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Tuesday
Dec162014

Sidestepping Allergic Reactions to Tree Nuts

If you’re allergic to tree nuts (cashews, walnuts, almonds and others), the best way to prevent a reaction is to avoid eating them. But now researchers are exploring a way to head off the reactions to nuts by changing the shape of their proteins. This could make the nuts allergy-proof – the modified protein wouldn’t be recognized by immunoglobulin E (IgE), antibodies that initiate reactions by latching on to nut (and peanut) proteins. The research was presented on August 11, 2014 at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society by investigators from the Agricultural Research Service branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Clinical trials to test immunotherapy are underway, but we’re approaching it from an agricultural perspective rather than medical. Can we change the food, instead of treating the person, so we can eliminate or reduce severe reactions?” said researcher Chris Mattison, Ph.D. As things now stand, allergic responses to nuts can range from mild itching in the mouth or skin to life-threatening anaphylaxis.

Sources:
Making Cashews Safer for Those with Allergies”, American Chemical Society news release, http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/620620/?sc=mwhn, accessed August 22, 2014

Monday
Dec152014

Is Your Microbiome In Charge?

Is it possible that the hundred trillion microbes that make up the microbiome in the human gut "know" what nutrients they need, and in seeking them influence our dietary choices? This interesting theory holds that, in some cases, our intestinal flora nudges us toward fat or sugar and possibly obesity. A new review of recent scientific literature concludes that our microbes actually can trigger cravings, as their attempts to receive more of the foods they need for growth affect our eating behavior. The authors of the review write that it is “unclear” how the microbes might do this, but suggest that they may influence food choices by releasing signaling molecules into the gut, which has links to the immune system, endocrine system and nervous system. Another possibility: according to researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, Arizona State University and the University of New Mexico, gut bacteria may sway our eating decisions in part by acting through the vagus nerve, which connects 100 million nerve cells from the digestive tract to the base of the brain. On the upside, the reviewers note that our food choices can alter the microbiome within 24 hours. Better yet, the authors write that microbiota “are easily (manipulated) by prebiotics, probiotics, antibiotics, fecal transplants, and dietary changes…(offering) a tractable approach to otherwise intractable problems of obesity and unhealthy eating.”

My take? We know that our individual microbiomes are very different from one another, and it appears our own unique balance of organisms influences our health. Recent research suggests, however, that our microbiomes in general are becoming increasingly unbalanced for a number of reasons, including diets heavy in processed foods and increased exposure to antibiotics via both medical treatments and residues in foods from animals treated with the drugs. This review suggests that it's likely we ultimately have the power to control our own microbiomes, instead of the other way around.

Sources:
“Athena Aktipis, Carlo Maley, Joe Alcock, “Is eating behavior by manipulated the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms.” BioEssays doi: 10.1002/bies.201400071

Tuesday
Dec092014

Does BPA Cause Food Intolerance?

A new study performed in France suggests that exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor, around the time of birth may lead to food intolerances later in life, at least in rats. The researchers tested the effects of BPA exposure on a group of rats from birth until the animals were weaned at 21 days old. A control group of rats didn’t receive any BPA. When the animals reached adulthood, (which in rats is when they're 45 days old), the researchers fed them ovalbumin, an egg white protein which hadn’t been introduced into their diet previously. The investigators reported that the rats exposed to BPA earlier in life developed an immune reaction to the milk protein. This didn’t occur in the rats that hadn’t been exposed to BPA. Subsequent, repeated feeding of ovalbumin in the rats exposed to BPA led to colonic inflammation, which the researchers noted is a sign of food intolerance. They said their findings testify to the harmful effects of BPA on the immune system at low levels of exposure, and at a particularly vulnerable stage of fetal and newborn life. They added that the results support a French government decision in 2013 to ban the use of BPA in containers of baby food. The French BPA ban will extend to all food-packaging materials in 2015.

Sources:
Sandrine Menard and Eric Houdeau et al “Food intolerance at adulthood after perinatal exposure to the endocrine disruptor bisphenol A.” The FASEB Journal, 2014; DOI: 10.1096/fj.14-255380

Monday
Dec082014

Plastics Are Messing with Testosterone

It’s not the plastics themselves that are affecting testosterone levels in men, women and children - it’s the endocrine-disrupting phthalates they contain. These chemicals make plastics more flexible and are used in hundreds of non-plastic products, including some soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, and nail polishes as well as packaging, inflatable toys and other children's playthings. A new study from the University of Michigan School of Public Health found that the more exposure to phthalates in your life, the higher the risk of declining testosterone levels, the main sex hormone in men that also plays an important role in physical growth and strength, brain function, bone density and cardiovascular health in both sexes.

Testosterone levels in the general population have been dropping in the last 50 years, leading to greater prevalence of reduced semen quality in men and genital malformations in baby boys, the Michigan researchers said. They note that animal and cellular studies have shown that phthalates block the effects of testosterone on the body's organs and tissues. Researcher John D. Meeker, M.S., Sc.D., explained that “low testosterone levels in young boys can negatively impact reproductive development, and in middle age can impair sexual function, libido, energy, cognitive function and bone health in men and women."

My take? It's a good idea to avoid phthalates, but it is also very difficult, since they're found in so many different products. You can't even be sure that a product labeled "phthalate free" won't expose you to the chemicals - there may be none of the compound in the product itself, but they may be present in the packaging. By the way, the European Union and other countries have banned phthalates in consumer products, and in 2007 California became the first state in the U.S. to ban use of six phthalates in children's products and toys.

Sources:
John D. Meeker, Kelly K. Ferguson. “Urinary Phthalate Metabolites Are Associated With Decreased Serum Testosterone in Men, Women, and Children From NHANES 2011–2012.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2014; jc.2014-2555 DOI: 10.1210/jc.2014-2555

Thursday
Dec042014

Yoga for Your Mind

Doing hatha yoga appears to have sharpened the thinking skills of seniors taking part in an eight-week study. A total of 108 adults between the ages of 55 and 79 enrolled in the study. Half of them attended three yoga classes per week for the eight weeks, while the other half did stretching and toning exercises three days a week for the same eight week period. Afterward, the researchers reported that the seniors in the yoga group had improved in tests of information recall, mental flexibility and task switching, all “mental functions (that) are relevant to our everyday functioning,” said researcher Edward McAuley, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois. No such changes were seen in the seniors who performed the stretching and toning exercises instead of the yoga. Noting that hatha yoga requires focused effort, study leader Neha Gothe, then at the University of Illinois and now a professor at Wayne State University, suggested that the “focus on one’s body, mind and breath during yoga practice may have…(resulted) in an improved ability to sustain attention.”

Sources:
Neha Gothe, Edward McAuley and Arthur Kramer, “The effects of an 8-week hatha yoga intervention on executive function in older adults,” The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glu095

Thursday
Dec042014

How to Make Kids Smarter

The key may be physical fitness. A new study suggests that kids who are aerobically and physically fit may have developed better brainpower and thinking skills than kids who are not so fit. Earlier research has linked higher levels of fitness to better attention, memory and academic skills, and the study authors noted that exercise is known to increase brainpower temporarily – which is why working out before taking a test is a good idea. So far, however, they haven’t determined whether physical fitness makes kids permanently smarter. For the new study, the researchers scanned the brains of 24 nine and 10 year olds, looking for differences in white matter, which facilitates communication between brain regions. Some of the kids were fit and some weren’t. The differences suggested that the fit kids had better-connected brains, but another researcher noted that the less fit kids in the study weighed more than the fit kids, raising the question of whether obesity, not fitness, explains the difference in brainpower. The same research team is now engaged in a five-year randomized, controlled trial to see whether white matter improves over time in kids who begin and maintain a new fitness routine.

Sources:
Laura Chaddock-Heyman, Arthur Kramer, Charles Hillman et al, “Aerobic fitness is associated with greater white matter integrity in children,” frontiers in Human Neuroscience, August 2014, doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00584

Thursday
Dec042014

Exercise Quickly Lowers Breast Cancer Risk

The risk of breast cancer diminishes rapidly after postmenopausal women begin to exercise, even if their daily activity is no more than a half hour walk. A study from France found that women who began exercising for at least four hours a week in the four years during which the data was collected had a 10 percent lower risk of breast cancer than women who didn’t exercise during that period. The risk of breast cancer also diminished in women who spent two hours a week cycling or engaging in other sports. However, the cancer risk was not reduced among women who reported performing this amount of exercise during five to nine years before they took part in the study, but who were less active during the four years of the study itself. The researchers noted that their findings addressed the question of how rapidly exercise impacts breast cancer risk and determined that the risk remains 10 percent lower in physically active women as long as they continue to exercise, but not after they stop. Earlier studies have shown that physical activity can also boost survival rates for women who have already been diagnosed with the disease.

Sources:
Agnès Fournier et al, “Recent Recreational Physical Activity and Breast Cancer Risk in Postmenopausal Women in the E3N Cohort.” Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, 2014; DOI: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-14-0150

Thursday
Dec042014

Weather and Your Aching Back

Don’t blame the weather for your backache – it probably has nothing to do with it. Researchers in Australia took a critical look at the common belief that back pain is weather related, and found that apart from a clinically insignificant link between wind speed and gusts, there’s no connection between backache and rain, temperature, barometric pressure or relative humidity. The research team, from the University of Sydney, reviewed 993 cases of sudden, acute back pain reported by patients in primary care clinics in Sydney from October 2011 to November 2012. They compared reports of back pain with weather information provided by Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology – for each case, the investigators checked the weather one week before and one month before the date each patient first reported back pain. The researchers made the point that their findings apply only to back pain, not to the effect of weather on pain associated with arthritis and fibromyalgia as well as other diseases. The study was published online July 10, 2014 by Arthritis Care & Research.