Harness 'good' skin bugs to banish acne

The secret to clear skin may lie in your body's cocktail of bacteria. Propionibac-terium acnes lives in our facial pores and has been implicated in acne, but why the bacterium aggravates spots only in some people is a mystery.

Now, a team led by Huiying Li of the University of California-Los Angeles, has analyzed P. acnes from the nasal skin of 49 people with acne and 52 without. Of the 66 commonest strains, 63 were found in both groups, but two seem linked to acne and one to clear skin.

One of the "bad" strains was hardly found on people with clear skin, but was present in 70 percent of those with spots; the other was found in 84 percent of people with acne but also in 16 percent without. Both had extra genes, derived from viruses, that could aggravate acne.

The "good" strain was hardly found in people with acne, but was present in a fifth of those without. It was able to resist being infected by these rogue genes.

Li says the good strain could be used as a probiotic to stop spots forming, and suggests developing drugs to target the bad strains. But she admits the results do not tell us whether the P. acnes strains are the cause or the result of acne.

Breakfast bread bonanza

Some days, you just want a little more for breakfast than a bowl of cold cereal with low-fat milk. But, time is often at a premium on a weekday morning, and getting out the bowls, spoons, and pans - not to mention all the ingredients - to whip up pancakes or waffles can gobble up all the precious minutes you have to eat breakfast. And that's not even counting the time it takes to actually prepare these breakfast breads.

Luckily, all you need is a freezer and toaster to get your day started with a selection of prepared bakery goods. Supermarket freezer shelves are lined with breakfast breads, including pancakes, waffles, bagels, English muffins and more - in a variety of flavors.

If you're focused on health, should you stock up or steer clear of these items? Keep these tips in mind when preparing a quick, yet healthy, breakfast featuring convenient bakery items:

1. Seek out whole grains. More and more whole grain breakfast breads are available; take advantage of them to help you reach your daily goal of at least three servings of whole grains (set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture), and also to increase your intake of valuable vitamins, minerals and fiber. But, don't rely solely on the front of the package to see the ingredients; flip over the box or bag and check the ingredients listed on the back to make sure a whole grain (such as whole wheat or oats) is listed first. You also can look for the Whole Grains Council's golden Whole Grain Stamp on a package, which tells you a product is a good source of whole grains.

2. Add some protein. Typically, these bakery products are fairly low in protein, yet starting the day with a dose of protein can help keep you feeling satisfied throughout the morning. Spread your bread with nut butter, such as peanut or almond butter, or top it with low-fat cottage cheese or a hefty dollop of Greek yogurt.

3. Perfect for fruit. Breakfast breads also make an ideal vehicle for getting a serving of fruit. Consider sliced bananas on a bagel, or fresh berries atop pancakes or waffles to get the first of your four daily fruit servings.