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Allergy study highlights risks for children

A lack of testing for food allergies is putting children's health at risk and could lead to life threatening reactions, a study has found. The study, Adverse reactions to food in New Zealand children age 0-5 years, was published in the New Zealand Medical Journal. It looked at a cross-section of 110 children who had attended Plunket clinics. It found 44 had experienced an adverse reaction to food, but only four had been clinically evaluated. Those children were found to have adverse reactions to food allergens, including a life threatening peanut allergy. Two others had been hospitalised with systemic symptoms, but neither had undergone testing for food allergy. “If these children have food allergies, they remain at risk for continued and possibly severe reactions,” the study said.

Parents modifying children's diets or breastfeeding mothers cutting out food without advice from a physician or dietician could also have adverse affects, it said. “Failure to thrive is commonly seen in children experiencing FA (food allergy) as a result of multiple foods being removed from their diet.” The data indicated adverse reactions to food were a public health concern and may be under investigated — even when symptoms were severe, the study said.

“There is an urgent need to investigate the epidemiology, diagnosis, and prevention of FA (food allergy) in New Zealand to reduce morbidity, improve child health, and reduce the burden to health costs.” Thirty-three of the children were reported to have eczema. Ten had worsening symptoms two hours after eating, the study said. Symptoms improved in six of them with dietary changes. Doctors had prescribed topical therapy for 18 of those children with eczema, but symptoms had persisted.

“One possible explanation for this observation is undiagnosed FA (food allergy). Without testing, allergic triggers for eczema could not be identified in these participants.” Further investigation of food allergy as the cause of eczema was warranted, the study said.

Adverse reactions to food worldwide in children was an increasing concern and food allergy was as common in New Zealand as in other countries, the study said. The study was conducted by the Auckland District Health Board and led by Associate Professor Rohan Ameratunga and lead researcher Dr Christine Crooks. Allergy New Zealand chief executive Penny Jorgensen said the study was “really disturbing” because it highlighted that many children were not being assessed for food allergy. The risk was the potential for life-threatening reactions, she said.

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Smoking is behind one third of rheumatoid arthritis

Smoking accounts for more than a third of cases of the most severe and common form of rheumatoid arthritis, indicates research published online in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. And it accounts for more than half of cases in people who are genetically susceptible to development of the disease, finds the study.

The researchers base their findings on more than 1,200 people with rheumatoid arthritis and 871 people matched for age and sex, but free of the disease. The patients came from 19 health clinics in south and central Sweden, while their healthy peers were randomly selected from the population register. All the participants were aged between 18 and 70. They were quizzed about their smoking habits and grouped into three categories, depending on how long they had smoked. Blood samples were taken to assess all the participants' genetic profile for susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis and to gauge the severity of their disease, as indicated by their antibody levels.

More than half of those with rheumatoid arthritis (61%) had the most severe form of the disease, which is also the most common form, as judged by testing positive for anticitrullinated protein/peptide antibody (ACPA). Those who were the heaviest smokers – 20 cigarettes a day for at least 20 years – were more than 2.5 times as likely to test positive for ACPA. The risk fell for ex-smokers, the longer they had given up smoking. But among the heaviest smokers, the risk was still relatively high, even after 20 years of not having smoked.

Based on these figures, the researchers calculated that smoking accounted for 35% of ACPA positive cases, and one in five cases of rheumatoid arthritis, overall. Although this risk is not as high as for lung cancer, where smoking accounts for 90% of cases, it is similar to that for coronary artery heart disease, say the authors. Among those with genetic susceptibility to the disease, and who tested positive for ACPA, smoking accounted for more than half the cases (55%). Those who smoked the most had the highest risk.

The authors point out that several other environmental factors may contribute to an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis, including air pollutants and hormonal factors. But they suggest that their findings are sufficient to prompt those with a family history of rheumatoid arthritis to be advised to give up smoking.

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Depression – Diabetes Relationship

A baseline questionnaire about medical history and health practices was completed and then repeated every 2 years through 2006. Self-reported symptoms of depression, use of antidepressant medication, and physician-diagnosed depression were used as measures of depression. Depressed mood was assessed using the 5-item Mental Health Index, with a score of 52 or less indicating severe depression.

Those who reported a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes mellitus had the diagnosis confirmed by means of a supplementary questionnaire validated by medical record review.

During the 10-year follow-up, 2844 women were diagnosed as having type 2 diabetes and 7415 developed depression.

The relative risk of developing type 2 diabetes among women who were depressed was 1.17 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.05 – 1.30). Study participants using antidepressants had a relative risk of 1.25 (95% CI, 1.10 – 1.41).

After controlling for all covariates, the investigators found women with diabetes had a relative risk of 1.29 (95% CI, 1.18 – 1.40) of developing clinical depression.

In addition, the relative risk for depression in diabetic subjects taking no diabetic medication, oral hypoglycemic agents, and insulin was 1.25 (95% CI, 1.09 – 1.42), 1.24 (95% CI, 1.09 – 1.41), and 1.53 (95% CI, 1.26 – 1.85), respectively.

The results also showed that compared with their nondiabetic counterparts, women with diabetes were more likely to have a higher body mass index and less likely to be physically active, a finding that suggests these 2 risk factors could be “major mediating factors.”

Nevertheless, they note the association remained significant after controlling for body mass index and lifestyle factors, which suggests “depression has effects on incident diabetes independent of adiposity and inactivity.”

The finding that women taking antidepressant medications were at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with those with severe depressive symptoms or physician-diagnosed depression has at least 2 possible explanations — antidepressant medications may be a marker of more severe, chronic, or recurrent depression or the medications themselves may increase diabetes risk.

“Although antidepressant medication use might be a marker of severe depression, its specific association with elevated risk of diabetes warrants further scrutiny,” they write.

In addition, the study authors note that these findings reinforce the hypothesis that diabetes may be related to stress: “Depression may result from the biochemical changes directly caused by diabetes or its treatment, or from the stresses and strains associated with living with diabetes and its often debilitating consequences.”

“This large, well-established cohort study provides evidence that the association between depression and diabetes is bidirectional and this association is partially explained by, but independent of, other known risk factors such as adiposity and lifestyle variables. Future studies are needed to confirm our findings in different populations and to investigate the potential mechanisms underlying this association,” the investigators conclude.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression. The study authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Arch Intern Med. 2010;170:1884-1891.

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Kids and food allergies

 

Tips for Managing Food Allergy

Get a professional diagnosis. Don't try to diagnose a food allergy yourself. If you suspect that your child has a food allergy, discuss this with your doctor. He or she can advise you accordingly and may refer you to an allergist for additional testing and treatment if needed. You should work with your doctor and/or allergist to develop an action plan for managing the allergy through indicating which foods your child should avoid, and possibly prescribing medication, such as an antihistamine or, for severe reactions, self-injectable epinephrine (EpiPen® or Twinject®).

Pass around the plan. Give your child's food allergy action plan to people who regularly see your child, including relatives, caregivers and their friends' parents.

See an Accredited Practicing Dietitian. An APD like Nastaran can help you and your child identify foods and ingredients to avoid, and develop an eating plan to ensure your child gets all the nutrients needed to grow and develop properly. For example, if your child is allergic to milk, the dietitian will recommend other calcium-containing foods and beverages.

Always read food labels. Always read food labels to see if the product contains any of the eight major allergens, or other ingredients your child is allergic to. Since food and beverage companies continually make improvements, read the label every time you purchase a product. Teach your child how to read labels, too.

Get support at school. Meet with staff at your child's school to review and distribute your child's food allergy action plan. At minimum, involve your child's primary teacher, the school nurse (if there is one), and key food service staff. Make sure all supervisory staff your child sees during the school day and during after-school activities have a copy of the plan. It is highly recommended that school administrators, teachers, and even food service staff are aware of the food allergy action plan in the absence of a school nurse.

Be cafeteria cautious. Go over the school lunch menu with your child to identify foods to avoid. Work with food service staff to plan substitutions or pack a lunch for your child to take to school. Remind your child not to share or trade food with others and make sure they know which staff can help if they have questions about a food, or if they have a reaction to a food. Be sure your school food service staff has copies of the School Foodservice and Food Allergies information sheet and review it with them when you talk to them about your child's food allergies.

Ask questions when eating out. Most life-threatening allergic reactions to foods occur when eating away from the home. Explain your child's situation and needs clearly to your host or food server—and teach your child to do the same when you're not with them. If necessary, ask to speak with the chef or manager. Some fast food restaurants provide a list of the ingredients in their menu items, as well as information on whether any of the eight major allergens are present.

Keep an allergy-safe kitchen. Rather than singling out your food-allergic child, prepare allergy-free recipes the whole family will enjoy.

Make peers “allergy allies.” Encourage your child to talk openly with friends and classmates about their allergy, what foods they must avoid, and what could happen to them if they don't. Suggest that your child enlist their friends in helping them “stay on the alert” for foods in question so they won't get sick.

Most importantly, be ready for emergencies. Teach your child the possible symptoms of a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), such as difficulty breathing or swallowing, or tingling in the hands, feet, lips or scalp. If they experience symptoms after eating a food, make sure they know to immediately call 0-0-0 and, if prescribed by your allergist, use their medication to treat the reaction. If possible, have your child wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace that identifies the specific allergy. Every few months, “role play” an allergic reaction to make sure your child knows what to do.

For more information and resources on managing food allergies see Nastaran or your doctor.

Source: International Food Information Council

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