The human body: An inspiring biological work of art? Or a meaty sack of germs and fluids? Either way, there’s still a lot we don’t know about what goes on in there — and scientists are constantly attempting to find out more. Here are the most interesting things we learned about our bodies in the last seven days…
People Keep Catching Flesh-Eating Bacteria from Swimming
Across the country this week, multiple reports surfaced of people contracting nasty infections while enjoying the various spoils of summer. A Florida man contracted necrotizing fasciitis on his ass and underwent six surgeries in six days to remove the infection. He’s lucky to be alive — a woman died from the same infection in late June after wading through the waters of a different Florida beach.
Meanwhile, an Indianapolis woman nearly lost her leg after contracting pseudomonas folliculitis from a hot tub on vacation in Tennessee. After four days of intravenous antibiotics, the extremely nasty hair follicle infection subsided. Lastly, and most tragically, a North Carolina man passed away earlier this month after contracting Naegleria fowleri, a brain-eating amoeba, at a North Carolina waterpark.
So here’s a hot summer tip: Stay out of the water.
Your Waist Size Matters Way More Than BMI
At least so says a new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in which 156,000 women between the ages of 50 and 79 had their health tracked from 1993 to 2017. Those with a normal BMI but higher waist circumference were 31 percent more likely to die over the observation period –– and one percent more likely than those with a BMI in the “obese” range. The most common causes of death for both of these groups were cardiovascular disease and obesity-related cancers. It’s a possible indicator that health isn’t about whether or not you have fat, but where you store it.
Maybe that extra junk in the trunk isn’t so bad after all.
Mom Brains v. Dad Brains
Researchers at Louisiana State University have found one possible difference between male and female brains in terms of how their oxytocin systems function. Namely, an area of the female mouse brain activated by oxytocin isn’t in male mouse brains. This specific area of the brain is thought to be responsible for maternal instincts, so it’s possible that oxytocin — better known as the love hormone — helps dictate behavior in motherhood. It also might provide a possible causes for postpartum depression in humans, since women’s oxytocin receptors function differently after childbirth. It, however, doesn’t explain the phenomenon of postpartum depression in men.
Breathing Is Now More Deadly Than Ever Before
According to a study recently published in PLOS Medicine, more than 30,000 people in the U.S. died of air-pollution-related causes in 2015. Researchers studied deaths and particulate levels in the air between 1999 and 2015, with the final year of the study finding the most deaths from lung disease independent of smoking rates. Though the EPA sets the safe limit of particulate matter at 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air, thousands of deaths still occurred in counties well under that limit.
The study also found that air-pollution deaths often correlate with social inequality. Low-income and predominantly black counties are at an increased risk, as are areas with low high school graduation rates. This particularly affects states like Arkansas and Alabama, but L.A. also sees some of the most significant reductions in life expectancy from pollution, so if the forthcoming mega-earthquake doesn’t kill us Angelenos, maybe air pollution will.
But hey, at least it’s sunny!
Owning Cows Makes for Healthier Babies
Rural babies have a much more diverse set of bacteria and microbes in their guts than urban babies, according to a study from The Ohio State University. Despite how that may sound, it’s actually a good thing: Exposure to bacteria helps strengthen the immune system and lessens risks for allergies or auto-immune ailments like asthma. And one way to be around different microbes? Keeping livestock. Researchers specifically studied Amish children, who are embedded in farm life from an early age. “From the day of their birth, these Amish babies were exposed to various microbial species inside and outside of their homes,” said one researcher.
It’s possible that other aspects of Amish life helped strengthen children’s immune systems — for example, most of the children were breastfed and ate a diet consisting largely of homegrown produce. However, studies analyzing the microbiome of piglets point to the livestock theory having some validity. In other words, get your baby a pet pig, pronto.