Breast Milk With an Order of Healthy Bacteria on the Side


I have fond memories of my children as infants – the coos, the cuddles, the cuteness, and the overwhelming love. That fondness does not extend to the shared bodily fluids – like the stream of urine in the face when changing a diaper. (New parents quickly learn to cover up the offending bazooka.)  Nor does it extend to the runny poop that seeps out of usually absorbent diapers – once on a pair of white pants I was wearing while visiting friends. Nor to the vomit and the spit… Wait! It turns out I was wrong about the spit. Saliva, when properly placed actually plays a role in communication. I am not talking about dissing someone by spitting in their face. The spit chatting  I am referring to occurs while babies are nursing.

A plethora of recent studies show the importance of our gut biome.  Now it seems, that mother’s milk, once thought of as sterile, is teeming with bacteria that colonize the infant’s gut.  And those bacterial help the baby’s growing immune system and metabolism. Breast milk also affects the oral microbiome of newborn infants. 

Dr. Sweeney from the University of Queensland, Australia noted that the make-up of newborns’ mouth microbiota is created by the mixing of breastmilk and babies’ saliva and the combination is a significant factor in health and wellbeing.

“Changes to these bacterial communities in newborns have important implications for infection or disease early in life,” she said. She also believes that the antimicrobial activity seen in the mouth may also continue within the baby’s stomach and intestines.

The saliva is essential because it turns out that pumped breast milk does not carry the same proliferation of beneficial bacteria.   Dr. Azad from the University of Manitoba claims that when the mother nurses some of the baby’s bacteria enters the mother’s breast. Biologist Katie Hinde of Arizona State thinks this backwash of saliva may actually cause the mother to “create made-to-order immune factors that are delivered back to the baby in milk.

So, nursing moms- next time you are wiping off all that spit, don’t think ‘ugh’, think wellness.

Were Cavemen Sexist? Not According to Researchers

If you believe that the feminists of the 1900’s introduced sexual equality you are not alone. You would also – according to several scientists – be mistaken.  Anthropologists claim that women and men were treated equally in hunter-gatherer societies, and it wasn’t until the neo-lithic period and the dawn of agriculture, that society became sexist.  If this is true, then men and women were considered equal for most of the history of mankind.

Much of the research into sexual equality was done by observing modern-day hunter-gatherers.  Anthropologists Mark Dyble and Andrea Migliano added some computer modeling and genealogical data to prove a very clever hypothesis.  The inspiration for their research seems to have sprung from the main-stay of stand-up comedians  –   in-law jokes.   

Did the anthropologists imagine the following conversations?

Him – “I think we should live with my family.”

Her – “Are you kidding? Your mother always criticizes the way I cook.  We should live with my family.”

Him – “Hah!  Your brother has a really annoying laugh.  He even laughs when he eats and his food sprays out of his mouth. It’s disgusting.”

Her – “Better than your stone-faced sister. She has no sense of humor t all.”

Him – “Well, your sister….”  And on and on, until finally one of them says,

Her – “Okay, fine. We won’t live with either of our families. We’ll live with people who aren’t related to us.”

Perhaps, perhaps not. But they did work on the assumption based on the research, that individuals want to live with their own families and not with their in-laws. In male-dominated societies, people tend to live with their male relatives and vice versa in matriarchal ones. They found that when both partners had the same influence in making decisions, the groups consisted of more unrelated people than when only one partner was responsible for making decisions. Based on this finding, the anthropologists extrapolated that since hunter-gatherer groups live with mostly un-related individuals their societies were egalitarian in regard to gender and both men and woman had input when deciding with whom they would live.

According to Dylbe and Migliano this ‘no-win’ result led to cooperating with others, less inbreeding, and fostered wide-ranging social networks.  Then, when agriculture came along, men starting saving resources, and eventually the egalitarian hunter-gatherer society broke-down, along with sexual equality.

Do Parasites Protect Against Alzheimer’s?


The Tsimane tribe of Bolivia seem to make a habit of confounding scientists.  First, as reported in a previous blog, they have the healthiest hearts ever – despite living in a constant state of infection-induced inflammation. For years, scientists have been telling us that inflammation is bad for our hearts. Apparently not for the Tsimane.  Now scientists find they experience a much lower rate of Alzheimer’s. Scientists also tell us that those of us who have a copy of the Alzheimer’s gene, ApoE4, have a higher risk of getting Alzheimer’s. Two copies increase the risk by 10%. For us, maybe, but not the Tsimane.

For the Tsimane, the ApoE4 gene seems to be helpful and tribe members rarely have dementia. Dr. Trumble of the Tsimane Project, showed that members of the Tsimane tribe who had either one or two copies of ApoE4, actually performed better on cognitive tests than those that did not have the gene.

Puzzled by this conundrum, Trumble, who knew that most tribe members had suffered from parasitic infections wondered if somehow these infections helped.  The result — for those tribe members who had the ApoE4 gene, but never had an infection, the gene correlated to lower mental fitness.  Studies of ancient bones show that the ApoE4 gene was nearly ubiquitous in our ancestors, and probably helped protect them from parasitic infections. But with no parasites to be found, the gene could be causing the brain to attack itself.  

It seems that our extreme cleanliness habits have led not only to an increase in asthma and allergies, but Alzheimer’s too.

Researchers are hoping that the Tsimane may hold the key to the cure for Alzheimer’s. But they need to be quick – before our industrialized civilization destroys their way of life.