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Smoking Messes Up Your Mouth’s Bacterial Balance, Study Says

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Nobody still thinks smoking is good for you, but we can now add another item to the towering pile of reasons to quit: smoking can throw off the balance of helpful and harmful bacteria living in your mouth. These findings were published last week in The ISME Journal.

The microorganisms colonizing your body are more important—and more influential—than most people realize. There are bacteria, viruses, and even fungi living all over your body, inside and out. The genetic makeup of a microbial community is called a microbiome. And the health, diversity, and balance in each microbiome can mean the difference between sickness and health.

A healthy mouth is home to about 600 different species of bacteria. Scientists know that those bacteria are sensitive to what we eat and how we care for our teeth, but few studies have examined how they might be affected by smoking. So researchers at New York University started collecting spit.

They recruited 1204 people who had already enrolled in separate cancer risk studies at the National Institutes of Health and the American Cancer Society. Of those people, 112 were smokers, 571 former smokers, and 521 nonsmokers. Each study participant was given about two teaspoons of Scope mouthwash, which they swished around in their mouth and then spit into a test tube. The spit was frozen and sent for DNA analysis to sort out the bacterial contents of each participant’s oral microbiome.

As expected, smoking was not a great influence on oral bacteria. The overall profile of their microbiota looked very different from that of nonsmokers. It wasn’t just that they had less of some species; they also had more of others, including 10 percent more Streptococcus species—that’s strep bacteria—than nonsmokers. The researchers found that smokers had higher levels of 150 different bacterial species and lower levels of another 70.

There is some good news in all this. The mouths of former smokers, especially those who had quit 10 or more years ago, were identical in bacterial profile to the mouths of nonsmokers. Their oral microbiota were able to bounce back after they quit smoking, although the researchers weren’t able to determine exactly how long it took.

"Our study is the first to suggest that smoking has a profound impact on the oral microbiome," senior investigator and epidemiologist Jiyoung Ahn said in a press statement. "Further experiments will be needed, however, to prove that these changes weaken the body's defenses against cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco smoke, or trigger other diseases in the mouth, lungs, or gut."

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Beyond the Label: How to Pick the Right Medicines For Your Cold and Flu Symptoms
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The average household spends an annual total of $338 on various over-the-counter medicines, with consumers making around 26 pharmacy runs each year, according to 2015 data from the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. To save cash and minimize effort (here's why you'd rather be sleeping), the Cleveland Clinic recommends avoiding certain cold and flu products, and selecting products containing specific active ingredients.

Since medicine labels can be confusing (lots of people likely can’t remember—let alone spell—words like cetirizine, benzocaine, or dextromethorphan), the famous hospital created an interactive infographic to help patients select the right product for them. Click on your symptom, and you’ll see ingredients that have been clinically proven to relieve runny or stuffy noses, fevers, aches, and coughs. Since every medicine is different, you’ll also receive safety tips regarding dosage levels, side effects, and the average duration of effectiveness.

Next time you get sick, keep an eye out for these suggested elements while comparing products at the pharmacy. In the meantime, a few pro tips: To avoid annoying side effects, steer clear of multi-symptom products if you think just one ingredient will do it for you. And while you’re at it, avoid nasal sprays with phenylephrine and cough syrups with guaifenesin, as experts say they may not actually work. Cold and flu season is always annoying—but it shouldn’t be expensive to boot.

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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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