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Could a Fungus Cause Crohn’s Disease?

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Poop-based scientific breakthroughs are coming through on the regular these days. The latest: Researchers found unique fungal-bacterial relationships in fecal samples from people with Crohn’s disease. In their report, published September 20 in the open access journal mBio [PDF], they say fungus may even play a role in the disease’s development.

For those of you unacquainted with Crohn’s disease, here’s a primer: It’s terrible. Crohn’s is a chronic illness of the digestive tract that can cause inflammation, pain, diarrhea, cramps, fatigue, malnutrition, and weight loss. Doctors aren’t sure what causes it, which means they can only try to ease a patient’s symptoms. Its triggers can vary from person to person; for many, food is a prime culprit, but, as the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases helpfully points out, “Some research suggests that stress, including the stress of living with Crohn’s disease, can make symptoms worse.”

So identifying the root of the problem could do a whole lot of people (at least half a million in the U.S. alone) a whole lot of good. Because Crohn’s lives in the digestive tract, the microbiome, or community of microbes living in the body, has been a natural focus of research. Most studies to date have focused on the bacterial aspects of the microbiome, but there’s a lot more going on in there—including fungus.

An international team of researchers collected and tested fecal samples from 69 people in 22 French and Belgian families. Twenty of the participants had Crohn’s; 28 were the non-diagnosed family members they shared a home with; and the remaining 21 were healthy participants living in the same region.

The microbial communities of participants with Crohn’s had a distinct profile all their own. Not only did people with Crohn’s have higher levels of two potentially pathogenic bacteria (Escherichia coli and Serratia marcescens) and one fungus (Candida tropicalis), but the three species also seemed to be interacting more intensely in their guts. The triad appeared to be working together to produce a slimy film on the intestines—the same film known to trigger Crohn’s-related inflammation.

The study authors are careful to point out that C. tropicalis—a yeast that is a normal part of our gut flora yet associated with several diseases [PDF]—may be a cause of Crohn’s, but it’s certainly not the only cause.

Mahmoud A. Ghannoum is a senior author on the paper and director of the Center for Medical Mycology at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Case Medical Center. He says his team’s research could help identify the hidden causes of Crohn’s.

“Equally important,” he says in a press statement, “it can result in a new generation of treatments, including medications and probiotics, which hold the potential for making qualitative and quantitative differences in the lives of people suffering from Crohn's."

 
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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Live Smarter
Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants
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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]

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