Allergy Research Roundup

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The latest medical news for people with allergies and food sensitivities

Teaching Parents

A recent survey revealed that while parents trust their food-allergic child’s physician, they frequently don’t recall getting important information from that doctor—like when and how to use an epinephrine auto-injector.

Just two-thirds of parents recalled their allergist explaining when to use epinephrine and less than half remembered being told how to use an auto-injector or having received an emergency action plan. Recall with pediatricians was even worse, with just a third of parents saying they received counseling on when and how to inject epinephrine.

The Chicago-based research team stressed that physicians should be trained in best practice guidelines, which include prescribing epinephrine for everyone diagnosed with food allergy, as well as strategies for improving communication of these guidelines to parents. Before leaving the doctor’s office, parents should be asked to repeat the information presented. Findings were published in January 2016 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice.

Food Allergic Teens

Food allergic teens are more likely than their non-allergic peers to experience emotional and behavioral issues, although they may not self-report them. New research from Australia found that while nearly half of moms reported depression, anxiety or ADHD in their food-allergic teens, just a third of the teens themselves reported these problems. When these same teens turned 21, many more—nearly half—reported emotional and behavioral problems. They were twice as likely as their non-allergic peers to have symptoms of depression that persisted from adolescence.

Researchers aren’t sure if mothers over-report emotional and behavioral problems but the study underscores that health professionals should take family member perspectives into account when assessing mental health issues in teenagers. The study was published in January 2016 in Allergy.

Bipolar & Celiac Disease

For the first time, a study reports that bipolar depression is up to ten times more frequent in individuals with celiac disease than control subjects. In the study, the risk of bipolar depression was even higher than major depression, which has been linked with celiac disease both before and after diagnosis.

According to the Italian-based research group, individuals with bipolar or other mood disorders should be screened for celiac disease if they have a family history of the autoimmune disorder or key symptoms, such as gastrointestinal complaints, anemia, chronic fatigue and unexplained joint pain. The study appeared in December 2015 in Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health.

Overactive Immune Cells

Infants born with hyperactive monocytes—a type of immune cell—were more likely to develop milk, peanut, egg and other food allergies, according to new research. Signals from these overactive cells spur the development of immune responses by other specialized immune cells (T cells) that are predisposed to cause allergic reactions to some foods. Researchers don’t know why some infants have hyperactive immune cells. But the finding demonstrates that the immune system may be “primed” for food allergy even before birth.

“This study really emphasizes how critical it is to look at pregnancy and early life to really understand why chronic immune and inflammatory disorders such as allergies develop in childhood and later,” researchers stated in a press release. The study was published in January 2016 in Science Translational Medicine.

Gluten & Neurological Symptoms

Neurological symptoms like ataxia (trouble with balance) and peripheral neuropathy (pain and/or tingling in the extremities) are common in both celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. New research suggests these neurological manifestations are nearly indistinguishable in people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Both groups had similar severity of ataxia symptoms and all patients responded to a gluten-free diet. In addition, levels of an antibody linked with neurological symptoms—tissue transglutaminase 6, a cousin of transglutaminase 2—were nearly the same in both groups.

Findings suggest there may be similar immune processes leading to these neurological symptoms. The study also brings some much-needed attention to the neurological manifestations of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. If symptoms aren’t promptly diagnosed and treated, neurological damage may not be reversible. The new study was published in February 2016 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Organic Food More Nutritious

Looking to boost your omega-3 intake? Go organic, say two new review articles. Published in February 2016 in the British Journal of Nutrition, the reviews analyzed data from some 250 studies comparing the nutritional differences between organic and conventional milk and meat.

Overall, organic milk and meat both contained nearly 50 percent more inflammation-quelling omega-3 fatty acids than their conventionally produced counterparts. Organic meat was also lower in two saturated fats said to be bad for heart health—myristic and palmitic acid.

Higher omega-3 counts probably stem from the added time organically raised animals spend outdoors grazing on fresh (omega-3 rich) grasses. Conventionally raised animals tend to spend more time indoors and eat a grain-heavy diet.

In 2014, the same UK-based researchers reported that organic crops (e.g., broccoli, carrots, blueberries) are up to 60 percent higher in a number of key antioxidants than conventionally grown ones.

Paleo & Weight Gain

A new study with mice warns that the Paleo diet may lead to weight gain. After eight weeks on a high-fat, low-carbohydrate Paleo-type diet, the mice gained a whopping 15 percent of their body weight and doubled their fat mass. Study researchers were evaluating the Paleo diet to help treat type-2 diabetes, which is characterized by high blood sugars and, in some cases, excess weight. The mice, which were already pre-diabetic, also experienced a worsening of their glucose control while on the Paleo-style diet.

But not all studies on the hunter-gatherer diet agree. A handful of small studies in humans has recently described improvements in weight, glucose control, cholesterol and other cardiovascular risk factors. Larger, longer-term studies are needed. The new study was published in February 2016 in Nutrition and Diabetes.