House CallOct/Nov 2011 Issue

Research Roundup: Teeth Talk, Dangers of Seafood, Gluten and the Liver and More!

The latest medical news for people with allergies and food sensitivities

© Dmitriy Shiron Osov/Shutterstock

Teeth Talk

Researchers from the Medical University of Silesia in Poland recently analyzed lead and cadmium levels in the baby teeth of children with celiac disease, children with food allergy and a third group of kids without either condition. According to their work, levels of lead and cadmium were higher in the teeth of children with celiac disease and those with a food allergy. All children were from the same region of Poland, which is highly industrial, and they had similar environmental exposure to toxic metals like lead and cadmium.

How to explain the findings? Researchers speculate that restrictive diets that aren’t well balanced and don’t include a variety of wholesome foods have been linked to changes in the mineral content of bone and teeth, which may, in turn, favor the accumulation of toxic metals. Gluten-free and allergen-friendly diets in that region of Poland may be low in cereal whole grains, milk, eggs, fish, red meat and other foods rich in proteins containing sulfur amino acids. Sulfur may help protect against the absorption of toxic metals, say researchers.

Results need to be replicated in future studies but they may one day suggest the need for children on restrictive diets to bump up their intake of “allowed” wholesome foods that are high in sulfur-rich proteins.

The study was published in the International Journal of Stomatology and Occlusion Medicine.

Black Rice is Nice

Researchers from Ajou University in Korea and the Agricultural Research Service in Albany, California, say black rice bran may help quiet the inflammation involved in allergies, asthma and other diseases. The team set out to study the effects of consuming black rice bran after earlier work suggested this particular food may suppress the release of histamine, which causes inflammation.

The current study was conducted in mice. Researchers found a diet consisting of 10 percent black rice bran significantly reduced the inflammation associated with allergic contact dermatitis, a common type of skin irritation. They also found that black rice bran extract caused marked changes in the expression of six genes known to be associated with inflammation.

Bran is the outer husk of the grain, removed during the milling process to make white rice. Brown rice bran, despite other health benefits, didn’t produce similar results.

More work is needed, including research into the mechanisms by which black rice bran may ease inflammation. However the findings show black rice bran’s potential as an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic food, as well as a possible “therapeutic agent for the treatment and prevention of diseases associated with chronic inflammation,” the researchers write.

The study was published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.

Dangers of Seafood

Children with seafood allergy (fish, mollusk, and crustacean) have a high rate of anaphylaxis compared with other common food allergens, according to results from a study conducted at the Allergy Clinic at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney, Australia.

When researchers reviewed the records of 167 children at their clinic with confirmed seafood allergy, they found 21 percent had experienced anaphylaxis. That’s five times the rate of anaphylaxis observed among their peanut allergic patients, they report. Asthma was a significant risk factor for anaphylaxis but the degree of sensitization on skin prick tests to seafood was not a reliable gauge of reaction severity.

Reassuringly, having had a reaction to the vapor of cooked seafood was not associated with an increased risk for anaphylaxis. Neither was previous anaphylaxis to a non-seafood trigger.

Results were published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Gluten and the Liver

New research suggests liver test abnormalities aren’t as common as once thought in patients with untreated celiac disease.

As many as half of celiac patients had been thought to have elevated liver enzymes at diagnosis but a recent study in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics reports that number may be closer to 20 percent. And now researchers from Tampere University Hospital in Finland say it may be even lower. In their work, published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, they found just 11 percent had abnormal results.

Too-high liver enzymes can indicate inflammation or damage to cells in the liver but they don’t always signal a serious liver problem. It’s unclear exactly how celiac disease can cause a spike in liver enzymes but levels usually normalize with treatment on the gluten-free diet.

Finnish researchers say the earlier estimates may have been based on studies with smaller numbers of patients, as well as patients with more severe symptoms. Their study looked at a larger sample of patients, including many with mild or atypical symptoms, a group that may better “reflect what is happening in celiac disease today,” they write.

The team followed 130 celiac patients with normal liver tests at diagnosis and found levels actually fell further after one year on the gluten-free diet. In diagnosed (thus, treated) celiacs, slight elevations in liver enzymes may hint at unwanted gluten in the diet, the researchers add.

Medical writer Christine Boyd lives in Baltimore.

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