Good Morning readers, I hope everyone had a spectacular year! Ciencia en Arroz y Habichuelas has come back from a brief hiatus. During my vacations, I have heard a lot about a miracle drink that helps to lose weight and improve health. As soon as I heard this, I manage to do one reaction (Figure 1). I said, "Right in time to start the new years with the right foot". My first question was "How does it work?" Here we explain in Arroz y Habichuelas.
What is Kombucha Tea?
The name "Kombucha" comes from the Japanese words (Kombu) meaning seaweed and (Cha) which means tea. Tiit has been used since 220 B.C.E. in China but we do not know where it originated exactly. Kombucha is also known under the of "mushroom tea". Even though it contains mushroom in the name, this beverage is not a mushroom. The drink contains a symbiotic community (interaction among organisms) of bacteria and yeast known as SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). This is similar to a pancake (Figure 2) which is similar to a structure of a mushroom and from there its name. During the process of fermentation different acids are generated among them, acetic acid (mayor component in vinegar) and other compounds.
Benefits attributed to Kombucha
Most of the people that drink Kombucha do so for its health benefits. Among the claimed benefits are probiotics, vitamins, and properties that serve against the following diseases: AIDS, anorexia, arthritis, atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, among others. These benefits have been extrapolated from different studies performed in animals where it has been implied that it has antioxidant properties, reduces pain, and improves sleep. However, no study has been performed to corroborate these claims in humans.
Atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries): No scientific evidence to back up this claim
Cancer treatment: Studies in animals show antioxidant effects, but studies in humans are lacking.
Diabetes: No scientific evidence exists to support its use in humans
AIDS: No evidence exists to support its use in humans
Even though there is a total lack of studies to back the multiple claims attributed to the kombucha tea, its sales increased by 125% in 2017. On the other side, there is evidence regarding its toxicity.
Toxicity of Kombucha Tea
Kombucha is fermented at room temperature for around 7-12 days. If the fermentation process is not clean and sterile, this drink can be contaminated with a fungus called aspergillus, which has been shown to produce toxins. This could cause great damage to people with a compromised immune system, the elderly, children and pregnant. Dr. Andrew Weil says " I do not recommend the Kombucha tea at all". A casualty has been related to the Kombucha tea reported by Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 1995 at Iowa. The person suffered severe metabolic acidosis, where a chemical imbalance takes place where a lot of acids is generated/dumped into the body and the body cannot metabolize them as fast. Even though the death was not attributed directly to the tea, it was related to the daily ingestion and the number of different acids in the drink.
An article published by the scientific journal of Intensive Care Medicine they had a case of a 22-year old HIV positive person. During a study session, the person chugged kombucha tea, which he also shared with a friend. After 4 hours of ingestion, the person developed a fever, but his friend remained healthy. He was then taken to the ER where it was determined that he was suffering acidosis and acute renal failure which were not present after his HIV diagnosis. After treatment with antibiotics and 36 hours without the tea, the patient got better and was allowed to leave.
Although most people drink kombucha without problems, it could definitely be a different case to people with a compromised immune system, the elderly, children and pregnant, due to possible contamination with different organisms like Aspergillus, which could open the door to different diseases. On the other hand, there is factory manufactured kombucha which could eliminate and reduce the contamination with these organisms. Thus, if you drink this beverage because of its flavor, commercial Kombucha might be the best option. So it all boils down to the benefits of this drink which have not been corroborated or backed up by scientific literature. In conclusion, Kombucha sound too real to be true. Possibly during this 2019, I would skip the Kombucha and I will just go and run around the block for my new year resolutions.
Thank you for reading Arroz y Habichuelas and I hope you read us again in the next publication. Until the next time! If you want to learn more regarding the microbiome please read our poop transplant article!
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By: Attabey Rodríguez Benítez
Editor: Lyanne M. Meléndez García
Average Lecture time: 4 minutes
For Spanish version click HERE
Last week I went to a conference for chemists (American Chemical Society ACS) in Boston. On my way to the conference, I saw some intriguing advertisements. For example, I saw one that said: “Give your poop” and I said: “ this has to be a joke”. To my surprise, it wasn’t; if you qualify, you can donate, well, your stool. Then I asked: “Why would someone want my excrement?” I mean, don’t take me wrong, someone paying me for pooping is marvelous. But, why would someone do that? The key is in the gut microbiome. Here in Ciencia en Arroz y Habichuelas we will explain what fecal matter contains and why it is so important that some people even pay for it. -Yes, I am seeing how many synonyms of defecation I can find-
To understand the importance of feces, we need to talk about the microbiome. Micro- comes from microbes and -biome a community of living things. Thus, the gut “microbiome” is a community of microbes composed of (bacteria, viruses, fungi, and others) that inhabit the human gut. In the intestine alone there are around 100 trillion microbes, representing as many as 5,000 species and weighing approximately 4.4 pounds! But don’t worry, most of these bacteria are good for your digestive system. (1)
Fecal matter has a lot of microbes, nothing new, right? Have you ever thought what would happen if our intestine were microbe free? This is what happens when we ingest antibiotics excessively. Antibiotics can exterminate microbes that inhabit your gut or prevent further reproduction, which is not bad in and of itself. The problem is that antibiotics do not differentiate between “good” and “bad” bacteria, creating a cleansing tsunami wiping some bacteria from existence, like Thanos in Marvel. When this happens, it creates an imbalance in the intestine, and when the parents are not guess who is having a party… Since there are more bacteria competing for space, other organisms, not having your health in their best interests, can re-colonize your gut. And we all know how that went with the Native Tainos in Puerto Rico.
One of the colonizers is C.difficile or C.diff. This bacteria can cause symptoms from diarrhea to colon irritation. Depending on the gravity of the infection, treatment can range from stronger antibiotic treatment, which sometime just helps the infection enhance, removing infected parts of the colon. (2) Usually, this infection is contracted when people are on antibiotic treatment, particularly in hospitals. Recently, in a desperate attempt, scientists have discovered another way to treat this infection. Yes, you guessed it, here is were the poop transplant comes in.
What would have happened if Spaniards had had competition when colonizing the Americas? They would have had a hard time conquering all the land and Taino people would have had a chance to avoid the wipe-out. Fecal matter transplants (FMT) bring competition to the infected gut. This transplant brings with it its own microbiome which tries to colonize its new -host- environment. This is a case-by-case treatment, with the successful treatment rate around 87 - 90% (4) Even though, the the FTM is usually used and with great success, scientists do not know the mechanism behind it that makes this a successful procedure. Some of the theories are that the bacteria are competing for resources, thus, C.diff do not propagate as fast.
Now, here is the million dollar question: How do patients receive this transplant? There are multiple methods among them (1) orally. Yes, I know what y’all are thinking this is not a The Help movie situation. A gastric tube is used for this purpose or even pills. Option number (2) is a fecal enema and it has been demonstrated that both options are equally as effective. (5) Not very attractive options, but that is the what is available at the moment towards this infection
On the other side, the are many research groups interested in designing a drug that can combat “bad” microbes in the gut in a selective manner. Actually, little is know on how the microbiome acts and by which mechanisms. Nonetheless, there are advances still being made in this field.
On the next article we will talk a little more about 💩 and how close they are in finding the perfect drug. Like always, thank you for reading En Arroz y Habichuelas. If you have any questions please comment below and if you liked it please share the love all through social media by clicking icons below.
Today we can self-medicate against common illnesses. Animals can get sick too with the sole difference that they do not have a pharmacy around the corner, or do they? Nature in itself is a medicine cabinet. Currently, more than half of the pharmaceutical drugs are derived from natural products. How do animals know which medicine to use and when?
These are the type of questions that Kristel Sánchez is trying to answer. She is a member of Prof. Meghan Duffy laboratory at the University of Michigan. Sánchez comes from Ecuador and completed her bachelors in biology at Florida International University, USA, where she fell in love with chemical ecology. She is currently a second year in the ecology doctoral program at the University of Michigan. Here she studies self-medication in aquatic organisms.
Scientists have observed self-medication in terrestrial organisms. Baboons ingest certain plants to prevent stomach problems. Monarch butterflies feed themselves with toxic milkweeds to protect their offspring. These are only some of the many examples of terrestrial animals. However, In aquatic organisms, self-medication is an under-studied field.
The aquatic animal Sanchez studies is know as Daphnia (Figure 1). When I first saw them,my reaction was "They look like sea monkeys!" to which Sánchez clarified " They look like one but they are totally different". These curious filter feeder animals hangs out in lakes and its primary role is cleaning them. Daphnias are able to dictate lakes purity since they can only survive in pristine waters.
This organism was chosen to answer the question: Do aquatic specimens self-medicate? The scientist feed different types of algae, including poisonous, to daphnias to determine the effect on the host-parasite interaction. En Arroz y Habichuelas, she was looking if the toxin can kill the parasite without killing the host. In her analysis, she found daphnias that ingested algae with toxins were resistant to the parasite. To her surprise, she also discovered that the presence of a certain fungus can increase the production of a certain toxin in the water. The toxin in question is Anatoxin A, a potent neurotoxin. This has a great impact on human health and potable water. Thus, this could open the door to further investigations.
Many questions remain unanswered, can daphnias select toxic algae over normal sources of food? How do they determine when to use this self-medication method? This is only just the tip of the iceberg for Sánchez. We are looking forward to hearing the answer to these and more questions soon in Arroz y Habichuelas!