House CallAug/Sep 2010 Issue

Research Roundup: Sun Protection from Broccoli, Viruses and Celiac Disease, and More!

The latest medical news for people with allergies and food sensitivities

Little girl eating broccoli
Sun Protection from Broccoli

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University suggest that an extract from broccoli sprouts may protect skin from potential cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation. The study found that hairless mice that were given broccoli extract for 13 weeks after being exposed to UV radiation for 17 weeks developed fewer and smaller tumors than mice that didn't get the daily broccoli dose. Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, contain high levels of plant-based chemicals that the body uses to make sulforaphane, known for its anti-carcinogenic effects. Broccoli sprouts are a particularly rich source of these precursor chemicals. Further research is needed, including studies in humans. The findings were published online ahead of print in Photochemistry & Photobiological Sciences.

Viruses and Celiac Disease

A recent project from the Academy of Finland's Research Program on Nutrition, Food and Health suggests a connection between viral infections and the development of celiac disease. The work has shown that certain genes that increase one's risk of developing celiac disease are closely linked to the immune system and inflammation. The team's work is part of an extensive study on celiac disease, using data from thousands of people with and without gluten intolerance. The genes that predispose people to celiac disease are widespread and tell only part of the story of how the condition is inherited. This recent work helps researchers better understand the disease, hopefully pointing to treatment and prevention in the future. The study was published online ahead of print in February in Nature Genetics.

More Benefits of Vitamin D

There may be yet another reason to be sure kids get enough vitamin D: warding off seasonal flu. Researchers in Japan found that supplementing with vitamin D cut the risk of developing influenza A. The small study included 334 children. About half received 1200 IU of vitamin D daily through supplements; the other half were given a placebo. Ten percent of the supplemented kids came down with the flu during the four-month winter study period, compared to 18 percent of the placebo group. Kids with asthma profited from the supplements, too. They suffered fewer attacks during the study than the children taking the placebo. More research and larger studies are needed to confirm the benefits and, if proven, to determine appropriate doses. The study was published online in March in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Two is Better than One

When it comes to self-injectable epinephrine for children with severe food allergies, carrying two auto-injectors is better than one, finds a study published in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics. According to the authors, the study is the largest yet to explore food-related anaphylaxis and emeergency treatment in children. The team reviewed hospital emergency room data, identifying over 1,200 children who had sought food-allergy related treatment in the Boston area. More than half experienced anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening reaction that typically responds to epinephrine. Among the kids with anaphylaxis, 12 percent required more than one dose to quell the reaction. Findings, which are consistent with earlier smaller studies, suggest that kids at risk for anaphylaxis carry two doses.

Chemicals May Hasten Puberty

Early puberty in young girls has been on the rise due to many factors, including genetics, obesity and race. Now researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine report that exposure to certain types of chemicals may also play a role. The team found that three common groups of chemicals—phenols, phthalates and phytoestrogens—may alter the timing of puberty and boost girls' risk of future health problems, including diabetes and cancer. The chemicals are found in plastic products, cosmetics, such as lotions, shampoos and nail polish, and in some medication and supplement coatings. All three groups of chemicals are known as endocrine disruptors, meaning they can interfere with the body's hormonal system. The study included more than 1,100 pre-adolescent girls from New York, Cincinnati and California with evidence of the chemicals found in nearly all urine samples. High chemical exposure was linked to early breast development. High body mass index also contributed to early onset of puberty. The study, the first to explore the effects of these chemicals on puberty, according to the authors, was published online ahead of print in March in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Alternative Treatments for Autism

A study done by Autism Speaks' Autism Treatment Network (ATN) has found that some 21 percent of children enrolled in a large registry of autism spectrum disorders uses complementary and alternative therapies, including a special diet. The study showed that 17 percent of 1,200 participants followed a special diet, primarily one that was gluten free and casein free. Special diets were most common among children diagnosed with autism (19 percent), followed by pervasive developmental disorder (14 percent), and Asperger's syndrome (7 percent). Children on the autism spectrum who had gastrointestinal symptoms were more likely to be on the gluten-free, casein-free diet, eat food free of processed sugars and take digestive enzymes and probiotics. According to ATN, physicians who treat autistic kids should be aware of these therapies in order to most effectively treat these patients. Results were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in Vancouver in May.

Gene Eyed for Eosinophilic Esophagitis

Scientists are homing in on the gene responsible for eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), an allergic inflammatory disease that can cause failure to thrive, vomiting, weight loss and difficulty swallowing. Often people with the disease must adhere to drastic food restrictions in order to reduce inflammation of the esophagus and ease symptoms. Estimated to affect one in 10,000 people, incidence of EoE has been on the rise over the past two decades. The condition can affect people of all ages but it’s more common in boys who also have other allergic diseases, such as asthma and eczema.

Researchers from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found a spot on chromosome 5 that appears to contain the culprit. The gene, TLSP, helps produce a type of signaling molecule that plays a role in inflammation related to allergic diseases. The study, published online in March in Nature Genetics, is the first genome-wide association study of EoE, according to the authors. More research is needed.

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