A large review of nut studies found that people eating a daily handful of nuts (about 20 g) have a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, premature death, and death from respiratory disease, type 2 diabetes, and infectious disease. Truly impressive. Benefits seem to be for all nuts, and also peanuts - which are called nuts, but are actually legumes (other posts about nut consumption benefits). An earlier post discussed how some of these effects could be to nuts lowering systemic inflammation throughout the body. Bottom line: try to eat a handful of nuts every day or most days a week for your health. And make it a variety of nuts - walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios, pecans, Brazil nuts, and peanuts. From Science Daily:

A handful of nuts a day cuts the risk of a wide range of diseases

A large analysis of current research shows that people who eat at least 20g of nuts a day have a lower risk of heart disease, cancer and other diseases. The analysis of all current studies on nut consumption and disease risk has revealed that 20g a day -- equivalent to a handful -- can cut people's risk of coronary heart disease by nearly 30 percent, their risk of cancer by 15 percent, and their risk of premature death by 22 percent. An average of at least 20g of nut consumption was also associated with a reduced risk of dying from respiratory disease by about a half, and diabetes by nearly 40 percent, although the researchers note that there is less data about these diseases in relation to nut consumption.

The study, led by researchers from Imperial College London and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, is published in the journal BMC Medicine. The research team analysed 29 published studies from around the world that involved up to 819,000 participants, including more than 12,000 cases of coronary heart disease, 9,000 cases of stroke, 18,000 cases of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and more than 85,000 deaths. While there was some variation between the populations that were studied....the researchers found that nut consumption was associated with a reduction in disease risk across most of them.

The study included all kinds of tree nuts, such as hazel nuts and walnuts, and also peanuts -- which are actually legumes. The results were in general similar whether total nut intake, tree nuts or peanuts were analysed. What makes nuts so potentially beneficial, said Aune, is their nutritional value: "Nuts and peanuts are high in fibre, magnesium, and polyunsaturated fats -- nutrients that are beneficial for cutting cardiovascular disease risk and which can reduce cholesterol levels. "Some nuts, particularly walnuts and pecan nuts are also high in antioxidants, which can fight oxidative stress and possibly reduce cancer risk. Even though nuts are quite high in fat, they are also high in fibre and protein, and there is some evidence that suggests nuts might actually reduce your risk of obesity over time."

The study also found that if people consumed on average more than 20g of nuts per day, there was little evidence of further improvement in health outcomes. [ORIGINAL STUDY]

Image result for cigarette smoking  Tobacco use is a leading cause of cancer and early death in the U.S. and throughout the world. According to a new study looking at people 70 years old and older, the good news is that quitting smoking at any time in life (even as late as the 60s) is better for immediate health and also reduces the risk of death.

The study compared people who had never smoked to people currently smoking - and found that in the 6 year follow up period current smokers were more than three times more likely to die than people who had never smoked. Furthermore, quitting smoking at any age was associated with a lower risk of death. Former smokers who quit smoking earlier in life received the largest benefit from quitting smoking. But even people who quit during their 60s were at substantially decreased risk of death (when compared to people who continued to smoke). Bottom line: It's never too late to quit smoking. But best is to never even start smoking. From MedicalXpress:

Quitting smoking at any age reduces the risk of death after 70

Tobacco use continues to be a major cause of cancer and premature death. Most studies of cigarette smoking and mortality have focused on middle-aged populations, with fewer studies examining the impact of tobacco cessation on disease and mortality risk among the elderly. A new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that people aged 70 or older currently smoking were more than three times more likely to die than never-smokers, while former smokers were less likely to die the sooner they quit.

Investigators reviewed data for more than 160,000 individuals aged 70 and over who participated in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. They completed a questionnaire in 2004-2005 detailing their smoking use, and reported deaths were tracked until the end of 2011....For this study, participants still smoking in their 70s were identified as current smokers, and former smokers were classified by the decade of life when quitting. At the beginning of the study (2004-2005), the median age of participants was 75 years. Almost 56% were former smokers and 6% were current smokers. Males were less likely (31% vs 48% of females) to be never-smokers. 

During an average follow-up of 6.4 years, almost 16% of the participants died. While 12.1% of the never smokers died, 16.2%, 19.7%, 23.9%, and 27.9% of former smokers who quit between ages 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, and 60-69 years died, respectively. Current smokers fared the worst, with 33.1% dying. Mortality rates for women were lower than men at each level of smoking use.

"These data show that age at smoking initiation and cessation, both key components of smoking duration, are important predictors of mortality in U.S. adults aged 70 years and older," commented Dr. Nash. "In the NIH-AARP study population, younger age at initiation was associated with increased risk of mortality, highlighting the importance of youth and early-adult smoking on lifetime mortality risk, even among people who live to age 70 years. In addition, former smokers were at substantially reduced risk of mortality after age 70 years relative to current smokers, even those who quit in their 60s. These findings show that smoking cessation should be emphasized to all smokers, regardless of age."

Image result for acetaminophen A recent article discussed the large assortment of medications (both prescription and non-prescription) that are linked to liver injury, commonly known as "Drug-induced liver injury" (DILI). While it occurs rarely (fewer than 10 in 10,000 persons who take the drug in question), many medications can result in liver injury - especially if taken in too large doses and for too long. The scary part is that 46% of people with acute liver failure in the U.S have the liver damage from acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is the main cause of drug induced liver injury and liver failure in the U.S. Acetaminophen is found not just in Tylenol, but in many non-prescription drugs - thus it is easy to take too large a dose. The liver helps remove toxins - thus we need to take good care of it. From Science Daily:

Acetaminophen, supplements and other medications may trigger drug-induced liver injury

More than 1,000 medications, with acetaminophen being the most common, have been associated with drug-induced liver injury (DILI). Diagnosis can be challenging due to the multitude of contributing factors, and timely recognition and clinical response may mean the difference between recovery and acute liver failure or even death. DILI affects an estimated fewer than 10 people in every 10,000 exposed persons. The condition is dose-dependent or an adverse reaction to a medication, dietary supplement or other substance. 

"The liver helps remove toxins, which makes it especially vulnerable to injury from either short-term intake above recommended levels or long-term usage that allows toxins to build up," Collins-Yoder said. "Recognizing the clinical signs and symptoms is crucial to prompt treatment and effective patient care." Depending on the contributing factors and the level of damage to the liver, patients with mild and moderate signs and symptoms may recover normal liver function after the triggering substance is identified and use is discontinued. Other patients may experience more severe damage, progressing to acute liver failure.

About 46 percent of persons with acute liver failure in the United States have liver damage associated with acetaminophen, making it the most common cause of DILI. Since acetaminophen is often an ingredient in over-the-counter and prescription pain medications, patients may take higher doses than needed. A more infrequent type of DILI is triggered by an adverse reaction to prescription medications, herbal dietary supplements or other substances, including: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen, naproxen and others; antibiotics and antiviral agencies, such as amoxicillin-clavulanate, sulfamethoxazole-trimethoprim and nitrofurantoin; antileptic agents, such as volproic acid and carbamazepine; statins; novel anticoagulants; proton pump inhibitors; methotrexate; azathioprine; sulfasalazine; herbal and dietary supplements.

 A big concern nowadays is why some children develop autism, specifically autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism spectrum disorder is considered a life-long neurodevelopmental disorder that is thought to affect 1 out of 68 American children. While the causes of ASD are unknown in most cases, some studies report an association (higher risk) between a pregnant woman's infections and fever during pregnancy and risk of ASD in the baby, while other studies don't find such an association. Some studies also looked at the timing of infections during pregnancy, but again results have been mixed. A viral infection during the first trimester is associated with increased risk in some studies, while other studies report an increased risk with a second- or third-trimester bacterial infection.  So it has been unclear whether a flu (influenza) infection or flu vaccination during pregnancy is linked to autism spectrum disorder or not. Is there a link or not?

Why are pregnant women encouraged to get a flu shot (flu vaccine)? This is because pregnant women have an increased risk of complications from the flu infection. Studies also show that getting a flu vaccine during pregnancy reduces the risk of a preterm birth, a small-for gestational-age child, and a low-birth-weight child, and prevents influenza infection in newborns for up to 6 months.

The researchers of a large study done in California found no association between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) risk and flu (influenza) infection during pregnancy or flu (influenza) vaccination during the second to third trimester of pregnancy. However, there was a suggestion of increased ASD risk among children whose mothers received flu vaccinations during the first trimester (though the researchers say the association was perhaps due to "chance". Bottom line: the study results were reassuring for pregnant women, but if one wanted to be ultra-cautious, then delay getting a flu shot until the second trimester of pregnancy. From Science Daily:

No association between mother's flu in pregnancy, increased child autism risk

A study of more than 196,000 children found no association between a mother having an influenza infection anytime during pregnancy and an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) in children, according to a new study published online by JAMA Pediatrics. The study by Ousseny Zerbo, Ph.D., of Kaiser Permanente Northern California, Oakland, and coauthors included 196,929 children born in the health system from 2000 through 2010 at a gestational age of at least 24 weeks.

Within the group, there were 1,400 mothers (0.7 percent) diagnosed with influenza and 45,231 mothers (23 percent) who received an influenza vaccination during pregnancy. There were 3,101 children (1.6 percent) diagnosed with ASD. The authors report no association between increased risk of ASD and influenza vaccination during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. There was a suggestion of increased risk of ASD with maternal vaccination in the first trimester but the authors explain the finding was likely due to chance because it was not statistically significant after adjusting for multiple comparisons. The study cannot establish causality and has several limitations, including ASD status determined by diagnoses on medical records and not validated by standardized clinical assessment for all cases. [Original study.]

  It turns out that scurvy and vitamin C deficiency is still around these days. Scurvy is a disease resulting from a lack of vitamin C. Most animals can synthesize vitamin C, but not humans. We must eat foods containing vitamin C to get the vitamin. Vitamin C deficiency results in defective formation of collagen and connective tissues (in our bones, skin, tendons, muscles), and symptoms may include weakness, feeling tired, curly hair, sore arms and legs, bruising, bleeding gums, and impaired wound healing.

A recent small Australian study looked at diabetic persons with chronic foot wounds (foot ulcers that didn't heal after several months). Their vitamin C levels were tested and if found to be low, then they were given vitamin C supplements of 500 or 1000 mg daily, and the result was that within 2 to 3 weeks the wounds were healed. The one person with a zinc deficiency was given 50 mg daily of zinc supplement and that wound also promptly healed.

Treatment of scurvy is by taking vitamin C supplements (the Mayo Clinic recommends taking 400 to 1000 milligrams of vitamin C  daily for one week). Vitamin C deficiency can be easily prevented by a diet that includes fruits and vegetables. The recommended daily intake for adult women is 75 milligrams and for adult men it is 90 milligrams, which can be easily met by eating fruits and vegetables, especially if they are fresh (uncooked). Good sources of vitamin C include: oranges, lemons, kiwi fruit, black currants, papaya, guava, pineapple, mango, strawberries, and vegetables such as bell peppers (red, yellow, green), tomatoes, potatoes, kale, brussels sprouts, and broccoli. It is possible to be vitamin C deficient even if the person is of normal weight or overweight - it all comes down to the diet and whether fruits and vegetables are eaten. Bottom line: Eat some daily! From Medical Xpress:

Poor diet sees scurvy reappear in Australia

Scurvy, a disease historically associated with old-world sailors on long voyages, is making a surprise comeback in Australia, with health officials Tuesday revealing a rare spate of cases. Caused by vitamin C deficiency, the condition used to be a common—and often fatal—curse among seafarers who went months without fresh fruit and vegetables.

Once barely heard of in developed countries, reports suggest the problem is also on the rise in Britain, while a medical journal this year detailed the case of a baby developing scurvy in Spain. Jenny Gunton, who heads the Centre for Diabetes, Obesity and Endocrinology research at the Westmead Institute in Sydney, said scurvy had reappeared in Australia because of poor dietary habits. She discovered the disease after wounds on several of her patients failed to heal. "When I asked about their diet, one person was eating little or no fresh fruit and vegetables, but the rest ate fair amounts of vegetables; they were simply over-cooking them, which destroys the vitamin C,"....The scurvy diagnosis for 12 patients was made based on blood tests and symptoms, with all cured by a simple course of vitamin C.

A lack of vitamin C can lead to defective formation of collagen and connective tissues, and cause bruising, bleeding gums, blood spots in the skin, joint pain and impaired wound healing. Common foods that keep scurvy at bay include oranges, strawberries, broccoli, kiwi fruit, bell peppers and grapefruit, but overcooking can destroy key nutrients.

Gunton, who published a research paper on the diseases' resurgence in the international journal Diabetic Medicine, said patients could be overweight or obese and still have the condition. Her paper reported there was no predominant social pattern to the incidence of the disease and that patients with poor diets appeared to be from a range of socio-economic backgrounds...."Human bodies cannot synthesise vitamin C, so we must eat foods containing it." Health authorities tend not to test for scurvy these days and Gunton's study advised clinicians to be alert to the potential problem especially in diabetes patients. "Particularly if their patients present with unhealed ulcers, easy bruising or gum bleeding without obvious cause," she said.

20131201_101300 As you may have noticed, I write about the beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus sakei a lot. This is because it has turned out to be a great treatment for both chronic and acute sinusitis for my family and others (see post The One Probiotic That Treats Sinusitis). We originally found it in kimchi (it occurs in the kimchi during normal fermentation), but not all kimchi brands. Kimchi is a mix of vegetables (including typically cabbage) and seasonings, which is then fermented for days or weeks before it is eaten.

Why is L. sakei found in some kimchi, but not all? Which vegetable or spice is needed or important for encouraging L. sakei growth? It turns out it is not the cabbage - which is why L. sakei is not found in sauerkraut. A recent study looking at several kimchi samples found that garlic seems to be important for the development of various Lactobacillus bacteria, of which L. sakei is one. The results mean that raw garlic has very low levels of L. sakei, and it multiplies during kimchi fermentation. Note that as fermentation progresses, the bacterial species composition in the kimchi changes (this is called ecological succession). Korean studies (here and here) have consistently found L. sakei in many brands of kimchi (especially from about day 14 to about 2 or 2 1/2 months of fermentation), but not all kimchi brands or recipes. L.sakei, of which there are many strains, is so beneficial because it "outcompetes other spoilage- or disease-causing microorganisms" and so prevents them from growing (see post).

Excerpts are from the blog site Microbial Menagerie: MICROBES AT WORK IN YOUR KIMCHI

Cabbage is chopped up into large pieces and soaked in salt water allowing the water to draw out from the cabbage. Other seasonings such as spices, herbs and aromatics are prepared. Ginger, onion, garlic, and chili pepper are commonly used. The seasonings and cabbage are mixed together. Now the kimchi is ready to ferment. The mixture is packed down in a glass container and covered with the brining liquid if needed. The kimchi sits at room temperature for 1-2 days for fermentation to take place....Kimchi does not use a starter culture, but is still able to ferment. Then where do the fermentation microbes come from?

Phylogenetic analysis based on 16S rRNA sequencing indicates that the kimchi microbiome is dominated by lactic acid bacteria (LAB) of the genus Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus, and Weissella. Kimchi relies on the native microbes of the ingredients. That is, the microbes naturally found on the ingredients. Because of this, there may be wide variations in the taste and texture of the final kimchi product depending on the source of the ingredients. In fact, a research group from Chung-Ang University acquired the same ingredients from different markets and sampled the bacterial communities within each of the ingredients. The group found a wide variability in the same ingredient when it was bought from different markets. Surprisingly, the cabbage was not the primary source of LAB. Instead, Lactic acid bacteria was found in high abundance in the garlic samples

Note that Lactobacillus sakei is an example of a lactic acid bacteria. More study details from  the Journal of Food Science: Source Tracking and Succession of Kimchi Lactic Acid Bacteria during Fermentation.

This study aimed at evaluating raw materials as potential lactic acid bacteria (LAB) sources for kimchi fermentation and investigating LAB successions during fermentation. The bacterial abundances and communities of five different sets of raw materials were investigated using plate-counting and pyrosequencing. LAB were found to be highly abundant in all garlic samples, suggesting that garlic may be a major LAB source for kimchi fermentation. LAB were observed in three and two out of five ginger and leek samples, respectively, indicating that they can also be potential important LAB sources. LAB were identified in only one cabbage sample with low abundance, suggesting that cabbage may not be an important LAB source.

Bacterial successions during fermentation in the five kimchi samples were investigated by community analysis using pyrosequencing. LAB communities in initial kimchi were similar to the combined LAB communities of individual raw materials, suggesting that kimchi LAB were derived from their raw materials. LAB community analyses showed that species in the genera Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus, and Weissella were key players in kimchi fermentation, but their successions during fermentation varied with the species, indicating that members of the key genera may have different acid tolerance or growth competitiveness depending on their respective species.

Although W. koreensis, Leu. mesenteroides, and Lb. sakei were not detected in the raw materials of kimchi samples D and E (indicating their very low abundances in raw materials), they were found to be predominant during the late fermentation period. Several previous studies have also reported that W. koreensis, Leu. mesenteroides, and L. sakei are the predominant kimchi LAB during fermentation (Jeong and others 2013a, 2013b; Jung and others 2011, 2012, 2013a, 2014). 

 An interesting study that showed that when gut microbes are deprived of dietary fiber (their food) they start to eat the natural layer of mucus that lines the colon. (The colon is part of the large intestine). This is important because the colon's mucus layer normally acts as a barrier to pathogenic microbes. Yes, it was done in mice, but the researchers feel that this study accurately models what also happens in humans. Their conclusion: when the microbes in the gut don't get enough dietary fiber from plants (such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts), then the microbes feed on the colon's mucus layer, which results in inflammation and makes the colon more vulnerable to pathogenic (disease causing) microbes.

Research shows that changes in the diet (high fiber vs low fiber) quickly results in changes in the gut microbes in humans and rodents - so it's important to consistently eat a lot of a variety of plant fiber. Currently the recommended daily fiber intake for adults is for 28 to 35 grams (chart of some high fiber foods). They found that some bacteria strains flourished the best in low or no fiber conditions and it was these bacteria that were involved in breaking down the mucus layer. The research also showed that what are called "prebiotics" (purified forms of soluble fiber similar to what some processed foods and supplements contain) also resulted in thinning of the colon's mucus layer - they did not properly feed the gut microbes. From Medical Xpress:

High-fiber diet keeps gut microbes from eating colon's lining, protects against infection

It sounds like the plot of a 1950s science fiction movie: normal, helpful bacteria that begin to eat their host from within, because they don't get what they want. But new research shows that's exactly what happens when microbes inside the digestive system don't get the natural fiber that they rely on for food. Starved, they begin to munch on the natural layer of mucus that lines the gut, eroding it to the point where dangerous invading bacteria can infect the colon wall. In a new paper in Cell, an international team of researchers show the impact of fiber deprivation on the guts of specially raised mice. The mice were born and raised with no gut microbes of their own, then received a transplant of 14 bacteria that normally grow in the human gut. 

The findings have implications for understanding not only the role of fiber in a normal diet, but also the potential of using fiber to counter the effects of digestive tract disorders. "The lesson we're learning from studying the interaction of fiber, gut microbes and the intestinal barrier system is that if you don't feed them, they can eat you," says Eric Martens, Ph.D., an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Michigan Medical School....Using U-M's special gnotobiotic, or germ-free, mouse facility, and advanced genetic techniques that allowed them to determine which bacteria were present and active under different conditions, they studied the impact of diets with different fiber content - and those with no fiber. They also infected some of the mice with a bacterial strain that does to mice what certain strains of Escherichia coli can do to humans - cause gut infections that lead to irritation, inflammation, diarrhea and more.

The result: the mucus layer stayed thick, and the infection didn't take full hold, in mice that received a diet that was about 15 percent fiber from minimally processed grains and plants. But when the researchers substituted a diet with no fiber in it, even for a few days, some of the microbes in their guts began to munch on the mucus.They also tried a diet that was rich in prebiotic fiber - purified forms of soluble fiber similar to what some processed foods and supplements currently contain. This diet resulted in the same erosion of the mucus layer as observed in the lack of fiber.

The researchers also saw that the mix of bacteria changed depending on what the mice were being fed, even day by day. Some species of bacteria in the transplanted microbiome were more common - meaning they had reproduced more - in low-fiber conditions, others in high-fiber conditions. And the four bacteria strains that flourished most in low-fiber and no-fiber conditions were the only ones that make enzymes that are capable of breaking down the long molecules called glycoproteins that make up the mucus layer....  Just like the mix of bacteria, the mix of enzymes changed depending on what the mice were being fed, with even occasional fiber deprivation leading to more production of mucus-degrading enzymes.

Images of the mucus layer, and the "goblet" cells of the colon wall that produce the mucus constantly, showed the layer was thinner the less fiber the mice received. While mucus is constantly being produced and degraded in a normal gut, the change in bacteria activity under the lowest-fiber conditions meant that the pace of eating was faster than the pace of production - almost like an overzealous harvesting of trees outpacing the planting of new ones. 

When the researchers infected the mice with Citrobacter rodentium - the E. coli-like bacteria - they observed that these dangerous bacteria flourished more in the guts of mice fed a fiber-free diet. Many of those mice began to show signs of illness and lost weight. When the scientists looked at samples of their gut tissue, they saw not only a much thinner or even patchy mucus later - they also saw inflammation across a wide area. Mice that had received a fiber-rich diet before being infected also had some inflammation but across a much smaller area. [Original study]

High-fiber diet keeps gut microbes from eating colon's lining, protects against infection A thick mucus layer (green), generated by the cells of the colon's wall, provides protection against invading bacteria and other pathogens. This image of a mouse's colon shows the mucus (green) acting as a barrier for the "goblet" cells (blue) that produce it. Credit: University of Michigan

  This study found impressive results - improvement in autistic behaviors in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with four months of daily vitamin D supplementation. Children in the placebo group did not show improvement. A nice aspect of the study was that the children were randomly assigned  to a placebo or a vitamin D group (so that the groups were not self-selected) and it was double-blinded (so no one knew who was getting the vitamins - again to prevent bias). This was a preliminary study - meaning more studies are needed, but it would be amazing if these results hold up...From Science Daily:

Vitamin D supplements may benefit children with autism spectrum disorder

Studies have shown an association between the risk of autism spectrum disorder and vitamin D insufficiency. In this latest study, 109 children with autism spectrum disorder were randomized to receive four months of vitamin D3 supplementation or a placebo."Autism symptoms -- such as hyperactivity, social withdrawal, and others -- improved significantly following vitamin D3 supplementation but not after receiving placebo," said Dr. Khaled Saad, lead author of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry study.

Excerpts from the original study from  The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry: Randomized controlled trial of vitamin D supplementation in children with autism spectrum disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a frequent developmental disorder characterized by pervasive deficits in social interaction, impairment in verbal and nonverbal communication, and stereotyped patterns of interests and activities. It has been previously reported that there is vitamin D deficiency in autistic children; however, there is a lack of randomized controlled trials of vitamin D supplementation in ASD children.

This study is a double-blinded, randomized clinical trial (RCT) that was conducted on 109 children with ASD (85 boys and 24 girls; aged 3–10 years). The aim of this study was to assess the effects of vitamin D supplementation on the core symptoms of autism in children. ASD patients were randomized to receive vitamin D3 or placebo for 4 months. The serum levels of 25-hydroxycholecalciferol (25 (OH)D) were measured at the beginning and at the end of the study. The autism severity and social maturity of the children were assessed by the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS), Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC), Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS), and the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC). 

Supplementation of vitamin D was well tolerated by the ASD children. The daily doses used in the therapy group was 300 IU vitamin D3/kg/day, not to exceed 5,000 IU/day. The autism symptoms of the children improved significantly, following 4-month vitamin D3 supplementation, but not in the placebo group. This study demonstrates the efficacy and tolerability of high doses of vitamin D3 in children with ASD.

New researches indicated that vitamin D insufficiency may be a significant risk factor in ASD. Vitamin D has a potential role in brain homeostasis and development, such as neuronal differentiation, neuronal migration and growth, neurotransmission, and synaptic function (Harms, Burne, Eyles, & McGrath, 2011; Wang et al., 2016).....In this study, vitamin D supplementation revealed significant effects on the core manifestations of ASD. The scores of ABC subscales significantly improved in the group that received vitamin D (Group I) but not in the placebo group (Group II). The parents of the children in Group I rated significant improvement in irritability, hyperactivity, social withdrawal, stereotypic behavior, and inappropriate speech.

Recently, Wang et al. (2016) performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of all studies on serum concentration of 25 (OH)D in ASD (Wang et al., 2016). Eleven studies were included, accounting for a total of 870 ASD patients and 782 healthy controls. Serum levels of 25 (OH)D in participants with ASD were significantly lower than those in controls. They concluded that low vitamin D might serve as a risk factor for autism spectrum disorder (Wang et al., 2016). 

In a recent survey, our research group measured 25 (OH)D in 122 ASD children (3–9 years old) and 100 healthy children as controls (Saad, Abdel-Rahman, et al., 2015). The ASD group showed a significantly lower level of serum 25 (OH)D compared with the control group (p < .0001). The study found highly significant inverse correlations between serum 25 (OH)D levels and autism rating scales. In the second part of the previous study (Saad, AbdelRahman, et al., 2015), an open-label trial of 83 subjects who completed a 3-month therapy with high daily doses of vitamin D (300 IU/kg/day) was performed. Collectively, 80.7% of the children with ASD had significantly improved outcome, which was mainly in the sections of the CARS and ABC subscales that measure behavior, stereotypy, eye contact, and attention span (Saad, Abdel-Rahman, et al., 2015). 

 Guidelines for how to prevent food allergies in children are changing. Until very recently, it was avoid, avoid, avoid exposing babies or young children to any potential allergens. Remember parents being advised that if an allergy to X (whether pets or food) runs in the family, then absolutely avoid exposing the child to the potential allergen? Well, recent research (herehere, and here) found that the opposite is true - that in the first year of life the baby should be exposed to potential allergens (whether animals or food) which stimulates the child's developing immune system in beneficial ways.

Physicians at a recent conference of allergists said that evidence shows that allergenic foods — including peanuts, eggs, and milk — should be introduced in the first year of life. The new 2017 medical guidelines will recommend introducing small amounts of peanuts (mixed in with other foods), when children are 4 to 6 months of age..

About two years ago a landmark study (LEAP study) found that when infants at a high risk of developing peanut allergy consumed peanuts on a regular basis, their risk of peanut allergy was dramatically reduced. And the opposite was also true: peanut avoidance in the first year of life was associated with a greater frequency of peanut allergy. Which made doctors start to rethink their strategies of how to avoid food allergies. From Medscape:

Allergenic Foods Should Be Introduced to Infants Early

Although the evidence shows that allergenic foods — including peanuts, eggs, and milk — should be introduced in the first year of life, guidelines are lagging behind, said an allergist speaking here at the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) 2016 Annual Scientific Meeting. Official guidelines to be issued early in 2017 will address only peanuts, recommending introduction when children are 4 to 6 months of age.

"There is now a large body of observation and trial data for other foods, including egg, that show that delaying the introduction of allergenic solids increases the risk of those particular food allergies," said Katrina Allen, MBBS, PhD, from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia. Policy changes are needed to help guide parents' decisions, she said. In fact, there is evidence showing that changes to policy — namely, infant-feeding guidelines — mirror the rise in the incidence of food allergies.

Not everyone agrees on exposure amount and timing in the case of egg allergy. In a recent trial, researchers looked at the early introduction of allergenic foods in breast-fed children (N Engl J Med. 2016;374:1733-1743). The prevalence of any food allergy was significantly lower in the early-introduction group than in the standard-introduction group, as was the prevalence of peanut allergy and egg allergy. And a study Dr Allen was involved in, which introduced cooked egg in small amounts, showed that early introduction reduced allergy (J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2010;126:807-813).

However, in a German study, where greater amounts of egg were introduced at 4 to 6 months, early exposure increased the risk for life-threatening allergic reactions (J Allergy Clin Immunol. Published online August 12, 2016). And in the STEP study, there was no change in the number of food allergies in 1-year-old children when egg was introduced early (J Allergy Clin Immunol. Published online August 20, 2016). However, that did not take into account high-risk infants, particularly those with eczema, who are known to have a higher incidence of egg allergy and are likely to see a much greater benefit from the early introduction of egg.

The new peanut guidelines — coauthored by Amal Assa'ad, MD, from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital, who is chair of the ACAAI food allergy committee — will recommend that children with no eczema or egg allergy can be introduced to peanut-containing foods at home, according to the family's preference. And for children with mild to moderate eczema who have already started solid foods, the guidelines say that peanut-containing foods can be introduced at home at around 6 months of age, without the need for an evaluation. However, the guidelines caution, peanut-containing foods should not be the first solid food an infant tries, and an introduction should be made only when the child is healthy. The first feeding should not happen when the child has a cold, is vomiting, or has diarrhea or another illness.

For eggs, there is no official recommendation as of yet....The early introduction of allergenic foods is not the only policy that needs to be changed to lower the incidence of food allergies, Dr Allen told Medscape Medical News. Other factors, particularly environmental factors — mostly written up in observational studies — are contributing to an increasing intolerance to allergenic foods. Policies advocating that kids "get down and dirty," have more exposure to dogs, and bathe less are also warranted....Dr Allen and Dr Assa'ad agree that delaying the introduction of foods such cow's milk and egg until after 12 months is harmful. Guidelines should encourage families to introduce these foods in the first year of life, once solids have commenced at around 6 months, but not before 4 months.

  Study after study finds negative health effects from air pollution, such as heart disease (here, here, and here). Now two more studies found that living in areas with high air pollution is linked to a higher stroke risk. One study (done in Japan) found an increase of ischemic stroke on the same day as exposure to high levels of air pollution, while the other (done in London, UK) found a higher risk of death after stroke (especially ischemic strokes) in patients who live in areas of high air pollution. This was especially pronounced with exposure to smaller or fine particulate matter (PM2.5)- which is found in high quantities in vehicle exhaust fumes.

It is thought that the fine particles in the air (PM2.5) contribute to the development of potentially fatal diseases various ways - by causing chronic inflammation, and also because they slip past the body's defenses and can be absorbed deep into the lungs and bloodstream. They are not sneezed or coughed out the way larger natural particles, like airborne soil and sand, are removed from the body's airways. What can be done? Other studies have found that when air pollution is reduced, than the risk of death is reduced. So yes, pollution controls on vehicles such as trucks and buses are good. And just think how much air pollution will be reduced when electric vehicles replace current gas powered cars and trucks. From Medscape:

Air Pollution Linked to Higher Stroke Mortality

More evidence showing that living in areas with high levels of air pollution is linked to a higher stroke risk has come from two new studies. Both studies are published online in the journal Stroke. The first, from the United Kingdom, shows a higher risk for death after a stroke in patients who live in areas of high air pollution, and the other, a Japanese study, suggests a higher risk for a new stroke the same day as exposure to high levels of air pollution.

"We have shown a significantly increased risk of death after stroke in patients who had long-term exposure to high levels air pollution before their stroke occurred," senior author of the UK study, Charles Wolfe, MD.... "This was particularly pronounced for high exposure to smaller particulate matter — particles below 2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5) — which are found in high quantities in exhaust fumes." For the study, Professor Wolfe and colleagues analyzed data from the South London Stroke Register, a population-based register covering an urban, multiethnic population.....Results showed an increased risk for death up to 5 years after stroke in patients living in areas of high air pollution.

"While this study adds to the evidence linking air pollution to cardiovascular disease, it cannot prove causality as it has an observational design," Professor Wolfe commented...."So it is difficult to say for certain that it is the air pollution that is responsible but there are many studies now that have shown similar associations," he said. He noted that the smaller particles (PM2.5) were associated with a worse effect on mortality and this correlated with biological studies that have shown a greater inflammatory effect of small particulate matter vs larger particulate matter on the vessel wall. "Our study suggests that people who have previously had an ischemic stroke, but not a hemorrhagic stroke, may be more vulnerable and at a higher risk of death to chronic, long-term exposure of PM," they conclude.

The Japanese study, by lead author Ryu Matsuo, MD, PhD, Department of Health Care Administration and Management Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan, and colleagues, looked at acute exposure to air pollution and shows a small increase in the risk of having a stroke within a day of high exposure to pollution. For the study, the researchers analyzed data on 6885 ischemic stroke patients from a multicenter hospital-based stroke registry in Japan who were previously independent and hospitalized within 24 hours of stroke onset.

Professor Wolfe said his group have conducted a similar study looking at exposure of air pollution in the year before stroke, which showed a 23% increase in stroke risk in those exposed to higher levels of PM2.5.