All posts by William Stiff

Breastmilk sharing is becoming increasingly widespread despite risks to the baby

More and more often, women who are unable to produce enough breast milk for their children resort to the practice of sharing breast milk, also known as “milk sharing,” a practice that even sees the sale of milk online from the same mothers.

Using milk donated by other mothers on an informal basis is a practice that is not universally considered safe and is discouraged by the pediatric medical community, as reported by a press release presenting a new study presented in turn at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) conference.

According to Nikita Sood, a researcher at Cohen Children’s Medical Center – Northwell Health in New York and author of the study, sharing breast milk is becoming increasingly widespread and popular and it is therefore important that the same doctors are aware of this level of diffusion and deepen the risks associated with this practice.

The study made use of the answers provided by 650 mothers, more than half of whom declared that they had no problems regarding this practice, carried out informally and not, for example, through “official” milk berries. Almost 80% of the mothers interviewed did not give their breast milk donors a medical examination because they “trusted them.” However, there is a fairly high risk of the potential spread of disease or exposure to substances such as drugs, alcohol, drugs or other types of contaminants when supplying the baby with milk from another mother’s breast.

According to the AAP’s own recommendation, those women who are unable to produce breast milk can supplement diets in other ways, such as with artificial milk or with breast milk stored in formal milk banks. More than half of the people interviewed stated that they did not use “official” milk banks as they were mostly concerned with the cost or, to a lesser extent, with the quality or ability to obtain a prescription.

Westernization has profoundly changed our microbiome

Lifestyle can change the intestinal microbiome, a sort of ecosystem of bacteria existing in our intestine that can have various roles and that can also be a support for our immune system. This is confirmed by a new study, which appeared in Cell Host & Microbe and was conducted by researchers from the University of Trento and Eurac of Bolzano, who made up above all the analysis of the remains of Ötzi, human remains found in 1991 in the Alps belonging to a man lived between 3300 and 3100 BC.

By examining the intestine specimens of Ötzi’s remains, the researchers confirmed that there is a connection between the microbiome bacteria and the lifestyle change that today distinguishes the Western world above all. In particular, the connection exists between the bacteria and the increase of conditions such as obesity, autoimmune and gastrointestinal diseases, allergies and other complex conditions. In the press release that presents the study, they talk about a “Westernization process” that has brought about profound changes in our diet and that has meant that today foods are much richer in fat and poorer in fiber. This, combined with a more sedentary lifestyle and the development of new hygiene habits as well as medical products of various kinds, while making our lives safer has profoundly affected our microbiome.

In particular, the researchers analyzed the Prevotella copri, an intestinal bacterium. Nicola Segata, one of the main authors of the study together with Adrian Tett of the CIBio of the University of Trento, explains that they first discovered that it is not a single species. In fact, the bacterium is part of four different species. They later discovered that three of them had always been found in the microbiomes of non-westernized populations rather than in westernized ones. When the bacterium is found in the intestines of westernized populations, it is usually of a single species, which of course goes to the detriment of diversification.

The researchers, therefore, thought that the same phenomenon of “westernization” of our habits, above all food habits, caused the decrease of the diversification of this bacterium in our intestines, which probably happened also for other species of bacteria not analyzed by researchers. This same hypothesis, according to Segata, is supported by the analyzes that the same researchers carried out on ancient DNA, which was possible with a collaboration with the Institute for the study of mummies of Eurac Research. In particular, analyzing Ötzi’s intestines, the researchers noticed that three of the species of this bacterium were present in his intestine.

This multiple presence can also be identified in various fossilized stool samples dating back over a thousand years ago and found in Mexico. Now the only thing to understand is to what consequences this decrease in the diversification of our intestine bacteria and in general the changes of our intestinal biome that are taking place over the last few centuries can bring, considering also that the human body itself has never substantially changed to genetic level during the same period.

Oxytocin in babies is influenced by the behaviour of the mother

A new study analyzes the development of oxytocin in the body of children, a development that can be influenced by the behavior of mothers themselves. Oxytocin is an important hormone linked mainly to social interaction and plays this role in many mammals. This same hormone, as reported in the press release presenting the study on the Max Planck Society website, elaborates trust levels and relationships and can also be triggered with a simple visual contact or a touch.

In the new epigenetic study, conducted by researchers Kathleen Krol and Jessica Connelly of the University of Virginia and Tobias Grossmann of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Cerebral Sciences, researchers show that mothers’ behavior itself can have a significant influence on the development of oxytocin in children.

As Grossmann himself explains, it is already known that oxytocin is involved in the first social processes of the child and may in the long run also influence social behavior later, the more complex ones. The researcher himself explains the meaning of the research they produced: “However, in this study, we asked ourselves whether the mother’s behavior could have a decisive influence on the development of the child’s oxytocin system. The advances in molecular biology, in particular epigenetics, have recently allowed us to study the interaction between nature and breeding, in this case, the care of children, down to the smallest detail. This is exactly what we did here.”

The researchers analyzed various saliva samples taken from the mother and child when he was five months old and then a year later when he was 18 months, all while observing free play interactions between the mothers and the children themselves. According to Krol, the results show that “The oxytocin receptor is essential for the hormone oxytocin to exert its effects and the gene can determine how many are produced.”

In general, the results of this study show that people do not interact with each other simply based on genetics but that the same interaction is based on a balance between genetics and experiences. This means that the first social interactions that the child may have, even with a breeder who is not a parent, can strongly influence biological and psychological development through changes in oxytocin.

Longer hormone therapy associated with better cognitive status in women

Increasingly the emphasis has been on reducing estrogen levels during the transition to menopause with regard to general brain health, especially cognitive function. To counteract this reduction, more and more often, so-called “hormonal therapy” is used. A new study, published in Menopause, suggests a longer window regarding the use of hormone therapy.

It is suspected, among other things, that estrogens may play a role in raising the risk of Alzheimer’s in women considering that, for example, two-thirds of 5.5 million cases of Alzheimer’s in the United States are women. In addition, previous studies have highlighted the role of estrogen in learning and memory.

In this new study, researchers analyzed data from 2000 post-menopausal women followed for 12 years. The results showed, according to the press release that presented the study, that increased exposure to estrogen could be linked to a better state of cognition in adult women. Furthermore, the researchers discovered that those women who started hormone therapy first showed scores, in cognitive tests, higher than those women who started such therapy later.

Stephanie Faubion, medical director of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS), comments on these findings in the press release: “Although the assessment of the risk-benefit ratio of hormone therapy use is complicated and must be customized, this study provides further evidence of the beneficial cognitive effects of hormone therapy, particularly when started immediately after menopause. This study also highlights the potential effect of early estrogen deprivation on cognitive health in the context of premature or early menopause without adequate estrogen replacement.”

Chronic pain strongly involves a protein called RGS4

An important finding regarding chronic pain was made by a group of researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. In their study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers explain that they discovered a protein called RGS4 (Regulator of G protein Signaling 4) that plays a very important role in maintaining chronic pain.

The transition from acute pain to chronic pain occurs through adaptations in the immune cells, in the glial and in the neuronal ones, changes that at the moment are not completely understood. It is precisely this lack of understanding that underlies the failure of many chronic pain medications which can also cause side effects. The only drugs that seem to actually work are opioids but these can cause serious long-term side effects.

This new discovery, which the researchers themselves refer to as “exciting”, could instead be very useful for creating new drugs that target this protein to stop chronic pain. As Venetia Zachariou, a professor at Mount Sinai explains, the RGS4 protein appears to strongly contribute to the transition from acute to pathologic/chronic pain.

The experiments, in this case, were carried out on mice: the researchers used genetically modified mice in which the action of the RGS4 protein was deactivated. This deactivation did not affect acute pain or the induction of chronic pain itself but the mice themselves recovered within three weeks.

The researchers also tried to reduce the expression of RGS4 in a particular area of ​​the brain and this caused recovery from mechanical and cold allodynia. Now researchers are trying to study the influence of RGS4 also in other areas of the body such as the spinal cord or in other areas of the brain that regulate mood.

Human cells that produce testosterone grown in the laboratory

One way to grow human cells to produce testosterone in the laboratory was developed by a group of researchers at the University of Southern California Pharmacy School.

The researchers hope that with this method it will be possible to arrive at treatments to counteract low levels of testosterone in the body by using special personalized replacement cells, as reported by Vassilios Papadopoulos, a researcher who led the study.

The researchers transformed induced pluripotent stem cells, derived from human skin or blood, into Leydig cells, which are the cells present in human testes that produce the male sex hormone.
According to the researchers, Leydig’s cells grown in the laboratory looked the same as their real counterparts.

The low level of testosterone in men, also known as hypogonadism, can lead to fertility problems and to sexual function in general and can affect mood as well as conditions such as bone density and obesity.

The level of testosterone in the body is lowered naturally in the course of the age, however more or less sudden lowering can also be caused by infections such as mumps or by treatments for cancer during childhood or adolescence.

The main therapy is that which sees the intake of testosterone which can be applied as a gel or can be taken orally or injected.

“Leydig’s human cell transplant is just a few years away,” the researcher said.