House CallJune/July 2009 Issue

Research Roundup and Medical News

The latest medical news for people with allergies and food sensitivities.

Celiac Screening for IBS Patients
Patients who are diagnosed with diarrhea predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or mixed type IBS should be tested for celiac disease, says the American College of Gastroenterology. In the January 2009 issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology, the ACG now recommends that doctors screen patients since diseases such as celiac can masquerade as IBS. The recommendation is based on emerging research that indicates celiac is more common among patients with IBS. Ruling out celiac would reassure both doctor and patient that the IBS diagnosis is correct, ensuring appropriate treatment. Patients whose doctors suggest they have IBS should alert their physicians to the ACG’s new screening guidelines.

Food Allergy News

Allergic Scent-sitivity
Even perfumes made from natural essential oils can cause allergic skin reactions such as eczema, according to research conducted at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. Contact allergies from perfumes are relatively common. But some people believe that wearing perfumes made with essential oils protects them from a chemical reaction, called autoxidation, that causes allergens to form and sensitive skin to react. The study shows that both lavender and rose oil contain chemicals that react with the air and skin enzymes to form allergens. This is the first time a study has revealed that essential oils are not immune to the allergen-producing process. Lead researcher Lina Hagvall says the work indicates that more perfumes than previously thought are subject to allergen formation. Additional studies are needed to better understand the process and to hopefully reduce cases of contact dermatitis. 

Meditation and ADHD
Junior high school students who meditated twice a day at school showed improvement in stress and anxiety levels and ADHD symptoms, including the ability to organize, plan, pay attention, reflect and control behavior. More than 4 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD and many take medicines for the condition, sometimes into adulthood. Many also suffer from anxiety disorders; medicines that control ADHD symptoms can trigger or aggravate anxiety. In research published in December 2008 in Current Issues in Education, students with ADHD learned Transcendental Meditation (TM) and practiced twice a day. Parents were asked to help kids maintain their practice on weekends and holidays. After three months, improvements were noted not only by the students but by teachers as well. The study was small—just 11 students—and more research is needed to know whether TM might serve as a potential therapy for kids with ADHD, either alone or in combination with other treatment.

The Early Birth/Autism Link
Babies born more than 12 weeks prematurely are twice as likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder by the age of two, say findings from a large, multi-center study looking at neurologic and other factors in pre-term babies. Of the close to 1,000 2-year-old children studied, about 20 percent tested positive for autism using the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers, or M-CHAT, screening tool. When the researchers didn't include children with cerebral palsy and other cognitive, vision and hearing impairments, about half, or 10 percent still tested positive for autism—almost twice the expected rate. It's unclear whether the other impairments increase the risk of autism or whether their symptoms may just mimic autistic behaviors as measured by the M-CHAT. The work, published online in January 2009 in the Journal of Pediatrics, raises questions that need further investigation in order to best screen for and identify autism in toddlers born prematurely.

Green Light for Garlic
The health benefits of garlic have been long touted but the exact hows and whys of its protection have not been well understood. Scientists have zeroed in on allicin, a key component of garlic that gives the aromatic bulb its distinct flavor and scent. Now a chemistry professor at Queens University in Canada has learned the process by which garlic may work its magic. Professor Derek Pratt found that as allicin decomposes (through cutting, cooking, eating, digesting), a chemical called sulfenic acid is created which quickly reacts with and neutralizes free radicals, molecules that can harm healthy cells. Garlic may have an antioxidant edge over leeks, onions and shallots, other members of the same family which also contain allicin-like substances. The reason? Allicin breaks down much more quickly in garlic than in its veggie cousins.

Food Allergy News

For more about the Duke study and other peanut-allergy research visit and click on Past Articles.

Omega-3 May Relieve Hot Flashes
Scientists at the Université Laval Faculty of Medicine have found that omega-3 fatty acids may help with mild depression and other psychological symptoms many women experience during menopause. The researchers gave two groups of women three capsules, totaling one gram daily of omega-3 fatty acids. One group received EPA, an acid derived from marine sources; the other group took supplements derived from sunflower oil, which doesn't contain EPA. After eight weeks, the women who took the marine-derived supplements reported significantly improved symptoms, including less depression and fewer hot flashes. (The supplements, however, didn't have the same beneficial effect on more severe depression.) The positive results were similar to those achieved with antidepressant medication and phyto-estrogens, plant-based substances akin to estrogen. The work was published online in November 2008 in the journal Menopause. 

Birthdays Link to Asthma
Babies born in the high pollen and mold seasons—usually fall and winter months—have a greater chance of wheezing by the time they're two years old, according to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley. Taking factors such as family history of asthma, air pollution, secondhand smoke and cockroaches, rodents or mold in the home into account, the children in the study had three times the risk of wheezing. And kids who wheeze when young go on to develop asthma as much as 40 percent of the time as adults. Researchers are continuing to follow the children in this study, which they say is the first to look at the role of early exposure to multiple outdoor pollens and molds in asthma. The group says the study, published in February 2009 in the journal Thorax, doesn't give enough information to suggest precautionary steps parents should take but it does provide clues about certain airborne allergens that merit further research.
Good News for the Peanut Allergic
Several severely peanut-allergic children are now able to eat peanuts without reacting, reports Wesley Burks, M.D., chief of the division of pediatric allergy and immunology at Duke University Medical Center. The children are part of a study being conducted by Duke and Arkansas Children’s Hospital to determine if incremental doses of peanut protein can gradually change how the body’s immune system responds to the allergen.

“It appears these children have lost their allergies,” Burks said. “This gives other parents and children hope that we’ll soon have a safe, effective treatment that will halt allergies to certain foods.”

Doctors kept tabs on any potential changes in the children’s immune system via skin, blood and immune studies. It is the first time researchers have documented long-term tolerance in peanut-allergic children by the presence of key immunologic changes. The indicators suggest the body can build tolerance rather quickly.

At the start of the study, the children ingested doses of peanut powder measuring as little as one-thousandth of a peanut. Eight to ten months later, they were able to safely eat the equivalent of up to 15 peanuts a day.

Peanut allergy is not usually outgrown and peanuts often cause more severe reactions than other food allergens. Many of the 3 million Americans with peanut and tree nut allergies are at risk for anaphylaxis and death from accidental ingestion. According to Duke, close to 10 adults and children die from peanut allergy each year.

The oral-immune therapy conducted by Duke researchers raises the threshold of the amount of peanut it takes to cause a reaction. The next step is a blinded study in which children on treatment are compared to a control group. First-year results of this study were presented in mid-March at a meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. So far, the oral-immune therapy appears to be working.

“Initial desensitization effects of the treatment are real,” Burks says.
Burks stressed that the research is ongoing and that peanut desensitization should not be tried at home or in a physician’s office. LW

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