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Food Allergies Anxiety And Loneliness

Children who are allergic to food are found to be suffering from anxiety and are increasingly more lonely; One allergic child out of five never attends peers’ parties, while one in four always brings along “safe” food. The burden of food allergies and the risk they can escalate to life-threatening diseases is particularly heavy on children, whose normally active and sociable lifestyle can be severely limited and frustrated by the effort to keep them away from potentially dangerous food.

According to a study presented at the 2011 Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Meeting by the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI), held Feb 17-19 in Venice, Italy, 23 percent of allergic children are no longer curious to try new food to vary their diet, considered too monotonous by most of them. A child out of ten also gives up crucial physical activity for fear of anaphylactic shock triggered by exercise.

“About 17 percent of allergic children, regardless of their age, never go to a party or a picnic with friends, while 24 percent are forced to bring along something to eat,” says Prof. Maria Antonella Muraro, Chair of the EAACI Meeting. The study, headed by Prof. Muraro, was carried out by the Center for the study and treatment of allergies and food intolerances at the hospital of the University of Padua, Italy on 107 young patients and their mothers.

“Also, 5 to 15 per cent of cases of anaphylactic shock can be triggered by physical activity following the consumption of small amounts of allergenic food that would otherwise be harmless, so one allergic child out of ten also stops every kind of exercise,” Prof. Muraro added. “Allergies are often downplayed as a minor problem, but the life of an allergic person can be hell. Allergic children show to be more afraid of being sick and a higher level of anxiety about food than children with diabetes. The constant alarm surrounding them is taking a toll on their development and well-being.”

Another worrisome problem adding to the poor quality of life of allergic patients, especially the younger ones, is the need to carry life-saving devices at all times, such as epinephrine auto-injectors, “loaded” with enough drug to prevent death in case of severe anaphylactic shock. They are easy to use, light to carry and discreet, but one out of three patients still leaves home without them.

“Within 8 or 10 minutes the shot reverses the symptoms, ranging from urticaria to respiratory distress, cardiovascular collapse and gastrointestinal problems including vomiting and diarrhoea,” explains Prof. Muraro. “It can cause minor side effects, such as irritability or tremors that end as soon as the adrenaline is processed by the body, generally within a couple of hours. Patients should not be scared, even those who have a heart disease: the possible side effects are negligible in comparison to the opportunity to save your life.”

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Fructose Intolerance

Researchers have a new theory on why some kids get unexplained tummy aches.

In some people, the small intestine is unable to efficiently break down fructose (and sometimes other forms of sugar). This problem is sometimes referred to as fructose intolerance. The undigested fructose passes into the large intestine, where it is broken down by bacteria. A by-product of this process is the creation of carbon dioxide and hydrogen. These two gases build up in the intestine, causing bloating, gas, pain and diarrhea. In some cases, the problem can affect absorption of important nutrients, like calcium and iron.

Researchers estimate about 33 percent of Americans have some level of sensitivity to sugar, most commonly to fructose, but the symptoms are often vague. Some people with fructose intolerance can eat small amounts of the sugar and not have any problems, making diagnosis even trickier.

Daniel Lustig, M.D., Pediatric Gastroenterologist at Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center in Tacoma, WA, says patients with chronic digestive problems should have a physician’s evaluation to rule out other possible causes of the symptoms, like Celiac disease or Crohn’s disease. Once those conditions have been ruled out, he recommends a diagnostic tool called the breath hydrogen test.

A patient is given a dose of fructose. Then, periodically, he/she breathes into an air collection bag. The gases from the bag are retrieved and analyzed for the presence of hydrogen (one of the gases given off when fructose is broken down in the large intestine). Patients whose hydrogen levels exceed 20 points beyond a baseline reading are likely to be fructose intolerant.

Lustig explains the main treatment of fructose intolerance is avoidance of foods containing fructose. That includes fruits, fruit juices, sodas and processed foods and drinks with high fructose corn syrup. Since fructose is in so many foods, it can be tricky to find and hard to avoid.

Lustig recently performed a study to look at possible fructose intolerance in 245 children and adolescents (ages 2 to 18) with unexplained chronic abdominal pain, gas or bloating. The breath hydrogen test found that nearly 54 percent of the participants tested positive for fructose intolerance. Lustig says the problem appeared to be especially high among teen girls.

Those who were judged to be fructose intolerant were given advice on using a low-fructose diet. The investigators found that nearly 68 percent of those who followed the recommended diet had an improvement or resolution in their symptoms.

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Children who don’t like fruit and vegetables are 13 times more likely to be constipated

Primary school children who don't like eating fruit and vegetables are 13 times more likely to develop functional constipation than children who do, according to a study in the December issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing. Drinking less than 400ml of fluid a day also significantly increases the risk. Dr Moon Fai Chan, assistant professor at the National University of Singapore, teamed up with Yuk Ling Chan, from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, to study the diet and toileting habits of 383 children aged from eight to ten from a school in Hong Kong. Fifty-one per cent were boys and children who were on regular medication or who paid regular hospital or clinic visits were excluded. Seventy per cent of the children who took part in the study were ten-years-old, 22 per cent were nine and eight per cent were eight.

“A number of studies have suggested that functional constipation – which is due to dietary habits, environmental habits and psychosocial factors rather than a particular health problem – is getting worse among school-age children” says Dr Moon Fai Chan from the Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Study at the University. “It is estimated that functional constipation accounts for 95 per cent of cases of constipation affecting children once they pass infancy. The condition has serious consequences, as it can cause a wide range of distressing emotional and physical problems such as stress, soiling, problems at school, damaged self-confidence and reduced social interaction.”

Key findings of the study included:

  • Seven per cent of the children who took part suffered from functional constipation and there were clear dietary differences between the children who did and did not have problems.
  • Girls were more likely to have functional constipation than boys (8.2 per cent versus 6.6 per cent) and nine-year-olds were more likely to report problems (13.3 per cent) than eight-year-olds (10 per cent) and ten-year-olds (5.2 per cent).
  • Children who only drank 200ml to 400ml of fluid a day were eight times more likely to experience problems than children who drank 600ml to 800ml and 14 times more likely than children who drank a litre or more.
  • Children who said they did not like fruit or vegetables were 13 times more likely to suffer from functional constipation than children who did.
  • Nine out of ten children refused to use the school toilets for bowel movements and the figure was the same for children with and without constipation.

The biggest problems with school toilets were that children preferred to go at home. They also cited lack of toilet paper and dirty toilets. “When we compared our findings with previous studies we found that the levels of functional constipation among Hong Kong school children was higher than those in the USA and UK, but similar to Italy” says Dr Chan. The authors have made a number of recommendations that they feel would help to tackle the problem. They suggest that:

  • Primary schools should work with healthcare professionals to make children more aware of the problem, with regular healthcare education sessions in classrooms and at assemblies.
  • Parents need to be educated about functional constipation so that they can spot problems in their children and make sure that their diet provides sufficient fluid, vegetables and fruit. They should also remind their children to pay regular toilet visits at school.
  • School tuck-shops should stock high-fibre snacks such as popcorn, fresh food and dried fruit, instead of crisps and sweets.
  • Children should be encouraged to drink plain water during lessons and drinking fountains should be installed.
  • School toilets should be more user-friendly, private and well stocked with paper so that children feel more comfortable using them.

“We hope that this study will help to raise awareness of functional constipation, which can cause children real physical and emotional distress and seriously affect their quality of life” says Dr Chan.

Source: Investigating factors associated with functional constipation of primary school children in Hong Kong. Chan MF and Chan YL. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 19, pp3390-3400. (December 2010). DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2010.03366.x

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Diabetes Risk from Dining Out

A GOURMET meal may be as bad for you as a Big Mac, according to diabetes researchers who are alarmed at the rise in young men diagnosed with the disease.Corporate lunches and dinners at restaurants dishing up rich, fatty foods, coupled with sedentary working lives are being blamed for the trend. Dr Neale Cohen, of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, said many patients were unaware meals at upmarket restaurants were often as high in fat, salt and sugar as fast food. 

''Eating out is really code for eating badly,'' Dr Cohen said. ''Whether it's a fine French restaurant or McDonald's, it's the type of food that causes the problem.'' He said doctors at the institute are seeing men as young as 40 affected by type 2 diabetes, which is often triggered by obesity and linked to poor diet. ''Many of my patients will eat out three or four times a week for work and we are seeing 40-year-old businessmen who are in real trouble. To have diabetes at that age and otherwise be perfectly well with very little family history, is a really worrying thing.''

Dr Cohen recommends his patients only eat out once a week but said the ''MasterChef effect'' was encouraging people to re-create the elaborate dishes at home.

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A Whey to Reduce High Blood Pressure

Supplementing diet with whey-based protein may help reduce high blood pressure, a U.S. researcher says.

Nutritional biochemist Susan Fluegel of Washington State University in Spokane says daily doses of commonly available whey brought a more than 6-point reduction in the average blood pressure of men and women with elevated systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Whey is a by-product of cheese-making. “One of the things I like about this is it is low-cost,” Fluegel says in a statement. “Not only that, whey protein has not been shown to be harmful in any way.”

The study, published in International Dairy Journal, finds not everyone drinking the whey-supplemented drink has changes in blood pressure.

The supplement did not lower the blood pressure of subjects who did not have elevated pressure to begin with. That's good, says Fluegel, since low blood pressure can also be a problem. However, blood-pressure reductions — as seen in those with elevated pressure in this study — can bring a 35 percent to 40 percent reduction in fatal strokes, says Fluegel.

Fluegel and colleagues looked at 71 student subjects ages 18-26, but Fluegel says older people with blood pressure issues would likely get similar results. The supplement was delivered in fruit-flavored drinks developed at the university's creamery.

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Tylenol linked to asthma

A new study shows that adolescents who take acetaminophen, better known as Tylenol, have a higher risk of asthma, allergic nasal conditions and the skin disorder eczema.

Acetaminophen is widely viewed as a very safe drug—one reason why hospitals use it routinely as a painkiller instead of aspirin or ibuprofen. The major problem associated with it is liver damage caused by overdoses. Recently, however, there has been a growing drumbeat about possible dangers from the drug. One study, for example, found that acetaminophen increased the risk of hearing loss in men. And some others have hinted that the drug is linked to asthma in newborns whose mothers used the drug during pregnancy and in young children exposed to it.

The new findings were reported in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine by researchers in the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood. The team, headed by epidemiologist Richard Beasley of the Medical Research Institute in Wellington, New Zealand, gave written questionnaires to 322,959 13- and 14-year-olds in 50 countries exploring their use of acetaminophen, other drugs, and asthma symptoms. They were also shown a video containing five scenes of clinical asthma and asked whether they had experienced any symptoms similar to those shown. About 73% of the teens said they had used acetaminophen at least once in the previous year and 30% said they had used it monthly.

Taking into account maternal education, smoking, diet and siblings, the team found that those subjects who had used the drug at least once per year were 43% more likely to have asthma, while those who used it at least monthly were 2.5 times as likely to suffer from the condition. The risk of rhinoconjunctivitis (a severe nasal congestion) was 38% higher for those who used it once per year and 2.39 times as high for those who used it at least monthly. The comparable increases in risk for eczema were 31% and 99%, respectively.

Overall, the increased risk of asthma associated with acetaminophen was 41%, the authors found. That could, at least in part, explain why there has been an increase in the prevalence of asthma in the 50 years since the drug was introduced. Given the widespread use of the drug, it could also represent a large public health problem.

But—and it is a very big but—the study shows only an association, not causality. That could only be determined by a randomized clinical trial, which the authors recommend. Furthermore, the study relies on the recall of teenagers. Recall is notoriously inaccurate in adults, and it is probably worse in adolescents, clouding the results. For the time being then, you can probably continue to feel comfortable giving the drug to your children.

In a statement, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, which manufactures Tylenol, said that the drug “has over 50 years of clinical history to support its safety and effectiveness” and that no clinical trial has demonstrated that the drug causes asthma.

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