House CallAug/Sep 2009 Issue

Medical News: Hay Fever, Celiac Research, Autism Recovery and more

The latest medical news for people with allergies and food sensitivities


Love is Nothing to Sneeze About

Hay fever can affect more than your nose. It also can impact your love life. A recent study by YouGov, a market research firm, on behalf of pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough found that almost half of people with hay fever symptoms become more irritable and that affects their relationships. The survey, which included almost 800 participants, suggests that hay fever sufferers feel less affectionate and have more arguments with significant others due to their symptoms.

New relationships aren’t immune either. Six percent of participants said they cancelled a date or prior arrangement and 75 percent said they felt self-conscious about their appearance because of symptoms. Keeping bed partners awake with snoring, difficulty kissing, lower libido and not being able to wear make-up also added stress to relationships, respondents said.

The solution? Avoid triggers as much as possible and talk to your doctor
about strategies to best manage your hay fever.

New Hope for a Celiac Cure

An early human trial of a celiac vaccine is about to get underway. Overseen by a gastroenterologist in Australia who also conducts celiac disease research, the trial will check for drug safety, including any adverse effects. If deemed successful after a year, a second phase trial will follow in order to determine effectiveness. The vaccine is designed to work by gradually desensitizing the individual to gluten so that the protein is tolerated over time and does not degrade or destroy villi in the lower intestine.

Have a Healthy Giggle

It’s true that laughter may be the best medicine. Researchers in Loma Linda, California, recently presented findings on the medical benefits of laughter at the American Physiological Society’s annual meeting. The team looked at the effect of “mirthful laughter” on patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. All patients were undergoing standard medical treatment for their conditions. Researchers found that laughter from watching just 30 minutes of self-selected humor a day helped raise “good” cholesterol, or HDL, by 26 percent in the chuckling participants versus only 3 percent in the control group. In addition, the laughing group’s harmful C-reactive proteins were lowered by 66 percent, versus only 26 percent in the control group. Investigators believe that adding a dose of laughter to standard diabetes care may lower stress and inflammatory responses, which can lead to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes.

Ready, Set, Screen!

Screening for celiac disease can lead to improved health for children with the condition, according to a study published in the April issue of Pediatrics. Undiagnosed (therefore, untreated) celiac disease can cause serious long-term complications, including delayed puberty, other autoimmune diseases, infertility, osteoporosis and even cancer. Still, the idea of population-wide screening has been controversial.

Researchers from the Netherlands followed up with 32 celiac children who’d been identified by a mass screening a decade earlier when the kids were two to four years old. Ten years later, 81 percent were following a gluten-free diet. Sixty-six percent of these showed improvement in their health status since diagnosis; this improvement had been noted within a year of starting the diet. And these children’s health-related quality of life was now on par with youngsters who don’t have the disease.

The study was small and the authors conclude that additional research is still needed. They propose initiating limited programs to screen for celiac disease and then assessing costs and benefits.

In a separate study, published in the Journal of Insurance Medicine, researchers at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center showed an economic benefit to promptly diagnosing celiac disease. Analyzing data from the managed-care population in the United States, investigators found that increased awareness and diagnosis of celiac disease not only benefits patients but would also lead to overall savings in the nation’s health care costs.

Veggie Power  

Researchers at University of California Los Angeles have found another good reason to eat your vegetables. Sulforaphane, a substance in broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables, may stave off the airway inflammation that can cause asthma, allergies and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The study used broccoli sprouts, a potent natural source of sulforaphane. Researchers believe that the compound stimulates antioxidant activity in the cells of the nasal passages, a boost that may combat damaging free radical activity caused by pollution and other irritants we inhale. Further study is needed on the effects of sulforaphane on specific respiratory disorders. Researchers didn’t make a recommendation on how much to consume to reap these benefits but they do reiterate that broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables should be a regular part of a healthy diet. The study was published in the March issue of Clinical Immunology.

A separate study, published in the April issue of Cancer Prevention Research, shows that broccoli sprouts may be a good way to control the bacterium H. pylori, which can cause stomach ulcers and is known to be a major cause of stomach cancer. Researchers in Japan and at Johns Hopkins University studied 48 H. pylori-infected Japanese men and women, randomly assigning them to eat either 2.5 ounces of fresh broccoli sprouts or an equivalent amount of alfalfa sprouts every day for eight weeks. Two months later, levels of H. pylori were significantly lower in patients who had ingested the broccoli sprouts. Bacteria levels remained the same for those who consumed the alfalfa sprouts. The authors conclude that sulforaphane seems to protect the lining of the stomach against damaging molecules associated with H. pylori.

Take Your Vitamins  

A research team from the Netherlands has found that regular use of vitamin B supplements is effective in reducing homocysteine levels in patients with celiac disease. High levels of homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood, have been linked to coronary heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends that patients with malabsorption conditions, such as celiac disease, be screened for elevated homocysteine levels.

The Dutch study, published in February in World Journal of Gastroenterology, looked at 100 adults, 50 of whom had celiac disease. Researchers found that patients with celiac disease who were taking supplements containing B-6, B-12 and folate had higher amounts of these vitamins in their blood than patients who did not use the supplements and patients who didn’t have celiac. Folate and vitamins B-6 and B-12 help in the breakdown of homocysteine. The study confirms earlier research that revealed that the presence and severity of celiac disease plays a role in homocysteine blood levels and that regular use of B supplements is linked to lower amounts of this heart-unhealthy substance.

Consult with your doctor to determine whether taking supplements is right for you. 

Recovery from Autism

Approximately 10 to 20 percent of children with autism may recover from the condition, according to research presented by Deborah Fein, PhD, clinician and psychology professor at the University of Connecticut. Fein and a team of researchers worked with 20 children ranging in ages from 9 to 18. All were rigorously assessed and met the diagnostic criteria for Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) before the age of 5.

Many of the recovered children had relatively mild cases of autism and above-average IQs. Most had undergone intensive behavioral treatments since diagnosis, including therapy for language, speech and behavior development. This intervention started at an early age, with some children receiving from 30 to 40 hours per week of treatment.

Whether or not any of the children were on the gluten-free, casein-free diet was not assessed in this study. “Of course, what we need is a controlled, blinded study” to determine and verify dietary impact, Fein tells Living Without.

Study results showed that the “optimal outcome” children (a term used in the study for the recovered group) now test normally on neuropsychological exams and verbal and nonverbal tests. However, the children continue to evidence a higher than normal rate of psychiatric symptoms, such as phobias, tic disorder, depression, anxiety or ADHD.

There has been anecdotal evidence of recovery from autism but the study is significant because it scientifically verifies and documents these changes. Fein says it’s still not clear why a minority of autistic children recover since even after intensive therapy intervention, most kids do not.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. Fein presented the results at the International Society for Autism Research meeting in May. 


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