Apr
01
2017

When Food Causes Inflammation

Dr. Hal Blatman gave a talk about when food causes inflammation. His talk was presented on Dec. 9 at the 24th Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine (Dec. 9-11, 2016) in Las Vegas that I attended. The original title was “Food, Pain and Dietary Effects of Inflammation”.

Dr. Blatman is the medical director of Blatman Health and Wellness Center, Cincinnati and Batman Medical Services, Manhattan.

General remarks about nutrition

Dr. Blatman pointed out that mistakes of nutrition are often behind chronic diseases and illnesses. The physician’s task is to explain to patients how their food intake can be changed to improve inflammation in the body and how the body can heal itself.

Hippocrates said 400 BC “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.

In this context Dr. Blatman stated that nutrition could exacerbate symptoms or relieve symptoms and there must be rules for good nutrition. If we do not take care of our nutrition, the gut flora composition changes and causes leaky gut syndrome. But if we consume healthy foods all of this improves.

Mathematical formula for when food causes inflammation

To make it easier to understand the impact of food on our health the speaker offered this formula: G-B+R=P

G stands for good, beneficial things you can put into your body.

B = bad, toxic things that affect your body negatively.

R = reserves that your body has since birth (minus the amounts you have used up)

P = pain and problems you are going to experience

It is P (pain and other medical problems) what brings the patient to see the doctor. G and B is what the patient can change. When done right, the P value in the formula reduces and the pain or medical problems go away.

Nutritional rules

Dr. Blatman said there are three rules about nutrition.

Rule #1 is to not eat fake or toxic foods

He listed NutraSweet, Splenda, Saccharin, margarine and olestra.

  1. Aspartame experiments on rats showed that it can cause cancer: Dr. Blatman said that in man it has been shown to cause multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Aspartame worsens depression, 10% is metabolized in the liver into methanol, a nerve poison.
  2. Splenda (sucralose) is made from chlorinated sugar. It reduces beneficial microflora in the gut. It also interacts with liver enzymes that are known to interfere with the bioavailability of oral drugs.
  1. Saccharin alters gut bacteria and increases glucose tolerance.
  2. Hydrogenated fat and margarine. Insects don’t eat margarine, mold will not grow on it, and it will not support life. Merchants like it because food does not turn stale on shelves. Hydrogenated fats like margarine are considered to be poisons. They raise the bad LDL cholesterol levels and reduce beneficial HDL cholesterol levels. The prostaglandin balance changes so that inflammation occurs. There is increased evidence of diabetes and the cell membrane composition changes. Proinflammatory cytokines can cause pain in the dorsal root ganglions. It follows from all of this that it is best to cut out all hydrogenated fat and margarines.
  1. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. The cell membrane consists of two lipid layers at a specific ratio of omega-6 essential fatty acids and omega-3 essential fatty acids. It also contains triglycerides, phospholipids and protein. It is expected that the cell membrane absorb nutrients to move into the cell and eliminate waste out of it. The cell membrane needs to remain flexible and within neurons needs to transmit electrical information. The membrane composition is critical for the cell membranes to perform optimally. It is here that the physician has to explain this to the patient. All the fats we eat are the raw material, which will make up our cell membranes. So what fat we eat that day is built into the cell wall that is made that day or is repaired. If we eat hydrogenated fat that day, this is built into the cell wall.  A membrane with hydrogenated fat will:
  • Not transmit nutrients inside the cell
  • Will not transmit waste out
  • Causes the membrane to lose flexibility
  • In a nerve cell there will be abnormal neuron transmission

If we eat hydrogenated fat, we become like a “genuine GM truck fixed with inferior parts”, so Dr. Blatman. The interesting observation is that it takes 4 months after eliminating hydrogenated oil from the diet to get it out from red blood cells. Be aware that French fries increase pain for 4 months, so why eat them?

  1. Olestra, an artificial fat: Olestra has been developed as an artificial fat and is used in chips. It can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps and weight gain with long-term use. Olestra belongs into the group of fake/toxic foods. Don’t eat Pringles or chips that are made with this.
  1. Healthy oils

There are two types of essential fatty acids, omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Many processed foods contain only omega-6 fatty acids, because this is the cheapest way to produce them (they are based on vegetable oils). Instead you want to eat healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids contained in nuts and fish. You can also add molecularly distilled, high potency omega-3 fatty acids (purified fish oil) as a supplement to help restore the balance between omega-6 and omega-3 in your food intake. Avoid omega-6 fatty acids from corn oil, safflower oil, grape seed oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil and peanut oil.

Compare the metabolism of omega-6 fatty acids with that of omega-3 fatty acids.

The linoleic acid of omega-6 fatty acids gets metabolized into arachidonic acid, which causes pro-inflammatory mediators, PGE2 and LTB4. On the other hand with omega-3 fatty acids alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is metabolized into EPA, DHA and the anti-inflammatory mediators PGE3 and LTB5.

It is easily understandable why a surplus of omega-6 fatty acids from processed foods will disbalance the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. This ratio should be 1:1 to 3:1, but many Americans’ omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is 6:1 to 18:1. Omega-6-fatty acids cause arthritis, heart disease and strokes. Be particularly careful in avoiding soybean oil, which is the most popular oil in the last few decades to foul up the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio through processed foods.

When it comes to balancing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your diet, be aware that nutritional balancing can help you restore the ideal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 1:1 to 3:1. An easy way is to cut out processed foods as much as possible. Supplement with molecularly distilled fish oil capsules to add more omega-3 fatty acids into your food intake. Dr. Blatman gave the example of rheumatoid arthritis patients that were put on omega-3 supplements. After 24 weeks their joint swelling and tenderness went down.

Rebalancing the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio was able to treat depression as this research showed. This makes you wonder how much depression may be caused by overconsumption of processed food.

Dr. Blatman suggested the following doses of omega-3 supplementation for various purposes:

  • 1 gram/day as supplementation for healthy adults with a good diet
  • 1-3 grams/day for people with cardiovascular disease
  • 5-10 grams/day for patients with an autoimmune disease, with chronic pain or with neuropsychiatric conditions

He mentioned that these doses are empirical, but in his opinion definitely help. Due to quality differences he suggested that you buy fish oil capsules in a health food store where the quality is best. Stay away from discount stores (the quality is the worst) and drug stores.

Other healthy oils are olive oil and coconut oil. They are also useful for cooking.

Rule #2 is not to eat inflammatory foods

Our body functions like a luxury car; it needs pure food to function. Anything less leads to inflammation, particularly when you eat sugar and processed foods.

Inflammatory foods are sugar, white flour, fruit juice and white/red potatoes. A medium potato=1/2 cup of sugar! Other problematic foods are wheat grain contained in breads, pasta, cereal and thickeners in soups and sauces.

What is the problem with these foods? They break down the zonulin proteins that are a bridge between the lining cells of the gut.

This leads to an increase of intestinal permeability, and leaky gut syndrome can develop. Inflammatory cytokines from visceral fat add to the gut inflammation, and cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure can develop.

Fried potatoes, in particular the consumption of French fries, have been identified as the cause of inflammatory bowel disorder (IBD). Countries with the highest consumption of French fries have the highest incidence of IBD.

A Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet are anti-inflammatory diets.

Rule #3 is to not disturb the bowel flora

A healthy bowel flora is symbiotic with the body. You achieve this by eating green leafy vegetables. A toxic flora from dysbiotic microbes comes from eating white flour, white sugar and red meat. Red meat leaves residues on which dysbiotic bacteria thrive.

Symbiotic gut bacteria produce vitamin K, cobalamin, pyridoxine, biotin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and short fatty acids. They also degrade metabolic toxins, prevent pathogens from colonization and they stimulate the immune system to mature.

Dysbiosis occurs when the wrong diet consisting of sodas, white flour, sugar and red meat is over consumed. There are toxins that are produced by the dysbiotic microbes. These injure the bowel wall and make the immune system work harder. Immune system dysfunction, fatigue and fibromyalgia can follow.

Dr. Blatman stated that gut dysbiosis that causes leaky gut syndrome could also cause ulcer disease, diabetes, heart disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain and even cancer.

When Food Causes Inflammation

When Food Causes Inflammation

Conclusion

This was a whirlwind tour through a talk given by Dr. Blatman during the 24th Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine (Dec. 9-11, 2016) in Las Vegas. What food we eat determines what gut bacteria we harbor, symbiotic ones or toxic ones. This in turn determines which way our health develops. But the content of what we eat is also important. If we consume processed foods we end up consuming way too many omega-6 fatty acids, which cause inflammation, arthritis and heart disease. This is happening in front of our eyes, if we start seeing things the way they are. I was aware of this since the mid 1990’s. In a lecture I attended at a continuing education conference a cardiologist pointed out that inflammation was the determining factor of whether or not our patients would get a heart attack. The lecturer mentioned then that the older cholesterol concept would be replaced by the newer inflammation concept. He was right, but it goes even further! There is the important omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, and fish oil supplementation helps. At the same time it is necessary cutting out processed foods. But there is the newer insight that our bowel flora and red meat consumption can culture toxic bacteria in our own gut. It is in our power to start eating more vegetables and cut out sugar and starchy food. It is time to see chips and French fries not as a “convenience” but a hazard to your health. Food does not have to cause inflammation; right food choices will help us to stay well and live longer.

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May
28
2016

Two Sides Of Medical Marijuana

The newest craze is to treat menstrual cramps with medical marihuana, but there are two sides of medical marijuana. What women with menstrual cramps may not know is that it is estrogen dominance that is the cause of their symptoms. As women get closer to menopause they ovulate less often, and there are anovulatory menstrual cycles. This leads to a relative loss of progesterone from the corpus luteum that will form less frequently in the small cavity where the cyst with the egg was. Nature designed women’s menstrual cycle with mostly estrogen production in the first half of the menstrual cycle and mostly progesterone production in the second half of her cycle.

Other causes of estrogen dominance

When a woman gains weight, estrogen can also be produced in the fatty tissue due to an enzyme called aromatase. Androgenic hormones, which are testosterone-like and produced in the adrenal glands, get metabolized into estrogen through aromatase. This upsets the balance between progesterone and estrogen. Normally that balance when measured with saliva hormone tests should be higher than 200 to 1. But when progesterone production from the ovaries is missing, or when estrogen production is in overdrive through aromatase, estrogen is dominant. The progesterone to estrogen ratio drops below 200 to 1. This is bad news as it has consequences. It can cause a number of symptoms: migraine headaches, painful menstrual periods, endometriosis, and fibrocystic disease of the breasts with breast pain; even cancer can develop in the cervix, the uterus and the ovaries. Estradiol, the main estrogen compound in women, stimulates cells to divide, when it is not balanced by progesterone. Progesterone does the opposite: it balances the effects of estrogen.

Two sides of medical marijuana: treating symptoms

Drug companies always look out for symptoms that they can treat with a patented drug. The link at the beginning of this blog pointed out that “there are some very sick patients in need” to justify treating them with marijuana. This may relieve their symptoms for as long as they take the chemical compound. But it does nothing for the hormone imbalance. With the next menstrual cycle the symptoms will recur, and the marijuana will be consumed intermittently for years to come. What is worse is that the women think that nothing bad can happen to them: they are just relieving their symptoms. But as pointed out, unbalanced estradiol can give them migraine headaches. It can cause painful menstrual periods with or without endometriosis. Breast pain can be caused from fibrocystic disease. The worst of all is that after decades of estrogen dominance cancer of the cervix, cancer of the uterus and cancer of the ovaries can be caused. This is when drug manufacturers have unwittingly victimized their customers.

Proper treatment of menstrual cramps

1) Premenopausal women: The proper treatment for estrogen dominance because of a lack of progesterone in premenstrual women is to replace the progesterone deficit by bioidentical progesterone cream. Naturopathic physicians and anti-aging physicians understand this and treat it this way. Many practicing physicians including specialists, however, use anti-inflammatories and pain medications to treat this. Replacing the missing progesterone is causal treatment. Treating pain is symptomatic treatment. Treating the cause treats the medical problem properly; symptomatic treatment treats the drug company to a profit at the expense of the patient’s health.

2) Women with obesity: As explained already, estrogen dominance can also be produced from estrogen conversion of androgenic adrenal gland hormones due to aromatase in fatty tissue. The key here is to concentrate on watching the diet and exercising regularly. Even 10 to 20 pounds of weight loss can have significant effects on lowering estrogen production. The treating naturopath or anti-aging physician should measure progesterone and estrogen levels in a saliva hormone test. The progesterone to estrogen ratio should be calculated. If progesterone is missing, this can be added by giving a bioidentical progesterone cream or by taking oral micronized progesterone capsules at bedtime. As mentioned above, this is a causal therapy, and will in time not only cure the painful periods, but will prevent all of the other negative conditions mentioned. And most of all, there are no negative side effects, because the body knows the bioidentical hormones.

Two sides of medical marijuana: side effects of marijuana

Marijuana has real side effects. j can cause high blood pressure, dry mouth, headaches, dizziness, hallucinations, depression and sexual problems. It is unsafe with pregnancy, as it has been shown to be associated with childhood leukemia. Marijuana can cause rapid heartbeats and increases the risk of having a heart attack. Regular use of marijuana is associated with lung cancer and emphysema. There is an association of marijuana use and seizures: in some patients it makes seizures worse, in others it makes them better. But marijuana is a central nervous system suppressant. So it is imperative that you stop marijuana two weeks before any surgical procedure, as the anesthetic and other medicines given during surgery will also depress the nervous system.

Why the difference between hormones and marijuana?

You may ask yourself why there would be such a difference in the side effect profile of hormones versus marijuana? Hormones are natural messenger molecules in the body. They are designed by our genes to communicate between our brain, the hormone glands, and cells in organs with certain hormone receptors. This design helps to ensure optimal balance of our metabolic processes.

In contrast, marijuana is affecting cannabinoid receptors in the brain. There are several subtypes that are defined at this point. But these were only detected because researchers were curious what marijuana was doing. This research is in flux. We do not know enough about the long term side effects of marijuana. We do know that marijuana has central nervous depressive effects, because it is binding to these receptors. This makes these receptors not available for the normal brain function. One of these effects may even be that it would block pain perception for a period of time. But nobody knows how safe this is in the long term.

Another possible effect, which makes it to the media a lot, is a possible anti-cancer effect. Before you get your hopes up, read this thorough review of all the cancer research with cannabinoids. I am afraid that at this point there is no clear evidence to support that cannabinoids help fight cancer persistently. There are occasional cures reported, but this is not a persistent pattern.

Safety of synthetic hormones versus bioidentical hormones

You may have heard of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) that was abruptly ended in 2002. They used synthetic estrogens (derived from horses) and synthetic progestins (bad copies of progesterone). There results were breast cancer, uterine cancer, heart attacks and strokes that developed in patients who took these synthetic hormones. Originally the investigators wanted to show that HRT (hormone replacement therapy) would prevent heart attacks and strokes. It was supposed to also show that osteoporosis would be diminished. But the opposite was true! The synthetic hormones blocked the natural receptors, so the woman’s own hormones could not reach their target cells. Had the investigators used bioidentical hormones, the natural receptors would have been stimulated, and all of the research objectives would have been reached. The WHI was a huge debacle, which showed that drug sponsored research can lead to disasters. The only problem now is that women are scared, as they do not understand what hormones do. The bioidentical hormones, when balanced properly, are harmless. Synthetic hormones from drug manufacturers are interfering with the body’s hormone receptors causing all kinds of serious side effects including cancer. Bioidentical hormones don’t do that.

Two Sides Of Medical Marijuana

Two Sides Of Medical Marijuana

Conclusion

Those who like to push the sale of marijuana will minimize the side effects of marijuana. They will also push testimonials of women who have been helped with regard to painful periods.

You will rarely hear about women who had their hormones analyzed and had been replaced with bioidentical hormones to normalize their estrogen dominance. The latter approach is a safe approach with no side effects, because you are using natural hormones that stimulate your body’s hormone receptors. Synthetic hormones or marijuana are foreign substances to the body, partially blocking cell receptors, which blocks normal cell function. But nobody knows exactly what these chemicals do other than produce a myriad of side effects. Are you really willing to put your health at risk? After reading this, the answer should be clear.

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Dec
06
2014

Regrets Following Holiday Foods

Countless blogs have been written about gaining pounds with holiday food. This is not my topic in this blog. I am looking at the medical evidence of what is happening to our bodies, some of which is permanent. I like to focus on the gallbladder, blood pressure, heart function and gout. I will provide little clinical vignettes that make my points clear.

Gallbladder disease

Many patients are unaware that their gallbladder has developed stones that accumulate over several years, perhaps even several decades. But, if infection sets in there is an acute flare-up of gallbladder pain, which can be excruciating. Also, when one of the stones is transported into the gallbladder duct, there is a sudden colicky pain similar to labor pains. In cases where the migrating stone blocks the common bile duct, the patient can get jaundiced and the pancreatic juice can get backed up leading to an acute pancreatitis.

What does that have to do with overindulging during a Thanksgiving meal? Fatty sauces, ham, and gravy can all lead to more cholesterol deposits in the gallbladder and make stones larger. Add to this a rich dessert with ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream and you’ve got yourself a fairly fatty feast. So, this one fatty meal can make a difference by bringing on symptoms of a previously undiagnosed condition, and you spend hours in an emergency room of a hospital.

The scenario could look like this case:

Fred is a 40-year-old teacher, somewhat overweight who enjoyed a holiday meal at his parent’s place for Thanksgiving. His health has been good with no surgeries. Following the turkey dinner, which he enjoyed he noticed right upper abdominal pain, and he started to vomit. As the pain did not improve, his parents called an ambulance that brought him to a hospital. The emergency physician said that he was concerned about Fred’s gallbladder. He ordered a CT scan and this showed multiple stones with one of the stones being stuck in the cystic duct. Despite pain medication and bed rest the situation did not resolve (the stone did not pass). A surgeon was called in and a laparoscopic cholecystectomy was performed. Fred recovered within only 3 days and could return to teaching. The fatty food of the Thanksgiving dinner was only the tip of the iceberg in this case. The fact that there have been many pre-existing gallbladder stones tells us that this patient had the chronic habit to eat foods with too much fat and cholesterol. Here is a blog that I found containing sensible eating suggestions.

High blood pressure

Extra salt intake leads to an elevation of blood pressure. If a person has borderline high blood pressure, the extra salt intake from holiday meals can get the blood pressure out of control and this in turn can cause a stroke (typically a hemorrhagic stroke) or is a strain to the heart leading to a heart attack or to congestive heart failure.

Janice is a 50-year-old janitor who has had problems with borderline high blood pressure readings. Normally her blood pressure was 140 over 90, and when she watched her salt intake it would go down to 125 over 80. She bought a blood pressure monitoring device, just so she could measure her own blood pressure at home. Following the Thanksgiving turkey dinner she noticed that she developed fullness in her head and a headache and her face looked flushed. She took her blood pressure with a reading of 160 over 100. It had never been that high. When she saw her doctor he asked her what she had for Thanksgiving dinner: they sat together with friends and had potato chips with dip and drank some red wine with it. Next for the meal she enjoyed the roasted, brined turkey and ham. Yes, she did add some more salt to the mashed potatoes too.

The doctor found her blood pressure to be 165 over 100. He explained to her that she needs to go on a DASH diet, which is low in salt. He also started her on blood pressure pills. Here is another link for a low salt diet.

Heart attack following turkey dinner

When working as an intern in teaching hospitals of McMaster University of Hamilton/Ont. during my training in 1975 to 1978 I noticed a strange correlation between holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas and intensive care unit admissions with acute heart attacks. Later a formal study was published that there is indeed such a correlation between consuming a big meal with fat, salt and refined carbohydrates and the development of a heart attack.

This likely does not develop without prior silent conditions of high triglycerides, high cholesterol and insulin resistance leading to inflammatory substances circulating in the blood. The C-reactive protein is one of the substances that has emerged as a useful monitoring device and a fasting insulin level. Both should be low or the person is at a higher risk of developing a heart attack.

Add to this a festive, large meal and you got troubles at your hand like in the next case:

Joan is a 62-year-old high school principal who developed chest pain within 2 hours of having enjoyed her Christmas dinner. She was known to have high cholesterol levels for about 5 years and she had been taking statins for 4 years as diet alone could not control it. But she loved food in general and was about 20 pounds overweight. The doctor had discussed exercise with her, but she felt too busy doing other things. Now all of this came back to her as she was recovering in a hospital bed from an emergency stent procedure. They had to insert two stents to overcome narrowing of the coronary arteries. She was now pain free and felt that she needed to do something about her lifestyle. She would see a dietician and record her weights daily. She wanted to loose 20 pounds and yes, she wanted to start mild exercise when her doctor allowed it and gradually build it up to a maintenance program.

Regrets Following Holiday Foods (Gout Patient)

Regrets Following Holiday Foods (Gout Patient)

Gout attack following rich meal

It is known since the Middle Ages that feasting on a large meal of beef combined with lots of beer or wine can cause a gout attack. Gout at this time was known as a disease of the affluent. The poor obviously could not afford big feasts. Today we know that purines are the end product of meats and this gets excreted in the kidneys. However, alcohol prevents the purines to be excreted in the urine so that uric acid levels exceed a certain limit beyond which uric acid crystals are precipitated in soft tissues like around joints, which is very painful.

The following case will illustrate this:

Carl, a 45-year-old sales person suddenly developed excruciating pain and swelling in his left big toe. He went to the emergency room of the closest hospital. After some tests he was told that he had come down with acute gout. His blood tests showed a high uric acid level and biopsy samples from the left toes also revealed uric acid crystals. With the help of colchicine and allopurinol things turned back to normal within 3 days.

The gout episode occurred just 4 hours after his holiday meal consisting of a few beers and copious amounts of turkey meat. He also seems to be addicted to soft drinks which are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup which he consumes freely all day long.

It is known that sugar from soft drinks make a person 85% more prone to develop gout than a person who uses diet drinks or water.

Here is a diet sheet for Carl to prevent his next gout attack.

Conclusion

Who would have thought in the past that food could be a dangerous substance with the potential of making us sick? But this is exactly what I wanted to point out in this blog. Of course, it does not stop at holidays where we tend to eat more of what we normally eat. It pays dividends watching what we consume even in the days between feasts. For instance a DASH diet is a good idea for those of us who may have developed borderline high blood pressure. Avoiding excessive red meat is a good idea for prevention of heart attacks and strokes, as your cholesterol stays lower. Avoiding soft drinks with sugar and fructose is good prevention for avoiding obesity, cancer, heart attacks and strokes. Get the greens going (vegetables, salads etc.) to live longer without disabilities.

Last edited Dec. 6, 2014

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Sep
03
2014

Probiotics Important For Your Health

Growing up in Germany after the Second World War I remember that every so often newspaper headings showed an older person in the nineties when the average life expectancy was in the late 60’s. The reporter asked, “What did you do to turn that old?” The answer was that the person always ate a lot of yogurt.

This did not sink into mainstream medicine at that time and people did not really believe this statement. How could eating yogurt make a person live longer?

Fast forward to 2014. You read about probiotics in magazines, on the Internet, get exposed to it in TV commercials.

In the Wikipedia it is accepted that yogurt can help seniors who have a lower bifidus bacteria population in their colon to rebalance their gut flora, which will prevent colon cancer. It also describes that yeast infections in women can be helped by yogurt.

In the meantime probiotics have been developed and concentrations like 20 to 80 billion bacteria per capsule with a mix of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species are available in the health food store for prevention.

The medical profession has studied the effects of higher potency probiotics and came to the conclusion that probiotics have indeed effects on the body far beyond the gut.

Here are a few highlights.

Probiotics Important For Your Health

Probiotics Important For Your Health

Bowel disease improves

In cases of bacterial or viral diarrhea the frequency of bowel movements and the intensity of bowel cramps gets helped within a few days, and recovery from the diarrhea is much faster with probiotic than without. Patient with irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis are helped with probiotics. Both constipation and diarrhea in otherwise healthy people are helped as well.

Immune system booster

The small bowel has been known for a long time to have clusters of immune cells within the bowel wall. Together they are a formidable immune organ in the gut, which connects to the blood and the rest of the immune system throughout the body (lymph glands, spleen, bone marrow). Specifically it has been proven in humans that macrophages, natural killer (NK) cells and cytotoxic T-lymphocytes, which are the working horses of the immune system, are all stimulated by probiotics.

Less respiratory infections

School children who were given 1 capsule of probiotics twice per day for 3 months and flu symptoms and absenteeism were observed due to colds and flus. When they did get a viral infection, the illness had a shorter course, resulting in much less school absenteeism over the course of the trial when compared to a placebo group. It seems that a healthy gut flora stimulates the immune system to work at its best.

Cancer prevention

To a certain degree cancer can be prevented by probiotics and other nutritional factors. Breast cancer is one of the cancers where probiotics have been shown to be effective in reducing disease.

Apparently the probiotic bacteria bind to the cancer causing factors (carcinogens) that some of the bad gut bacteria produce. Probiotics also suppress other bacteria that convert pro-carcinogens into carcinogens. This is not all: the probiotics also interfere with enzymes involved in the production of carcinogens in the gut, which stimulates the gut immune cells to produce cytokines that are needed in the battle against early cancer. Probiotics play a role in multiple processes that help the body to fight cancer, not only in the gut, but also in the rest of the body!

Helps diabetes get better

How can gut bacteria help diabetes, which is an endocrinological disease? Both human and animal studies have shown that insulin resistance is improved by probiotics. In a 6-week study both blood sugar levels and hemoglobin A1C values (that measure long-term control of diabetes) dropped significantly by eating 300 grams of yoghurt per day when compared to a control group who did not.

Obesity

Probiotics given to mothers at least one month prior to birth and at least up to 6 months after birth prevented excessive weight gain in both the mothers and their children. A lot of the inflammatory substances associated with obesity are suppressed by probiotics.

Probiotics reduce cardiovascular risk

Several studies have shown that probiotics lower LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and inflammatory markers in the blood stream resulting in lower risk for hardening of the arteries.

One should not look at probiotics as a single factor for prevention of heart attacks and strokes, but combine probiotics with exercise and a low refined carbohydrate diet. High sugar and starch diets lead to absorption of sugar in the stomach and small intestine. This results in a lack of nutrients to support the gut flora. When probiotics are combined with vegetables and lettuce there is the proper mix of fiber, minerals and other nutrients to sustain balanced bacteria in the bowels for preventing heart attacks and strokes and keeping inflammatory markers down. I have blogged about this before and stated that the combination of organic food (to avoid antibiotic residues in our diet), fruit and vegetables combined with probiotics will protect you from heart attacks and strokes.

Conclusion

Maybe the newspaper articles in Germany after the Second World War were right that something in yogurt (Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species) can make you live longer. The explanation seems simple: add probiotics to your diet and you will have a better immune system, get less respiratory infections, prevent heart attacks and strokes and prevent obesity and cancer. All of this in combination will lead to healthier lives, and more people will live to tell about it.

Last edited Sept. 3, 2014

Aug
23
2014

Ebola Virus An Emerging Killer Infection

Ebola virus has now infected about 2600 and killed more than 1400 people in its short history. That’s a mortality of about 54% overall.

Two Americans who had been treating patients with Ebola virus disease (formerly called Ebola hemorrhagic fever) in Liberia, West Africa had been treated back in the US at a hospital in Atlanta. They have just been released as cured. They have been treated with an experimental drug called ZMapp. This is a monoclonal antibody from mice against surface components of the Ebola virus.

At this point no safety studies on humans have been performed with ZMapp, but a recent ethics committee meeting of the WHO has determined that the emergency use of ZMapp would be ethically acceptable due to the high death rate of the disease otherwise without treatment.

Other scenarios of killer infections

Several decades back some of the diseases mentioned in this article were basically unknown to the general population, but in the meantime some new infectious diseases have received a lot of media attention.

You will remember that there was an outbreak of anthrax spores by inhalation in 2001 in the US. A recent New England Journal of Medicine report points out that prior to 2001 the death rate of patients who had inhaled anthrax spores was 80% to 90% even with the use of antibiotics. However due to earlier detection and diagnosis, and due to aggressive supportive measures this epidemic of anthrax by inhalation had a mortality of only 45% toward the end or that epidemic. Had there been a new substance used that was ineffective, but harmless otherwise the reduced death rate would have been attributed to the erroneous conclusion that this new drug was effective in reducing mortality rates. This article cautions that rigid safety and effectiveness studies have to be done on ZMapp to ensure that it is a safe and effective drug to treat Ebola virus and that the reduction in death rates is truly from the drug, not just from improved supportive measures.

Other newer infections have been Marburg hemorrhagic fever caused by the Marburg virus. This also belongs to the Filoviridae family of viruses to which Ebola virus belongs as well. Then there is the SARS virus, the cause of severe acute respiratory syndrome. Not too long ago the BSE prion, which is the virus causing bovine spongiform encephalopathy made history.

What do we know about the Ebola virus?

There are 5 strains of the Ebola virus, one of which (the Zaire strain) is responsible for the present outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Africa. Dr. Jon Lai who is associate professor of biochemistry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City has developed antibodies in mice that will slow down and attack the aggressive Ebola virus when it enters the human body.

Ebola virus disease occurs in remote villages of the rainforest in Central and West Africa where fruit bats are the natural hosts of Ebola virus. It is transmitted from local fruit bats to animals (monkeys among others), to humans and can then be transmitted to other humans. The virus is not as easily transmitted as colds or the flu. For instance, the Ebola virus does not transmit through the air, food or water. But you can get Ebola virus through skin contact, fluid contact and through needles with blood from an infected person. Also, when surfaces are contaminated with infectious body fluids and you touch this contaminated surface with your skin, the virus will penetrate through the skin and get you infected.

There have been several outbreaks in Africa since 1976 as you can see from this WHO link.

This link also suggests that proper hygiene measure like cleaning of pig and monkey farms with sodium hypochlorite should be effective in inactivating the virus, which makes virus transmission to humans more difficult.

Ebola Virus An Emerging Killer Infection

Ebola Virus An Emerging Killer Infection

Symptoms of Ebola virus disease

Ebola virus disease has an incubation time of 8 to 10 days where the person may complain of some tiredness, but is not sick yet. This is the time when the Ebola virus multiplies. It  paralyzes the immune system and distributes itself through the organ system.

After these initial days of incubation there is a sudden onset of a sore throat, high fever and headaches, lack of appetite, a stomachache and weakness.

Now the Ebola virus disease takes off and becomes life threatening as the major organs are infected with the virus, and as a result, vital organs shut down their functions. As the production of coagulation factors from the liver stops, there is major bleeding from body orifices (nose, ears, eyes, mouth, and bloody diarrhea). A skin rash develops all over the body from bleeding into the skin.

At this point the disease gets out of control as the blood circulation collapses and the affected person dies in shock. Otherwise, if fluid loss can be corrected in time with intravenous fluids, there is the danger to die from multi-organ failure. A few persons manage to survive, if the immune system produces enough antibodies in a timely manner to inactivate the Ebola virus.

Treatment options

At this time there is no effective treatment against the Ebola virus disease. As mentioned earlier, ZMapp is an experimental drug that may have some merit treating Ebola virus disease in the future, but at this point it is considered experimental as human safety studies and effectiveness studies of the drug have not been completed. Any experimental treatment with ZMapp will be part of these studies for the next few years, but production issues will have to be sorted out as well as presently there is not enough ZMapp around to treat all of the Ebola virus infected people in Africa.

This leaves us with the only preventative approach of interrupting the infectious pathway. We do know that there is a geographic zone in Africa where fruit bats, the natural hosts of Ebola virus live. It is in the same geographic zone that all of the known Ebola virus disease cases have originated from. It follows from this that it is safer for humans to live outside that zone. So do not plan sightseeing or other trips into those areas, if you value your life; I should qualify this by saying “until an effective treatment against the Ebola virus has been established”.

Those who bury dead ones who came down with this disease must wear safety suits, which look like space suits. As already indicated, surfaces need to be disinfected with sodium hypochlorite. All of these hygienic measures interrupt the Ebola virus transmission. Quarantine measures need to be strictly enforced for those who are suspected of harboring Ebola virus disease to prevent spreading this disease into the rest of society.

Conclusions

Although the medical puzzle of the Ebola virus disease has not yet been completely solved, there are encouraging facts that have been learnt. The Ebola virus has been around Africa since 1976 and several outbreaks have occurred on this continent since. But spread beyond these borders has been avoided due to strict isolation practices. Even within Africa the worst cases of Ebola outbreaks have occurred mostly in villages where hygienic measures are not adhered to as thoroughly when compared to larger African cities where isolation around Ebola virus disease patients is strictly enforced by the local authorities.

Hopefully with the emergence of an effective treatment this disease will get out of the lime light as did other killer diseases in the recent past.

More information on Ebola virus: http://nethealthbook.com/infectious-disease/infectious-disease-infections/ebola-virus/

Last edited Nov. 8, 2014

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Oct
26
2013

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Any general practitioner knows that fall and winter are the time when patients come in with a variety of complaints like a lack of energy, problems sleeping, inability to cope with stress, but often there may be non-specific pains like muscle spasm in the back, the shoulders, or indigestion. These symptoms can all be part of seasonal affective disorders (SAD) like depression, the winter blues, often coupled with anxiety.

Emotional health does not fit easily into our health care model. The receptionist will warn the doctor that this is going to be a “difficult” patient. If the doctor has only time for a 5 or 10-minute visit, where only one or two problems can be dealt with, then this does not fit when a patient with SAD has a problem concentrating, falling asleep, and presents with a long list of other complaints. Even 20 minutes or 30 minutes may not be enough to deal with this patient adequately. It is easier to send the patient for tests and to prescribe an antidepressant and a sleeping pill and reschedule for a follow-up appointment. But this likely will result in normal blood tests and investigations, added health care costs, but no solution to the patient’s problem when he  or she simply states “doctor, I feel so sick”.

I thought it would be interesting to review how our emotions can get out of balance and review an integrative approach to SAD.

Definition of SAD

Seasonal depression (also called seasonal affective disorder) occurs during fall (autumn) and winter, but this alternates with no depressive episodes during spring and summer. A person defined to suffer from SAD would have suffered from two major depressive episodes during the past 2 years with no depressive episodes in the intervening seasons of spring and summer (Ref.1). Alternative names for SAD are winter depression and wintertime blues. Typically SAD lasts about 5 months.

Brain hormone disbalance

Around 2002 it was detected that in mice there was a second light sensitive pathway from ganglion cells in the retina that were responsible for circadian hormone rhythms. This was later confirmed to be true also in humans, where photosensitive retinal ganglion cells buried deep in the retina and containing the pigment melanopsin absorb blue light in the visible light spectrum. The electrical signals are sent along the retinohypothalamic tract, so that light from the retina regulates the hormone circadian rhythm (daily hormone fluctuations including the sleep/wake cycle) in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is one of the major hormone centers in the center of the brain. As this publication shows there are minor genetic sequence changes for the retinal photopigment, melanopsin in patients with SAD. This affects about 1 to 2% of the American population. Many more have probably partial defects in the function of this pigment.

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Many hormones in our brain experience a circadian rhythm.

When the sun goes down, melatonin is produced making us sleepy. In the morning serotonin production goes up and stays up all day, which normally prevents depression. There are other hormones that cycle during the course of the day. Cortisol is highest in the morning and low in the evening and at night. Growth hormone and prolactin are highest during sleep.

There is a lack of serotonin in the brains of patients with SAD and depression.

Symptoms of SAD

A person affected by SAD or any other patient with ordinary depression will present with symptoms of lack of energy, with tearfulness, negative thought patterns, sleep disturbances, lack of appetite and weight loss and possible suicidal thoughts. On the other hand symptoms may be more atypical presenting with irritability and overindulging in food with weight gain. Some patients somaticize as already mentioned in the beginning of this review experiencing a multitude of functional symptoms without any demonstrable underlying disease. It is estimated that up to 30 to 40% of patients attending a general practitioner’s office have some form of depression and in the fall and winter season a large percentage of them are due to SAD.

Treatment approaches to SAD

There are several natural approaches to SAD. However, before deciding to go this route, a psychiatrist should assess the patient to determine the risk for suicide. When a patient is not suicidal, light therapy can be utilized.

1. Light therapy: According to Ref. 2 a light box from Sun Box or Northern Light Technologies should be used for 30 minutes every morning during the fall and winter months. The box should emit at least 10,000 lux. Improvement can occur within 2 to 4 days of starting light therapy, but often takes up to 4 weeks to reach its full benefit (Ref.2).

2. Exercise reduces the amount of depression. The more exercise is done the less depression remains. A regular gym workout, dancing, walking, aerobics and involvement in sports are all useful.

3. Folate and vitamin B12: Up to 1/3 of depressed people have folate deficiency. Supplementation with 400 mcg to 1 mg of folic acid is recommended. Vitamin B12 should also be taken to not mask a B12 deficiency (Ref.3). Folate and vitamin B12 are methyl donors for several brain neuropeptides.

4. Vitamin D3 supplementation: A large Dutch study showed that a high percentage of depressed patients above the age of 65 were deficient for vitamin D3. Supplementation with vitamin D3 is recommended. (Ref.3). Take 3000 to 4000 IU per day, particularly during the winter time.

5. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been found useful for minor to moderate depression. It is superior in terms of having fewer side effects than standard antidepressant therapy (Ref.3).

6. Standard antidepressants (bupropion, fluoxetine, sertraline and paroxetine) are the treatment of choice by psychiatrists and treating physicians when a faster onset of the antidepressant effect is needed (Ref.3).

7. Electro acupuncture has been shown in many studies to be effective in ameliorating the symptoms of depression and seems to work through the release of neurotransmitters in the brain (Ref.4).

8. A balanced nutrition (Mediterranean type diet) including multiple vitamins and supplements (particularly the vitamin B group and omega-3 fatty acids) also stabilize a person’s mood (Ref.3). Pay particular attention to hidden sugar intake, as sugar consumption is responsible for a lot of depression found in the general population.

9. Restore sleep deprivation by adding melatonin 3 to 6 mg at bedtime. This helps also to restore the circadian hormone rhythm.

Conclusion

Seasonal affective disorder is triggered by a lack of light exposure in a sensitive subpopulation. An integrative approach as described can reduce the amount of antidepressants that would have been used in the past in treating this condition. This will reduce the amount of side effects. The use of a light box can reduce the symptoms of this type of depression within a few days. But the addition of electro acupuncture and St. John’s Wort may be all that is required for treatment of many SAD cases. Regular exercise and a balanced nutrition (with no sugar) and including vitamin supplements complete this treatment. If the depression gets worse, seek the advice of a psychiatrist and make sure your doctor has ordered thyroid tests and hormone tests to rule out other causes where depression is merely a secondary symptom.

More information on depression: http://nethealthbook.com/mental-illness-mental-disorders/mood-disorders/depression/

References

  1. Ferri: Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2014, 1st ed. © 2013 Mosby.
  2. Cleveland Clinic: Current Clinical Medicine, 2nd ed. © 2010 Saunders.
  3. Rakel: Integrative Medicine, 3rd ed. © 2012 Saunders.
  4. George A. Ulett, M.D., Ph.D. and SongPing Han, B.M., Ph.D.: “The Biology of Acupuncture”, copyright 2002, Warren H. Green Inc., Saint Louis, Missouri, 63132 USA

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

Jun
15
2013

Electro-Acupuncture Twice As Effective As Conventional Acupuncture

Imagine that you had lower back pain and your doctor said that physically everything was OK. Would you consider traditional Chinese acupuncture? According to Ref. 1 chances are that 70% of patients with back pain will get better with a few visits to an acupuncturist. In 1972 Dr. Ulett’s laboratory at the University of Missouri succeeded in getting the first NIH research grant for the study of acupuncture in the US. During these studies they found remarkable facts, the most important perhaps that electrical stimulation of acupuncture needles resulted in a doubling of the effectiveness of traditional Chinese acupuncture. After extensive research Dr. Ulett stated: ”The ancient practice of traditional Chinese acupuncture is now obsolete” (Ref.1). It is now replaced by the much simpler, but more effective electro-acupuncture using electrical skin pads instead of needles.

The science of electro-acupuncture

In 1958 news came from China that they had done major surgeries with patients being awake and having been made pain free only with the use of electro-acupuncture. In other words no chemical anesthesia was used or else very little was needed to make patients comfortable. Professor Ji-Sheng Han from the Beijing Medical University observed that only electrical stimulation was powerful enough to produce the pain relief that was necessary to allow general surgery. Dr. Han conducted systematic experiments to study the phenomenon of electro-acupuncture and published this in Ref. 2. One of the experiments involved two rabbits where the donor rabbit was anesthetized with electro-acupuncture. Spinal fluid was taken and transferred into a recipient rabbit that had not been further treated. This second rabbit was now rendered pain free to the point where surgery could be performed without pain. Other researchers such as Dr. Pomeranz found that the brain released endorphins in response to electro-acupuncture, powerful morphine-like substances. It was the endorphins that were responsible for making the recipient rabbit of Dr. Han’s experiment pain free. Other experiments of Dr. Pomeranz showed that naloxone, a morphine and endorphin blocker also blocked the analgesic effect previously found by transferring spinal fluid. These lines of experiments also explain why some patients did not respond to electro-acupuncture, as they have a deficiency in the pain control system of their brain lacking endorphin release. Dr. Han did 30 years of experimentation and also observed patients very closely. Dr. Han also investigated the placebo effect and found that this can explain about 30% of healing  However, the remainder of the 70 to 75% response to electro-acupuncture in his opinion was due to the procedure. He was able to explain that traditional Chinese acupuncture points were merely spots on the body where electric currents are picked up easier and transmitted up to the spinal cord and into the brain. They are then switched over in the brain and spinal cord to nerves that go to other areas of the body. This explains how electrical impulses can travel from conducting polymer pads applied over acupuncture points, release neuropeptides in the brain and help the body to heal. Functional MRI studies have confirmed that the brain is stimulated by certain frequencies through electro-acupuncture or traditional Chinese acupuncture to give pain relief.

Electro-Acupuncture Twice As Effective As Conventional Acupuncture

Electro-Acupuncture Twice As Effective As Conventional Acupuncture

These types of studies have also shown that electro-acupuncture produces stronger signals in the brain than traditional Chinese acupuncture.

Beside pain relief many other applications exist for electro-acupuncture. Addiction medicine makes use of electro-acupuncture in weaning people from morphine or heroine etc. It can be used to treat psychiatric illness, particularly depression. It is useful in relieving nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy with cancer treatments or associated with pregnancy without affecting the pregnancy.

It may also be useful as an adjunct to treating high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

One area where clinical hypnosis and electro-acupuncture are coupled is called “conditioned healing” (Ref.1). For instance with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in returned solders or in rape victims it has been shown that hypnotherapy treatment while using electro-acupuncture for 30 minutes at the same time can be useful in alleviating the symptoms these patients experience.

A few case studies using electro-acupuncture

Here are a few case studies that illustrate the use of electro-acupuncture with regard to patients (cases modified from Ref.1). A treatment consists of a 30-minute session where the patient is either sitting or resting comfortably on an examining table. Treatments initially are often given twice per week until the pain has been reduced to about 50% of the original pain (severity of pain is scored on a 0 to 10 scale right from the beginning). From that point in the treatment program the visits are reduced to weekly sessions. Most clinical problems require three to 12 sessions. If the pain goes away, but returns after a few weeks, repeat sessions can be scheduled, which often lead to pain relief in a shorter time interval than was the case with the original problem. Chronic problems can be treated on an ongoing basis once per month, if there was a clinical response, but the pain reoccurs.

  1. A 53-year-old painter with left shoulder pain, which radiated into the left chest, had problems with painting above his head. His physician did heart studies, but everything was OK. He was told that this was due to a muscle spasm in the shoulder muscles. One electrode was placed over the hoku point (also called LI-4 acupuncture point), which is located over the first interosseus muscle between the thumb and index finger, the other electrode over the area of pain in the left shoulder. Only seven treatments, twice per week for 2 weeks were given, then treatments with weekly intervals were administered. This approach cured his shoulder problems, and he could return to paining.
  2.  A 39-year-old woman came to the office complaining of lower back pain, which radiated into her right leg to the knee area. After tests she was told that she had spinal stenosis with sciatica (irritation of the sciatic nerve). No surgery could be done for this. She was given twelve electro-acupuncture treatments with one electrode placed below her right knee (ST-36 acupuncture point) and another electrode placed over her right lower back over one of the BL acupuncture points. She was almost pain free for about two weeks, but the pain came back after the last treatment. Since then she has been getting ongoing monthly electro-acupuncture visits with about 80% pain relief. Keep in mind that spinal stenosis is a condition for which regular medicine has nothing to offer other than symptomatic pain medication, which she did not want.
  3. A 30-year-old schoolteacher has been suffering from anxiety attacks and agoraphobia (fear of open spaces) for several years. Conditioning with electro-acupuncture (conditioned healing as mentioned above) was used to treat this woman. She received a series of treatments with electro-acupuncture over both interosseus muscles (hoku acupuncture point or LI-4) for 30 minutes during which time she was also listening to a relaxation tape with music in the background and suggestions for self-hypnosis. She was told how to do self-imagery at home. She did this for 10 minutes two or three times per day. Several weeks later she was able to control her anxiety attacks and overcome her fear of open spaces. In the beginning her symptoms were rated as 8 to 10 in severity on a scale from 0 to 10. At the end of the sessions she only had occasional symptoms with a 1 to 2 rating on this scale.
  4. A 50-year-old man with cluster headaches who had been investigated extensively by a neurologist without any other underlying cause was treated with electro-acupuncture. The electrodes were placed on acupuncture points of the head. Within only 4 sessions most of the headaches were gone. After 8 sessions he had no more headaches. However, a few weeks later his cluster headaches returned, but with ongoing monthly treatments he is able to prevent them from recurring. He did not like the side effects of all the pain medications, so he rather goes for his monthly booster electro-acupuncture treatments.

Take-home message regarding electro-acupuncture

Many people never considered traditional Chinese acupuncture for fear of needles. However, extensive research by Dr. Han and Dr. Ulett showed that electro-acupuncture with electrically conducting polymer pads or with EKG pads will replace the acupuncture needles. Not only is this method needle free, but also the weak electrical impulses that are used with electro-acupuncture treatment double the effectiveness of the older acupuncture method.

Many acupuncturists use both methods of acupuncture, but Dr. Ulett who used traditional acupuncture in the past has completely abandoned it and uses electro-acupuncture with the HANS machine instead. It is a complementary medical treatment, which has been authorized by the FDA.

More on pain conditions: http://nethealthbook.com/neurology-neurological-disease/pain/

References

1: George A. Ulett, M.D., Ph.D. and SongPing Han, B.M., Ph.D.: “The Biology of Acupuncture”, copyright 2002, Warren H. Green Inc., Saint Louis, Missouri, 63132 USA

2. J.S. Han: “The Neurochemical Basis of Pain Relief by Acupuncture”. Vol. 2. Hu Bei Science and Technology Press, Beijing, 1998 (784 pages).

Last edited Nov. 6, 2014

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Apr
14
2013

Allergies Not Only In Spring

Springtime is the time of spring allergies: those affected develop a runny nose, itchy eyes and in more severe cases they may experience a flare-up of asthma. Allergies can be triggered by the increase of pollen counts in the air that occurs every spring. In those who are sensitive, this leads to antibody formation in the blood. But often people have not only sensitivities to the pollens of spring bloomers; they may also be allergic to spores from molds, to dust mites and may have underlying allergies to foods. The immune system has memory cells that memorize that a person has had an allergic encounter to one of these items in the past, and allergic reactions can become more significant with a future encounter. Allergies can also be made worse when a person has food sensitivities and there are cross reactions between pollens of trees or grasses that can share surface protein regions with similar protein regions in foods.

It is known that cross allergies are possible between birch pollen and apple, carrots or hazelnut. In its extreme form allergies due to antibodies, called IgE antibodies, can cause anaphylaxis. A person presensitized by inhaling birch pollen, after eating an apple, hazelnuts or a carrot can develop itching of the throat, swelling of the lips and very quickly deteriorate getting into an anaphylactic shock.

Other cross allergies exist between ragweed pollen, which is a powerful inhalant allergen and melons or bananas. Again there are specific IgE antibodies that are responsible for this immune reaction. In this case the ragweed allergy primes the immune system to produce IgE antibodies, which are potentiated by certain foods that share similar protein components as the ragweed pollen.

In the following I will deal with inhalant allergies separately from food allergies.

Allergies Not Only In Spring

Allergies Not Only In Spring

Inhalant allergies

Inhalant allergies are easier to diagnose and to treat than food allergies. Your doctor will likely refer you to an allergist when you have allergies that do not respond to treatment with intermittent over the counter antihistamines. Your symptoms may come on in the spring with itchy eyes and a runny nose. From year to year you find that you become more and more dependent on antihistamines and nose drops to unplug your nose. The allergist likely will do sensitivity tests, which consist of skin prick or scratch tests on the back or the forearms.

In more serious allergies, where the patient has coughing and wheezing attacks following allergic reactions, the allergist may suggest to start intermittent allergy injections alongside the standard inhalation therapy for asthma. An allergy serum is prescribed where the lab mixes ingredients based on all of the positive tests that led to a strongly positive skin reactions when allergy testing was done. Typically the family doctor or his nurse will start the allergy injections initially in weekly intervals, later when the maintenance dose is reached, it may be modified to injections every 10 to 14 days.

The allergy injections stimulate the immune system to produce harmless competing antibodies, which counteract the disease producing allergic antibodies. In the process of desensitization shots the immune system will normalize, which means that the inflammatory response of the immune system settles down to normal.

This is not the end of the story with inhalant allergies. The patient needs to be retested on a yearly basis by the allergist. The immune system changes all the time as new allergies can develop and old ones may go away.

Retesting is necessary to keep track of what is going on and to change the composition of the allergy serum. Those patients who are working together with the allergist can do very well, and often they gradually outgrow their allergies. Others may not be so lucky. They may have reactions to the allergy injections. In these cases avoidance of what causes the allergy may be the only solution to treat the allergies.

There is an alternative to allergy injections, which has been used in Europe, namely a sublingual immunotherapy. Recently there has been a review of the literature for FDA approval that is needed for oral desensitization for ragweed, dust mites, grass pollen and cat dander. It will take some time before the FDA approval process will become a reality for sublingual desensitization in the US.

A special form of inhalant allergies are allergies to pets (mainly dogs and cats, but also allergies to petting zoo animals). The dander that the human comes in contact with is a protein contained in the animal hair. It causes hives when it touches the skin. This occurs as the dander is absorbed through the skin and meets the local mast cells that release histamine. This in turn is responsible for the hive formation. Sneezing and even asthma can develop from inhaled protein particles that reach the lungs. Allergy injections for the treatment of animal dander allergies are very limited as they often do not help or make the allergies worse. Avoidance of animal contact is usually what the allergist recommends as the solution, a recommendation, which often is not appreciated by the affected animal lover.

Food allergies

Often we eat  some foods more frequently, because they are our favorites. This means that our gut lymphocytes that get in contact with these foods can start to react to one or more of the foods we ingest. At this time we may experience abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and a host of other possible symptoms.

The physician will tell the patient that testing for food allergies is a problem as most of the usual skin tests employed for inhalant allergies do not reliably work in determining food allergies. The doctor will ask the patient or the mother of the child with food allergies to keep a food diary and keep track of the allergic symptoms in the diary as well. An elimination diet will have to be devised based on the information gathered in the diary as it becomes clear from that record which foods cause which symptoms. The foods causing allergic symptoms are subsequently eliminated. This is a cumbersome process, but it is the most reliable method of testing and treating food allergies.

In the past there was a blood tests, called RAST test, which tested for common food allergies that can cause severe allergic reactions like egg, milk, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish and soy. Since about 2010 this has been replaced by the more sensitive ImmunoCAP Specific IgE test.

Children often develop food allergies to egg, milk, wheat, nuts, peanuts and soy, which are food allergies with positive IgE tests. When they age, their immune system develops tolerance to many of these foods and they often outgrow these allergies.

There are other popular lab tests where a blood drop is analyzed with IgG, IgM and IgE antibodies against a panel of foods. A number of suppliers offer these tests.  However, the specificity, sensitivity and reliability can pose problems with regard to the interpretation of the results: allergists often point out that a test may be a false positive when a person likes certain foods and IgG antibodies against this food show up despite the patient having no symptoms. Another specialist may interpret this to indicate that the body shows early sensitization to a certain food, but clinically it is not yet obvious. In other words the sensitivity of the test is so high that it undermines the validity of the test. Recently a panel of international scientists reviewed the validity of these IgG based food intolerance tests and they found the tests not reliable.

The immune responses to food allergies are complicated as there are immediate type immune reactions and delayed type immune reactions. The immediate immune responses are investigated with the above mentioned ImmunoCAP Specific IgE test. The delayed immune responses can be measured using the ELISA test.

Other considerations about allergies

You see from this discussion that a patient with allergies needs a properly trained allergist who will do a comprehensive analysis involving a thorough history, examination, blood tests and immune tests.  The test results have to be interpreted with the experience and the clinical judgment of the specialist.

Since the 1970’s when Clearfield wheat was introduced around the world on a large scale, which has a much higher gliadin (gluten) content than the old wheat varieties. As a result of exposure to this new type of wheat gluten intolerance and leaky gut syndrome have increased substantially in the world population. Genetically modified foods like soy, corn, sugar beets, canola and more have challenged the immune system of sensitive humans even more to an extent, which is not fully understood yet. We do know that some people can develop autoimmune diseases and this may be the reason that a host of diseases that belong into this disease category (MS, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, ankylosing spondylitis etc.) are much more common now than in the past.

After food elimination for 2 to 12 months depending on the severity of the food allergy, your body may have eliminated the allergy to the food you have avoided, in other words your body built up tolerance. Before you expose yourself to any food that you used to be allergic to and that you want to re-test, it is best to have an EpiPen ready in case your allergy has not resolved. Caution is necessary with regard to foods that cause more severe allergies, e.g. shellfish or peanuts, which may last life long. It is safer to avoid these foods that cause more severe allergies altogether.

Allergic reactions of the immune system belong into the category of chronic inflammatory diseases. These are known to be the root of chronic diseases like asthma, arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. When you are vigilant about allergies and get proper assessment and treatment by an allergist, you will prevent serious health problems including the above mentioned chronic diseases.

More on asthma, which is a chronic inflammatory lung condition, often associated with multiple environmental allergies:

http://nethealthbook.com/lung-disease/asthma-introduction/

Last edited Nov. 6, 2014

Apr
01
2008

H. Pylori Can Be The Culprit For Indigestion

Indigestion, heart burn, bloating and stomach discomfort are common problems. Often the reason is simple. Too much food and drink at a party, a plateful of deep fried Buffalo wings or a midnight order of double-pepperoni pizza will contribute to stomach upset and a bad night’s sleep. A few over the counter antacids will come to the rescue. If indigestion is a faithful but miserable daily companion, the excuse of “just having a sensitive stomach” becomes a form of denial and a dangerous form of self diagnosis. Something is wrong, and it is time to seek medical attention instead of over the counter meds. The first line of defense will be prescription drugs called “proton pump inhibitors” (PPI). They are designed to eradicate excessive acid production in the stomach. If symptoms are more severe, e.g. weight loss, a gastroscopy will be necessary. Even though the prevalence of a stomach infection with Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) is declining, about 30% of patients with chronic stomach upsets test positive for an infection with these bacteria. This can cause recurrent stomach pains. In this case it becomes necessary to treat this with a combination of PPI’s and antibiotic medication. Eradication of H.pylori can mean a cure from a stomach ulcer. It also reduces the risk of developing gastric adenocarcinoma, a form of stomach cancer that could have developed out of an untreated gastric ulcer. Just because a person has heartburn does not mean that the condition is due to gastro-esophageal reflux of stomach acid. If after treatment with a PPI the problems of indigestion, heartburn, bloating or stomach aches reoccur, lab tests can give more information. According to a prospective trial conducted by Dr. Delaney and others the H.pylori serology (a blood test) is unreliable, but other H.pylori tests like urea breath test or stool antigen are reliable tests to establish whether a stomach infection with H.pylori is present or not.

H. Pylori Can Be The Culprit For Indigestion

H. Pylori Can Be The Culprit For Indigestion

If the bacterium is present, its eradication with antibiotic therapy will stop the stomach problems in a high percentage of cases with one treatment protocol. What was surprising was that after one year the treatment result of the treatment group with PPI/antibiotic combination was as successful as the control group that was treated with PPI’s alone. It was concluded that in the more severe cases with weight loss, vomiting, or overt bleeding an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy should be performed where a direct H.pylori test from samples is also done. However, in the vast majority of cases with minor symptoms can be treated safely by the general practitioner with PPI’s and follow-up examinations in subsequent visits. Treatment failures can then be referred to a gastroenterologist, if necessary.

More information about gastritis and H. pylori: http://nethealthbook.com/digestive-system-and-gastrointestinal-disorders/gastritis/

Reference: British Medical Journal 336:623-624 (March 22, 2008)

Last edited November 3, 2014

Dec
01
2003

Help For Patients With Iron Overload

Patients who are born with an inborn enzyme defect that leads to iron overload (hemochromatosis) and others with secondary hemochromatosis due to sickle cell anemia will benefit from new research by Dr. Gavin Oudit, Dr. Peter Backx, Dr. Peter Liu and others. The researchers at the University of Toronto and Toronto General Hospital have published their findings in the Sept. 15 issue of Nature Medicine.

In animal experiments they found that the same calcium channels that transport calcium to vital organs are also the channels through which poisonous levels of iron are introduced with iron overload disease. In both animal experiments and in the clinical situation, human iron overload affects mainly the pancreas, the heart muscle and the pituitary gland. The authors of this study found that in hemochromatosis patients the calcium channel blockers, such as amlodipine (Norvasc), verapamil or diltiazem will stop the accumulation of toxic levels of iron in these organs.

Dr. Peter Backx, professor of physiology and medicine at U of T in the Heart & Stroke/Richard Lewar Centre of Excellence and senior author of the paper, explained that more detailed research determined that the L-type calcium channels that play a role in the normal calcium transport across the cell membrane are the same channels that allow the iron molecules into the heart muscle cells and into the cells of the other organs that get damaged with hemochromatosis. By using calcium channel blockers, heart drugs that are already on the market, it is possible to prevent accumulation of iron to the point of toxic levels. Up to now the only approach to therapy was to remove excessive iron from the body by expensive iron chelation medication that had to be given intravenously.

Help For Patients With Iron Overload

Further clinical trials on a larger patient population are necessary to determine who will benefit most from this approach of treating iron overload conditions with calcium channel blockers and what dosage to take. Dr. Peter Liu is another senior author regarding this study and is a cardiologist at the Toronto General Hospital and director of the Heart & Stroke/Richard Lewar Centre of Excellence and professor of medicine and physiology at U of T. He stated that this alternative therapy for heart failure from iron overload cardiomyopathy will likely open the doors for those patients worldwide who could not afford to have expensive chelation done, which is presently the only treatment method to remove the excessive iron. People of North American, European, Mediterranean or Asian descent are more prone to genetic hemochromatosis, thalassemia and sickle cell anemia that can all lead to iron overload requiring this type of therapy.

Last edited December 9, 2012

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