Thursday, February 17, 2011

Newly discovered taste buds hold cure for asthma

Scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine recently stumbled upon a most unexpected discovery. Taste buds, previously thought to only exist in the mouth, are in fact also present within the lungs. Accidentally uncovered during an unrelated study of human muscle lung receptors, the lung taste buds were also found to play a crucial role in regulating airway contraction and dilation.

While individually identical to their counterparts in the mouth, the taste buds were found to have a few key differences. Most notably, only non-clustered bitter taste receptors were present. Sweet, salty, sour, and savory tastes showed no recognition in the region. The lung taste buds also had no feedback loop to the brain; hence, they lack the ability to create conscious perception of taste.

The implications of this discovery go far beyond rewriting an underlying assumption of physiology. While lacking a neurological pathway with the brain, these taste receptors directly affect the lungs in a spectacular fashion. Specifically, when exposed to bitter substances, the taste receptors consistently triggered strong airway dilations.

After surmounting their initial skepticism, the researchers quickly recognized the clinical possibilities. Asthma and many other debilitating respiratory conditions afflict their victim through progressive lung airway contraction. Conventional treatment in turn focuses upon drugs to dilate them.

To quote head researcher Professor Liggett:

It turns out that the bitter compounds worked the opposite way from what we thought. They all opened the airway more profoundly than any known drug that we have for treatment of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Interestingly, these results suggest an empirical validation for Traditional Chinese Medical Theory. According to Five Element Theory, many different systems can be divided into constituent parts corresponding to each of the five elements. This pattern holds true for each internal organ and taste. The lungs correspond to the Metal element, while bitter represents the Fire element.

According to Five Element Theory each element has the ability to control another element. Fire for instance metaphorically controls metal through melting it, a concept regularly utilized by acupuncturists in clinical practice for treating the Lungs. This is an interesting parallel to the findings of Professor Liggett's team.

The natural bitter substances tested were non-toxic, unlike their current pharmaceutical counterparts. This research has opened many exciting new avenues for natural medicine.

The practice of Chinese Medicine: The Treatment of Diseases with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs by Giovanni Mascocia

Allergies and Asthma linked to antibacterial products

Antibacterial products containing Triclosan are found to put your health at risk and compromise the immune system's ability to defend itself. People who are most exposed to Triclosan are more prone to increased allergies, asthma and overall weakened immune defenses, cites a new study from the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan.

Triclosan is in the same class of toxins as Bisphenol A (BPA). They are called endocrine-disrupting compounds or EDCs because of their ability to affect the functions of hormones or even worse mirror them. Triclosan is a synthetic antimicrobial agent present in hundreds of products ranging from toothpaste, deodorants, lotions, soaps, and even plastics and fabrics. This study indicates that participants ages 18 or younger with higher levels of Triclosan had increased chances of allergies and asthma. Associate professor and principal investigator Allison Aiello stated that living in very clean and hygienic environments is counter-beneficial to our health as it prevents the exposure to micro-organisms that trigger the immune system into action; consequently, the latter is not given a chance to kick in.

In recent years, several studies have shown strong evidence linking Triclosan to a variety of immunotoxic and neurotoxic reactions ranging from skin irritations and increased allergic reactions to a marked hypothermic effect on the body; they lower the body's temperature and affect the central nervous system - typical of hypothyroidism in which the most common condition is autoimmune thyroiditis (or Hashimoto's thyroiditis), caused by a weakened immune system.
One particular study, also from the University of Michigan, found antibacterial soap to be no more effective than plain soap at preventing disease and reducing the number of bacteria on the hands. More importantly, the study also found evidence that Triclosan increases drug resistance to antibiotics among different species of bacteria, thus promoting the emergence of antibiotic-resistant generations of bacteria.

Triclosan was introduced into the health care industry in 1972 and over the last 38 years, its use has increased dramatically. Triclosan, a lipophilic agent, poses health concerns with its ability to accumulate in fatty tissues in high quantities. It has also been found to contain dioxin, a family of carcinogenic compounds ranging in toxicity. Dioxins are linked to causing severe health problems such as miscarriages, birth defects, altering sex hormones and even cancer. It is important to note that when exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet light, Triclosan converts to dioxin. Additionally, Triclosan, on its own, poses a threat to the ecosystem and is deadly to various types of algae, not to mention that because of its lipophilic properties, it accumulates in fatty tissues of fish and other organisms.

A number of European governments (Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Germany) have issued warnings advising the public to discontinue antibacterial product uses: calling their use "superfluous and risky". In the US, both the EPA and the FDA have made little effort in advising the public about the risks of Triclosan. On its website, the FDA cites lack of evidence regarding the health and environmental hazards of the chemical. The EPA has rescheduled the re-registration of Triclosan; this moves it up ten years ahead of its previous schedule to 2013. Both the EPA and FDA have also announced that Triclosan is undergoing review and results of their study are expected in the spring of 2011.


What is the difference between COPD and asthma?

Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, may have many similarities as far as symptoms are concerned, but they are very different conditions in terms of onset and reversibility.

What is COPD?

COPD is a term that refers to two respiratory diseases: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. As one of the leading causes of death in the United States, COPD affects millions annually. COPD is a slow, progressive disease which is characterized by airways becoming inflamed and filling with mucus. This inflammation causes less oxygen to be able to move in and out of the lungs. Sufferers often fail to recognize the symptoms until it is too late to manage them effectively. Heavy smokers often don’t have detectable symptoms until they are in their 40’s. The early warning signs include shortness of breath after minimal exertion, increased mucus production and chronic cough. As damage continues to occur with ongoing tobacco use, the lungs slowly lose their ability to efficiently utilize oxygen. In addition, the lungs become less capable of removing carbon dioxide, the toxic by-product of respiration.

Treatment of COPD

One essential treatment goal for slowing the decline of lung function in COPD patients is, of course, the discontinuation of tobacco use. Aside from this, other treatment objectives include relieving symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath.

What is Asthma?

Asthma differs from COPD in that the onset usually occurs during adolescence and may have a genetic component. As with COPD, asthma is a condition characterized by restricted and swollen airways which fill with mucus, making it hard to breath. Asthma, however, is often triggered by allergies, and damage to the lungs can often be reversed or managed successfully with medication.

Treatment for Asthma

Some of the same medications may be used to treat both COPD and asthma, but the treatment goals are somewhat different. The objective for asthma patients is to be as close to symptom free as possible. In many cases, asthma patients can achieve near normal lung function. Inhaled steroids, short-acting bronchodialators, and long-acting beta agonists are some of the protocols currently used to treat asthma.

Asthma and COPD are both marked by airway constriction and swelling which make breathing difficult. In addition, both conditions produce some of the same symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, congestion and shortness of breath. The major difference between asthma and COPD is that the latter is almost always brought about by heavy tobacco use or prolonged exposure to toxic second-hand smoke, whereas, the onset of asthma usually occurs in childhood and is either related to genetics or may be allergy induced. Another difference is that COPD causes irreversible lung damage, and the decline in lung function can only be slowed down by treatment, but lung damage caused by asthma can be reversed in many cases and asthma patients often live their lives free of asthma symptoms.  

Ruiz, Linda. "The Differences Between COPD and Asthma." 29 January 2011

Herbal Remedy Users Have Worse Asthma

Inner-city asthma sufferers who take herbal remedies tend to have worse symptoms and to use their inhalers less, researchers find.

Do these patients rely too much on unproven herbal remedies? Or are they turning to alternative treatments because they aren't getting enough relief from their medications?

That's not yet clear. What is clear is that doctors treating asthma patients should ask about their use of herbal remedies -- particularly if their asthma isn't under control.

"Although complementary/alternative medicine may be acceptable for some patients with preferences for using these products, it needs to be used in conjunction with prescribed [inhalers]," note researchers Angkana Roy, MD, of New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and colleagues.

A recent study found that as many as four in five adults with asthma report having used complementary or alternative medicines. Roy and colleagues wondered whether patients were using these products in place of inhalers, which are considered essential to asthma control.

To explore the issue, the researchers surveyed patients with persistent asthma being treated at outpatient clinics in East Harlem, New York City; and in New Brunswick, N.J.

They asked 326 adult patients, "Sometimes people use home remedies, such as teas, rubs, and herbs for asthma. In the past six months, have you used any of these remedies?"

They also rated how well patients had their asthma under control and gave them questionnaires on their knowledge and beliefs about asthma.

They found that the 25% of patients who used herbal remedies were actually better informed about the lung inflammation at the heart of asthma than those who did not use the remedies. Herb users were more likely to be worried about the side effects of their inhalers, and had more trouble following their medication schedule.

That last finding, Roy and colleagues say, may suggest a reason why herbal remedy users used their inhalers less than they were supposed to. It could explain why they had worse disease than those who did not use the remedies.

On the other hand, they note, "Increased severity of illness may lead patients to use herbal remedies as a last resort when conventional therapy is not working."

Whether or not either of these explanations is true, the researchers advise health care workers to have a non-judgmental conversation about strategies to improve patients' asthma control.

The Roy study appears in the February issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

Asthma Symptoms in Children Associated with Acetaminophen Use During Pregnancy

Children whose mother's took acetaminophen while pregnant are more likely to have persistent symptoms of asthma at age five according to a new study by researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health. The study was conducted in 300 African-American and Dominican Republic children living in New York City and builds on previous studies of pre- and post-natal acetaminophen use.

The study found that the relationship was stronger in a subset of children with a variant gene for the enzyme glutathione S transferase. The enzyme is involved in the detoxification of foreign substances in the body and the variant form is commonly found in African-American and Hispanic populations. This result suggests that less efficient detoxification may be the link between acetaminophen and asthma.

The researchers found that 34 percent of the mothers reported using acetaminophen during pregnancy and 27 percent of the children experienced wheezing, a symptom of asthma. These children were more likely to wheeze, visit an emergency room for respiratory problems, and develop allergic symptoms than children whose mothers did not take the common analgesic. The effects diminished as the children aged from 40 percent at one-year to 27 percent at 5 years of age. A similar study in the United Kingdom found similar results.

Acetaminophen use among children in the U.S. has increased dramatically since the early 1980's possibly in part due to the discovery of the association between aspirin use and Reye’s syndrome in children. This rise coincides with the increase of asthma diagnoses. The findings in the current study provide a possible explanation for the rise in asthma especially in minority populations, and suggest caution for the use of acetaminophen during pregnancy.

Citation: Perzanowski MS, Miller RL, Tang D, Ali D, Garfinkel RS, Chew GL, Goldstein IF, Perera FP, Barr RG. Prenatal acetaminophen exposure and risk of wheeze at age 5 years in an urban low-income cohort. Thorax. 2010 Feb;65(2):118-23.