Common virus in infancy could trigger life-long allergy to gluten, study shows

Intestinal bugs called reoviruses can make the immune system overreact to gluten, leading to celiac disease later in life, University of Chicago study on mice suggests

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 April, 2017, 7:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 April, 2017, 7:01pm

A common virus in infancy could trigger a lifelong allergy to gluten and lead to celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder , researchers have said.

Celiac disease is caused when the body has an improper immune response – much like an allergy – to the protein gluten, found in wheat, rye, and barley. The disease damages the lining of the small intestine, and has no cure. It can only be treated by adopting a gluten-free diet. But if the study in the journal Science – based on experiments using mice – is confirmed in larger studies in people, researchers said a vaccine might be able to prevent celiac disease in the future.

“This study clearly shows that a virus that is not clinically symptomatic can still do bad things to the immune system and set the stage for an autoimmune disorder, and for celiac disease in particular,” said senior author Bana Jabri, director of research at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Centre.

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The study found that intestinal bugs called reoviruses can make the immune system overreact to gluten, a protein that is already difficult to digest. Given to mice, “one common human reovirus triggered an inflammatory immune response and the loss of oral tolerance to gluten, while another closely related but genetically different strain did not”, said the study. The virus led to a surge in antibodies that may leave a “permanent mark on the immune system that sets the stage for a later autoimmune response to gluten.”

Most infants eat their first gluten-containing cereals around six months of age, a time when their immune systems are more vulnerable to viruses.

Fitness monitors will measure steps, but don’t gauge heart rate accurately

Using that nifty fitness monitor to keep track of your heart rate while you exercise? If you exercise while remaining still, it may work pretty well. If you move while exercising, not so much.

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine put four wearable fitness trackers to the test – both against one another and against the kind of electrocardiography monitor you’d probably encounter while taking a stress test in an doctor’s office. The results show that the wristband fitness trackers may be a fine gauge of how many steps you take. But when it comes to tracking changes to your heart rate that come with movement, these monitors don’t stack up, the authors found.

The trackers tested in the study range in price from US$57 (for the Mio Fuse) to US$500 (for the Basis Peak). To measure heart rate, at least one of them uses light reflected from the skin to detect tiny changes in skin blood volume.

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Researchers from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, had 40 healthy adults strap on four popular activity trackers, two on each arm. Study participants, ages 30 to 65, also were rigged up to an electrocardiograph, which uses leads in a chest strap to detect the wearer’s heart rate. For stationary subjects, the Fitbit Surge diverged least from the heart rate measurement taken by the electrocardiograph. Readings taken by the Basis Peak diverged the most. The Fitbit Charge and the Mio Fuse fell in between.

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But when the subjects were asked to exercise on a treadmill for 10 minutes at 65 per cent of their maximum heart rate (moderate-intensity), the performance of all the trackers was deemed “relatively poor,” according to the study. Compared with the electrocardiograph’s readings, the trackers reported heart rates that were as many as 41 beats per minute too slow and as many as 39 beats per minute too fast.

Deep brain stimulation reduces severity of tics in Tourette’s sufferers

An experimental technique reduces the tics, or involuntary movements and vocal outbursts, associated with severe Tourette’s syndrome in young adults, a study has found. The surgical technique, called thalamic deep brain stimulation (DBS), sends electrical impulses to a specific area of the brain that reduces the tics, according to the study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery.

The finding adds to the growing body of evidence about the safety and effectiveness of deep brain stimulation, which might eventually lead the US Food and Drug Administration to approve the treatment for Tourette’s syndrome, according to the researchers.

“Our study shows that deep brain stimulation is a safe, effective treatment for young adults with severe Tourette’s syndrome that cannot be managed with current therapies,” said Alon Mogilner, an associate professor in the departments of neurosurgery and anaesthesiology at New York University Langone and director of its Centre for Neuromodulation. “This treatment has the potential to improve the quality of life for patients who are debilitated through their teenage years and young adulthood.”

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Tourette’s syndrome, a type of neurological disorder, according to various studies affects from 0.3 to 0.6 per cent of children in the United States, with around 138,000 ages six to 17 being diagnosed with the condition. The causes for the syndrome are not well known and are thought to be largely genetic, with unidentified environmental factors increasing the likelihood of the condition. Usually the syndrome begins in childhood and the condition improves with age for some people, but for others the symptoms become more severe to the point that people become socially isolated and unable to work or attend school.

Researchers from the New York University Langone Medical Centre followed 13 patients, ages 16 to 33, with at least six months of follow-up visits. Researchers measured the severity of the tics before and after the surgery. Patients with severe Tourette’s syndrome who underwent DBS initially showed an average decrease of 37 per cent in their total tic severity, the study found.