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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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science
New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
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Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

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Food
A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'
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The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]

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