. What began as a way to get people excited about the microbiome became a serious endeavor when Dunn discovered the diversity in our navels. (6)

Researchers at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio collected 68 dollar bills from people at a grocery stores and a high-school sporting event. Sixty-four (94%) of the bills were contaminated with bacteria know to cause either serious or mild illness. Five bills (7%) were found to be contaminated with bacteria which cause infections in healthy people. Fifty-nine bills (87%) were contaminated with bacteria that are usually harmless in healthy individuals, but can still trigger serious illness in those with depressed immune systems. However, real health risks to the average consumer are pretty low: US dollar bills may be no more or less covered in microbial goo than, say, doorknobs, pens or computer keyboards. (7)

Eco-friendly reusable shopping bags are raising some eco-questions regarding reusing and washing them. These issues pose some problems for those wishing to be eco-friendly with reusable bags. A study from the United Kingdom found that the potential of reusable bags to benefit the environment depends on how many times they are used before being discarded. Real-world data show that bags are currently harming the environment instead of healing it. (8)

Regardless, as scary as some of this might sound, many of these life forms are as yet poorly studied, and it remains conceivable that some help protect us. This is even more a problem today inasmuch, for one example, we seem committed to using antibiotic wipes on our hands. Recent studies are unable to find any benefits of antibiotics in hand sanitizers, soaps, or other household products in terms of preventing disease. But such products do have disadvantages. They can lead to antibiotic resistance and may also be killing good bacteria and in doing so making room for the bad, which especially if they are resistant to antibiotics, are all too happy to move in. (9)

More on this found at Canada Free Press.

catch and release


Dear America,

I’m sorry. You entrusted me with your children, and I have failed them. Please know that I had the best of intentions. I didn’t want to leave a child behind. I wanted to help them win this race to the top. You asked me to test them, and I tested them. I gave them choices: A, B, C, D, and sometimes even E. I didn’t just test them though; I spent hours showing them how to test, and I prepared them for that by quizzing them. My quizzes and tests were rigorous, too, just like you asked.

I have to be honest with you, though: my heart wasn’t in it at first. I had this ridiculous idea that art and music and drama and activity breaks would help my students grow. Maybe it was all those years of allowing my students to be creative. To think, I once had my English class produce a full-length play with original music and student-designed sets. I wasted weeks and weeks on that frivolous project. Sure, my students enjoyed it then, and okay, many of them still e-mail me and tell me that was the highlight of their high school experience, but I know now that if I had only had them sit in rows and practice for theACT, if I had only given them short passages and had them tell me which of the five choices best described the author’s tone, they’d be so much more fulfilled in their lives.

After all, what did they really learn? How to access their imaginations? Developing original thoughts? Teamwork? I may as well have taught them how to file for unemployment.

Last year, our school district did away with our arts education classes. I was stunned along with the other misguided “professionals” with whom I taught. That was before I came to the stark realization that painting and sculpting and drawing might be nice hobbies to have, but they’re certainly not going to help adolescents as they compete for the jobs of the future. Do we really want a bunch of flaky artist-types distracting us? The art teacher is a barista at Starbucks now, which at least allows her to use valuable skills and restore middle-class security. And she makes a great latte.

Some people want to blame parents for the failure of American students to achieve. If parents would only spend more time engaged in enrichment activities with their kids like reading to them or taking them to museums or on nature hikes. Parents are busy though; I don’t think I really took time to consider how busy they are. We must also remember that it’s not a parent’s job to teach their children. That’s why they pay us.

Some parents are like I was and have this notion that they have a responsibility to be their child’s first teacher. One actually asked me why we spent so many days on test prep activities and why there wasn’t a program in our school to help foster her daughter’s love of music.

I told her what our superintendent told us: If we don’t teach them how to test properly, how do we expect them to perform well on the test? And just because our school doesn’t have band or orchestra any more, that doesn’t stop her daughter from taking lessons after school. I then directed her to our district website that assures all parents that we are preparing their children for the technology-driven world of the 21st century and beyond.

That’s why we moved many of our classes online. Kids love computers, and as with many innovative schools, ours allows students to take classes on their own through a program called Edgenuity. Why burden teachers with teaching skills and concepts that students can easily learn online? The learning modules guide students through lessons at their own pace while keeping them subdued and compliant. As our leaders in the White House have told us, students are empowered by “individualized learning and rich, digital content.” While the initial investment was costly, our school was able to reduce the teaching staff by four teachers. What a great lesson in economics for our students.

Despite all of these innovations; despite increased enrollment in A.P. classes; despite electives like Algebra II and Earth Science; despite replacing our library with a computer lab; despite the timed readings, standardized lesson plans, and healthier lunches, our students are still ranked below Russia. We are failing them. I am failing them.

I have a plan though. Yes, it is a little selfish. As you requested, in the coming years, my pay will be tied directly to my students’ achievement. Since we measure this achievement through standardized testing, my goal will be to spend every minute of every class teaching to the test. Some lessons, of course, will be on the proper use of a #2 pencil for efficient circle darkening. With a nationalized curriculum, so much of the guesswork will be taken out. It won’t be the most exciting or “fun” class for my students, but what they fail to understand is that education is all about job security and competing in a global marketplace. Why else would we send our kids to school?

This is a standardized, multiple-choice world. I know that now.

Michael Mau

Found HERE.

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The Cold-Medicine Racket

There are now hundreds of flashy “cold and flu” products, but still only a handful of simple, cheap ingredients. Here’s one new way to cut through the noise.

One in four people, when buying an over-the-counter medicine to treat a headache, will go for a brand name product. Unless that person is a pharmacist. In that case, according to research from the National Bureau of Economic Research, they’ll almost certainly buy a generic version. The pharmacists know, and trust, that the drugs are identical.

But Bayer aspirin costs $6.29 at CVS, while the same amount of CVS-brand aspirin costs less than a third of that, $1.99. The two products are required by law to be “bioequivalent,” and CVS even has signs imploring shoppers to go for the cheaper option. Yet many people do no such thing. The difference in price between brand names and generics accounts for tens of billions of dollars “wasted” every year by Americans in pharmacies, according to the economics researchers. They also found that more highly educated people are more likely to buy generic medications, concluding that “misinformation explains a sizable share of the brand premium for health products.”

Consumer confusion, or misplaced trust, is compounded by the fact that a drug store is likely to have upwards of 300 cold-and-flu products. Some are generic, and some are branded concoctions with increasingly opaque names. Remember when Mucinex was Mucinex? You could take Mucinex, and it broke up your mucus, and you expectorated out some mucus and went about your business. Now there is Mucinex Fast-Max DM Max; Mucinex Fast-Max Severe Congestion and Cough; Mucinex Fast-Max Cold, Flu, and Sore Throat; and on and on. Just thinking about all of that Mucinex is enough to make you expectorate something.

It’s a little underwhelming to learn that Mucinex Fast-Max DM Max, a name that seems to promise instant invincibility, is just Mucinex plus a common cough suppressant. It’s the same cough suppressant that’s in almost every other cough-suppressing elixir product: dextromethorphan. Mucinex Fast-Max DM Max has the same active ingredients as Mucinex DM, only in liquid instead of pill form. Mucinex Fast-Max Severe Congestion and Cough is identical to Mucinex Fast-Max DM Max, plus a little phenylephrine (which is also sold as Sudafed). Fast-Max Cold, Flu, and Sore Throat is identical to Mucinex Fast-Max Severe Congestion and Cough, plus acetaminophen (also sold as Tylenol).

That’s just the beginning of the compendium of Mucinex products, not to mention the Tylenol products (Tylenol Sinus Congestion, Tylenol Cold Multisymptom Liquid, Tylenol Cold Multisymptom Liquid Severe, etc.) and Sudafed products (Sudafed Congestion, Sudafed Pressure Pain Mucus, etc.) that are simple reiterations of the Mucinex products. They are all just permutations of, at most, the same five active ingredients.

There’s a decongestant (usually phenylephrine), a cough suppressant (usually dextromethorphan), a pain/fever reducer (usually acetaminophen), plus or minus an expectorant (usually guaifenesin), and something that will put you to sleep (usually diphenhydramine). All of those can be purchased individually, or in almost any combination, in cheaper generic forms.

In a frail attempt to address some of that misinformation, the Food and Drug Administration’s web site has a section titled “Myths and Facts About Generic Drugs.” One myth is that “brand-name drugs are made in modern manufacturing facilities, and generics are often made in substandard facilities.” But, the FDA counters with the reminder that it “won’t permit drugs to be made in substandard facilities.” And to be approved by the FDA, a generic version of a drug must deliver the same amount of active ingredients into your bloodstream in the same amount of time as the brand-name drug.

Read much more HERE.

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