Cumberland Times-News

Bob Doyle - Astronomy

June 29, 2013

Unknown to us, we host a vast multitude

We have about 10 trillion human cells in our bodies. But on our skin, in our mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, intestines and colon are about 90 trillion bacterial cells.

These visitors have been with us since infancy. Most of these bacterial cells (far smaller than our human cells) are beneficial and dwell in your colon, breaking down fiber, producing certain vitamins and informing the pancreas to produce insulin to regulate the sugar level in your blood.

These bacterial cells reproduce by cell division several times an hour. Most bacterial cells die in a matter of hours; in fact, a good fraction of our stools by weight are a vast multitude of bacterial cells being expelled.

Examination of one’s stools reveal from 500 to 1,000 different species of bacteria. Each person has a different set of bacteria in their innards; their collection of bacteria (their microbiome) is as distinctive as their fingerprints.

As most of us know, about one third of U.S. adults are overweight (including this author) and another third are obese.

Do these bacteria have a role to play in this situation? Well, many of us rush through our days and rely on a quick meal of fast food. On a given day, one in four U.S. adults eats a fast food meal.

Early in the last decade, Dr. Paresh Dandora of Boston had nine volunteers eat a typical breakfast (eggs, muffin, sausage) at a well known fast food restaurant. Within minutes of eating, certain proteins spiked in their blood stream.

These protein levels were indicative of inflammation, the body’s response to invading infection or injury. It took hours for these elevated levels to return to normal. But by consuming sugary, fatty foods on a regular basis (read fast foods), the inflammation becomes chronic.

This can develop into the metabolic syndrome, where the afflicted have elevated blood sugar, high blood pressure, low levels of ‘good cholesterol’ and an abdominal cavity filled with fat.

What role might our gut bacteria have in this condition? When we intake fast food or high caloric deserts, the bad bacteria in our intestines begin to produce endotoxin.

The endotoxin in our bloodstream signals invasion, leading to inflammation; the body begins to reduce its metabolism and crank out insulin (from the pancreas) and become less sensitive to leptin (governs the feeling of satiety or fullness).

With the reduction of our metabolism (energy needed to maintain all normal body functions), we need fewer calories. This cruel situation means that when people with the metabolic syndrome eat less food, they can’t lose weight as expected. The weight just hangs on.

One bad consequence of the metabolic syndrome is that the body calls for more and more insulin; this produces great strains on the pancreas until it collapses. With impaired insulin production, the person become a diabetic.

What can be done? The obvious solution is that most of us, including those of normal weight eat food rich in fiber, low in fat and avoid sugary snacks including most sodas.

The big underlying problem is that for many, their surest pleasures in life are eating their tastiest foods. This may involve going to their favorite restaurant and ordering delicious but injurious foods.

SKY SIGHTS AHEAD: On Tuesday, the dwarf planet Pluto is closest to the Earth for year, at a distance of 2,923 million miles away. Light from Pluto takes over four hours and 21.5 minutes to reach us.

Pluto is now in Sagittarius, above the stars that make up the “Tea Pot” seen late in the evening in the south. You will need a telescope with a mirror or front lens at least 10 inches wide to see Pluto as a faint point of light.

On the evening of July 3, the brilliant planet Venus is just north of the Beehive star cluster of Cancer. Use binoculars to see the cluster’s stars in the 9:30 p.m. western dusk.

At 11 a.m. on Friday, we are farthest from the sun for the year at a distance of 94.5 million miles. On Jan. 2, we were closest to the sun at 91.5 million miles. Our seasons are caused by the tilt of the Earth’s axis, not the 3 percent variation in Earth-sun distance.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at rdoyle@frostburg.edu . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.

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Bob Doyle - Astronomy
  • FSU Planetarium has new outreach program

    Several years ago, the FSU planetarium acquired an iPad. Months later, we purchased an iPad projector with necessary cables. I purchased a number of astronomical apps this year for the iPad. So I’m interested in visiting schools in this county to teach the stars and planets to classes. The astronomical apps allow you to survey the current evening night sky and show the planets, bright stars and star groups. One of the apps shows the planets close up with wonderful surface detail (as if you were cruising by in a spaceship). The apps I’ll be using can be purchased from the iTunes app store for a few dollars.

    July 27, 2014

  • It’s hotter here than in D.C. or Baltimore

    At this time of the year, the weather is a frequent subject of conversation, particularly the temperatures. We are now in the “Dog Days,” usually the hottest days of the year. The term comes from our sun appearing to be near the “Dog Star” (Sirius) and the “Little Dog Star” (Procyon). In reality, the sun is now about 94.5 million miles away while Sirius is 8.6 light years away with Procyon at 11 light years distance. Sunlight takes only 507 seconds to reach us, while the two dog stars’ light takes about a decade to travel to our eyes. So our sun is in the same direction (but not distance) as these two bright winter evening stars.

    July 20, 2014

  • Fronts, highs, lows determine weather

    Weather news on television and internet focus on violent weather, extreme temperatures and flooding.

    July 13, 2014

  • A long and winding road faces our food

    Last week’s column dealt with organs you can do without, our DNA (molecular blueprint for our bodies) and hair. My reference is “Body: Discover What’s Beneath Your Skin,” a Miles Kelly Book, written by John Farndon and Nicki Lampon and published in 2010. This column will consider finger and toe nails, breathing and coughing, saliva, mucus and your food’s long and torturous journey. Most cities and mid sized towns have nail shops where you can have your finger nails and toe nails adorned. Nail painting can be traced back 5,000 years.

    July 6, 2014

  • Here’s a look at what goes on inside you

    In high school, my favorite science course was biology. I can remember Mr. Munley in his wheelchair. Our class went on a field trip to the University of Miami Medical School where we saw the cadavers used by the medical students.

    June 28, 2014

  • Moon-watching easy when you know how

    Long before the first writing (scratches on clay tablets) appeared, our early ancestors noticed that the moon went through a regular cycle of shapes in about 30 days.

    June 21, 2014

  • Here’s how you can tell the stars, planets

    How can one tell one star from another at night? It’s a matter of knowing the sky areas (constellations).

    June 15, 2014

  • Smithsonian guide to stars is a good one

    At a local book store, I yielded to temptation and bought “Stars and Planets,” a Smithsonian Nature Guide written by four authors. Dinwoodie, Gater, Sparrow and Stott. It’s another Dorling Kindersley product with ISBN 978-0-7566-9040-3 and a 2012 copyright. “Stars and Planets” is a trade size paperback that is beautifully illustrated with appealing diagrams. “Stars and Planets” begins with the biggest topic, the Universe. There is a striking visual showing the known universe on the hugest scale, a delicate lacework of superclusters of galaxies with large voids. It resembles a bubble bath!

    June 8, 2014

  • Think a little more and be less frazzled

    Last Sunday’s column dealt with using technology carefully in education. What about technology in everyday life? There is a marvelous book “The Thinking Life,” by P.M. Forni, of The Johns Hopkins University which addresses this issue as well as timeless suggestions for living by Greek and Roman thinkers. “The Thinking Life: How To Thrive in the Age of Distraction” was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2011 with ISBN 978-0-312-62571-9. Dr. Forni also wrote “Choosing Civility” and “The Civility Solution”.

    May 25, 2014

  • Technology helps with learning, but take care

    Since I have been involved in teaching, two different technologies have been applied to learning at the secondary and collegiate level. The first was video (from videocassettes to DVDs) where a student or class might watch a presentation of some historical event, or a set of scientific principles or even a simulated exploration of the human body.

    May 18, 2014

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