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Health Updates 11 April 2012

  • Consumers often ignore food allergy labels: study “The different allergy labels in common use may be confusing consumers instead of helping them decide whether to buy a food product, a new  Canadian study shows.  ‘We should narrow (various allergy labels) to only one which will be clear,’ said Dr. Moshe Ben-Shoshan, a professor of allergy and immunology at McGill University Health Center in Montreal, who worked on the study.  An estimated 2.5 million Canadians and 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies, which can cause reactions ranging in severity from itchiness and vomiting to breathing problems, loss of consciousness and even death.  Allergy labels are governed in the US by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, and in Canada by the Food Allergen Labelling Regulations, a new version of which will go into effect in August.  Although all these labels warn that a product could harm a person with allergies, they present that message in various ways.  Researchers found that some labels are less effective than others in helping consumers to avoid potentially dangerous foods.”  Interestingly, researchers found that many adults take more chances with their own health than they would if the food allergy involves a child or someone outside their household (such as when preparing food for others).  Across all groups, a label marked “not suitable” had the greatest effect in preventing the purchase of a product. (MedlinePlus)
  • Really?  Constant stress makes you sick: Chronic stress and illness are intertwined.  It is well known that psychological stress raises the risk of heart disease, cold and flu, and even allergies.  But how does one lead to the other?  New research suggests that the hormone cortisol plays a critical role.  Released in greater amounts in times of stress, this hormone provides the body with a burst of energy.  It also helps suppress the body’s immune response to infections like the flu, keeping inflammation responses like coughing, sneezing and fevers in check.  But when levels of cortisol remain elevated, the body may become less sensitive to it, in the same way that elevated insulin levels can lead to insulin resistance.  Carnegie Mellon scientists tested this idea.  In one experiment, 276 healthy adults were exposed to cold viruses, then quarantined and monitored for five days.  The subjects who had recently been through stressful experiences were most likely to show resistance to cortisol.  They were also more likely to develop colds….In a second phase, the researchers found that the participants who were more resistant to cortisol also produced more cytokines, components of the immune system that promote inflammation and heighten the severity of symptoms.  ‘Because inflammation plays an important role in the onset and progression of a wide range of diseases,’ the study said, this process ‘may have broad implications for understanding the role of stress’.  The bottom line: Chronic stress may raise the risk of sickness by fostering resistance to cortisol.” (Anahad O’Connor, NY Times)
  • Dental x-rays may be linked to benign brain tumors” People who underwent frequent dental x-rays in the past, before radiation doses were lowered, may be at greater risk of a usually benign form of tumor in the lining of the brain, a new study suggests.  The research doesn’t definitely link dental x-rays to the tumors, which affect about 1 percent of people.  It’s also possible that dental x-rays, which are now given at a lower radiation dose, have nothing to do with the tumors.  Still, the study suggests that dental x-rays could be a risk factor for the tumors, called meningiomas, said study author Dr. Elizabeth Claus, a neurosurgeon at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston…The findings suggest that patients should talk to their dentists about the possible dangers of x-rays and be aware of national recommendations regarding their use, she said….Meningiomas affect the lining of the brain and the spinal cord.  More than 90 percent are classified as benign, not malignant.  But in some cases they can grow to the size of a baseball and disrupt the brain’s functioning, leading to vision problems, headaches, hearing and memory loss, and seizures.”  It may be worth noting that many people are having dental x-rays every six months or every year, while the American Dental Association is saying once every two to three years. (HealthDay)
  • ‘Dead’ is real in tax ‘deadline’: “The approaching deadline to file income tax returns could be, quite literally, a life-and-death situation for many taxpayers, according to a study of fatal tax-day vehicular accidents.  Nationwide since 1980, more than 400 additional vehicular fatalities occurred on Tax Day, as compared with two control days one week before and one week after.  The difference is translated into three excess deaths per Tax Day, investigators reported in a research letter in the April 11 issue of JAMA.  The increased risk of vehicular death became most prominent over the past 20 years and persisted across regions, locations, sexes, times and initial outcomes, wrote Donald A. Redelmeier, MD, and Christopher J. Yarnell, AB, of the University of Toronto.  ‘Because this study lacked data on alcohol, stress, or driving patterns, future studies should e valuate the reasons for the increased risk as well as potential opportunities for intervention,’ they wrote in their summation.  ‘In the interim, public health campaigns should reinforce the importance of road safety on Tax Day, including emphasizing the need to wear seat belts, avoid alcohol, reduce excessive speed and minimize distractions’.” (Charles Bankhead, MedPage Today)
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