Entries in Immune System (8)


Immigrant Children Less Prone to Allergies

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- America's obsession with antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer may not be such a good thing. Research shows that some exposure to germs is actually helpful.

A new study found that children born outside the U.S. develop fewer allergies than American-born children. The reason isn't that they have an inherent resistance to them. It may have to do, instead, with the hygiene hypothesis: Kids who spend some of their earliest years exposed to infections and germs seem to get fewer allergies.

"It would be expected that immigrants to the United States from developing countries, where infectious stimuli are more prevalent, would have a lower risk of allergic disease," noted the researchers.

It might also have to do with what foods those children eat and their lifestyles. Asian children living in Chinatown, for example, have lower rates of asthma than Asians outside of that neighborhood.

While the researchers don't have a definitive answer yet, the numbers are compelling.

More than 10 percent of American kids suffer from asthma, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, and one in five may have atopic dermatitis, a skin disease. Those numbers are high when compared to immigrant kids though. While just one in five foreign-born kids develop allergies, more than one in three U.S.-born children do. The discrepancy when it comes to asthma is even larger.

Mexican Americans born in the U.S. have significantly higher rates of asthma, for instance, than Mexican Americans born in Mexico.

Factors including socioeconomic status and ethnicity can play a role, but the researchers accounted for those factors and a strong correlation between being born outside the U.S. and fewer allergies.

That fact was further bolstered by the study's finding that foreign-born kids who spend just a couple of years in the U.S. are far less likely to develop allergies than foreign-born kids who live in the country for a decade or more.

However, this could also mean that the benefits of being born somewhere else don't necessarily provide a shield after so much time has elapsed.

"The odds of developing allergic disease dramatically increase after living in the United States for longer than 10 years," wrote the researchers. "This suggests that the protective effects of the hygiene hypothesis may not be lifelong and that subsequent exposure to allergens and other environmental factors may trigger atopic disease even later in life."

The idea that those kids might be eating healthier and living lifestyles more in line with their countries of origin gains traction when you consider that foreign-born kids with U.S.-born parents are more likely to get allergies than foreign-born kids whose parents are also born outside the country.

"Some cultures more commonly use spices, such as curcumin, and green tea that have anti-allergy and inflammatory properties," wrote the scientists.

Researchers aren't suggesting altering a child's diet solely based on his or her allergies or to let her aversion to baths flourish, and they're certainly not saying that if your child has allergies that you should've let them roll in grass more as a toddler. But some early exposure to irritants may be a good thing.

In other words, it's ok to put down the Lysol wipes. Exposure to a few germs -- a romp through a muddy field or a splash through a puddle, for example -- may help developing immune systems learn to successfully recognize and respond to germs.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Is Stress Healthy? Rat Study Shows Boost to Immune System

Hemera/Thinkstock(STANFORD, Calif.) -- Stress is supposed to be bad for your health, right?  Generally, that's the advice delivered by doctors and scientists.

But occasional, short bursts of stress can actually be good for the immune system, and in a new study of rats, Stanford University researchers offered new insights into how the body gets a boost when its "fight or flight" system is turned on every now and then.

The connection between stress and the immune system boils down to how key stress hormones mobilize and get to organs such as the skin, which could be injured if you are attacked.  This response is important since the cells of the immune system are vital for healing wounds or killing infectious bacteria.

Firdaus Dharbar, the study's lead author and an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, said the study's findings describe the body's finely coordinated system to detect danger and prepare to protect itself.

"The immune system on its own doesn't know that a lion may be about to chase the person or that the person is undergoing surgery.  But the brain does.  We believe the brain, through the release of stress hormones, is preparing the immune system to deal with those challenges," he said.

The scientists studied rats that were briefly confined in ventilated, Plexiglass enclosures.  Then they took blood samples from the rats over the next two hours after the stressful situation, looking for amounts of stress hormones as well as specific disease-fighting agents of the immune system.

They found that the rats' bodies released three key stress hormones -- norepinephrine, epinephrine, and the rat version of cortisol -- in stages.  The hormone cycles worked to bring immune cells out of the spleen and bone marrow, into the bloodstream and eventually to the skin.

The study was published Thursday in the Journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Although the scientists were studying rats, humans have similar responses to stress.  Dharbhar said the stress of surgery may actually be helpful in helping people heal after their operations.

But stress is only good in moderation, perhaps for a few minutes to a few hours at a time.  If the body deals with stress over weeks, months or years, the results can be unhealthy.

Scores of studies have found that long-term stress aggravates many common conditions, such as heart disease, depression and gastrointestinal maladies, nullifying the initial benefits to the immune system.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Bacteria Helps Beef Up Immunity, Study Says

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- When it comes to bacteria, many people have a pretty simple view: Germs are bad, and our lives should be as free of them as possible.

But an alternate idea suggests just the opposite: Germs are a necessary part of a healthy immune system, helping our body's defenses beef up and fight future illnesses.  When a person's exposure to germs is decreased, problems may arise.

The idea is called the hygiene hypothesis.  For years, scientists have suspected that it played a role in how diseases affect people in the modern hand-sanitized world, but they never had any specific evidence.

But a new study from researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston has changed that.

Researchers studied two kinds of mice: One group had been exposed to a normal bacteria environment, and another group that was germ-free.  When scientists compared the immune systems of the two groups of mice, they found what they cited as evidence to support the hygiene hypothesis -- the mice that had been exposed to microbes had stronger immune systems than the germ-free mice.

Additionally, the germ-free mice had exaggerated inflammation in their lungs and colon, similar to what is seen in humans who have asthma and ulcerative colitis.  The researchers found that a particular kind of immune cell, called an invariant natural killer T cell, was particularly hyperactive in these mice.

But all was not lost for the germ-free mice.  When the researchers introduced them to microbes in the first few weeks of their lives, their fragile immune systems beefed up to a normal level.  But older germ-free mice didn't get this beneficial effect.

The results were published Friday in the journal Science.

The researchers only investigated mice, not people, but experts said the biologic mechanism they studied was similar in both rodents and humans.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Purdue Student Powers Through 'Perfect Storm' of Infections

Comstock/Thinkstock(WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.) -- A Purdue University sophomore is recovering from a near-fatal onslaught of infections that started with an end-of-term bout of mono.

"I had no idea I was that sick," said Rebeka Kasper, 20, her voice still raspy from 21 days spent on a ventilator in the intensive care unit of a northwest Indiana hospital.

Kasper had been refereeing a volleyball game at Purdue when her chest began to ache. The next day, doctors diagnosed her with mononucleosis -- a viral infection common among university students.

"My friends who had mono before said, 'Oh, this is normal,'" Kasper told ABC News. "But after a week I thought, ‘Shouldn't I be getting better?'"

Instead, Kasper felt progressively worse. Busy battling mono, her immune system could not fend off two rare strains of streptococcus that swiftly invaded her body and landed her in toxic shock. Her family rushed her to the local emergency room, where she was quickly transferred to intensive care.

"There were multiple times during her admission that we thought she might die," Dr. Matthew Meyer at Franciscan St. Margaret Health said.

Both Kasper's lungs collapsed from necrotizing pneumonia -- a severe form of the respiratory condition that literally liquefies the lung tissue. Her kidneys also failed, so she relied on a dialysis machine to filter her blood. She even showed signs of heart failure.

"In a way, it was kind of a perfect storm," said Meyer, describing the unlikely combination of infections.

While machines kept Kasper alive, antibiotics slowly cleared the infections from her body. And for three weeks, her parents slept in the hospital waiting room hoping for good news.

"It was so scary," said her mom, Kathy. "But there was no doubt in my mind that she was going to be fine."

For Kasper's twin, Aly, the thought of losing her sister was unbearable. She even felt the pain of her twin's failing heart and lungs, she said.

"I woke up clutching my heart when her blood pressure dropped, and I started to hyperventilate before her lung collapsed," she said. "If she cries, I cry. It's always been like that. This just took it to a new extreme."

As Kasper's organs started to work on their own again, the doctors awoke her from two weeks of sedative-induced slumber.

"I thought everything I dreamt was real," said Kasper. "In one dream, I got a dog, so I was asking where my puppy was. My family thought I was crazy."

A week before Christmas, Kasper's doctors said she could go home.

"She was my Christmas miracle," said Aly Kasper, who frantically decorated the house for her sister's return.

In addition to the two weeks she can't remember, Kasper lost 20 pounds -- weight the 5-foot-9 Purdue equestrian hopes to gain back through physiotherapy and a few more weeks of family meals.

"I kind of want my curves back," she said. "I have no butt muscles, so it hurts to sit!"

Because she missed Thanksgiving, her family made her a special turkey dinner on Christmas Eve before a ham dinner on Christmas Day.

"They're amazing," said Kasper of her family. "I wouldn't be here without them."

"The doctor said if waited another day we wouldn't have her," said Kathy Kasper. "For the rest of her life, if she sneezes, I'm going to have her at the doctor's office."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Nobel Prize Winner Ralph Steinman Gets Honor Three Days after Death

The Rockefeller University(NEW YORK) -- Rockefeller University's Ralph M. Steinman was one of three scientists to be awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday, but unfortunately, he won't be able to bask in his accomplishment. That's because he's dead.

According to the university, the cell biologist passed away on Sept. 30 -- just three days before the Nobel committee's announcement -- after a four-year battle with Pancreatic cancer.  He was 68.

Steinman received the honor "for his discovery of the dendritic cell and its role in adaptive immunity."  He shares the award with scientists Bruce A. Beutler and Jules A. Hoffmann "for their discoveries concerning the activation of innate immunity."

Steinman's work with the immune system's cells opened the door to new treatments for infectious diseases and cancer.  In fact, Rockefeller University says he managed to extend his own life using a dendritic-cell based immunotherapy he designed.

“Ralph’s research has laid the foundation for numerous discoveries in the critically important field of immunology, and it has led to innovative new approaches in how we treat cancer, infectious diseases and disorders of the immune system,” Rockefeller University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Ph.D, said in a statement Monday.

“The Rockefeller University is delighted that the Nobel Foundation has recognized Ralph Steinman for his seminal discoveries concerning the body’s immune responses,” Tessier-Lavigne went on to say.  “But the news is bittersweet, as we also learned this morning from Ralph’s family that he passed a few days ago after a long battle with cancer.  Our thoughts are with Ralph’s wife, children and family.”

The Nobel Prize is not awarded posthumously, so the Nobel committee is reportedly deciding if the honor -- and its corresponding cash award -- will be given to somebody else.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FDA Approves Drug to Combat Skin Cancer

Comstock/Thinkstock (WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new drug to treat patients with metastatic melanoma.

On Friday, the FDA approved the drug Yervoy -- touted as the first drug to extend the lives of people with skin cancer -- after clinical studies showed an increase in survival of patients by an average of 10 months, close to four months longer than subjects who used an experimental vaccine.

The new drug, ipilimumab, is from Bristol-Myers, and its main function is to stimulate proteins on the immune cells that affect how the body responds to cancer.

According to the FDA, patients who participated in the study experienced some side effects, including diarrhea, nausea, constipation, rashes and, in some cases, fatal autoimmune reactions.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Flu Fixes: Sex, Good Rubdowns Rev Immunity

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WILKES-BARRE, Penn.) – With seasonal flu season upon us, the gold standards of flu prevention such as vigilant hand-washing and flu vaccination become increasingly important. In addition to these tried and true techniques, however, research suggests a number of complementary therapies that can help prevent and overcome the cold and flu blues.

Sex, a well-known stress-buster, has been shown to have immune-boosting effects when had regularly. A study done at Wilkes University found that those who had sex one to two times a week had elevated levels of IgA, while those who abstained or those who had sex more frequently had significantly lower concentrations of the protein in their system.

Non-sexual touch also confers healthful benefits for a dampened immune system. Though getting a massage is often thought of as a good treatment for sore muscles or a bad back, researchers from the University of Miami School of Medicine find that regular massage treatments boost immunity as well.

Massage increases the activity level and number of the body's natural "killer cells," which fight off pathogens, and decreases the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the blood.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study: Echinacea Has No Effect for the Common Cold

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Researchers say the herbal supplement and age-old household cold remedy echinacea, was found to have no effect on the duration or severity of the common cold, according to the news service MedPage Today.

Results from the Wisconsin Upper Respiratory Symptom Survey showed that there was some trend for improvement, but study authors reported that only one in four people considered the degree of benefit to be worth the cost and time involved.

"Individual choices about whether to use the echinacea to treat the common cold should be guided by personal health values and preferences, as well as by the limited evidence available," researchers said.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio