Scientists May Have Finally Figured Out Why Fiber Is So Good For Us 

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From grandmas to general physicians, plenty of people extoll the virtues of fiber. Research shows that a fiber-rich diet—with plenty of fruits, veggies, and whole grains—could stave off conditions like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, but nobody knows exactly why dietary fiber (the indigestible portion of plant foods) is so good for us. Now, The New York Times reports that scientists think it could benefit the gut microbiome, which in turn affects our immune systems.

Our bodies don't produce enzymes that break down roughage, but some types of bacteria in our guts do. This prompted scientists to hypothesize that the gut microbes are intrinsically linked to fiber's wellness benefits. Two separate studies, both of which were recently published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, put this theory to the test by examining mice on low-fiber diets.

The first study, led by Georgia State University scientist Andrew Gewirtz, looked at mice on a low-fiber, high-fat diet. In the second study, which was led by University of Gothenburg biologist Fredrik Bäckhed, the mice were transitioned from a high-fiber to a low-fiber diet.

In both studies, the mice developed unhealthy imbalances of different gut bacterial strains, shrunken intestines, and thinner protective mucus layers in their colons. This newly permeable membrane allowed bacteria to invade the organ, which in turn caused an immune reaction. And in addition to colon issues, the mice in Gewirtz's group ended up gaining weight, developing high blood sugar and insulin resistance, and experiencing severely reduced gut bacterial levels.

In contrast, when both groups gave mice doses of a type of fiber called inulin, the rodents ended up developing healthier guts, and were also healthier overall. This wasn't a coincidence, experts say.

"Diets that lack fiber alter the bacterial composition and bacterial metabolism, which in turn causes defects to the inner mucus layer and allows bacteria to encroach, something that triggers inflammation and ultimately metabolic disease," says Gunnar C. Hansson, a senior researcher who worked alongside Bäckhed, according to Science Daily. Yet another reason why it's important to kick leftover holiday cookies to the curb and start eating more leafy greens.

[h/t The New York Times]

A Custom Wheelchair Allowed This Brain-Injured Baby Raccoon to Walk Again

фотограф/iStock via Getty Images
фотограф/iStock via Getty Images

Animal prosthetics and wheelchairs allow dogs, cats, and even zoo animals with limited mobility to walk again, but wild animals with disabilities aren't usually as lucky. Vittles, a baby raccoon rescued in Arkansas, is the rare example of an animal that was severely injured in its natural habitat getting a second shot at life.

As Tribune Media Wire reports, Vittles came to wildlife rehab specialist Susan Curtis, who works closely with raccoons for the state of Arkansas, with a traumatic brain injury at just 8 weeks old. The cause of the trauma wasn't clear, but it was obvious that the raccoon wouldn't be able to survive on her own if returned to the wild.

Curtis partnered with the pet mobility gear company Walkin' Pets to get Vittles back on her feet. They built her a tiny custom wheelchair to give her balance and support as she learned to get around on her own. The video below shows Vittles using her legs and navigating spaces with help from the chair and guidance from her caretaker.

Vittles will likely never recover fully, but now that she's able to exercise her leg muscles, her chance at one day moving around independently is greater than it would have been otherwise. She now lives with her caretaker Susan and a 10-year old raccoon with cerebral palsy named Beetlejuice. After she's rehabilitated, the plan is to one day make her part of Arkansas's educational wildlife program.

[h/t Tribune Media Wire]

Why You Should Never Shower With Your Contact Lenses In

belchonock/iStock via Getty Images
belchonock/iStock via Getty Images

Contact lenses offer a level of convenience for those with less-than-perfect vision that glasses can hardly compete with, but that doesn’t mean the daily struggle of taking them in and out of your eyes doesn’t wear on you. If you get a little lazy and decide it’s fine to leave them in your eyes during showers or pool parties, think again.

According to Popular Science, a 41-year-old woman in the UK lost sight in her left eye as a result of frequently showering and swimming without removing her contacts. The culprit was Acanthamoeba polyphaga, a protozoa that crawled into her eye and caused a cornea infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis. After two months of pain, blurry vision, and light sensitivity, the woman sought medical attention at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, where doctors discovered a ring shape in her left eye and a hazy layer covering her cornea. Upon testing her vision, they found that her left eye was now 20/200, which counts as legally blind in the United States.

Leela Raju, an ophthalmologist and cornea specialist at New York University, told Popular Science that the single-celled organisms “can be anywhere,” including pools, hot tubs, showers, dirty saline solution containers, and even tap water. Lens-wearers make up around 85 percent of those who get infected, and experts think it may be because the amoeba can latch onto a contact lens more easily than a bare eye.

Though Popular Science reports that Acanthamoeba keratitis only affects one or two people out of every million contact wearers each year, that’s no reason not to be careful. If you do catch it, you’ll likely need a cornea transplant, and even that won’t necessarily restore your eyesight to its previous state—after her transplant, the UK woman’s left eye now has 20/80 vision.

“It’s just a long road, for something that’s totally preventable,” Raju says. In addition to removing your contacts before swimming, showering, or sleeping, you should also refrain from reusing saline solution, make sure your contact case is completely clean and dry before filling it with more solution, and check out these other tips.

[h/t Popular Science]

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