CLOSE
Original image
iStock

New Study Reveals How Brushing Your Teeth Keeps Your Heart Healthy

Original image
iStock

Numerous studies have suggested a link between gum disease and heart disease. Now, new research clarifies how bacteria in our mouths can lead to cardiovascular health problems. (You might want to go brush and floss before you continue reading.)

Porphyromonas gingivalis is an oral bacteria that causes periodontitis, a more advanced stage of the common gum disease gingivitis. Oral bacteria can break free during chewing or toothbrushing and enter the bloodstream, binding to blood cells and making their way to blood vessels. This is particularly likely to occur in people with serious gum infections.

Scientists have previously identified P. gingivalis in the arterial plaque of heart attack patients, and animal studies show that P. gingivalis can both cause and accelerate the buildup of plaque inside the coronary and aortic arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis. The accumulation of plaque provokes inflammation, which is thought to be a crucial component of atherosclerosis.

But exactly how P. gingivalis participates in that process has remained mysterious—until now. A team of researchers led by Torbjörn Bengtsson of Örebro University in Sweden infected aortic smooth muscle cells with P. gingivalis. They observed that the bacteria altered gene expression in a way that dramatically increased inflammationThis is the first time the chemical process has been observed at a molecular level. Their findings were recently published in the journal Infection and Immunity.

In addition to identifying the mechanism by which P. gingivalis provoked inflammation, the researchers discovered that the combination of the bacteria and stress may amplify the risk of a heart attack. “P. gingivalis markedly increases the sensitivity of platelets … to adrenaline, which means that a combination of periodontitis and stress increases the risk for [blood clot and heart attack],” said Bengtsson.

Now that they better understand the mechanism linking periodontitis to heart disease, the researchers will continue searching for biomarkers that could help diagnose and treat the disease more quickly. Nearly half of adults over age 30 in the United States suffer from periodontal disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After controlling for factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, alcohol consumption and smoking, the prevalence of cardiovascular diseases in patients with periodontitis is still 25–50 percent higher than in people who don’t have the gum disease, said Bengtsson, who also emphasized the importance of good oral hygiene.

“Taking care of your teeth by careful brushing and flossing and going to the dentist regularly is of course basic and very important,” he said, adding that removal of plaque through regular dental cleanings to prevent periodontitis is still the general treatment.

However, his team is also testing new methods of controlling oral bacteria before they cause serious gum disease. It turns out that a protein in some lactobacillus—the so-called “good” bacteria that help the body fight a multitude of ailments from diarrhea to yeast infections—may also hold promise for preventing and treating periodontitis.

Original image
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants
Original image
iStock

In the wake of Flint, Michigan's water crisis, you may have begun to wonder: Is my tap water safe? How would I know? To put your mind at ease—or just to satisfy your scientific curiosity—you can find out exactly what's in your municipal water pretty easily, as Popular Science reports. Depending on where you live, it might even be free.

A new water quality test called Tap Score, launched on Kickstarter in June 2017, helps you test for the most common household water contaminants for $120 per kit. You just need to take a few samples, mail them to the lab, and you'll get the results back in 10 days, telling you about lead levels, copper and cadmium content, arsenic, and other common hazardous materials that can make their way into water via pipes or wells. If you're mostly worried about lead, you can get a $40 test that only tells you about the lead and copper content of your water.

In New York State, a free lead-testing program will send you a test kit on request that allows you to send off samples of your water to a state-certified lab for processing, no purchase required. A few weeks later, you'll get a letter with the results, telling you what kind of lead levels were found in your water. This option is great if you live in New York, but if your state doesn't offer free testing (or only offers it to specific locations, like schools), there are other budget-friendly ways to test, too.

While mailing samples of your water off to a certified lab is the most accurate way to test your water, you can do it entirely at home with inexpensive strip tests that will only set you back $10 to $15. These tests aren't as sensitive as lab versions, and they don't test for as many contaminants, but they can tell you roughly whether you should be concerned about high levels of toxic metals like lead. The strip tests will only give you positive or negative readings, though, whereas the EPA and other official agencies test for the concentration of contaminants (the parts-per-billion) to determine the safety of a water source. If you're truly concerned with what's in your water, you should probably stick to sending your samples off to a professional, since you'll get a more detailed report of the results from a lab than from a colored strip.

In the future, there will likely be an even quicker way to test for lead and other metals—one that hooks up to your smartphone. Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Colorado, won the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge by inventing Tethys, a faster lead-testing device than what's currently on the market. With Tethys, instead of waiting for a lab, you can get results instantly. It's not commercially available yet, though, so for now, we'll have to stick with mail-away options.

[h/t Popular Science]

Original image
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
arrow
Medicine
Bill Gates is Spending $100 Million to Find a Cure for Alzheimer's
Original image
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Not everyone who's blessed with a long life will remember it. Individuals who live into their mid-80s have a nearly 50 percent chance of developing Alzheimer's, and scientists still haven't discovered any groundbreaking treatments for the neurodegenerative disease [PDF]. To pave the way for a cure, Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has announced that he's donating $100 million to dementia research, according to Newsweek.

On his blog, Gates explained that Alzheimer's disease places a financial burden on both families and healthcare systems alike. "This is something that governments all over the world need to be thinking about," he wrote, "including in low- and middle-income countries where life expectancies are catching up to the global average and the number of people with dementia is on the rise."

Gates's interest in Alzheimer's is both pragmatic and personal. "This is something I know a lot about, because men in my family have suffered from Alzheimer’s," he said. "I know how awful it is to watch people you love struggle as the disease robs them of their mental capacity, and there is nothing you can do about it. It feels a lot like you're experiencing a gradual death of the person that you knew."

Experts still haven't figured out quite what causes Alzheimer's, how it progresses, and why certain people are more prone to it than others. Gates believes that important breakthroughs will occur if scientists can understand the condition's etiology (or cause), create better drugs, develop techniques for early detection and diagnosis, and make it easier for patients to enroll in clinical trials, he said.

Gates plans to donate $50 million to the Dementia Discovery Fund, a venture capital fund that supports Alzheimer's research and treatment developments. The rest will go to research startups, Reuters reports.

[h/t Newsweek]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios