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Your Child

Could More Dietary Fiber Reduce Food Allergies?


In the never–ending search for an answer as to why more Americans – from children to adults- are experiencing food allergies, several new studies suggest that the culprit could be too little fiber in our diets.  

According to the non-profit organization, Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), 15 million Americans have food allergies. That’s a 50 percent increase from 1997 to 2011. About 90 percent of people with food allergies are allergic to one of eight types of foods; peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, eggs, milk, shellfish and fish. 

So, what is going on that so many people are suffering from food allergies, particularly children? That’s what researchers around the world are trying to find out.  Many studies are beginning to suggest that it’s not just one thing but a combination of factors.

A lack of dietary fiber in the diet may be one of those factors. The notion is based on the idea that bacteria in the gut have the enzymes needed to digest dietary fiber, and when these bacteria break down fiber, they produce substances that help to prevent an allergic response to foods, said Charles Mackay, an immunologist at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

So far, the research related to this idea has been done mainly in mice, and dietary factors are unlikely to be the sole explanation for why allergy rates have skyrocketed, researchers say. But if the results were to be replicated in human studies, they would suggest that promoting the growth of good gut bacteria could be one way to protect against, and possibly even reverse, certain allergies, researchers say.

The modern western diet, high in fat, sugar and refined carbs seems to produce a different kind of bacteria in the gut that may be liked to food allergies.  Fiber such as beans, whole grains, nuts, berries, vegetables and brown rice promote the growth of a class of bacteria called Clostridia, which break down fiber and are some of the biggest producers of byproducts called short-chain fatty acids.

In a 2011 study in the journal Nature, researchers found that these short-chain fatty acids normally prevent gut cells from becoming too permeable, and letting food particles, bacteria or other problematic compounds move into the blood.

An overabundance of antibiotic use may also be contributing to food allergies. Not only are people being over-prescribed, we may also be getting extra doses in some of our foods.

Antibiotics, which are widely used in agriculture and for treating ear infections in babies and toddlers, kill the bacteria in the gut. So the combination of antibiotics and low-fiber diets may be a "double whammy," that predisposes people to allergic responses, notes said Cathryn Nagler, a food allergy researcher at the University of Chicago.

The new findings also suggest a way to prevent, or possibly even reverse some allergies. For instance, allergy treatments could use probiotics that recolonize the gut with healthy forms of Clostridia, Nagler said.

In fact, in a small study published in January in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, showed that children with peanut allergies who received probiotics were able to eat the nut without having an allergic reaction, and their tolerance to peanuts persisted even after the treatment.

Many factors may contribute to the rise in food allergies, said Dr. Robert Wood, director of pediatric allergy and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. Epidemiological studies have found that having pets, going to day care, having a sibling, being born vaginally and even washing dishes by hand can affect the risk of allergies.

As more and more research is being conducted on food allergies, a bigger picture is starting to emerge about possible causes. Pediatricians and family physicians are keeping a close eye on the new findings to better help their patients. Some of those findings are changing the way physicians are treating food allergies.

For years, doctors told parents of children at a high risk of developing allergies to wait until the children were 3 years old before giving them peanuts or other allergy-inducing foods, Wood said.

"We really thought we knew what we were doing, and it turns out it was 100 percent wrong," Wood said.

If your child suffers from food allergies, you might want to talk to your pediatrician or family doctor about adding more dietary fiber or probiotics to your child’s diet. However, it’s not recommended that you “experiment” on your own because some children’s health problems can be made worse from probiotic use or too much fiber. Be sure and check with your doctor first.

Sources: Tia Ghose,

Your Child

Melatonin May Help Kids with Eczema Sleep Better


Eczema is a common skin disease that affects as many as 30 percent of all kids.  It’s an itchy red rash that often causes continuous scratching. Numerous children with eczema have trouble sleeping through the night. A new study suggests that over-the-counter melatonin may help them sleep longer and better.

These sleep problems can be difficult to treat in these children, said Dr. Yung-Sen Chang, an attending physician in pediatrics at Taipei City Hospital Renai Branch in Taiwan. Antihistamines can stop working after a few days, and tranquilizers have potentially serious side effects, Chang said.

But giving children melatonin, his study found, "is safe and effective for helping children with atopic dermatitis fall asleep faster."

The link between the skin condition and insufficient sleep "has an impact on people with eczema at all ages," said Dr. Lawrence Eichenfield, chief of pediatric and adolescent dermatology at the University of California, San Diego and Rady Children's Hospital.

According to Eichenfield, it's generally established that it’s the itching that keeps people with eczema from getting enough sleep. However, Chang said that may not be the case.

Chang and colleagues discovered that patients with eczema, that had difficulty sleeping, had low levels of nocturnal melatonin. That intrigued Chang and inspired the new study.

"Melatonin is a natural human hormone with minimal adverse effects," Chang said, "so it seemed like a good choice for children."

The study was small and involved 48 children, about 22 months to 18 years old, who had eczema. The children received treatment with either an inactive placebo or a 3-milligram daily dose of melatonin at bedtime for four weeks. Thirty-eight participants then took the alternate treatment (melatonin or placebo) for another four weeks.

When the children took melatonin, the severity of eczema dipped slightly, possibly because melatonin's anti-inflammatory effect improved the skin condition, Chang said.

Also, kids taking melatonin fell asleep about 21 minutes sooner than kids taking the placebo, the findings showed.

Total nightly sleep rose by 10 minutes on average (from 380 to 390 minutes, or 6.5 hours total) in the melatonin group, while it fell by 20 minutes among those who took a placebo, according to the report.

The participants did not report any side effects. Melatonin supplements are inexpensive in the U.S.- typically under 9 cents a pill from one major supplier.

Eichenfield, who wasn't involved in the research, said the study appears to be well-designed. Melatonin hasn't been studied much as a sleep treatment for kids, he cautioned.

While Eichenfield said melatonin may turn out to be helpful, he said there are a broad set of other tools available to treat eczema and minimize its effect on children. He suggested tackling the skin condition first to try to mitigate the sleep issues.

Chang recommended that parents talk to their child's doctor before starting melatonin. As for adults, melatonin may help them, too. But more studies are needed, Chang said.

The study was published in a November online edition of the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Source: Randy Dotinga,


Your Baby

Study: Fracking Linked to Babies Low Birth Weight

High volume fracturing, also known as fracking, has increased in production all through the United States. The process allows access to large amounts of natural gas trapped in shale deposits by utilizing natural gas wells.

These types of wells were once more likely to be found in rural settings but are now increasingly located in and near populated neighborhoods.

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania has found a link between mothers who live close to high volume fracking wells and an increased risk of having a lower birth weight baby.

Researchers analyzed the birth records of more than 15,400 babies born in Pennsylvania's Washington, Westmoreland and Butler counties between 2007 and 2010.

Women who lived close to a high number of natural gas fracking sites were 34 percent more likely to have babies who were "small for gestational age" than mothers who did not live close to a large number of such wells, the study found.

Small for gestational age means a baby is smaller than normal based on the number of weeks the baby has been in the womb, according to the March of Dimes.

The findings held true even after other factors were accounted for such as whether the mother smoked, her race, age, education and prenatal care. Also taken into account was whether she had previous children and the baby’s gender.

Like other cities around the country, the number of fracking sites in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale has increased substantially in the last few years. In 2007 there were 44 wells; by 2010, more than 2,800.

"Our work is a first for our region and supports previous research linking unconventional gas development and adverse health outcomes," study co-author Bruce Pitt, chair of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health's Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, said in a university news release.

"These findings cannot be ignored. There is a clear need for studies in larger populations with better estimates of exposure and more in-depth medical records," he added.

The main concerns around fracking sites are the air and noise pollution and waste fluids.

"Developing fetuses are particularly sensitive to the effects of environmental pollutants. We know that fine particulate air pollution, exposure to heavy metals and benzene, and maternal stress all are associated with lower birth weight," Pitt said.

While the study provides an association between fracking and lower weight babies, it does not prove that living close to a high concentration of natural gas fracking sites causes lower birth weights. Researchers said that they believe the study’s findings warrant further investigations.

The study was published online in the June edition of the journal PLOS One.

Source: Robert Preidt,

Your Child

Students Do Better on Tests After Short Break


As the school day wears on, kids can begin to suffer from mental exhaustion. A new study suggests that students do better on test scores if the testing starts earlier in the day or they are allowed a short break before testing begins.

The study found that students aged 15 and under suffered from mental fatigue as the school day progressed, and that their test scores dipped later in the day. The effect appeared to be the greatest on those who scored the poorest; a hint that tests later in the day might hurt struggling students the most.

They also found that kids who were given a short break before they took the test scored higher.

Many school administrations have toyed with the idea of extending the school day.

"If policymakers want to have longer days, then they should consider having more frequent breaks," said study co-author Francesca Gino, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School in Boston.

The researchers also suggested that standardized tests be given at the same time of day to avoid giving some students an advantage over others and skewing the results in favor of children who are tested earlier in the day. If testing times must be spread out, then the study’s author recommend that students who test later in the day be given time to relax and recharge before the test begins.

The new study is unusual because it's so large and because it explores the role played by breaks during the day, Gino said.

The researchers reviewed results from about 2 million national standardized tests taken by kids aged 8 to 15. The children attended public schools in Denmark from 2009-2010 and 2012-2013.

The findings revealed that test performance decreased as the day progressed. As each hour went by, scores declined. But they improved after breaks of 20 minutes to 30 minutes, the research showed.

Gino described the effect as "small, but significant."

"We found that taking the test one hour later affects the average child the same way as having 10 days less of schooling," she said.

Gino blames "cognitive fatigue" -- essentially, tiredness that affects thinking. "But a break can counterbalance this negative effect. For example, during a break, children can have something to eat, relax, play with classmates or just have some fresh air. These activities recharge them."

Even though the test score differences were not huge, Christoph Randler, a professor of biology at the University of Tubingen in Germany, believes they were still significant. They could be consequential if they affect a student’s chances of getting into college, he said.

Other academic experts also found the findings had an important message. Pamela Thacher, an associate professor of psychology at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., endorsed the study. She agreed with Randler that small differences in test scores could be important to a student's future.

As for the value of breaks, she said the findings make sense. "Rest restores the ability to perform," she said. "These results are consistent with virtually every study we have that has spoken to the brain's requirements for best performance."

The study appears in the February issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: Randy Dotinga,





Your Baby

Pets May Protect Infants Against Allergies

1.30 to read

Fluffy or Fido may protect your baby from developing allergies later in life. Many owners will tell you that their pet is like a family member. A new study suggests that those four-legged family members may reduce a child’s risk of developing allergies.

For years allergists have warned parents that some pets may actually cause allergies, but a new study published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy suggests that early exposure to pets, during an infant’s first year of life, appears to provide an actual defense against allergies later in life. Lead study author Ganesa Wegienka, Ph.D., of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit noted, “Exposing children to cats and dogs in the home is not going to increase the risk of sensitization to these animals. It might even decrease the risk.” Interesting revelations were found in the study such as; 18 year old males, who lived with a dog in the house when they were an infant, reduced their risks of developing allergies by half,  but not so with girls. Cats, on the other hand, seem to affect both sexes. Infant boys and girls who lived in a home with cats reduced their risks of developing allergies –by about 48%- by the age of 18 years. Another finding of the analysis showed that both males and females delivered by C-section had a 67 percent less likelihood of developing a dog allergy when a dog was present in the home during their first year of life. Wegienka said that this could be due to the fact that babies born by cesarean section are not exposed to the diverse microflora that babies born vaginally are. The long held idea that pets may cause allergies led Wegienka, and her colleagues, to study what effects childhood exposure to cats and dogs had on the risk of developing allergies to them. For their study, the researchers analyzed blood samples of more than 500 children taken during the Detroit Childhood Allergy Study from 1987 to 1989 that followed participants from birth. The focus of the analysis was to look for the presence of an antibody known as animal-specific IgE, which would indicate that a child was sensitized to that animal. In addition, follow-up among children in the study at age 18 included additional blood samples and pet histories. The histories indicated that 184 participants had a dog, and 110 of the children had a cat, during their first year of life. Pet allergy is an allergic reaction to proteins found in an animal's skin cells, saliva or urine. Signs of pet allergy include those common to hay fever, such as sneezing and runny nose. Some people may also experience signs of asthma, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing. Severe allergic reactions can be deadly. Pet allergy is often triggered by exposure to the dead flakes, or dander, that a pet sheds. Any animal with fur can be a source of pet allergy, but the most common pets are cats, dogs, rodents and horses. Wegienka pointed out that the study does not definitively indicate that having a family pet will prevent infants from developing allergies later in life, as it only found an association between a reduced risk for allergies and exposure to cats and dogs at an early age. Wegienka cautioned, “We don't want to say that everyone should go out and get a dog or cat to prevent allergies.” She then added, “More research is needed, though we think this is a worthwhile avenue to pursue. How does having a dog or a cat change the home environment? And, how does that affect allergy risk?" If you have an infant and a pet sharing the house, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your little one to make sure that he or she is able to tolerate pet dander.

Your Child

Super-Lice Resistant to OTC Treatment


Well, this certainly isn’t good news.

The American Chemical Society recently reported a new study shows that certain lice in at least 25 states are now resistant to over-the-counter (OTC) treatments.

Study author Kyong S. Yoon, PhD, assistant professor in the Biological Sciences and Environmental Sciences Program at Southern Illinois University, has been researching lice since 2000. His research is still ongoing, but what he’s found so far in 109 samples from 30 states is startling: the vast majority of lice now carry genes that are super-resistant to the OTC treatment used against them.

Permethrin, part of the pyrethroid class of insecticides, is the active ingredient in some OTC treatments. Certain lice have developed a trio of mutations that make it resistant to the pyrethroids. What happens is you end up with a new kind of super-lice that doesn’t respond to typical treatment any longer.

“It’s a really, really serious problem right now in the U.S.,” Yoon says.

Six million to 12 million U.S. children are infested with head lice every year, "with parents spending about $350 million dollars annually on permethrin-laced over-the-counter and prescription treatments," Yoon said. Lice infestations occur in rich neighborhoods as well as poor ones.

Currently, there are 25 states, including Arizona, California, the Carolinas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Texas and Virginia where lice have what Yoon calls "knock-down resistant mutations". This involves a triple whammy of genetic alterations that render them immune to OTC permethrin treatments.

Lice in four states, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Oregon, have developed partial resistance, the researchers found.

Michigan's lice have no resistance as yet. Why that is remains unclear.

Fortunately, there are prescription medications that still work in treating lice. They are more expensive than over-the-counter formulas and do not contain permethrin. These prescriptions may contain benzyl alcohol, ivermectin, malathion and spinosad; all powerful agents or insecticides. Lindane shampoo is another alternative for difficult-to-treat cases.

If your child has head lice and OTC medicines haven’t worked, you can check with your pediatrician or family doctor for a prescription treatment. 

Sources: Mandy Oaklander,

Alan Mozes,


Your Baby

Gap Between Pregnancies Linked to Autism


Does it make a difference how long a woman waits between pregnancies in the health of her newborn?  According to a new large study, the closer the pregnancies, the higher the risk that her child will have autism or other neurodevelopmental disabilities.

"Based on the current best available evidence, it appears that the ideal inter-pregnancy interval -- the time elapsed between the birth of the immediate older sibling and the conception of the younger sibling -- is 2 to 5 years, in order to reduce the risk of autism," said study author Dr. Agustin Conde-Agudelo. He is a researcher at the World Health Organization Collaborating Center in Human Reproduction at the University of Valle in Cali, Colombia.

Researchers looked at existing studies involving more than 1.1 million children and also found that waiting too long between pregnancies (5 years or more) could raise the odds of autism.

The reasons for the link between short pregnancy spacing and autism are not known noted Conde-Agudelo. He said that scientists believe nutrition and other factors may play a role.

The study doesn’t prove that either long or short intervals between pregnancies actually causes autism, just that there seems to be an association between the two.

Conde-Agudelo and his team reviewed seven large studies reporting a link between short birth spacing and autism. The investigators found that children born to women with less than 12 months between pregnancies were nearly twice as likely to develop autism as children born to women with three years or longer between pregnancies.

Three of those studies also reported a significant link between long pregnancy spacing and autism, especially for two milder types, which were formerly called Asperger's syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder.

Meanwhile, the findings also suggested that shorter pregnancy spacing was associated with an increased risk of developmental delays and cerebral palsy, which can affect body movement, muscle coordination and balance.

Conde-Agudelo and other researchers conjectured that the mother’s depleted levels of folic acid between closely spaced pregnancies might play a role in the rise of autism risk.

The B vitamin folic acid is necessary for proper brain and spinal cord development in fetuses, and women are typically advised to take folic acid supplements during pregnancy.

As for longer pregnancy intervals also potentially linked to autism, Conde-Agudelo said it's been hypothesized that related factors such as infertility, unintended pregnancy and maternal inflammation levels may affect autism possibility.

Most neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, are thought to be caused by a complex mix of factors. These include genetics, environment, parental health and behaviors during pregnancy, and complications during birth, the researchers said in background notes.

The study was published in the April online edition of the journal Pediatrics, and will appear in the May print issue.

Story source: Maureen Salamon,

Your Child

New Studies Look At Childhood Asthma

1.45 to read

2 new studies take a look at childhood asthma. One suggests that antibiotics given to babies in the first year of life may increase a child’s chances of getting asthma by age 18, while the other study cautions that childhood food allergies may be a predictor of asthma later in life.2 new studies take a look at childhood asthma. One suggests that antibiotics given to babies in the first year of life may increase a child’s chances of getting asthma by age 18, while the other study cautions that childhood food allergies may be a predictor of asthma later in life

Antibiotic Use and Childhood Asthma Pediatricians have cautioned parents about taking antibiotics, and giving their children antibiotics, without a true medical need. Now a study appearing online in the journal Pediatrics, suggests that infants who take antibiotics during the first year of life may be at a slightly increased risk of developing asthma by age 18. In a separate analysis, the children of women who took antibiotics during pregnancy were nearly 25% more likely to have asthma compared to mothers who did not take the drug. Asthma can be a life threatening condition. Nine million children under age 18 in the U.S. have asthma, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Here’s how the study was conducted. Researchers gathered data from 22 previous studies between 1950 and 2010. Two of the 22 studies looked at antibiotic exposure during pregnancy while 19 studies evaluated antibiotic exposure during the first year of life. One study assessed antibiotic exposure during both time periods. Other studies have shown that infants who receive antibiotics are at an increased risk for developing asthma by age 7, and the more courses of the drug given that first year, the greater the risk. This review analyzed the results of studies using over 600,000 participants. It also grouped studies according to design type to see how the results were affected. When all 20 studies were grouped together, researchers found that infants who took antibiotics during their first year of life were about 50% more likely than babies who never received the drugs to be diagnosed with asthma. Researchers also analyzed studies where children who were treated with antibiotics for respiratory infections, were removed.  The respiratory infections skewed the overall results because of the possibility that the infections themselves might be a precursor to asthma. In studies that adjusted for these respiratory infections, a child who took antibiotics was 13% more likely to be diagnosed with asthma than a child who never took the medication. The researchers say they are not suggesting that early antibiotic exposure causes childhood asthma, but that even a slight increase in risk may be a good enough reason to avoid the unnecessary use of antibiotics during pregnancy and the first year of life. Food Allergies and Childhood Asthma Infants and toddlers often have some type of food allergy, while teens and adults are more prone to dust, ragweed and mold allergies according to U.S. researchers. A preliminary release of the Quest Diagnostics Health Trends Report, Allergies Across America, is based on laboratory testing from more than 2 million U.S. patient visits. In this report the findings reveal a pattern of allergen sensitivity consistent with the "allergy march," a medical condition by which allergies to foods in early childhood heighten the risk for the development of additional and more severe allergy-related conditions - including asthma- later in life. "Allergy and asthma often go hand in hand, and the development of asthma is often linked to allergies in childhood via the allergy march," Study investigator Dr. Harvey W. Kaufman says in a statement. "Given the growing incidence of asthma in the United States, our study underscores the need for clinicians to evaluate and treat patients, particularly young children, suspected of having food allergies in order to minimize the prospect that more severe allergic conditions and asthma will develop with age." The most common foods responsible for allergic reactions are eggs, cow's milk, peanuts, soya, fish and shellfish in children and peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and fish in adults. Substances that are used as food additives and preservatives can also affect individuals. Although a causal link has not been determined, increased awareness of the heightened risks of having both childhood asthma and allergen sensitivity plus good patient-parent education and management of both conditions, can lead to improved health and medical outcomes.

Your Child

Can Dogs Help Kids Be Less Anxious?


Scientific studies have already linked fewer allergies and asthma in kids that own dogs, now a new study says you can also add less anxiety to the list of benefits from man’s best friend.

Researchers say a new study shows kids who live in a home with a pet dog score far lower on clinical measures of anxiety.

Although the study was small, the results were not surprising. Researchers focused on 643 kids between 6 and 7. But the team at Bassett Medical Center in New York found that just 12 percent of children with pet dogs tested positive for clinical anxiety, compared to 21 percent of children without a dog.

"It may be that less anxious children have pet dogs or pet dogs make children less anxious," Dr. Anne Gadomski and colleagues wrote in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Previous studies have also shown that adults benefit from owning a pet as well as kids. In fact, many health officials suggest that adults should consider getting a dog. Not only can they provide companionship but can encourage more exercise.

Gadomski acknowledged how special pets can be to a child by noting that, "Sometimes their first word is the name of their pet," she told NBC News. "There is a very strong bond between children and their pets."

What makes dogs such special pets for kids?  Godmski’s team said, "From a mental health standpoint, children aged 7 to 8 often ranked pets higher than humans as providers of comfort and self-esteem and as confidants," they wrote.

"Animal-assisted therapy with dogs affects children's mental health and developmental disorders by reducing anxiety and arousal or enhancing attachment," they added.

"Because dogs follow human communicative cues, they may be particularly effective agents for children's emotional development."

The researchers asked parents for specific details about what type of anxiety a child showed.

Pets seemed to help in several areas.

"Significant differences between groups were found for the separation anxiety component ('My child is afraid to be alone in the house') and social anxiety component ('My child is shy') favoring pet ownership," they wrote.

Most of the families in the study - 73 percent - had a pet of some kind. Most - 58 percent - had dogs. Families with pets may be more stable and may be more affluent, but the researchers suggest there's more to it than that.

"A pet dog can stimulate conversation, an ice-breaking effect that can alleviate social anxiety via a social catalyst effect," they wrote.

Other studies have also shown that playing or cuddling with a dog can release the bonding hormone oxytocin, and lower the stress hormone cortisol, they noted.

There’s already an abundance of research on dogs and families, which is one of the reasons Gadomski chose to look at the relationship between dogs and kids for this study.

However, she noted that cat lovers might also benefit from the same type of interaction.

If you’re interested in getting a dog as a pet for your family, there are several websites that offer a quiz to help families decide which breed may best be suited for them. Just search “best dog breeds for families.”

Shelters also have puppies and dogs that make wonderful pets.  Many of the older dogs are already house trained and socialized. Shelter staff can answer your questions about whether a particular dog that is up for adoption would be suitable for a family and small children.

Source: Maggie Fox,







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Struggling with feeding your kids healthy (er) meals. Rule of thumb: don't stress over it!


Struggling with feeding your kids healthy (er) meals. Rule of thumb: don't stress over it!

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