Tag Archives: allergy

Climate change is making allergy season worse

Scientists in Munich have shown that pollen season is lasting longer, and this is in large part owed to climate change.

Don’t you feel your nose getting runny just by looking at this? Image credits: James Lee.

“Pollen is meant to fly,” says Dr. Annette Menzel, Professor of ecoclimatology at the Technical University of Munich.

Pollen, the powdery substance consisting of pollen grains which are male microgametophytes of seed plants, is essential for countless plants, but it can also be a nuisance to some people. Allergy to pollen, commonly known as hay fever, is common where pollen production is seasonal.

In a new study, researchers looked at how climate change and transport dynamics are affecting hay fever allergies.

“The transport of pollen has important implications for the length, timing, and severity of the allergenic pollen season,” says Dr. Ye Yuan, a coauthor on the study.

“Transport phenomena have to be taken into account,” adds Menzel.

The researchers looked at six pollen monitoring stations scattered across the German region of Bavaria, analyzing data from 1987 to 2017. They found that as a result of climate change, pollinating periods are starting earlier and lasting longer.

Some species of plants (such as hazel and alder trees) have shifted their pollinating seasons by up to 2 days per year, while other species (that bloom later in the year, such as birch or ash trees) moved their seasons by 0.5 days earlier per year.

While the team focused on a part of Germany, there’s no reason why the same trend wouldn’t happen in other parts of the world.

“Bavaria is only the focused region in our study, but we would expect similar findings to be observed also across the world. The allergy seasons would be influenced not only by rising temperature but also other climatic factors such as increasing CO2 levels,” say authors Yuan and Menzel to ZME Science.

Grass pollen grains under light microscope. Image credits: A. Menzel and Y. Yuan, Technical University of Munich.

There’s more to climate change and pollen than just rising temperatures. Pollen can travel hundreds of kilometers and climate change is affecting weather patterns and altering species distributions, which is possibly exposing people to “new” pollen species they are unaccustomed to.

To see if this is indeed the case, researchers looked at what pollen the stations were recording in pre-season periods. So if they would find pollen from, say, a birch tree, but local birch trees would not flower for at least a few more days, the pollen was considered to be transported from farther away. Turns out, it often is the case.

“We were surprised that pre-season pollen transport is a quite common phenomenon being observed in two-thirds of the cases,” says Menzel. As for why it’s important to understand how much pollen is from far away

“Especially for light-weight allergenic [pollen], long distance transport could seriously influence local human health,” Yuan adds.

The relationship between climate change and hay fever is complex and has several facets, but the two seem increasingly linked. This isn’t the only study to indicate a link between climate change and pollen allergies. Just a few days ago, a US study also found that pollen seasons are lasting longer, and climate change alone can account for around half of the pollen season lengthening. More than warming temperatures, increasing carbon dioxide in the air can also contribute to longer and more intense pollen seasons, which can worsen allergy and asthma symptoms in children (and to a lesser extent, in adults as well).

This new study also highlights the prominent role of pollen transport for the length, the timing, and the severity of the allergenic pollen season. Researchers say that the information could be used to develop adaptation and mitigation strategies.

“Combating climate change and fostering mitigation in the first line, practical adaptation to impacts may include effective pollen warming systems, critical survey of where allergenic species are planted in cities,” Yuan concludes..

Journal Reference: “A first pre-season pollen transport climatology to Bavaria, Germany”: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/falgy.2021.627863/full

New treatment could finally prevent anaphylaxis in people with allergies

New research at Northwestern Medicine could keep life-threatening anaphylactic shocks caused by allergies under control with a simple pill.

Anaphylaxis, also known as anaphylactic shock, is a severe systemic reaction to allergens that can quite easily prove fatal. At least one in every 50 Americans will experience at least one such event during their lives according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. They occur within seconds of exposure to the allergen and consist of the airways constricting rapidly — and dramatically — which can lead to death.

The most common intervention option used against anaphylaxis is epi-pens. However, they need to be administered to the person while the event is ongoing, placing them at risk of death. A new study is describing a potential treatment in pill form that can be used to prevent such attacks in the first place.

Anti-allergy pill

“This pill could quite literally be life-changing and life-saving,” said senior and corresponding author Dr. Bruce Bochner, the Samuel M. Feinberg Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“Imagine being able to take medication proactively to prevent a serious allergic reaction.”

The pill relies on an active ingredient known as a BTK (Bruton’s tyrosine kinase) inhibitor. These compounds block allergic reactions by inhibiting the activity of mast cells, which underpin allergic responses. While inhibited, they cannot release histamine and other chemical mediators that produce these reactions.

The team analyzed three different BTK inhibitors, all of which successfully blocked allergic reactions on human mast cells in the lab. The team also developed a “humanized” mouse model — a mouse whose organs contained transplanted human cells. This animal was used to confirm the efficiency of oral-delivered BTK inhibitors (approved for use by the FDA prior to this study).

Pretreatment with this compound was “remarkably” effective at preventing anaphylaxis and reducing the risk of death during anaphylactic shock after only two doses. These findings strongly suggest that the same effect would be seen in human patients, as the cells transplanted into their organs matured into human mast cells over several months.

The authors explain that such a pill would be the first known preventive measure against anaphylaxis — our current options only include avoiding the allergen or exposure therapy. Exposure therapy, known as oral food desensitization, involves gradually eating foods to build up a resistance to an allergic reaction.

The current findings could pave the way towards a set of clinical trials testing such oral treatments in humans. Even patients undergoing exposure therapy could benefit from it, by taking the pill as a preventive measure. And, if such a pill proves to be safe and cheap enough for daily use, it could theoretically be used to prevent anaphylactic shocks altogether.

BTK inhibitors are commercially-available, but they’re extremely expensive (around US$ 450 per 25mgs).

In the future, the authors plan to investigate whether adding such compounds to epi-pens can help better treat anaphylactic shock.

The paper “Bruton’s tyrosine kinase inhibition effectively protects against human IgE-mediated anaphylaxis” has been published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Cat allergies could soon be over thanks to a new vaccine

Allergies can often stand in the way of being a pet lover, with three in 10 people estimated to have allergic reactions to cats and dogs. Cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies, but now a team of scientists in Switzerland might have found a solution.

Credit: Flickr

The Swiss-based company HypoPet announced it is working on a vaccine that could target a “major” feline allergen – Fel d 1 – to which nearly 10 percent of the Western population is allergic, according to results from a study on the vaccine.

“Fel d 1, a cat protein secreted into saliva and tears and found on the pelt, is the principal allergen to which cat allergy sufferers react. It is known that decreasing exposure of allergic humans to Fel d 1 has a significant benefit on symptoms and health,” the company said.

Among these benefits are reducing the risk of childhood asthma for kids, as well as a reduction in the number of cats abandoned every year. Basically, it’s a win-win for both cats and their owners.

The vaccine is called HypoCat and, unlike other immunotherapies, works by “immunizing cats against their own major allergen, Fel d 1,” the researchers said. In other words, the cat would be administered the vaccine instead of their allergic owner.

According to the research, the vaccine was “well-tolerated without any overt toxicity”. Researchers collected the data from four separate studies that involved a total of 54 cats.

Hypo Pet examined the test subjects for any adverse side effects and did not observe any. The vaccine is promising because scientists haven’t identified any reason for cats to produce the protein, leading them to believe it’s an evolutionary leftover.

It will likely be years before Hypo Pet is available on the market, though. The study is the first step in a long process that will include human trials and approval from both European and U.S. drug agencies. The company has begun the ramp-up to a larger production, but no timeline has been set.

“We are pressing ahead with registration studies and discussions with European and U.S regulators with the hope of bringing this much-needed product to the market,” Jennings added.

Leafcutter bee.

Bee sting vaccine successfully passes human trials in Australia

Australian researchers at Flinders University and the Royal Adelaide Hospital have successfully tested an antiallergic bee-sting vaccine — and it worked buzzingly.

Leafcutter bee.

Image via Pixabay.

For most of us, bee stings are definitely unpleasant and painful; for a ‘lucky’ few, however, they’re potentially deadly. Bee-sting-induced allergic reactions can be severe enough to cause death. Bee stings remain the single “most lethal venomous animal encounter” in the US through the allergic (anaphylactic) shock they can cause, previous research has reported.

The team plans to make it easier than ever to prevent those deaths. They have successfully completed a human trial of a vaccine designed to eliminate the risk of severe allergic reactions to European honeybee stings.

Allergies bee gone!

“Our technology is like adding a turbocharger to a car and in this case makes the bee allergy vaccine much more powerful, allowing the immune system to better neutralise the bee venom and prevent allergic symptoms,” says Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, the study’s corresponding author.

The thing that sets the team’s approach apart from other similar vaccines is a unique, sugar-based ingredient called an adjuvant. This compound was designed to help the patients’ organisms in neutralizing bee venom (the substance that causes allergic shock) more rapidly. The adjuvant itself has so far proven to be safe; Professor Petrovsky says it has been successfully given to over a thousand individuals across a range of different vaccines including in the current bee sting allergy trial with no ill effects.

Associate Professor Robert Heddle, lead investigator in the trial, says that this adjuvant (called Advax) was the actual subject of the study — the team wanted to see if it would safely help improve the speed and efficiency of the bee sting vaccine. Advax was developed in Adelaide by Vaxine Pty Ltd and has also been used to develop vaccines for seasonal and pandemic influenza, hepatitis, malaria, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer, among other diseases. The trial included 27 adults with a history of allergic reactions to bee stings.

“The results of the study were very promising and confirmed the safety of this approach to improving bee sting immunotherapy.”

There already is a commercially-available bee venom therapy on the market today, explains study co-author Dr Anthony Smith, but it requires patients to take around 50 injections over a 3-year period to slowly build immunity. It’s useful, but it can’t help somebody who’s experiencing an acute allergic response.

It “is lengthy and cumbersome, so I hope this enhanced bee venom therapy brings about faster, but longer lasting protection to bee stings for allergic individuals,” Smith adds.

The paper “Randomized controlled trial demonstrating the benefits of delta inulin adjuvanted immunotherapy in patients with bee venom allergy” has been published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Pollen clouds cover south-east USA causing allergy spikes

Nothing reminds you that spring is here quite like the sight of blossoming plants, the warming weather, and the nasty allergies. This week, pollen counts have increased across the US, which may mean that about 50 million Americans will suffer from some combination of a runny nose, watery, itchy eyes, and sneezing as their allergy symptoms ramp up.

Pollen season typically lasts from early to late spring. Pollen is a fine powdery substance, typically yellow, consisting of microscopic grains discharged from plants, trees, and grass. Being extremely lightweight, pollen is easily swept away by the wind which can transport the irritating substance miles away from its source.

While pollen is not actually sperm per se, pollen grains contain cells necessary to transfer the male half of the plant’s DNA to a compatible plant’s female counterparts (like the pistil and female cones). So, in a way, you could say that pollen is plant sperm powder.

In some parts of the US, such as the Midwest and Northeast, the amount of pollen discharged by plants was so great that the sky became covered in a yellow haze.

To get an idea of how much pollen trees can produce at the height of allergy season, watch this viral video showing what happens when a backhoe nudges a pine tree.


Something similar was caught on camera this week when a falling tree in Hixson, Tennessee, sent billions of pollen particles flying into the air.

During the thick of pollen season, doctors recommend people who are vulnerable to allergies to avoid being outside in the first half of the morning and later in the afternoon. After being outside, people with pollen allergies should shower and wash their hair and clothes. Over-the-counter medications like nasal sprays, antihistamines, and eye drops can also offer some relief.

Early introduction of peanuts reduces risk of peanut allergy

Peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies. Peanuts are not the same as tree nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, etc.), which grow on trees. Peanuts grow underground and are part of a different plant family, the legumes. Other examples of legumes include beans, peas, lentils and soybeans. Being allergic to peanuts does not mean you have a greater chance of being allergic to another legume.

The most severe allergic reaction to peanuts is anaphylaxis — a life-threatening whole-body response to an allergen. Symptoms include impaired breathing, swelling in the throat, a sudden drop in blood pressure, pale skin or blue lips, fainting and dizziness. Unless treated immediately with epinephrine, typically administered in an auto-injector, anaphylaxis can be fatal. Less severe symptoms include: itchy skin or hives, which can appear as small spots or large welts, an itching or tingling sensation in or around the mouth or throat, nausea, a runny or congested nose.

There are several misconceptions about peanut allergies. A peanut is a legume (belonging to the same family as soybeans, peas and lentils), not a tree nut. And while it was previously believed that an allergy to peanuts was lifelong, research by the National Institutes of Health shows that about 20% of individuals with a peanut allergy eventually outgrow it.

Evidence indicates early introduction of infant-safe peanuts reduces the risk of developing peanut allergies, according to a clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This is an update to the 2008 AAP report, which found “insufficient data to support a protective effect of any dietary intervention for the development of atopic disease,” reported Frank Greer, MD, FAAP, of the AAP Committee on Nutrition, Section on Allergy and Immunology, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and colleagues.

This report also enforces the 2017 recommendation from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) which stated peanuts could be introduced as early as 4 to 6 months for infants with severe eczema and/or egg allergy, the authors wrote in Pediatrics. For infants with mild or moderate eczema, peanuts can be introduced as early as 6 months, and for infants with no history of eczema or food allergy, peanuts can be introduced after 6 months at the family’s discretion, they noted.

Peanut allergies are rising in prevalence with roughly 1.2 million U.S. children and teens affected as of last year. The AAP endorsed the NIAID-sponsored guidelines shortly after they were published in 2017, and is now updating their clinical guidance with this report.

Guidelines regarding earlier introduction of peanuts were primarily based on the results of the Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) trial, in which introducing peanuts as early as 4 months reduced the number of peanut allergies by about 86% in a sample of over 500 infants, Greer and colleagues noted. The same reduction was not seen with egg allergies, and thus the evidence to support the early introduction of eggs is “less clear.”

Baked cake.

What is gluten intolerance, and what are its symptoms?

Gluten is a protein naturally found in cereals such as wheat, barley, and rye. Harmless for most of us, gluten can cause quite a lot of headache (and bellyaches, among other things) for certain people. Today, we’ll take a look at the different kinds of gluten intolerance and the symptoms they can cause.

Baked cake.

Gluten makes dough elastic, knead-able, and bouncy. You can see how it works in this cake, keeping those stringy bits in the middle from breaking.
Image credits Andreas Lischka.

Wheat (genus Triticum) makes the world go round. Not literally, but it does play a big role in keeping us humans fueled up. It was one of the first domesticated food crops, and for roughly 8 millennia now, wheat has been the staple food of major civilizations in Europe, North Africa, and West Asia. More land area is dedicated to growing wheat than any other commercial crop on Earth, and global production of wheat outstrips that of any other crop — including rice, maize, and potatoes.

Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is another long-time companion of human farmers. First cultivated around 10,000 years ago, it was the fourth most-produced grain in the world in 2016, although output has somewhat declined since then. Barley is very useful as an animal feed but is perhaps most celebrated for its role in beer and distilled beverage production.

Both of these cereals, along with rye, their related species, and various hybrids, are part of the grass (Poacea) family of plants. Altogether, they supply a huge part of the calories and nutrients consumed by us and our livestock. They also supply the majority of raw materials used in producing alcohol.

Apart from their economic importance, these crops are also notable for their high content of gluten and gluten-like proteins. This is a bit of a bummer for around 1.5% to 14% of the world’s population, who have to contend with various forms of gluten intolerance.

What is gluten intolerance

Gluten intolerance is a somewhat-umbrella term that refers to adverse reactions to gluten. I say ‘somewhat-umbrella’ because it tends to be improperly applied to several conditions that — while similar in effects — are different in origin. These include celiac disease (CD), non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), wheat allergy, dermatitis herpetiformis, and (more rarely) gluten ataxia.

The most extreme form of gluten intolerance is celiac disease (also known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy, sprue, or coeliac). Roughly 1 in 100 Americans contend with CD, and this percentage seems to hold true for the rest of the world as well. CD is basically an autoimmune disorder. The body of a CD patient reacts with extreme violence to the presence of gluten in one’s food — to the point where their immune system will attack the inner lining of the small intestine to ‘protect it’ from gluten. Such offensives cause immediate symptoms for the patient. If exposure to gluten is maintained over a longer period of time, sustained damage to the gut’s lining leads to problems in absorbing nutrients (malabsorption).

Celiac disease gut lining.

High-magnification image of intestinal lining damaged by celiac disease.
Image credits Nephron / Wikimedia.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is more controversial. We don’t know, really, what causes this condition (or if it’s even an actual thing). Our best guess is that it has something to do with gluten-associated proteins and/or other chemical compounds present in gluten-containing crops. Since we don’t know what causes it and how, NCGS is generally diagnosed by eliminating other possibilities (namely CD and wheat allergies). Roughly 0.5% to 13% of the world’s population has NCGS. While its exact symptoms are debated, NCGS seems to share most gastrointestinal symptoms of CD, wheat allergies, and irritable bowel syndrome, but with a different interval between exposure and onset of symptoms. NCGS also seems to entail a host of extraintestinal (not related to the gut) symptoms that CD lacks.

Wheat allergy is your run-of-the-mill allergy, but rather misleadingly-named. Like other allergies, it can manifest as a food- or contact-allergy. Unlike other allergies, it can be caused by a range of compounds (rather than a particular allergen) contained in wheat. The European Center for Allergy Research Foundation (ECARF) states that “wheat allergy generally appears in infancy,” noting that roughly 0.3% of European children under the age of 5 and around 0.1% of all Europeans are allergic to wheat, making it a relatively rare condition.

Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), or Duhring-Brocq disease, is a tell-tale sign of celiac disease, although the exact mechanism by which one causes the other remains unknown. The condition is a skin inflammation characterized by chronic rashes on the skin with red, liquid-filled blisters. They’re also very itchy. Estimates of DH prevalence range from 10 in 100,000 to around 80 in 10,000 individuals.

Gluten ataxia is a proposed condition. It’s basically gluten-induced ataxia, a condition characterized by dysfunctions in the central nervous system leading to loss of voluntary control or coordination over muscle movements. Gluten ataxia “usually presents with gait and lower limb ataxia” and may account for “15% amongst all [cases of] ataxias and 40% of all idiopathic sporadic ataxias,” according to a study published in 2015.

It’s important to note that there are several varieties of gluten intolerance going forward. Each has its own particularities of symptoms. However, there are some general symptoms that are indicative of such disorders.

Symptoms of gluten intolerance

Abdominal pain.

Most of them have to do with your belly. But not all of them.
Image credits Darko Djurin.

Abdominal pain after ingesting gluten — from grains and derived products such as flours, bread, baked goods, or beer — is the most common symptom of gluten intolerance at large. Up to 83% of those with gluten intolerance experience abdominal pain and discomfort after eating gluten.

Abdominal bloating is a close second. It’s a sensation of ‘swollenness’ or ‘fullness’ in one’s belly, caused by the release of gases in the gut. Generally uncomfortable, abdominal bloating can become painful and/or cause shortness of breath. Around 87% of people suspected to have NCGS experience bloating, but a majority of CD patients also report this symptom.

Bowel inflammation after consuming gluten is a common symptom of celiac disease. Damage of the gut lining causes inflammation resulting in significant digestive discomfort. In the long run, it can also lead to poor nutrient absorption.

Over 50% of gluten-sensitive individuals (both CD and NCGS) regularly experience digestive symptoms such as diarrhea, while about 25% experience constipation. Patients also report alternating between the two states. Celiac disease patients may also experience pale and foul-smelling feces (due to nutrients left over in the stool).

Tiredness after consuming gluten can also be a symptom. This is a bit trickier to diagnose, as life by itself tends to be quite tiresome. However, if you regularly (or constantly) feel fatigue and tiredness, especially after eating foods that contain gluten, it could be indicative of underlying gluten intolerance. Around 60% to 82% of gluten-intolerant individuals commonly experience tiredness and fatigue. Gluten intolerance can also cause iron-deficiency anemia, which in turn will make you feel tired and spent overall.

Dermatitis herpetiformis, as we’ve seen above, is a pretty dead giveaway for celiac disease. Other skin conditions — psoriasis, alopecia areata, and chronic urticaria — have also shown improvement under gluten-free diets, which suggests a link between them and gluten intolerance.

Gluten intolerance may also predispose individuals to depression and anxiety, especially those suffering from CD. While the mechanism underlying this link remains unknown, it has been proposed that changes in gut flora and exorphins formed during gluten digestion may interfere with serotonin levels in the brain. It also seems that switching to a gluten-free diet makes some patients “feel better” even if their gastrointestinal symptoms persist; all of which suggests a link between the two.

What to do about it

Brad and grains.

TL;DR don’t put these things in your mouth.
Image credits National Cancer Institute / National Institutes of Health.

The best course of action is to go talk to a doctor. But there are some preventive measures you can take if you think you’re suffering from gluten intolerance.

Unsurprisingly, you should avoid items that contain gluten — wheat, barley, malt, rye, and their derived products (brewer’s yeast can also contain gluten, for example). Some common foods and drinks that contain gluten include:

  • pasta, noodles
  • bread, pastries, baked goods such as crackers, biscuits, and cakes
  • breakfast cereals
  • pancakes, waffles, crepes
  • many sauces and gravies use flour-derived gluten as thickening agents
  • beers, malt beverages
  • potatoes, maize, and rice can also become contaminated with gluten in facilities that also process gluten-rich grains

Gluten-free varieties of such items are commercially available, although they tend to be more pricey. So it’s possible to enjoy them without worrying about gluten. But, as a rule of thumb, if you suspect a food item contains or has been in contact with wheat, barley, rye, malt, or products derived from those (and you believe you might be suffering from gluten intolerance), don’t eat it.

Now, I think it’s important to note that there’s also somewhat of a witch hunt among fad diets regarding gluten. Many such diets suggest gluten itself is bad for your health even if you’re not gluten-intolerant. There’s no credible scientific evidence for such claims that I could find, so I’m comfortable calling it a myth. Another part of the issue is that the symptoms of gluten intolerance are widespread and can have a lot of different potential causes — which makes gluten intolerance easy to misdiagnose.

All in all, if you believe you might be suffering from gluten intolerance, the best course of action is to go talk to a doctor.

On oats

In response to numerous queries concerning the use of oats in various products, the North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease (NASSCD) released a statement saying that “the use of oats uncontaminated by wheat, barley or rye by individuals with celiac disease and dermatitis herpetiformis in North America has been endorsed by most experts.” However, they also note that “regular (commodity) oats in North America are likely to be contaminated with wheat and barley,” and recommend consulting a doctor or dietitian before including oats in gluten-free diets, as well as monitoring after inclusion.

There is some evidence that avenin, an oat protein similar in form and function to gluten, “can activate gluten-reactive T cells”, the Celiac Disease Foundation reports citing a 2015 study. A different study, published in 2017, reported that avenin “can cause small bowel mucosal damage in some people with coeliac disease.” While the first paper concludes that “low-level oats consumption may be insufficient for clinical relapse in CD patients,” the second one does not recommend including this cereal in gluten-free diets.

It has to be noted, however, that the second study was performed in Australia, and differences in labeling requirements may confuse results to an extent. The NASSCD, for example, specifies that “oats used in labeled gluten-free foods may now include mechanically/optically-sorted oats, a process which separates oats from wheat, barley and rye by color, size, and shape. These methods are used to produce “clean” gluten-free oats.” The first study also suggests that certain types of oats may induce CD symptoms in patients while others do not.

“Inclusion of oats in a gluten-free diet might be valuable due to their nutritional and health benefits, and several countries currently permit oats to be included as an ingredient in such diets,” it explains.

“However, it is extremely important to remember that in vitro studies have shown that the immunogenicity of oats varies depending on the cultivar used. Future clinical studies should be directed to the development of clinical trials with varieties previously identified as safe by reliable in vitro methods”

If you’re intolerant to gluten, play it safe. Look for the “gluten-free” label, or talk to a doctor to decide if oats are right for you.

Most people who think they have a penicillin allergy don’t — and it can be a problem

A new study has found that a surprisingly high number of people wrongly believe they are allergic to penicillin, and that might end up costing them somewhere down the line.

Within the US, some 10% of all patients believe they are allergic to penicillin — but in reality, 90% of these people aren’t. This means that every year, millions of people can end up taking alternative antibiotics, which are more expensive and can destroy the body’s healthy bacterial flora. Furthermore, according to a study, which was carried out in the UK and published in the British Medical Journal, people with a penicillin allergy are 70% more likely to acquire a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection and have a 26% increased risk of Clostridium difficile-related colitis (C. diff.). This means that people who wrongly believe they are allergic to penicillin are needlessly subjecting themselves to additional infection risks.

The good news, researchers say, is that there’s a simple allergy test which can be carried out, but it needs to be more widely implemented.

People with an alleged penicillin allergy are typically given a prescription of broad-spectrum antibiotics which, as the name implies, cover a broad number of microorganisms, and can end up killing more things than they should — particularly, the body’s useful bacteria. Any imbalance in the body’s bacterial fauna can weaken the immune system and make it easier for other infections to take over — especially drug-resistant bacteria like MRSA.

Meanwhile, penicillin is a very targeted and potent drug, ideal for treating a particular set of infections.

“Penicillin-related drugs, that whole class … they’re very effective at killing, and they’re very targeted. So for some bacteria they’re still the best. Oldie but goody,” Kim Blumenthal, lead author of the new study and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told the Washington Post. “I have seen so many terrible, terrible outcomes” from C. diff. infections, Blumenthal said, including serious diarrhea, sepsis and death.

[panel style=”panel-default” title=”Penicillin” footer=””]Penicillin was discovered in 1928 by Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming, and started being used to treat infections in 1942.

While the number of penicillin-resistant bacteria is increasing, penicillin can still be used to treat a wide range of infections caused by certain susceptible bacteria, including Streptococci, Staphylococci, and Clostridium.

An estimated 0.03% of the population have serious allergies to penicillin.[/panel]

Things can get even worse when targeted penicillin isn’t used. Using non-targeted, broad-spectrum antibiotics can breed the next generation of drug-resistant bacteria. According to the CDC, some 2 million people get infected with these pathogens every year. Among these, over 23,000 will go on to lose their lives as a result of the bacterial infection, which often leads to other complications. The World Health Organization has also identified drug-resistant pathogens as one of the main threats to human society, and already, some infections are becoming nigh impossible to treat — including gonorrhea.

Well, it sure used to at least.

It’s still not clear exactly why so many people wrongly believe they are allergic to penicillin but doctors have a few good ideas. For starters, many are diagnosed with the allergy as a child, and they grow out of the allergy — something which can happen but isn’t a guarantee by any means. Then, allergy means different things to different people. Essentially, an allergy is simply an exaggerated response of the immune system, but that can range from a minor rash to life-threatening issues. If a patient comes into the hospital suffering from a serious, potentially life-threatening condition, and his file says “allergic to penicillin,” doctors simply won’t give him the drug. But quite often, it could ultimately end up saving his life, with only a minor side effect. In most cases, researchers say, penicillin should only be avoided if the side effect is serious.

If you’ve been previously diagnosed with such a penicillin allergy, but more than 10 years have passed, doctors suggest to get re-tested.

Journal Reference: Blumenthal et al. “Risk of meticillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium difficile in patients with a documented penicillin allergy: population based matched cohort study.” doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k2400


New peanut allergy treatment ready for FDA review. It’s based on peanuts

A peanut a day… keeps peanut allergies at bay? New research says yes.


Image credits Nicole Köhler.

A new study presented today at the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting reports that it’s possible to protect yourself against peanut allergies by building a tolerance to the food over time.

Peanut vs peanut

“We’re excited about the potential to help children and adolescents with peanut allergy protect themselves against accidentally eating a food with peanut in it,” says co-author Stephen Tilles, MD. “Our hope when we started the study was that by treating patients with the equivalent of one peanut per day, many would tolerate as much as two peanuts.”

Spoiler alert, they hoped right.

The team worked with participants ranging from 4 to 55 years old (most between 4 to 17 years old), all of whom were allergic to peanuts. One-third of the participants were assigned to the control (placebo) group, and the remainder were given daily doses of protein powder. This powder was administered in increasing amounts until reaching the “maintenance dose”, which remained unchanged for the rest of the study. This daily dose was roughly equivalent to one peanut.

All participants received the peanut powder as part of an oral food challenge (OFC). A person in an OFC is given a very small oral dose of the food under the supervision of a board-certified allergist to test for a severe reaction. OFCs are considered the gold standard for testing food allergy.

“We were pleased to find that two thirds of the people in the study were able to tolerate the equivalent of two peanuts per day after nine to 12 months of treatment, and half the patients tolerated the equivalent of four peanuts.”

By the end of the study, the patient’s “reactions from the [OFCs] were much milder than prior to treatment,” Dr. Tilles adds. On average, each participant was able to tolerate exposure to a 100-fold higher dose of peanut after the study compared to the initial result. Even better, their reaction to this 100-fold dose at the end of the study was milder than their reaction to the initial dose at the beginning of the study.

The approach was also met with fewer side effects than the team anticipated. Only six percent of participants dropped out of the study due to such complications. One-third of patients completed the study without experiencing anything more than mild side effects along the way.

All in all, the results are quite promising. Again, this isn’t meant as a be-all-end-all solution to peanut allergies; it’s simply meant to protect patients against life-threatening reactions (anaphylactic shock) when they unknowingly come into contact with a small dose of peanut. The team also reports that once a patient stops treatment, the protective effect wears off.

Should this treatment be approved by the FDA, it will provide the first treatment option for peanut allergies. It will be available by prescription, and patients will need to remain on it to stay protected against accidental consumption.

The paper “AR101 Oral Immunotherapy for Peanut Allergy” has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Myths about Hay Fever — and how to beat it

As hay fever season kicks into force, it’s good to know what works and what doesn’t — and sort out the many misconceptions around this condition.

What is hay fever

Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is a common condition typically manifested through inflammation in the nose. What happens is that your body’s immune system detects allergens such as pollen or dust and overreacts.

It’s essentially a type of allergy — the most common type of allergy, affecting between 10 and 30% of people in the Western World. The most common symptoms are:

  • repeated sneezing and coughing;
  • runny or blocked nose (usually with clear liquid);
  • itchy, red or watery eyes;
  • itchy throat, mouth, nose, and ears;
  • loss of usual sense of smell;
  • pain around your temples and forehead;
  • headaches;
  • earaches;
  • tiredness.

Symptoms can vary greatly in intensity and can be particularly unpleasant if also suffering from asthma.

Hay fever is usually worse between late March and September when it’s warm, humid, and windy. This creates the perfect conditions for pollen and dust to spread around and enter your nose or eyes.

Different types of pollen. Image via Wikipedia.

Before we start looking at the most common hay fever myths, it’s important to note that this can be a serious condition. If symptoms persist, you shouldn’t attempt to self-medicate. Instead, consult a pharmacist or your general practitioner. Hay fever has no cure and you can’t prevent it, but there are things you can do to ease the symptoms.

[panel style=”panel-success” title=”How to deal with hay fever” footer=””]

  • stay indoors as much as possible;
  • wear wraparound glasses or sunglasses to prevent the pollen from reaching your eyes;
  • change your clothes every time you arrive from outside, and, ideally, wash them, to get rid of any pollen or dust;
  • keep windows and doors shut as much as possible;
  • put Vaseline or a nasal balm around your nostrils to trap pollen;
  • shower often;
  • vacuum regularly, and/or use a damp cloth for dusting;
  • buy a pollen filter for the air vents in your car and a vacuum cleaner with a special HEPA filter.


[panel style=”panel-danger” title=”What not to do when suffering from hay fever” footer=””]

  • stay outside for long periods of time (especially in fields or forested areas);
  • cut grass or walk on grass;
  • smoke or be around people when they smoke — it can make the symptoms much worse;
  • dry clothes inside — this attracts pollen and dust;
  • let pets outside — pets are not normally a big problem, but they can bring unwanted pollen from outside;
  • keep fresh flowers.


Hay fever myths

Illustration depicting inflammation associated with allergic rhinitis. Image credits: Bruce Blaus.

‘Hay’ fever

The first myth probably comes from the name. Hay fever actually doesn’t have much in common with hay — sure, dust or other particles in the hay can trigger it, but there’s nothing special about hay here. The link with hay came about due to an early (and incorrect) theory that the symptoms were brought about by the smell of new hay. The theory was disproven, but the name stuck.

You grow out of it

Many people think that you simply outgrow hay fever, but that’s hardly the truth. Just 10-20% of all sufferers experience a complete elimination of symptoms with time. For half of all sufferers, symptoms decrease in intensity as the years pass, but for the other half, things stay more or less the same.

Conversely, another myth is that hay fever always stays with you for life. As we mentioned, it’s not the same for everyone. Symptoms can alleviate or disappear altogether, but this is not always the case.

Rain clears the pollen

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this — even if you have the nastiest hay fever, it’s okay to go outside because rain clears the pollen away. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Stormy weather has the opposite effect, it disperses and agitates pollen, making it more likely to affect you.

After a while, you become immune to antihistamines

Antihistamines are the most common treatment against hay fever. However, because the hay fever symptoms can vary greatly in intensity, people think this means that the antihistamines simply aren’t working. That’s not true — you can use antihistamines for a long period of time without them diminishing in intensity at all.

However, if the pills never worked, it’s time to consult a doctor and find an alternative treatment.

Antihistamines make you drowsy

Many people avoid taking antihistamines because they don’t want to feel sleepy or lethargic all the time. However, while this was the case some time ago, most modern-age pills don’t cause drowsiness. Most early-age pills did — these are the so-called first-generation antihistamines. These are particularly good if your symptoms are preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep. But if you want to ease hay fever symptoms while being active, options exist.

I should only take pills if I feel bad

Most pills work better if they’re already in your system when you’ve been exposed to the allergen.

A teaspoon of honey can prevent hay fever symptoms

There’s just no science to support this. The idea is that your body would become desensitized to pollen, but that’s not how things really work. The same goes for many naturopath treatments.

Flowers cause allergies

Again, hay fever is generally caused by pollen, dust, or other similar particles. You’re not really allergic to flowers, you’re probably allergic to the pollen. Furthermore, the pollen from flowers is rarely a trigger for hay fever because pollen in most flowers and indoor plants is not carried by wind or air but rather by pollinators such as birds and bees.

Short-haired pets are better for hay fever

In the case of pet allergies, the trigger for hay fever is dead skin cells or ‘dander’. So while people may think they’re allergic to hair, they’re actually allergic to skin secretions. Cutting down your pet’s hair won’t help one bit, unfortunately.

You can’t do anything about it

Aside from the tips in the first part of the article and the antihistamines, maintaining a healthy body can also help reduce the symptoms of hay fever. Eating healthily and exercising boost your immune system, which — although there’s no guarantee — can reduce hay fever intensity. Everyone’s different, but you can at least boost your odds.

Hay fever is ultimately harmless

Hay fever is an allergy, and we all know that allergies can be very dangerous. Chronic rhinitis can cause long-lasting problems such as fatigue and chronic pain, and can also do damage indirectly, by causing you to lose focus at work. If symptoms are severe, you shouldn’t ignore them and you should seek professional medical help.




Understanding Allergies: What they are and how they work

Allergies, you can’t live with them… and would gladly live without them. Unlike standard illnesses, rather than involving a shortcoming of the immune system, allergies actually happen when it becomes too reactive.

Yes, you have allergies because your immune system loves its job and is working overtime — it is called a hypersensitivity reaction. These reactions include autoimmune disorders as well as organ and graft rejections. But, here, I’ll give you the crash course on Type I hypersensitivity reactions, a.k.a allergies.

What causes allergies?

To answer this question we need to go down to the cellular level and take a look at our immune system. This system consists of many parts but what we’re mostly concerned with here are white blood cells — lymphocytes and granulocytes. Our cells are well trained to respond to threats and, like with a national military, we leave it up to their discretion and expertise to determine which foreign molecules (antigens) pose a threat. T lymphocytes, our generals, make these calls. Let’s meet these high-ranking members of the army.

Most of us have heard of antibodies, if only from watching cartoons. These defensive molecules are produced by our B lymphocytes — high ranking special forces who answer only to T cells. Polymorphonuclear cells (PMNs), named for their unusually shaped nuclei, are our soldiers and are the immune cells found in greatest numbers at sites of infection. They are also called granulocytes for the granules observed in their cytoplasm, which serve different functions for each cell type. Along with mast cells, these cells respond to lymphocyte orders to release granules.

“Sir, yes, sir!” 3D renderings of PMNs. From left: a basophil, eosinophil and neutrophil. Image credits: Blausen.com staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014”. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436.

Macrophages are our all-rounders – scouts, marksmen and information specialists. They are usually the first to identify strange foreign substances which they consume, break apart and then present segments (like snapshots) of them to the T cells. Now, the generals must decide if these strangers are worth waging war. T helper cells (TH, CD4+) give out orders and our cytotoxic T cells (CD8+) personally attack problem cells, like cancer cells.  Sometimes, unfortunately, they get it wrong. This is when you experience a hypersensitivity reaction.

Okay. So what is an allergy?

With the introductions out of the way, we can learn about the anaphylactic response. ‘Ana’ means ‘away from’ and ‘phylaxis’ means ‘protection’. Seasonal allergies, severe allergies, and rashes are typical type I (anaphylactic) reactions. Interestingly, this is the reaction you will have, not the first time, but the second time you are exposed to the same ‘threat’ – and every time after that. Our immune system is a learning system, this is the reasoning behind vaccination and why chickenpox won’t affect you the same way twice. Once threatened, your army remembers their enemy so they can mount a faster, stronger defense the next time.

“A new challenger appears!” False color electron micrograph of various pollen grains, a common allergy trigger. Image credits: Dartmouth College Electron Microscope Facility.

In our first response, our T cells send in our B cells to attack. Once activated they become bigger, scarier, plasma cells. Their weapon of choice is, of course, antibodies but particularly immunoglobulin E (IgE). The first time our body encounters a strange antigen, be it pollen, dust, animal dander etc., there is a chance we will produce IgE. Some of these attach themselves to mast cells, which behave the first time around. The second time, however, they hold nothing back. And so we get back to the anaphylactic response, characterized by vasodilation and bronchoconstriction – essentially, your blood vessels expand and your air passages close up.

The T cell signals, which tell your blood vessels to expand, are to allow cells like PMNs and mast cells to move more quickly to the site of the challenge. Unfortunately, in the case of allergies this is usually your respiratory tract and skin. Once the PMNs and mast cells see their enemy, all hell breaks loose. The IgE antibodies on the mast cells identify the evil pollen and trigger the cells to degranulate, along with the attacking basophils.

Diagram showing a mast cell with attached IgE (A) and its degranulation (B) once the deadly pollen grain antigen binds to it. Image credits: Zoe Gordon, ZME Science.

From these granules, among other pre-formed mediators, histamines come out. A bit like grenades, they do their job very well but create a mess while they’re at it. They are excellent vasodilators and help your army enter the area quickly, unfortunately, they also make those areas leak. Essentially, histamines help to cause your red, runny nose and watery eyes. In fact, histamines are also stimulating your nerves and making you sneeze and itch. This is the reason why the medication we take to unclog our poor sinuses and de-rash our skin are antihistamines.

  • Early phase reaction: Within 15 minutes

The reaction that occurs — swelling of the area, redness, inrush of cells — is a standard inflammation reaction. And we see this on our skin in the form of itchy rashes or hives. The redness is because the blood vessels have expanded. But what about bronchoconstriction? As it turns out, within ten minutes after exposure, other mediators (e.g. prostaglandins) in those granules trigger tightening of the smooth muscle in the respiratory tract. This is allergy induced asthma and can become life-threatening anaphylaxis.

  • Late phase reaction: 4-6 hrs later

The war is over, but those cells just don’t seem to want to go away. In fact, some reinforcements are still arriving. The acute symptoms are gone but the effects of their presence remains. Rashes and hives can last for weeks or even months. The bronchoconstriction is even more troublesome, usually peaking at 30 minutes and fading but sometimes recurring after a few hours.

  • Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a different situation than your standard type I reaction. It’s potentially life-threatening and often comes with some combination of these symptoms: visible inflammation, trouble breathing, a worrisome drop in blood pressure, gastrointestinal distress.  When the person’s face swells up and they can’t breathe, what they need is a shot of adrenaline!

The most well-known brand of portable epinephrine shots. Image credits: Intropin/ Wikimedia Commons.

Epinephrine shots are your go-to for anaphylaxis – the sooner the better. Why? Because adrenaline essentially causes the exact opposite effect of inflammation. It’s our fight or flight hormone. It makes us breathe better, pushes up our heart rate and constricts our veins to increase blood pressure and flow. Allergies only become more severe with repeated exposure, so if you have experienced anaphylaxis, ensure you walk with your shots and that there is a way for people to know.

Now you know

All in all, your pollen allergy is essentially equivalent to a stray beach ball rolling across the battlefield and immediately getting focus fired by every soldier on hand – because it looked funny. And it doesn’t seem to matter how many times they try to harmlessly roll by. In fact, over time, the soldiers get joined by an extra platoon, then tanks, and then the air force because those beach balls have got to go! And over a few bits of pollen, soldiers and bystanders have been lost.

Yes, it’s very strange to imagine, but a lot of the symptoms we associate with allergies and illness aren’t things that the invader is doing to your body, but things that your body is doing to you – fever, runny nose, itchy eyes, shortness of breath, rashes, and hives. Your body is making you miserable… in an attempt to protect you. But, remember, when it’s not an allergy, to appreciate that. It’s doing the best it can.




Preliminary results suggests probiotic immunotherapy cures peanut allergy four years after treatment

A small study involving 48 participants suggests peanut allergy can be cured or at least ‘suspended’ following a treatment consisting of probiotics and peanuts.


Credit: MaxPexels.

Nut your average therapy

Peanut allergy is one of the most common food allergies and can result in a severe and potentially fatal immune response. It’s not just peanuts — nuts or certain legumes can cause it too. You likely have friends or know someone who had to be rushed to the energy room after accidentally ingesting allergenic food. Suffice to say, all of this can be incredibly annoying, not to mention dangerous. One study estimates the quality of life of children with food allergies is worse than that of children with diabetes. You can stay away from peanuts and derivatives but there’s always the risk of coming in contact with the allergenic by accident.

Our immune system is great at warding off infections, but when a person is allergic to nuts, the immune system overreacts to the proteins in these foods and treats them as “invaders”. This causes a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis in which chemicals called histamine are released in the body. Anaphylaxis may begin with some of the same symptoms as a less severe reaction, but then quickly worsen, leading someone to have trouble breathing, feel lightheaded, or to pass out. If it is not treated quickly, anaphylaxis can be life threatening. It’s also an allergy that haunts those afflicted all their lives, but a new groundbreaking research might prove to be a life raft.

This is why the latest study performed by scientists at the University of Melbourne has gotten a lot of people hyped about the prospect of saying farewell once and for all to peanut allergy.

The trial involved 24 participants which were given a mix of the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus with peanut oral immunotherapy (PPOIT). L. rhamnosus was previously shown to “induce regulatory T cells, antigen-specific IgA, and regulatory and T helper 1 cytokine responses.” In other words, it heightens the immune system response. Previously, clinical trials established PPOIT can prevent the food allergy by eating small, gradually increasing amounts of the peanuts under very strict and careful supervision of a trained allergy specialist.

When compared to an equally-sized placebo group, the team found their trial to be very successful. Four years after the treatment was administered, 20 out of 24 said they had no allergic reaction. What’s more 16 ate peanuts freely and regularly and 11 said they had them once a week, as reported in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health 

The researchers used questionnaires to record participants’ peanut intake history, including the average amount ingested, ingestion frequency, and adverse reactions to peanuts after accidental or intentional ingestion since stopping study treatment. Participants and their nurses also completed a quality of life survey while skin prick tests — standard tests that measure allergy biomarkers — where used to measure allergen reaction.

“To conclude, our results suggest that PPOIT is effective at inducing long-term sustained unresponsiveness that persists for up to 4 years after completing treatment and is safe. Furthermore, the finding that sustained
unresponsiveness was maintained without the need to follow a regular prespecified ingestion schedule provides a compelling argument that PPOIT-induced immune tolerance,” the authors concluded.

Now, the big caveat is that this was a small study which included just two dozen participants who received the treatment. It’s not clear that anyone is really cured, rather it might just be that the allergy is kept under control temporarily and the treatment might have to be restarted.

Nevertheless, this is a compelling proof of concept which will soon feature more trials which include more people. Previously results also seem to lend confidence that there is promise in this therapeutic direction. In 2015, the same Australian researchers gave 30 allergic children a daily dose of peanut protein together with the L. rhamnosus probiotic. At the end of the trial, 80% of the children could eat nuts.

In any event, even if a clinical trial proves safe tomorrow, the regulatory hurdles means an FDA-approved peanut immunotherapy might take years before it reaches those in need.


New Immunology Theories Shine Light on a Potential Link Between Vaccines and the Rise in Allergies and Autoimmune Disease


Credit: Pixabay

It has been speculated over the last few years whether vaccines play a part in the dramatic rise of allergies and autoimmune disease in the last four decades. The U.S. currently requires the highest number of vaccines than any developed nation and also has the highest incidence rates of autoimmune disease as well as allergies. Could there be a connection?

The National Institute of Health estimates that a shocking 23.5 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune disease. According to the American Autoimmune Diseases Related Association, however, that number should be closer to 50 million. The reason? NIH research only takes into account 24 of the 100 researched autoimmune disorders as only those 24 have good epidemiology studies to back them up.  

The CDC describes allergies as being  “among the most common medical conditions affecting children in the United States. An allergic condition is a hypersensitivity disorder in which the immune system reacts to substances in the environment that are normally considered harmless.” They also state that both food and skin allergies (some of which can be labeled autoimmune disorders) have been increasing in prevalence since 1997 in children under 18.

The theory of self/non-self recognition has dominated immunology for a very long time. This theory states that the immune system responds to pathogens (antigens) that it recognizes as foreign, or not self. Regarding vaccines, this would mean that the immune system responds to the viral matter in them and recognizes it as foreign, then forms memory to it and attacks. This is the way most people think of vaccines. However, not only is this theory overly simplistic, new research brings to light the many holes in it.

One of the biggest holes in this theory, is the lack of explanation for why our body doesn’t attack foreign protein introduced by ingestion. Much of the food we eat are proteins that are foreign and therefore not part of “self”. In addition,  we are exposed to environmental proteins on a daily basis. It doesn’t make sense that the immune system would not react to foreign proteins we eat or are exposed to, but does react when the foreign protein is injected via vaccine.

Newer immunology theories, called the danger/damage model, might help explain this disconnect and why the immune system reacts. The danger/damage model states that if there is any cellular or tissue damage occurring in the body, and that damage is associated to an unrecognized antigen (i.e. attached to a protein), the immune system will associate that protein as dangerous.

A recent article titled “Vaccine Allergies” from the National Center of Biotechnology Information (NCBI)  explores the possibility of the proteins in vaccines causing many of the hyper-sensitivies and allergies seen today. The authors state that:

“The vaccine components include active immunizing antigens, conjugating agents, preservatives, stabilizers, antimicrobial agents, adjuvants and culture media used in the preparation of the vaccine, as well as inadvertent contaminants that are introduced during vaccine handling.

Almost all the vaccine components can be considered as potential triggers of an allergic reaction.

Of particular importance are culture derived proteins from egg, gelatin and yeast. Other sources of allergic reaction are antibiotics and vaccination antigens.”

Examples of components in vaccines that may trigger allergic reactions are eggs, yeast, latex, and casein, a protein found in cow’s milk. A vaccine that uses casein, for instance, is the Tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis vaccine, commonly known as the Tdap. Several studies have found a possible link between the number of Tdap booster shots children receive and their casein allergies. Though the studies are inconclusive, the evidence is compelling.

A study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology notes that the children in the study “tolerated their initial vaccine but reacted to booster shots”. This suggests that the children had no milk allergies prior to receiving the first Tdap vaccination, and developed one after repeated doses. Essentially, repeated exposure to the protein via vaccine seems to result in an immune response to it.

When it comes to autoimmune diseases, studies linking them to vaccines seem to be as inconclusive as those linking allergies and vaccine proteins. However, once again, some of the findings are compelling.

The following excerpt is from a study titled DNA released from dying host cells mediates aluminum adjuvant activity. It supports beliefs regarding how all vaccine components that are protein in nature are potential candidates for the immune system to form memory to. Additionally, it entertains the notion that adjuvants in vaccines, such as aluminum, by producing cell necrosis in the host, potentially renders the host susceptible to develop an allergy to its own cells (so to speak).

The finding that host DNA released from dying cells acts as a damage-associated molecular pattern that mediates alum adjuvant activity may increase our understanding of the mechanisms of action of current vaccines and help in the design of new adjuvants.

In other words, there appears to be a connection between current adjuvants used in vaccines and autoimmune disorders. This study also reinforces the belief that the immune system does not just memorize foreign proteins introduced via vaccine, but rather, foreign proteins that are attached to an adjuvant that causes cell necrosis in the host. Put another way, it appears that in order to elicit an immune response from the host, a vaccine must meet the following criteria: 1. viral matter attached to a protein (to form memory), 2. Said viral matter and protein must produce cell necrosis in the host in order to appear threatening to the immune system.

Other studies have specifically focused on vaccines’ potential link to autoimmunity. A study from NCBI titled “Vaccination and autoimmunity (Vaccinosis): a dangerous liasion?” points to clear evidence of certain autoimmune disorders being caused by vaccines.

“Even though the data regarding the relation between vaccination and autoimmune disease is conflicting, it seems that some autoimmune phenomena are clearly related to immunization (e.g. Guillain-Barre syndrome). The issue of the risk of vaccination remains a philosophical one, since to date the advantages of this policy have not been refuted, while the risk for autoimmune disease has not been irrevocably proved.”

What all of these studies have in common, as previously mentioned, is that they are deemed by the authors as inconclusive. While they all find good evidence to support the danger/damage model, it remains unclear whether all allergies and autoimmune disorders stem from vaccination. Likely there are many other factors contributing to the dramatic rise in prevalence of such disorders, though the fact that some of them (like Guillain-Barre Syndrome) have been definitely linked to vaccines is a step in the right direction.

Furthermore, the question of whether the growing list of vaccines in the country is linked to the growing number of allergy and autoimmune disorders remains unanswered. It is perhaps worth noting, however, that the majority of these disorders present themselves in childhood and therefore during the time when most vaccines are given. Whether or not this is relevant is still a mystery. As new research continues to emerge, hopefully the enigmas surrounding the issue of allergies and autoimmune disease will begin to be resolved. For the time being, the role vaccination plays in these disorders remains an interesting speculation.

Peanut allergy risk reduced by up to 80% by consuming peanuts as an infant, study finds

A new study confirms previous findings: the best way to fight peanut allergy is by consuming peanuts as an infant.

Photo by Aney.

Fight peanuts with peanuts

In recent years, there has been a growing number of studies indicating that fighting peanut allergy is best done… with peanuts. In January last year, a study reported that early exposure to peanut products could cut the risk of allergy by 80%. Now, a follow-up study found that the allergy protection is sustained even after avoiding the snacks for a year.

Basically, their results show that if children consume peanuts in the first 11 months of life, they are very likely to avoid peanut allergy later in life, and maintain this resistance for at least a year. Lead author Prof Gideon Lack said:

“[The research] clearly demonstrates that the majority of infants did in fact remain protected and that the protection was long-lasting.”

He also said that popular culture is a significant part that propagates this problem.

“I believe that this fear of food allergy has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the food is excluded from the diet and, as a result, the child fails to develop tolerance,” he said in an interview.

Researchers used the same 550 allergy-prone children as in the previous study, half of whom had been given peanut in some form as a baby, while half of which were only fed breast milk. The result also falls in line with other studies among which the general trend was – if you expose your baby to something benign as a child, they’re much more likely to develop a resistance to it. Prof Barry Kay, from Imperial College London added that the results “point the way to completely fresh thinking on the mechanisms of tolerance to allergenic foods in ‘at risk’ infants”.

This is also reassuring news for stemming what was beginning to look like a peanut allergy epidemic. According to previous research, peanut allergy has tripled from 1997 to 2008, and shows signs of growing more and more each year.

Want to fight peanut allergies? Eat peanuts

In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised parents to keep children as far away from peanuts as possible, in order to avoid potential allergies – it seemed like a good idea at the time. But now, a new study has found that in the long run, that actually did more harm than good, and if we want to fight allergies, we should be feeding our children peanuts.

Special Mention: if your child is allergic to peanuts DON’T give him peanuts! This can go tragically wrong, for obvious reasons. You can, in certain conditions, under strict medical supervision (and only following a medic’s advice), administer small, incremental peanut doses which may help his condition – but there are a lot of if’s and a lot of maybe’s here.

What this study found is that small children who avoided peanuts for the first five years of their lives were up to seven times more likely to wind up with a peanut allergy than kids who ate peanuts regularly. So, if your child has no history with allergies, it’s safer to give him peanuts at a young age.

“Food allergies are a growing concern, not just in the United States but around the world,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “For a study to show a benefit of this magnitude in the prevention of peanut allergy is without precedent. The results have the potential to transform how we approach food allergy prevention.”

[Also Read: Nut allergy cured in 80% of children participating in probiotic clinical trial]

Researchers led by Gideon Lack, M.D., of King’s College London, designed a study called Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP), based on observations conducted on Israeli children. They did this because Israelis generally consume high quantities of peanut butter from an early age, and they also have a very low incidence of peanut allergy – scientists suspected there might be a connection between the two, and as it turns out, they were right. They found a whopping 81% reduction of peanut allergy in children who consume peanuts regularly compared to those who avoided eating peanuts.

“The study also excluded infants showing early strong signs of having already developed peanut allergy. The safety and effectiveness of early peanut consumption in this group remains unknown and requires further study,” said Dr. Lack. “Parents of infants and young children with eczema or egg allergy should consult with an allergist, pediatrician, or their general practitioner prior to feeding them peanut products.”

The findings seem to offer fresh support for the so-called hygiene hypothesis. The hygiene hypothesis  states that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents and parasites increases susceptibility to allergic diseases by suppressing the natural development of the immune system. The same thing could go for peanuts and other food products – if you’re not exposed to them as a child, you’re much more likely to develop an allergy to them.

The study may also help future dietary recommendations and may one day lead to reducing the incidence of peanut allergy, especially since the incidence of the allergy has grown dramatically, from 0.6% in 1997 to 1.4% in 2008 – it’s more than doubled in 11 years!

“Prior to 2008, clinical practice guidelines recommended avoidance of potentially allergenic foods in the diets of young children at heightened risk for development of food allergies,” said Daniel Rotrosen, M.D., director of NIAID’s Division of Allergy, Immunology and Transplantation. “While recent studies showed no benefit from allergen avoidance, the LEAP study is the first to show that early introduction of dietary peanut is actually beneficial and identifies an effective approach to manage a serious public health problem.”

Journal Reference: ​Du Toit G et al. Randomized trial of peanut consumption in infants at risk of peanut allergy. New England Journal of Medicine DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1414850 (2015).


kids washing dishes

Hand washing dishes keeps children’s allergies away

Here’s another reason for children to do their chores: washing dishes by hand boosts children’s immune system. The findings were reported by Swedish doctors who found that in households where dishes are washed by hand children have much fewer allergic incidents than in those where the dishes are washed by a machine.

kids washing dishes

Image: WebMD

Yet again, the findings serve to support the so-called “hygiene hypothesis” which says that the critical post-natal period of immune response is derailed by the extremely clean household environments often found in the developed world. In other words, the young child’s environment can be “too clean” to pose an effective challenge to a maturing immune system. For instance, over the years study have shown that environmental factors like pets, eating fish or living on a farm greatly boosts a child’s immune system. Of course, that’s not to say that kids living in the wilderness are necessarily healthier, but “bubble kids” are definitely at risk and parents should seek for a balance. Bacterial exposure needs not be inherently bad – it makes the kid stronger in later life!

“If you are exposed to microbes, especially early in life, you stimulate the immune system in various ways and it becomes tolerant,” says study author Dr. Bill Hesselmar of Queen Silvia Children’s Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden for TIME. “We thought [hand washing dishes] might be important, but we didn’t know, so we asked that question.”

To quantify the effects of dish hand washing, the Swedish researchers surveyed the parents and guardians of 1,029 Swedish children ages 7 to 8. They found 23% of children whose parents used hand dishwashing had a history of eczema, compared with 38% of kids whose families mainly used machine dishwashing. Moreover, when children also ate fermented food or food bought directly from farms, these effects were amplified.

Of course, this is an observational study, not a causal one. Based on these clues, though, the Swedish researchers have some ideas why this is better. Previous work has found that dish washing machines are a lot more efficient and leave much fewer bacterial traces on dishes than those cleaned by hand. So, it’s not that the kids are washing the dishes themselves that’s boosting the immune system – most of them are too young to do it anyway – but rather, it’s that they’re eating off hand washed plates. But don’t tell your kids that if you still want them to do their chores.

“The study was really well done and caveated well, while simultaneously suggesting new areas of research and interesting models,” says Jonathan A. Eisen for TIME, a professor at the University of California at Davis. Eisen, who was not involved in the study.

This was a preliminary study published in the journal Pediatrics.

peanut allergy

Nut allergy cured in 80% of children participating in probiotic clinical trial

Australian scientists have cured nut allergy in 80% of the children taking part in a probiotic clinical trial. These children’s lives how now been transformed forever, with many more – child or adult – to follow soon. Nut allergy is lifelong and the most common cause of death from food anaphylaxis.

Peanuts – back on the menu

peanut allergy

Image: Allergy Reliever

Peanuts are among the most common allergy-causing foods, and chances have it if you’re not allergic to peanuts, you know someone who is. Because their so dangerous for those allergic to them, many food manufacturers are mandated by law to visibly label peanut content even in those foods which you’d think don’t have any business with peanuts. The thing is, peanuts often find their way into things you wouldn’t imagine. Take chili, for instance: lots of producers thicken these with ground peanuts.

Here’s some useful trivia: peanuts aren’t actually a true nut, but a legume in the same family as peas and lentils. However, the proteins found in peanuts are similar in structure to those in tree nuts, so people with allergic to peanuts can also be allergic to tree nuts, such as almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios, pecans, and cashews.

Our immune system is great at warding off infections, but when a person is allergic to nuts, the immune system overreacts to the proteins in these foods and treats them as “invaders”. This causes a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis in which chemicals called histamine are released in the body. Anaphylaxis may begin with some of the same symptoms as a less severe reaction, but then quickly worsen, leading someone to have trouble breathing, feel lightheaded, or to pass out. If it is not treated quickly, anaphylaxis can be life threatening. It’s also an allergy that haunts those afflicted all their lives, but a new groundbreaking research might prove to be a life raft.

Researchers gave about 30 allergic children a daily dose of peanut protein together with a probiotic (Lactobacillus rhamnosus) in an increasing amount over an 18-month period. At the end of the trial, 80% of the Aussie kids could eat peanuts without any reaction.

“Many of the children and families believe it has changed their lives, they’re very happy, they feel relieved,” said the lead researcher, Mimi Tang. “These findings provide the first vital step towards developing a cure for peanut allergy and possibly other food allergies.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that their allergies were cured for life. It’s possible of course, but many follow-up studies are mandated to assess whether patients can still tolerate peanuts in the years to come.

“We will be conducting a follow-up study where we ask children to take peanut back out of their diet for eight weeks and test them if they’re tolerant after that,” according to Tang.

If you’re thinking about doing this treatment on your own at home – don’t.

“Some families might be thinking about trialling this at home and we would strongly advise against this. In our trial some children did experience allergic reactions, sometimes serious reactions.

“For the moment this treatment can only be taken under the supervision of doctors as part of a clinical trial.”

Source: Murdoch Research

Sharing bacteria with your kids using their pacifier may reduce the children’s risk of allergies, asthma and eczema

Researchers in Sweden have shown that children whose moms and dads placed their childrens pacifiers in their own mouths, thus sharing some of their own bacteria with them, had a lower risk of allergies, asthma and eczema.


Arguably, the sample size of the study is too small, and more research is needed in order to confirm these original findings, but the trend which they suggest is pretty clear.

“Western culture is becoming an increasingly sterile environment, but that might not be ideal for young children as their immune systems develop,” says John Lee, MD, director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Food Allergy Clinic. “Their bodies need to learn what to attack and what to ignore. But if they’re exposed to too few, or the wrong kinds of germs, it can hinder development, sometimes confusing the immune system into attacking nonthreatening entities like pollen or food, which is what causes allergies.”

Newsflash, ladies and gentlemen (but especially ladies) – keeping your babies in a bubble, isolated from the real world as much as possible is not a good thing. The odds are that in the long run, you will do more harm than good.

For the study, researchers followed 180 babies and their parents. They interviewed parents about their pacifier-cleaning practices (whether they used spit, tap or boiling water), and then they checked the childrens allergies at 18 and 36 months. Nearly half of all parents involved in the study admitted they used the occasional spit and clean of the pacifier, and kids whose parents did this were found to have a significantly lower chance of the above mentioned conditions. Blood tests also showed that children whose parents cleaned their pacifiers with spit had lower levels of a specific type of a particular immune cell that is usually linked to allergies.

While the community’s response to this study was generally positive, it was generally argued that the sample size is too small to draw any definite conclusions.

“This study was too small to draw any conclusive facts about allergy and the sharing of microbes,” says Lee. “But I joke with families that a little dirt may be good for their kids, and this study certainly wouldn’t contradict that.”

Among the critics, some have claimed that sharing this kind of oral bacteria with infants can lead to cavities, but Man Wai Ng, DDS, MPH, dentist in chief at Boston Children’s says it’s extremely doubtful:

“The reality is that saliva transfer is almost completely unavoidable, especially when babies get hugged and kissed a lot,” she says. “Since oral bacteria is just a part of life, parents should focus on what they can do: good brushing with a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste, limiting exposures to sugary foods and drinks and visiting a dentist by age 1.”

Via Children’s Hospital Boston

If you think you have food allergies… well… you probably don’t

allergy-wheel1A new study has shown that most people who think they have food alergies (over 80% in fact) actually don’t suffer from such problems. This has taunted some doctors for years and years, and AOL Health looked into this misdiagnosis. The study concluded that it is in fact a number of factors that lead to this dramatic overestimation of this condition.

“When someone is allergic to something, their immune system responds the way it might if it were infected with a parasite,” says Hugh A. Sampson, professor of pediatrics and dean for translational biomedical sciences at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics.

However, this can often be hard to detect, because symptoms are not extremely clear most of the time and responses can be misinterpreted. However, testing is not the main issue, as researchers point out.

“The problem is not with the test,” says Sampson, whose own food allergy research has yielded results similar to those of the NIAID study. “The test is good at telling us whether someone has an allergic antibody, but the test then needs to be interpreted as to whether or not the individual will actually react.”

Most things remain unknown about allergies, but this researcher has pointed out that a more thorough examination of the patient is in order before making him take on a food challege, which is often time consuming and unpleasant. Read the rest of the study here.

Man sues neighbor for irritating his ‘electromagnetic allergies’

There are weird lawsuits you can understand, and then there are just weird lawsuits. If you find this sort of things interesting, you gotta listen to this: a man from Santa Fe filed a half a million dollars trial against his neighbor for using and iPhone and other wireless devices that trigger his ‘electrocmegnetic allergies’.

Wi Fi - the new yin and yang

Wi Fi - the new yin and yang

Yahoo News reports that Arthur F., the plaintiff has been sleeping at his friends or in his car in order to avoid the electromagnetic waves created by the Wi-Fi devices from the nearby house. He allegedly suffers Electromagnetic Sensitivity, with symptoms that include “nausea, vertigo, diarrhea, ringing in the ears, severe headaches and body aches, crippling joint pains, insomnia, impaired vision, impaired muscular control”, as well as others, even worse.

Even more, he’s not alone in his battle. Apparently there’s a whole group in Santa Fe that intends to remove all Wi-Fi hot spots because people are suffering from this sort of allergy. But wait, it’s not even an allergy; they want to classify it as a disability and are claiming Americans with Disabilities Act. What’s your take on this? If you ask me, it’s just a bunch of people trying to make some fuss and money where they shouldn’t but… I may be wrong.