7 Things in Wine You Didn't Know Were There (And How They Affect Your Health)

Sulfites, tannins, resveratrol—if you’ve read anything about wine, you’ve probably come across at least one of these terms. But what does all the fancy verbiage mean for your health? We asked Jim Harbertson, PhD, associate professor of enology (that is, the science of wine) at Washington State University, to decode the lingo commonly found on bottle labels so you know exactly what you’re drinking, and how it affects you, beyond a nice buzz.

RELATED: Is Alcohol Actually Good for You?


What it means:Sulfites are normally added to wine to protect it from oxidation or unwanted microbial growth,” Habertson says. In other words, they keep wine fresh and prevent it from morphing into vinegar. Sulfites have developed a bad rap for causing allergic reactions like sneezing and headaches, but in reality, only a small portion of the population exhibits a sensitivity or allergy to them. There’s also some indication that they trigger symptoms for asthmatics, but the relationship between worsened asthma symptoms and sulfites isn’t totally clear, Harbertson says. You’ll spot “contains sulfites” on wine bottles because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that labeling when any food contains more than 10 parts per million of sulfites, but for most people, they’re nothing to worry about. Know for sure you’re allergic? Look for the words “sulfite-free” on labels.

RELATED: 7 Ways to Keep Alcohol From Ruining Your Diet


What it means: The nitrogen-based compound is a common allergen found in foods and can cause an inflammatory response. (It’s also, confusingly, the name for a substance our bodies release when they’re having an allergic reaction.) Histamines sometimes crop up in wines that undergo a second fermentation to smooth out their acidity and texture, Harbertson explains. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to tell which wines undergo this process and which don’t without checking with the winemaker, though some bottles are now labeled as not undergoing malolactic fermentation, meaning they should be histamine-free, Harbertson says). The good news: “There really isn’t any definitive research that demonstrates that the histamines in wine cause human health problems,” Harbertson says.

RELATED: The Latest On Food Allergies


What it means: You know that dry feeling you get on your tongue after sipping certain kinds of vino? That astringent sensation is caused by tannins, a type of polyphenol that get produced during the winemaking process, mostly from grapes. While these micronutrients may be disease-fighting when consumed in certain forms and foods, when imbibed in wine, “these natural compounds tend to get bound up in salivary proteins and proteins in the human digestive system, so their health benefits are somewhat limited,” Harbertson says. Tannins are most often found in big, full-bodied red wines—look for labels bearing the names Bordeaux, Shiraz, Barolo, or Barbaresco.

RELATED: How to Pour a Perfect Serving of Wine


What it means: You may have seen this buzzy antioxidant, found in the skin of grapes listed on the packaging of beauty serums and creams touting its anti-aging properties. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a wine label doing the same. “Based on current studies, it’s not clear that there’s a health benefit [of drinking it] because the resveratrol concentration in wine is low,” Harbertson says. Want to try to load up on resveratrol, just in case? Know that there’s likely a higher concentration of it in red wines versus white. But that’s still no reason to drink more than the recommended one glass a day.

RELATED: Is Your Diet Good For Your Skin?

Heavy metals

What it means: Okay, this one’s not listed on any label, but you might have heard about these being linked to wine anyway. Heavy metals are metals and metal compounds that can adversely affect our health when consumed in the right (or wrong, as the case may be) doses. A study published in the Chemistry Central Journal indicated that some wines have showed concerning levels of heavy metals such as copper and manganese. However, according to Harbertson, “the FDA has been monitoring heavy metals in wine and has indicated that concentrations are lower than would require regulation.” Cheers to that!

RELATED: How to Detox Your Body

Organic and biodynamic

What they mean: Organic winemakers refrain from using pesticides and other chemicals in their growing and production methods, and they don’t add sulfites as preservatives. Biodynamic vintners start with these same organic practices, but they also consider the whole ecosystem of the vineyard in growing their grapes, including more obscure factors such as lunar cycles. While Harbertson says he’s all for producing wine that’s environmentally sustainable, he also notes, “there’s not enough information at this point on the human health impacts of biodynamic and organic grapes and wine” to say that the practice is actually good for us.

RELATED: 11 Things It’s Best to Buy Organic


What it means: This hot phrase has been all over wine labels lately. The benefits of low-alcohol wine include getting less drunk with each glass, lower cost per bottle, and a lighter taste. It’s lighter on calories, too: Though the relationship between booze and calorie intake is complex—“alcohol is not converted to energy like other things you consume and, therefore, doesn’t get stored as other calories will,” says Harbertson—alcohol is the primary source of calories in wine, so low-alcohol wine will have fewer of them than bottles with a higher content.

RELATED: 5 Tips to Restart Your Weight Loss

News Roundup: Arsenic Linked to Diabetes, Stress Worsens Allergies, and More

Arsenic linked to risk of type 2 diabetes in the U.S.Even low levels of arsenic, possibly from drinking water, may be linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes in the United States, Johns Hopkins University researchers report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. (High levels of exposure in other countries, such as Taiwan, Bangladesh, and Mexico, have long been thought to increase diabetes risk.) In the new study of 788 Americans exposed to arsenic, the top 20% with the highest exposure to arsenic—which was measured in urine—had a 3.6-fold higher type 2–diabetes risk than the 20% with the lowest amount of exposure. The median arsenic exposure in the study (half of participants were above and half were below) was roughly three times lower than the Environmental Protection Agency’s reference dose, according to an editorial. Arsenic is found in natural mineral deposits in some parts of the United States, and can be found in water, food, and the air, although the study didn’t determine the specific source. The researchers estimate that about 13 million people in the United States live in areas with drinking-water arsenic levels above the EPA’s recommended limit of 10 micrograms per liter, and levels tend to be higher in the West, Midwest, and Northeast.

Stress makes allergies worse and longer-lastingHere’s one more thing to stress about. Your allergies may be worse when you’re under stress, Reuters reports. Ohio State University researchers stressed out allergy sufferers in a variety of inventive ways, including asking them to solve tricky math problems in front of eagle-eyed evaluators. The moderately stressed study subjects developed allergy-induced welts that were 75% larger than those induced after a low-stress scenario (such as reading a magazine). A high-stress scenario caused welts twice as big. Even worse, the allergy-induced wheals were more likely to linger 24 hours after a highly stressful event than after a low-stress event. Unfortunately, these kinds of delayed allergic reactions tend to be most resistant to treatment with antihistamines, the authors say. If it’s not already painfully obvious, they suggest you keep stress to a minimum during allergy season.

Two deaths in patients using the diabetes drug Byetta Six people in the United States who used the injectable diabetes drug Byetta (exenatide) have developed hemorrhagic or necrotizing pancreatitis, and two of the patients have died, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. We’ve written quite a bit about Byetta, including the new drug’s benefits (it causes weight loss in some patients) and risks, which may include acute pancreatitis. The condition occurs when the gland, which makes digestive enzymes, begins to digest itself. (Watch a video of a patient describing her acute pancreatitis symptoms, which include abdominal pain and occasional vomiting.) Isolated cases don’t prove that the drug is responsible. However, expect stronger warnings on Byetta’s label in the near future, the FDA says.

Birth control pills may skew sexy-smell perceptionGood looks count in the dating game, but smell is crucial too. Now University of Liverpool researchers have made a startling discovery: Although birth control pills may have revolutionized modern romance, they could be throwing a wrench into the works of a primordial one—human scent. It’s thought that a person’s distinctive odor is due in part to immune system genes, which enhance genetic diversity by causing immuno-opposites to attract. But when women rated the odors of men for “sexiness,” women using birth control pills tended to shift away from evolutionary destiny and toward genetically similar men. There are downsides to this skew: Genetic similarity in couples can lead to fertility problems, and even to the breakdown of relationships, write the authors in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.  Seems a guy who smelled sexy under the influence of the Pill may turn out later to just plain smell.

Born during a recession, die of cardiovascular disease?If you procreate during financially lean times, can you doom a child to cardiovascular problems later in life? Maybe. It seems that people born during an economic recession live an average of 15 months less than those born during eras of excess, mostly due to cardiovascular problems, according to a recent study from the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in Bonn, Germany. The researchers analyzed data on Danish twins born in the early 1900s, and found that the twins’ health outcomes were similar later in life (dying younger, of predominantly cardiovascular causes) than if they were born during financially healthier times. The authors speculate that during a recession, suboptimal nutrition and health infrastructure, as well as stressed parents, may affect their offspring’s health. It’s not clear if 2008’s worldwide recession will bear bad fruit down the road; as the authors helpfully point out, “We need another 80 years to know this for sure.” In the meantime, it seems we have a new reason for kids to resent their moms, dads, presidents, and prime ministers.

FDA says plastic baby bottles are safe—againThe Food and Drug Administration has weighed in yet again on the safety of bisphenol A (BPA), a controversial chemical found in hard plastic, including baby bottles, water bottles, and the linings of cans. The federal agency says the chemical, which will be discussed by a panel of experts in September, is safe—a position it’s stuck with through the years. And the announcement will likely do little to quell the debate. The FDA relies on industry-funded data, but environmentalists don’t trust the research. Many comments at the Wall Street Journal’s health blog get to the heart of the matter—trust. “Why would anyone trust the FDA anymore?” is one of the milder ones.


HPV Vaccine Has Higher Allergic Reaction Rate

MONDAY, Sept. 1 (HealthDay News) — The rate of serious allergic reactions to the cervical cancer vaccine is considerably higher than that for other vaccines given to children, but the total number of these reactions remains miniscule, Australian researchers report

Overall, the Gardasil shot is remarkably safe, declared a team of doctors in an editorial accompanying the study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. They did acknowledge the need to keep tabs on possible side effects, however.

“Parents can be reassured that these reactions were very rare and are not a reason to not vaccinate their daughter against HPV (the virus that causes cervical cancer),” said study lead author Dr. Julia Brotherton, a public health physician at the National Centre for Immunization Research and Surveillance in Australia.

Gardasil, which was approved for use in the United States in 2006, protects against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted infection that causes most cases of cervical cancer, as well as other conditions such as genital warts. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends that 11- and 12-year-old girls be targeted for this vaccine, as most girls of this age are not yet sexually active, have not yet been exposed to HPV, and will therefore achieve maximum protection.

The recommendation was not without controversy, with some parents objecting to the shot because they felt it might encourage sexual activity, or because they feared potential complications or side effects.

This study focused on anaphylaxis, or severe allergic reactions to the shot.

In 2007, Australia launched a government-funded vaccination program aimed at females aged 12 to 26. The study authors found a total of seven cases of allergic reactions out of almost 270,000 doses, a rate of 2.6 cases per 100,000 doses. (Patients are supposed to receive three doses of the vaccine in order to be protected.)

The allergic reactions included nausea, itchy red rash, difficulty breathing and other symptoms.

“These reactions were all potentially serious, meaning that if they were untreated, it is possible they could have progressed to become potentially life-threatening. However, all were rapidly recognized and treated with no serious effects resulting,” Brotherton said.

Allergic reactions to vaccines aren’t unusual, although they tend to be rare. It’s not clear why the HPV vaccine might cause allergic reactions, Brotherton said.

The study authors did find that the rate of allergic reactions to the HPV vaccine was higher than the rates for other vaccines given at schools, including those for hepatitis B, diphtheria, measles, mumps and the flu. In some cases, the rate of allergic reactions to HPV was 5 times to 20 times as high as the rates for the other vaccines.

The results of the study need to be confirmed by other research, Brotherton said. It’s possible that the researchers in the new study may have detected more cases of allergic reactions because they used a different definition of them, she said. It’s also possible that the young women who got the vaccine may be more susceptible to problems than other groups of people who get vaccines, she said.

While the risk of allergic reactions shouldn’t discourage use of the vaccine, health workers should be prepared to “rapidly detect and treat adverse events, including fainting, anxiety and immediate hypersensitivity reactions,” wrote Dr. Neal A. Halsey of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in a commentary accompanying the Australian study in the Canadian journal’s Sept. 9 issue.

Some adolescents faint after getting the vaccine, he wrote, so health workers should monitor them for at least 15 minutes after vaccination and keep them sitting down if possible.

More information

Learn more about HPV from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Julia Brotherton, M.D., public health physician, National Centre for Immunization Research and Surveillance, Westmead, New South Wales, Australia. Sept. 9, 2008, Canadian Medical Association Journal

By Randy DotingaHealthDay Reporter

Last Updated: Sept. 02, 2008

Copyright © 2008 ScoutNews, LLC. All rights reserved.

Related Links:Sexual Health Journey: Start HereHow to Protect Yourself From HPVHow HPV Causes Cervical Cancer and Abnormal Pap SmearsWhat You Need to Know About the HPV Vaccine

Chilly Winter, Speedy Warm


By Anne HardingJack Schwartz, 8, has had seasonal allergy symptoms in the past, but his parents never needed to give him medication. This year was different. On the way to his baseball league’s opening celebration in Stow, Massachusetts, the second-grader started crying so hard his mother was afraid he’d have a panic attack after pollen blew into his eyes through open car windows.

“His eyes were just burning; they were really red,” says his mother, Julie Glovin. Luckily, the family ran into a friend whose son also had seasonal allergies, who recommended antihistamine eye drops for Jack. “Within a minute, he was much better,” Glovin says. Now he’s taking Zyrtec for kids, and so far is doing well.

Just as spring is the time for getting outside to enjoy blooming flowers and baseball pitches, it’s also a time of misery for allergy sufferers.

This year, some parts of the country are reporting a worse-than-usual allergy season—although your symptoms depend on where you live, experts say.

Pollen is worse in some parts of the United States than othersThe Pacific Northwest, for example, experienced a very chilly winter followed by a speedy spring warm-up, causing many plants to release their pollen at the same time. And in parts of the South, pollen levels peaked in mid-February, dropped down, and then climbed back up again in March, resulting in one of the worst spring allergy seasons in years.

“We’re definitely seeing more patients with this heavy pollen,” says Stanley Fineman, MD, an allergist at the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic. Because people with allergies were first exposed to pollen a month earlier than usual, then a second time when pollen was released at the normal time, they were essentially “primed” to have a particularly violent reaction, he says. “When you’re re-exposed to the allergen, you need less quantity of the allergen to create the same symptoms.”

Although predicting allergy season can be tougher than predicting the weather, people who are allergic to spring pollinators such as trees and grasses now have many ways to find out what pollen levels are on a particular day.

You can check your local newspaper or visit websites such as pollen.com for local pollen counts, which lists the day’s five worst cities and five best cities for pollen (Good? Miami. Bad? Muskegon, Michigan.) At pollen.com you can even plug in your ZIP code to see a 30-day history of pollen counts or get a four-day allergy forecast. Also check out this Forbes article for the top 100 cities for pollen in 2008. But your itchy eyes, nose, and ears probably can give you your own personal pollen update.

Most scientists do agree that there’s been a warming trend over the past 10 years that appears to be pushing the start of spring allergy season earlier in certain parts of the country; unfortunately, this doesn’t mean it will end earlier.

And even though weather patterns do play a role in the severity of allergy season, sensitivities vary from person to person. In the Northeast, where plentiful rains have kept the air relatively clear, things haven’t been too bad, allergists and some patients say.

Next page: Allergy shots may help

Over-the-counter products such as oral antihistamines and eye drops are a good first-line approach for people with mild allergies, says Stephen Canfield, MD, PhD, an allergist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. But if these don’t help—and you don’t exactly know what’s triggering your symptoms—it’s best to see an allergist, he says.

There are many people with spring allergies who seem to react to just about everything else too—weeds such as goldenrod that pollinate in late summer and fall, and pet dander and mold all year round. “They basically don’t get much respite,” Dr. Canfield says.

If this is the case, you may need prescription antihistamines and nasal sprays, which shrink swollen tissue, as well as corticosteroid nasal sprays, which fight the underlying inflammation.

The only way to fight allergies at the source is immunotherapy, popularly known as allergy shots. This involves getting shots of tiny amounts of the allergen in escalating doses, usually once a week, until you reach the maintenance phase, when you’ll need one shot every month. Although it takes three to four years for the shots to reach their full effect, after which the dose is tapered down and eventually stopped, people often experience relief within a couple of months after beginning allergy shots.

“It seems to be effective for about 80% of people who go through it,” Dr. Canfield says. “It reduces their symptoms, it reduces their medication needs, and occasionally it allows them to go off medication altogether.” The benefits can last for many years, but aren’t permanent. Many people who had immunotherapy in childhood begin experiencing symptoms again in their 30s or 40s, he says.

Another potential benefit of immunotherapy is that if it’s given early enough, it may prevent children with an allergy or two from developing many more, according to Dr. Canfield.

Although nearly everyone should consider immunotherapy, Dr. Canfield says, it’s not for everyone. For one thing, the time commitment is major, especially at the beginning of treatment. For another, a weekly injection isn’t something most people look forward to.

“I just got tired of being shot in the arm every week,” says Alisa Rock, 39, a Baltimore mom who raises money for nonprofits. She took allergy shots for seven years when she was younger and suffered from asthma as well as seasonal allergies. Her asthma has been asymptomatic for years, but she still starts sounding like a “bad Nicolas Cage imitation” every March, when the oak trees she’s allergic to release their pollen. “I think I just constantly feel stuffed up.” Drinking lots of water and keeping the windows closed during pollen season helps, she says.

4 allergy-easing tipsThere are several common-sense measures that can help ease the misery of seasonal allergies.

Use an air conditioner to filter the air. Even just using the fan in an AC unit can help keep pollen out of your house.

Try to avoid peak pollen times. Avoid outdoor activities in the early morning and late afternoon, which are peak pollen times; if you want to exercise outside, do so in mid-day. The best time is between noon and 2 p.m., Dr. Canfield says.

Take a shower. Washing your hair and bathing before bed can help clean pollen off of your skin and hair, so you won’t be carrying pollen to bed with you.

Wash the sheets and pillowcases weekly. This is a good way to rid your environment of pollen, as well as dust mites, which can also trigger allergy symptoms year round.

Related Links:Pollen and other Triggers of Asthma Attacks8 Natural Ways to Beat Spring AllergiesWhat Is Exercise-Induced Asthma?Slideshow: Spring-Cleaning the Smart Way

Mom Allergic to Newborn Son, Get Fit for Free, and Why There's No Gardasil for Men

HPV is so prevalent that it’s earned itself the nickname “the common cold of STDs.” It affects women and men, but so far only women have been approved to use the HPV vaccine. So why isn’t there a Gardasil for men? [U.S. News and World Report]

There’s a new battle of the sexes brewing—over the thermostat! Studies show women are more sensitive to cold, sparking fights over the A/C setting, even on summer’s most blazing days. [Washington Post]

A 28-year-old British woman developed painful, blistering welts shortly after giving birth. Turns out, she was allergic to her son! [ParentDish]

You don’t have to shell out big bucks for pricey gym memberships and fancy gear to stay in shape. Just try these six recession-proof workout tips and get fit for free. [FNC iMag]

For all nonbelievers in cheerleading’s legitimacy as a tough sport: Cheering has become the leading cause of catastrophic injuries in young female athletes, often resulting in head or spine trauma, disability, and even death. [Science Daily]

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Pregnant? Some Foods May Raise Baby's Asthma, Allergy Risk

(Getty Images)

By Denise MannSUNDAY, Feb. 28, 2010 (Health.com) — As if mothers-to-be don’t have enough to worry about, new research suggests that eating certain foods during pregnancy or while breast-feeding may raise the baby’s risk of allergies and asthma later in life.

The good news is that if women—particularly those in allergy-prone families—avoid nuts, eggs, and milk during and after pregnancy, they may lower their child’s risk of developing food allergies or asthma, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in New Orleans.

Expectant women who consume little folic acid—a type of B vitamin recommended during pregnancy to prevent birth defects—may also be less likely than women who consume more to have children with asthma, according to a second study, also presented at the meeting.

The studies come at a time when food allergies are on the rise among kids in the United States. Between 1997 and 2007, the percentage of children under age 18 with food allergies increased by 18%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children who have food allergies have been shown to be at higher risk for developing asthma and other allergic diseases (like eczema).

Related links:

Your Secret Allergy Triggers Revealed

15 Hypoallergenic Dogs and Cats

I Love Peanuts, but They Could Kill My Son

The first study looked at 274 pregnant women in Australia who already had a child with food allergies. Researchers told the moms that they should avoid nuts, eggs, and milk during the third trimester of their pregnancies, while breast-feeding, and at least until their baby’s first birthday.

After the children were born, researchers tested them for food allergies and asthma at age 18 months and at 3 years. At the three-year mark, just 16% of the children whose mothers followed the dietary advice tested positive for peanut allergy, compared to 52% of the children whose mothers didn’t follow the advice. The rates of egg allergy were also substantially lower in the women who avoided nuts, eggs, and milk.

What’s more, 11% of the 3-year-olds whose mothers avoided the foods had developed symptoms of asthma. In the other group, the rate was 43%.

The children whose mothers followed the advice also had lower rates of dust-mite allergies and eczema at 18 months, although these differences were no longer measurable three years out.

Next page: Diet advice can be difficult to stick to

Andrew Liu, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Health, in Denver, calls the findings “intriguing.”

“It’s logical,” says Dr. Liu. “This would not benefit every child, but if you already have a food-allergic child in the family, this could be helpful. This kind of avoidance may help kids who are already at high risk for food allergies and asthma, even before they’re born.”

However, the study’s lead author, Velencia Soutter, MBBS, a pediatrician at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, in Sydney, says that the diet advice used in the study can be difficult to stick to. “While it’s probably too hard for most people, parents who already have a child with an allergy have the choice to reduce the risk of particular food allergies in their next child,” she says.

In the second study, researchers in Norway measured the folate levels of about 2,000 pregnant women during their second trimester. Compared to the children of the moms with the lowest levels, the children of the women with the highest folate levels were more likely to have symptoms of asthma at age 3.

Folate is the naturally occurring form of folic acid, a B vitamin. Because folic acid is believed to reduce the risk of brain- and spinal-related birth defects, most experts recommend that pregnant women take prenatal vitamins with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before pregnancy and during early pregnancy.

In the United States, folate is also found in green, leafy vegetables and fortified foods such as breads, cereals, and other grain products. In Norway, however, the food supply is not fortified with folic acid.

“We may be overdoing folic acid,” says Ivana Yang, PhD, an assistant professor of genetics at National Jewish Health. (Yang was not involved in the new study.)

“The dose that was picked for pregnant woman to avoid neural tube defects was arbitrary,” she says. “If it has to be this high to prevent neural tube defects, then asthma is something we have to deal with. But all of our food is also fortified with folic acid, so we’re taking crazy amounts if we add it all up.”

Experts aren’t exactly sure how too much folic acid during pregnancy could lead children to develop asthma. “It may be that it modifies your genetic material, which may decrease expression of certain genes and set the stage for the development of asthma,” Yang explains.

More research is needed before the folic acid recommendations are changed, she adds.

Peanut Allergy? A Cure May Be on the Way

(Getty Images)

By Amanda Gardner

SUNDAY, Feb. 28 (Health.com) — If your children are allergic to peanuts, you may not have to live—and eat—in fear much longer. Gradually building up a tolerance to peanuts and other foods may prevent dangerous allergic reactions, new research suggests.

Eating very small amounts of peanuts over a long period of time can desensitize children to the nuts, lessening the risk of a life-threatening emergency, according to a pair of studies presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in New Orleans.

Don’t try this at home, however. Even small amounts of peanut products can be fatal for some people, so the desensitization process is too risky to be done without a doctor’s supervision. Roughly 1.5 million people in the United States are allergic to peanuts, and as many as 100 die each year after ingesting the nuts and going into shock.

The good news is that, according to a third study presented at the meeting, the same technique could be used for another common problem, egg allergy.

Although the study results are promising, the treatment isn’t ready for widespread use, and it’s unclear how soon that will be, experts say.

Related links:

Your Secret Allergy Triggers Revealed

15 Hypoallergenic Dogs and Cats

I Love Peanuts, but They Could Kill My Son

“It gives us hope that in another few years we’ll have a treatment that can go into the clinic,” says Wesley Burks, MD, the chief of pediatric allergy and immunology at Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, N.C., who was involved in all three studies. “But we’re not there yet.”

The treatment, known as oral immunotherapy, exposes an allergic child to increasing amounts of peanuts or egg over a period of years. “You’re fooling the body into accepting amounts of the substance without reacting,” explains Amal H. Assa’ad, MD, the director of the food allergy clinic at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

The ultimate goal of any treatment would be to achieve tolerance, the point at which the body permanently stops reacting to the food, Dr. Assa’ad says.

“There’s still a lot to learn,” she adds. “It looks like it might work, but we don’t know if it’s going to work on everybody, and the side effects are plenty.” Potential side effects of immunotherapy include sneezing, itchiness, and nausea, in addition to the risk of anaphylactic shock (a potentially fatal drop in blood pressure) and other serious reactions.

Next page: Study results “impressive”

In the first peanut study, 29 allergic children received either a placebo or small doses of peanut flour for 12 months, after which the children were given small amounts of peanuts. The children who received the immunotherapy were able to tolerate about 15 peanuts, while the children who got the placebo started to react after about one peanut.

In a follow-up study, 9 of 12 children who received peanut immunotherapy for up to five years achieved tolerance. Four weeks after stopping the immunotherapy, they were able to eat peanuts without an allergic reaction.

The study results are “impressive,” says Jonathan Field, MD, the director of the allergy and asthma clinic at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. Until recently, Dr. Field says, doctors did not think that immunotherapy could be used to prevent food allergies.

A treatment for peanut allergy is the “holy grail,” he adds.

The results in the egg study are also promising. Compared to those on a placebo, children who received immunotherapy for about 3.5 years could eat far more egg without experiencing a reaction. (The amount of egg they could tolerate was relatively small, however: only about 5 grams, or one-eighth of a hard-boiled egg.)

“This appears to be quite a viable treatment for a large subset of patients. It’s not without risk, but the risks, when managed by a well-trained allergist, are moderate,” says Stephen C. Dreskin, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Denver. “It’s just a matter of how quickly this will be incorporated into the practices of allergists.” That could occur within a year, Dr. Dreskin predicts.

Dr. Burks and his colleagues are continuing their research to determine whether tolerance can be achieved in more patients. If they succeed, the treatment probably will not require approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, he notes.

One drawback of oral immunotherapy is that it requires an extended commitment. Only the most motivated and conscientious patients are likely to make it through a multi-year immunotherapy regimen, says Dr. Dreskin.

And because of the risk of anaphylactic shock (and even death), immunotherapy is inherently risky. Initially, the treatment may have to take place in an intensive care unit, Dr. Field suggests.

Scott H. Sicherer, MD, a co-author on the egg study and a professor of pediatrics at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City, agrees. “There are a number of things that have to be worked out before this can be used in clinics across America,” he says.

Cat Allergy Doesn't Have to Mean Giving Up Kitty

FRIDAY, April 23 (HealthDay News) — Brandy Pitman suffers from a lifelong allergy to cats, enduring regular bouts of congestion, sneezing, and watery eyes.

Even so, it hasn’t stopped her from working as an office manager for a feline veterinary hospital in Louisiana, or from inviting four strays into her home.

“They showed up and never left so I took them in,” Pitman said of her domestic shorthair clan Marbles, Miss Kitty, Teachy and Callie. “There wasn’t really a choice.”

For many allergic cat lovers, like Pitman, living without a feline companion isn’t an option. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), nearly 10 million people choose to live with pets even though they’re allergic to them.

“Most people who are real cat lovers elect to suffer some, or take medicines, rather than give up their pet,” said Dr. Robert Wood, division chief of pediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore.

For people with mild to moderate allergies, controlling flare-ups involves managing their home environment, taking medication and having their pets groomed regularly.

Cat-induced allergies affect about 20 percent of the U.S. population, according to studies, and is caused by a protein found in the animals’ saliva and dander (dead skin cells.) Because felines lick their fur to keep clean, the troublesome protein, called “fel d 1,” is also deposited on their coats.

What’s more, the super-lightweight allergen floats through the air, sticking to walls, rugs, clothing and other surfaces.

“Most people who are real cat-allergic know pretty quickly after they’ve walked into a house whether there’s a cat there or not — they’ll sense the beginning of a reaction happening just from what’s in the air,” Wood said.

Reactions run the usual gamut of allergy symptoms such as a stuffy nose and red, itchy eyes. Asthmatics are at risk for experiencing more severe reactions, including difficulty breathing.

“We feel most strongly about not living with a cat if you have asthma that’s hard to control because that can lead to life-threatening situations,” said Wood.

For individuals who are not highly sensitive, living with a feline requires taking some simple steps to reduce allergens in the home and on the cat.

Veterinarian Vicki Thayer, president-elect of the Winn Feline Foundation, a nonprofit that supports studies to improve cat health, recommends owners regularly bathe their pets with a mild shampoo or wipe them down with a damp wash cloth.

Weekly brushings done outside by a non-allergic person are a good idea, too. A spray-on formula available through veterinarians and pet retailers may also help to reduce the amount of dander found on coats.

Another option, with reportedly mixed results, Thayer said, is adding tiny amounts of acepromazine, a prescribed tranquilizer, to a pet’s food or water. The diluted mixture is thought by some veterinarians to reduce or remove the protein that causes cat allergies.

Owners, depending on their symptoms, may also get relief from prescription nasal sprays, eye drops or pills. Wood said shots given for cat allergies provide a little bit more comfort but several studies have shown they’re not hugely effective.

Inside the home, keep cats out of the bedroom and put allergy-proof covers on the mattress and pillows. Wash bedding materials in hot water, wash your hands after contact, and limit the amount of wall-to-wall carpeting, especially in the bedroom. “Even if you keep the cat out of the bedroom, eventually the carpet gets loaded with the allergen just from what’s carried around on your feet,” said Wood.

Frequent steam cleaning helps remove allergens hiding in carpets.

Allergy experts also recommend running a good quality HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) air cleaner; changing forced air heating filters monthly and using a vacuum with a HEPA filter.

“With those things, most people are able to co-exist with a cat,” he said.

More information

Find out more about coping with pet allergies at the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.

By MaryAnn MottHealthDay Reporter

SOURCES: Robert Wood, M.D., division chair, pediatric allergy and immunology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore; Vicki Thayer, president-elect, Winn Feline Foundation, and veterinarian board-certified, feline medicine

Last Updated: April 23, 2010

Copyright © 2010 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Related Links:Allergies – Could You Have Allergies?19 Signs Your Allergies Are Acting Up – AllergiesThe Cat Must Go: How Allergies Have Shaken Up Our Household – Poked & ProddedWhen Siblings Develop Sympathetic Allergies – Poked & Prodded

Gulf Oil Spill Could Threaten Human Health

FRIDAY, May 7 (HealthDay News) — The massive oil slick menacing the Gulf of Mexico and now some barrier islands off the coast of Louisiana could prove devastating to the environment while posing risks to public health, experts say.

Some people along the coast are already reporting headaches, nausea, coughing and throat irritation, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental action group.

“There are significant health risks associated with this oil spill and the risks aren’t just to wildlife, they are also to humans,” said Dr. Gina Solomon, senior scientist with the NRDC. “The risks include acute health effects from the air pollution from the oil itself. It also includes health effects from burning the oil and it also includes contamination of the food chain which can result in a long-term health concerns.”

Robert Emery, vice president for safety, health, environment and risk management at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said, “Certainly uncontrolled exposure to crude oil could be potentially hazardous.”

“There are three things going on,” Emery explained. “One is health and safety issues related to the people involved in the clean-up, those most intimately exposed.

“Then, potential exposure to the general public, which is going to be much less but they could have incidental exposure,” he said.

“Third up is the potential contamination of the food supply, such as shellfish,” Emery added.

History has lessons for the present spill. Following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989, an estimated 11,000 clean-up workers made 5,600 visits to health clinics that summer for upper respiratory symptoms. That did not include visits for other health problems, according to the Alaska Daily News.

Since the BP offshore oil-rig explosion on April 20, at least 200,000 gallons of oil a day have been pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, the Associated Press reported.

Health-care workers and the general public alike could face risks by inhaling various components of crude oil, such as benzene, toluene and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, all of which may cause cancer, according to the NRDC.

Crude oil also contains mercury and lead, both of which can be dangerous if inhaled or swallowed, the group stated.

“The immediate worry is what are called volatile organic compounds, which include chemicals like benzene that can be released in a vapor phase from the oil that’s floating in the water,” Solomon said. “These chemicals can cause acute health effects such as headache, nausea, vomiting, cough, dizziness. The chemicals can also cause longer-term effects, including the potential for miscarriage or low birth weight in pregnant women and risk of cancer over the longer term.”

“So far,” Solomon added, “the levels of these chemicals have been fairly low along the shore lines, so the main concern is for the emergency response workers. But we’re worried that as the oil gets closer to shore the levels of the chemicals in the air will rise. There’s some prediction that it [the oil slick] will reach shore in some areas along the coast today [Friday], though, fortunately, the prediction is for the wind to shift direction and push oil away, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for winds that don’t push the vapors on shore.”

There are also potential dangers to the skin. If crude oil isn’t quickly rinsed off the hands and other areas of the body, it can result in redness, swelling or burning or, eventually, even skin and other cancers, the council contends.

If officials decide to burn the oil as it sits in Gulf waters, people could develop, in the short-term, coughing or even chemical burns in the airways. Longer-term effects could include cancer and chronic respiratory problems, Emery said.

There are also dangers from chemicals — called “dispersants” — used in the cleanup, Emery said. The solvent used after the Exxon Valdez calamity was limonene, which can cause skin inflammation and asthma, he said.

People with underlying respiratory conditions such as emphysema or asthma, as well as pregnant women and fishermen, are also at increased risk of health problems from the spill, Emery said.

“The general public should minimize any exposure or skin contact with this oil or vapors,” he advised, although how far vapors travel is highly dependent on wind patterns and temperatures, he added.

If people do come into contact with any of the slick, they should wash it off immediately, Emery said.

The NRDC recommends that clean-up workers or anyone who has been near the spill remove their shoes or boots before entering a home. And children should be kept away from beaches or anywhere else they could into direct contact with the spill, the council added.

Already, Louisiana residents living near the Gulf of Mexico were rushing to stock up on local seafood, worried that future catches will not be edible due to oil contamination, The New York Times reported Thursday. The shrimp, crab and fish that teem in the state’s coastal marshes are thought to be especially vulnerable.

“That marsh is really our pantry, and that’s why we are so afraid,” New Orleans chef Frank Brigtsen told the newspaper.

But the health risks — especially of very serious illness — should be kept in perspective, said Dr. Jay Brooks, chairman of hematology/oncology at Ochsner Health System in Baton Rouge, La.

“It’s still too early to say [what the actual health risks are],” he said. “It’s really hard to make these giant leaps of faith that if you eat fish that you’re going to get cancer. I think that’s very, very difficult to prove. We can’t control many things and this is something that the average citizen can’t control. The things we can control are tobacco, which has far more carcinogens than eating a fish.”

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more on the Gulf oil spill.

By Amanda GardnerHealthDay Reporter

SOURCES: Gina Solomon, M.D., senior scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council; Robert Emery, Dr.P.H., vice president for safety, health, environment and risk management, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston; Jay Brooks, M.D., chairman of hematology/oncology, Ochsner Health System, Baton Rouge, La.; May 13, 1999, Alaska Daily News; The New York Times; Associated Press

Last Updated: May 07, 2010

Copyright © 2010 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Study: Acetaminophen May Double Asthma Risk in Kids


By Denise Mann

FRIDAY, August 13 (Health.com) — Teenagers who take acetaminophen—the active ingredient in Tylenol and many other over-the-counter remedies—may be at increased risk of asthma and some allergic conditions, according to a new study of more than 320,000 children in 50 countries.

Compared with those who never take the popular pain reliever and fever reducer, 13- and 14-year-olds who take acetaminophen at least once a month are 2.5 times more likely to experience asthma symptoms, the study found. Even those who take acetaminophen just once a year are 40% more likely to experience symptoms.

Kids who take acetaminophen may also be at greater risk of certain allergic conditions. Once-a-month users were roughly twice as likely as never users to have eczema, a stuffy nose (rhinitis), and itchy and watery eyes, according to the study, which was published on the website of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Related links:

7 Surprising Triggers of Lung Trouble

10 Best Big Cities for People With Asthma

Acetaminophen Linked to Childhood Asthma

The researchers can’t say that acetaminophen directly causes asthma and these other conditions, however. That will require long-term studies that compare children who take acetaminophen with a control group, says the lead author of the study, Richard Beasley, MD, a professor of medicine at the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand, in Wellington.

“Acetaminophen use may increase the risk of asthma, and randomized controlled trials are urgently required,” Dr. Beasley says. Such trials are already under way, he adds.

In the meantime, parents should not stop giving acetaminophen to their children without talking to their doctors, Dr. Beasley stresses. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are the two main pain relievers approved for use in children. (Aspirin is a no-no.)

But Harold Nelson, MD, an asthma and allergy expert at National Jewish Health, in Denver, says that it may not be too soon to cut back on acetaminophen use.

“The data is so overwhelming that even in [the] absence of a randomized controlled trial, it would be prudent for parents to avoid the use of acetaminophen in their kids,” he says. “The evidence has been building for a while, and it is very, very convincing.”

In 2008, Dr. Beasley and his team reported that children who received acetaminophen as infants were more likely than those who didn’t to experience asthma and allergic symptoms five to six years later.

Next page: Unclear why acetaminophen and asthma are linked

Overall trends in asthma prevalence also suggest a link between acetaminophen and asthma, Dr. Nelson says.

“The onset of the so-called asthma epidemic in the U.S. was in 1980, and that is about the time that aspirin was recognized as probable cause for Reye syndrome,” he says, referring to a potentially fatal disease affecting the brain and liver. “Cases of pediatric asthma went up when aspirin use went down.”

It’s unclear how acetaminophen might influence asthma symptoms. Some experts believe the drug may suppress the immune system and cause body-wide inflammation. (Asthma is a condition in which lung airways are chronically inflamed.)

Neil Schachter, MD, a professor of pulmonary and community medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center, in New York City, says that the acetaminophen-asthma link is a chicken-or-egg question. Children with asthma might be more likely to take acetaminophen, rather than vice versa, he points out.

“We know that kids with asthma get sick a lot, and they are prescribed a lot of combination medications which contain acetaminophen, so that makes it more likely that children with asthma will use Tylenol in general,” he says.

The teenagers in the study were simply surveyed about how often they took acetaminophen and their history of asthma, eczema, or other allergy symptoms, so it’s possible that medications besides acetaminophen—or other, unrelated factors—could explain much of the link seen in the study.

Aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have also been linked to an increased risk of asthma, Dr. Schacter says. These drugs can trigger the production of leukotrienes, a naturally occurring chemical substance that promotes an inflammatory response in the lungs.

“The implications that aspirin, NSAIDs, and now Tylenol increase asthma risk doesn’t leave a whole lot of anti-fever or analgesic drugs to treat children who get sick all the time,” he says. “Talk to your doctor or child’s pediatrician before making any changes.”