November 2008 Archives

Bacterial Mouth Magic

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Wine-Romance-byLizLyonsFriedman.jpgI've long been intrigued by the idea that we have bacteria to thank for human pheromones, or "sex scents." Even the sweatiest human underarms remain odorless until skin bacteria process the sweat into the odiferous  steroids that will arouse those inclined toward your gender.

(linocut by Liz Lyons Friedman)

Now Swiss biochemists say we can thank our microflora for another inherently pleasurable odor--that of good food and drink.

Scientists at Firmenich, a Geneva-based producer of flavor and perfume chemicals found that mouth bacteria produce the lingering "retro-aromas" we enjoy after swallowing food and drink containing fruits such as grapes and vegetables such as onions and sweet peppers. Specifically, they found that anaerobic mouth bacteria transform odorless sulfur compounds into odor-rich thiols. Your saliva traps the thiols in a way that allows you to savor. Their study is in this month's issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

So just maybe, before your next romantic dinner, consider a mutual agreement to lay off the antibacterial mouthwash and at least dial back on the deodorant--for maximum enjoyment of the food, wine, and company.

Vaccine Controversies

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gary_taxali_op-ed_link.jpgWell, there's nothing like writing an article on early childhood vaccines (in this month's Parenting magazine) to kick this blog back into action with a small flood of feedback. First, thanks to those of you motivated enough to find my website and share your thoughts.

We all know that universal vaccination is a subject where emotions run high on both sides. Still, I get disheartened by the flamethrowers (thankfully in the minority) with their accusations than anyone pro-vaccination is on the payroll of Big Pharma or anyone less-than-enthusiastic about vaccinating their children is an idiot.

I'd like to appeal to the most passionate among you to remember--or at least consider--that people on both sides of this issue have the well being of our children at heart.

In the 15 years I've been writing about vaccines, I've found that the strongest advocates of their use are hospital pediatricians who've watched tiny patients die of vaccine-preventable diseases--sometimes literally in their arms. Please consider that these experiences--not avarice--are the driving force behind many careers dedicated to developing new and more effective vaccines.

And those of you who belittle parents wary of vaccines, please consider that they don't feel that their fears are being adequately investigated. It's good to see the CDC ramping up research on rare adverse events with an aim to someday identifying that one in ten thousand or one in a million child at elevated risk of an adverse reaction.

Finally and without belaboring the point, I'd like to make clear that I've never taken payment or favors from industry or the CDC. (Yes, this is response to some of the nastier emails I've received.) Indeed, last year I reluctantly resigned an editorial position with a highly respected medical publisher because I ended up having to work a little too closely with industry sponsors. I was never asked to write anything false or misleading. But as an independent journalist covering controversial issues, I felt I could not afford the association. Believe me, my bank account reflects that such principles extract a cost!

Thanks to Gary Taxali for permission to reprint his illustration, which previously accompanied the op-ed Nice Shot! in The New York Times.