There is no scientific evidence that complementary therapies or kits sold through websites can identify allergies, the UK NHS watchdog NICE says. It says sites for services such as hair analysis use plausible stories but are not backed up by scientific evidence. It is publishing new guidance to help doctors in England and Wales identify when a child may have allergy problems. NICE says some parents end up turning to alternative therapies after a perceived lack of help from their GPs.
It is estimated that one in 20 young children has a food allergy. Dr Adam Fox, an allergy specialist based at the Evelina Children's Hospital in London, says not all children suffer immediate and obvious symptoms. “Food allergies can actually be extremely subtle. Lots of children have eczema, colic or spit up more food than usual. For some of those children the underlying problem is an allergy to something within their diet.”
The guidelines include detailed advice about how to recognise symptoms and when to refer to specialists. Dr Fox, who helped write the guidelines for National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), says he often sees parents in his specialist clinic who have wasted money on complementary or alternative tests.
The review by NICE looked for any scientific research of the usefulness of approaches including hair analysis and Vega testing, which uses mild electric currents, or kinesiology, in diagnosing allergies in children. “The websites are very well put together, the stories behind them are plausible, but we were unable to find any evidence to support them,” says Dr Fox. He says there are two types of testing used in NHS clinics – skin prick and blood sample – which are backed by scientific research. NICE is warning that parents sometimes turn to alternative tests when they have failed to convince their family doctor to listen to their concerns.
It took Alison Berthelson more than two years to get an allergy diagnosis for her first son Harris. She had been to the local surgery several times when he suffered rashes and stomach upsets without any particular cause being identified. After Harris ate a small piece of chocolate containing nuts he suffered a more extreme reaction, becoming agitated, with an extreme rash covering his entire body. The out-of-hours GP gave her son a medicine to reduce swelling, but did not send him on to hospital as an emergency. “It was really very terrifying, terrifying at the time because we didn't know what was happening, and terrifying later when we did know what had happened and how lucky we were.” A new GP correctly diagnosed possible food allergies, and sent Harris for testing at a specialist NHS clinic. He now has to avoid nuts, sesame and some other ingredients used in prepared foods.
Allergies on rise The number of children suffering from food allergies appears to be increasing, although experts are at a loss to understand exactly why. Family doctors are now more likely to see very young children suffering allergic reactions. Dr Joanne Walsh, a GP involved in drafting the advice, says she now sees several children a week with suspected allergic reactions. Some are babies just a couple of weeks old. By gradually eliminating, and reintroducing different foods, she can help parents manage the allergy without the need for hospital visits. “There's nothing more rewarding than a parent coming back and saying it's like having a different child.”
The link between obesity and cardiac disease is not merely anecdotal, there is proof for that. Now, there is further proof that even overweight causes a clustering of risk factors for cardio vascular abnormalities. A recent publication in Heart Asia, a British Medical Journal, has showed that there is not much difference between the cardio vascular risk factors in obese and overweight people. “The clutch of risk factors – glucose intolerance, hyper tension, high cholesterol – are all significantly higher among overweight and obese subjects than among normal subjects,” Vijay Viswanathan, MV Hospital for Diabetes and Prof. M.Viswanthan Diabetes Research Center said. He co-authored the article with Shabana Tharkar, also from the Indian hospital.
The study, conducted among two groups – 2021 subjects aged over 20 years, and 1289 subjects aged 8-19 years – indicated that even among overweight, 'non-obese' people, the presence of major cardiovascular risk factors was not significantly different. While the total diabetes prevalence among the obese population is 28.4 per cent, among the overweight population is 25 per cent. Again, with hypertension, the value for the obese group is 34.2 per cent, while for the overweight population it is 27.6 per cent. In contrast, the corresponding values are 16.2 per cent (diabetes) and 20.2 (hypertension).
Similarly, the study showed higher values for triglycerides and high HDL cholesterol for both these groups.
Overweight was defined as a Body Mass Index, equal to, or in excess of 25 kg/m2 and obesity, a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or above. Further worrisome is the increasing rate of overweight and obesity among both men and women from 1995 to 2008, across all age groups. Dr. Viswanathan added that this is the result of rapid urbanisation. “Obesity has already hit the Western world and it is time for Indians to wake up to the alarm bells,” according to the article. Results from previous studies show a lower risk of developing diabetes with just a five per cent initial reduction in weight, Dr. Viswanathan said.
The findings highlight the urgent need for framing direct and indirect strategies to control the rising levels of obesity in the population, in order to substantially reduce the country's non communicable diseases burden, he added. Regulating the diet, reducing intake of fast foods and high-calorie meals, and upping physical activity and exercise on a regular basis would go a long way in keeping weight under control, diabetologists advise.
Having psoriasis appears to double the risk that a person will also have a dangerous clustering of risk factors for heart disease and diabetes known as metabolic syndrome, a new study shows. Previous research has found patients with psoriasis to be at higher risk for getting diabetes and high blood pressure, but the new study, which is in the Archives of Dermatology, is one of the first to document the broader complement of cardiovascular risks associated with the disease.
“It is more than skin deep,” says Abrar Qureshi, MD, MPH, co-author of the paper and vice chairman of the department of dermatology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. “We like to tell patients that psoriasis is a systemic disease. The risk for metabolic syndrome is high.”
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease in which the body overproduces skin cells, causing a thick, scaly, red rash to appear on the palms, soles of the feet, elbows, scalp, or lower back. It is thought to be one manifestation of chronic, body-wide inflammation. Metabolic syndrome is defined as having at least three of the following risk factors for heart disease and diabetes: high blood pressure, too much belly fat, high fasting blood sugar, low levels of HDL “good” cholesterol, and high levels of bad blood fats called triglycerides. Studies have shown that having metabolic syndrome dramatically increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, peripheral vascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Researchers say it's difficult to know which of the two might be driving the other. “There's evidence on both sides of the fence,” says lead study author Thorvardur Jon Löve, MD, of Landspitali University Hospital in Reykjavik, Iceland. “There's evidence that obesity drives the development of psoriasis. There's also evidence that inflammation drives some components of insulin resistance. It's a real chicken and egg problem at this point.”
Metabolic Syndrome and Psoriasis
The new study used blood test results from nearly 2,500 people who participated in the government-sponsored National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2003 and 2006. None had previously been diagnosed with diabetes. Among study participants who said that a doctor had diagnosed them with psoriasis, 40% had metabolic syndrome, compared to just 23% of those who did not have psoriasis.
The association was particularly strong in women. Nearly half of women with psoriasis had metabolic syndrome, compared to just one in 5 women without psoriasis. In contrast, psoriasis appeared to raise a man's risk of having metabolic syndrome by only about 4%. “When you get this constellation of factors together, the risk is higher than the sum of the individual factors,” Löve says. “Visit your primary care physician and bring this up.”