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Does 'Vaginal Seeding' Work? Doctors Say There's Not Enough Evidence

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People will do just about anything for their kids. And for some parents of babies born by Caesarean section, that includes swabbing a baby with bacteria from their mother’s vagina. It’s a new idea, but it’s catching on—despite the fact that there’s no evidence that it helps, as several doctors note in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). 

The practice is called “vaginal seeding,” and aims to bolster a newborn’s health with the helpful starter bacteria he or she might have missed by skipping the birth canal. Microbiome is the collective term for the ecosystems of bacteria, fungi, and viruses living on and in your body. As you’ve probably heard by now, not all microbes are bad. In fact, you need a certain diversity and balance of microbes to keep your body functioning. You pick up these microbes everywhere you go, from the doorknob of a hotel room to kissing a friend on the cheek. Most people get their first microbial download as they enter the world. But C-section babies don’t. 

The concept seems sound enough. But, as the authors of the BMJ editorial explain, there’s simply no evidence that vaginal seeding is actually effective or safe.

"Demand for this process has increased among women attending hospitals in the UK—but this has outstripped professional awareness and guidance,” co-author Aubrey Cunnington said in a press statement. “At the moment we're a long way from having the evidence base to recommend this practice. There is simply no evidence to suggest it has benefits—and it may carry potential risks." 

Swabbing a baby transfers all kinds of microbes, both harmful and helpful. And since there’s no catalog of which bacteria are being shared, there’s no way of knowing which pathogens might be causing a baby’s sickness down the line. 

"In some countries, including the UK, we don't test pregnant women for the bacteria group B streptococcus,” Cunnington continued. “This is carried by around one in four pregnant women, and although it poses no risk to the mother, it can cause fatal infections in babies. There are also other conditions that cause no symptoms in the mother, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes simplex virus that could be transferred on the swab. One colleague had to intervene when a mother with genital herpes, who had undergone a Caesarean section, was about to undertake this process. Swabbing would have potentially transferred the herpes virus to the baby." 

Hospital staff will also not expect a C-section baby to be vulnerable to the kinds of infections as a baby born of vaginal delivery. “It's important [that] parents tell staff they have performed the procedure, so the healthcare team are aware the baby is at risk of the same infections as a baby born by vaginal delivery," Cunnington added.

The bottom line is that parents and physicians should wait for more data before whipping out the swabs. In the meantime, Cunnington says, they can focus on evidence-based methods of boosting a baby’s microbiome: "Encouraging breast feeding and avoiding unnecessary antibiotics may be more important to a baby's gut bacteria than worrying about transferring vaginal fluid on a swab."

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Live Smarter
Why You Might Not Want to Order Tea or Coffee On Your Next Flight
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A cup of tea or coffee at 40,000 feet may sound like a great way to give yourself an extra energy boost during a tiring trip, but it might be healthier to nap away your fatigue—or at least wait until hitting ground to indulge in a caffeine fix. Because, in addition to being tepid and watery, plane brew could be teeming with germs and other harmful life forms, according to Business Insider.

Multiple studies and investigations have taken a closer look at airplane tap water, and the results aren’t pretty—or appetizing. In 2002, The Wall Street Journal conducted a study that looked at water samples taken from 14 different flights from 10 different airlines. Reporters discovered “a long list of microscopic life you don’t want to drink, from Salmonella and Staphylococcus to tiny insect eggs," they wrote.

And they added, "Worse, contamination was the rule, not the exception: Almost all of the bacteria levels were tens, sometimes hundreds, of times above U.S. government limits."

A 2004 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that water supplies on 15 percent of 327 national and international commercial aircrafts were contaminated to varying degrees [PDF]. This all led up to the 2011 Aircraft Drinking Water Rule, an EPA initiative to make airlines clean up. But in 2013, an NBC investigation found that at least one out of every 10 commercial U.S. airplanes still had issues with water contamination.

Find out how airplane water gets so gross, and why turning water into coffee or tea isn’t enough to kill residual germs by watching Business Insider’s video below.

[h/t Business Insider]

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science
Scientists May Have Found the Real Cause of Dyslexia—And a Way to Treat It
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Dyslexia is often described as trying to read letters as they jump around the page. Because of its connections to reading difficulties and trouble in school, the condition is often blamed on the brain. But according to a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the so-called learning disability may actually start in the eyes.

As The Guardian reports, a team of French scientists say they've discovered a key physiological difference between the eyes of those with dyslexia and those without it. Our eyes have tiny light-receptor cells called rods and cones. The center of a region called the fovea is dominated by cones, which are also responsible for color perception.

Just as most of us have a dominant hand, most have a dominant eye too, which has more neural connections to the brain. The study of 60 people, divided evenly between those with dyslexia and those without, found that in the eyes of non-dyslexic people, the arrangement of the cones is asymmetrical: The dominant eye has a round, cone-free hole, while the other eye has an unevenly shaped hole. However, in people with dyslexia, both eyes have the same round hole. So when they're looking at something in front of them, such as a page in a book, their eyes perceive exact mirror images, which end up fighting for visual domination in the brain. This could explain why it's sometimes impossible for a dyslexic person to distinguish a "b" from a "d" or an "E" from a "3".

These results challenge previous research that connects dyslexia to cognitive abilities. In a study published earlier this year, people with the condition were found to have a harder time remembering musical notes, faces, and spoken words. In light of the new findings, it's unclear whether this is at the root of dyslexia or if growing up with vision-related reading difficulties affects brain plasticity.

If dyslexia does come down to some misarranged light-receptors in the eye, diagnosing the disorder could be as simple as giving an eye exam. The explanation could also make it easy to treat without invasive surgery. In the study, the authors describe using an LED lamp that blinks faster than the human eye can perceive to "cancel out" one of the mirror images perceived by dyslexic readers, leaving only one true image. The volunteers who read with it called it a "magic lamp." The researchers hope to further experiment with it to see see if it's a viable treatment option for the millions of people living with dyslexia.

[h/t The Guardian]

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