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Monday Musings: Poop Transplants, Sleep Deprivation and Going Nuts

And now for another round of Monday Musings…

Let’s Talk Sh**

Poop is the new probiotic. Doctors have been using fecal transplants [1] as a “last resort,” mostly to treat the rising scourge of Clostridium difficile, a gut bug that affects about 250,000 Americans every year and proves extremely resistant to antibiotics. Shooting a fecal extract from healthy people into the C. diff-ridden colons of the affected has a 95% success rate. Some docs are pushing for the last resort to be the go-to move. I can’t argue with that.

But gut health isn’t just about acute infection. It’s also about basic metabolic health. A study [2] showed that sterile mice receiving a fecal transplant from obese mice gained more weight than sterile mice who received transplants from lean mice. And most recently, a Dutch pilot study [3] gave 18 obese males with pronounced metabolic syndrome fecal transplants from lean individuals. They did not lose weight, but they did experience improved insulin sensitivity and triglyceride numbers. These improvements reverted after about 12 weeks.

It’s interesting, but I’m not surprised the changes were underwhelming and temporary. As we all know, you have to support a healthy flora population [4]. You have to eat a healthy diet, avoid crappy food, and provide “food” for the bacteria. Were these Dutch guys eating prebiotics [5]? Or were they keeping with the same inflammatory diet that got them into this mess?

Sleep Deprivation and Neural Gene Expression

Lack of sleep hits you pretty hard. It clouds your mind, sours your mood, and can even put you at a higher risk for chronic disease and early mortality. But these are generalities; “feeling crappy” isn’t really a clinical term with a well-defined physical corollary in the structure of the brain. A new “Sleep Study” examined the specific effects of sleep deprivation on neural gene expression in mice [6].

By looking at which genes were “turned on” by sleep deprivation and how they corresponded to regions of the brain, scientists found that missing out on sleep affects the vast majority of neurons in the forebrain. These areas, including the hippocampus, the neocortex, and the amygdala, are largely responsible for higher thought, cognition, emotion, and memory. Novel genetic expressions [7] were also discovered, including those associated with the stress response, intercellular signaling, and regulation of other genes. Understanding how individual brain genes respond to sleep deprivation could allow better treatments for sleep deprivation (not always easy to avoid, especially these days).

If pea-brained mice are getting hit hard by sleep deprivation, imagine what it does to a bunch of big-brained apes like ourselves! We heavily rely on brain function. It makes us human. Get your sleep, people!

Human Ancestors Skipped Fruit, Went for Nuts

If you go back far enough, our ancestors were probably mostly frugivorous. How far? New evidence pushes it back past 4.2 million years.

Anthropologists examined the enamel microstructure of the teeth of Australopithecus anamensis and found that while they were not equipped to deal with acid erosion from flesh fruits [8], they were made for the heavy mastication of abrasive, tough foods, like nuts, roots, and insects. The jaws allowed shearing and lateral chewing.

This diet corresponded with our move down from the trees and on to two feet. No longer were we tree apes dining on fruit and leaves; we were ground dwellers, trawling the grasslands for dense calories, fashioning tools to dig up roots and bugs and crack bones, and standing upright to reduce our sunlight exposure and keep an eye out for predators (and, eventually, prey). This new evolutionary path set us apart and helped make humans, and their brains, what they are today. Fruit is a tasty and nutritious addition to the diet, but it can’t beat dense roots, nuts, and animal foods for spurring, aiding, and abetting higher evolution.

That’s it for this week’s Monday musings. Have you picked up on some interesting new research or a hot topic I should know about? Shoot me an email [9] with a link.