How Does Your Gut Impact Your Health?

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital August 11, 2016

Beautiful vector illustration of bacterial flora in human internal organs. Abstract medicine concept. Useful for poster, indographics, placard, leaflet, brochure, print, book and ad graphic design.

Microorganisms in the gut produce important nutrients that are essential for your health.

Believe it or not, the bacteria and organisms living in your gut (constituting most of the human microbiome) affect your health more than you may think.

“The microbiome has as much influence on health and disease as our genomes and other environmental exposures,” said Dr. Lynn Bry, Director of the Massachusetts Host-Microbiome Center in the Department of Pathology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH).

Microbes (microorganisms) in the gut, for example, produce important nutrients. These include Vitamin K, which provides appropriate clotting of the blood, and B vitamins (such as Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12) that are essential for a healthy brain and production of blood cells. They are also essential in maturing the immune system, gut, and other tissues.

Diet has major effects upon microbial communities. Changes in diet, including sudden changes in carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake, can rapidly alter the composition of the microbes in the gut and also impact what they do. Other factors that affect microbiota include antibiotic exposures and even factors such as exercise and sleep.

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Peanut Allergy: New Evidence that It Can Be Prevented

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital April 19, 2016

Recent research suggests that peanut allergy can be prevented through the early introduction of peanut into a child’s diet.

Recent research suggests that peanut allergy can be prevented through the early introduction of peanut into a child’s diet.

Contributor: Joyce T. Hsu, MD, is a food allergy specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

In only the last 13 years, the prevalence of peanut allergy in the U.S. has quadrupled. Recent research, however, strongly suggests that peanut allergy – now the nation’s leading cause of food allergy-related anaphylaxis and death – can be prevented through the early introduction of peanut into a child’s diet. According to Dr. Hsu, the Learning Early about Peanut Allergy (LEAP) study may represent the key to reversing our society’s disturbing food allergy trend.

“LEAP may be the most pivotal food allergy study for our generation,” says Dr. Hsu. “Since the results were released last year, we have been trying to increase awareness about this new thinking for peanut allergy.”

The former thinking, at least in this country, says Dr. Hsu, was that parents should avoid giving their children highly allergenic foods during the first few years of life. In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that children deemed to be at risk of developing food allergy not eat peanuts until the age of three. However, cases of peanut allergy continued to rise, and the AAP withdrew its recommendation in 2008. Read More »

Food Allergy – Advancing Care and Knowledge

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital September 30, 2014

Jessica R. Savage, MD, MHS

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and throughout the world continue their quest to explain the dramatic rise in the number of people diagnosed with food allergy over the past 20 years. Although certain risks for developing food allergy have been identified, such as genetics and environmental factors, the root cause or causes behind this dangerous condition’s upsurge have yet to be clearly defined.

There have been, however, advances in diagnosis, prevention, and treatment, including promising research findings. Among this research are the successful testing of an oral immunotherapy that gradually builds a patient’s tolerance of an allergenic food and increasing evidence that exposure to antimicrobial chemicals increases a child’s risk of developing allergies.

In the video below, the Division of Rheumatology, Immunology, and Allergy’s Dr. Jessica Savage examines theories about why food allergies have become so prevalent in our society and what is being done today to help individual patients with this increasingly common immunological condition.

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Food Allergies: When Nuts Are Not Healthy

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital January 14, 2014

For some people, nuts are health hazards.

Today’s post, written by Kate Sweeney, M.S.,R.D., Manager of the Nutrition Consultation Service at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was adapted from an article that originally appeared on Health-e-Weight for Women.

Nuts are rich in protein, fiber, folic acid, vitamin E, and healthy fats. Research studies suggest nuts may have many health benefits, making them an important part of a balanced diet. However, for some people, nuts are health hazards. In the United States, 1.5 million people are severely allergic to peanuts alone. Half the people allergic to peanuts are also allergic to tree nuts. Tree nuts are large, edible seeds of trees and include cashews, almonds, pecans, walnuts, beechnuts, and pistachios.

What Are Food Allergies?

Food allergies are the immune system’s reaction to proteins in food. Reactions can be mild to severe, in some cases causing life-threatening anaphylactic shock. These reactions are referred to as an “allergic cascade.”  First the allergic food, such as peanuts, enters the body by ingestion, inhalation, or skin contact. The body senses the protein in peanuts as a foreign invader. In response to the threat, IgE antibodies are released into the bloodstream, triggering the release of substances called histamines. Histamines cause the allergic response.

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Food Allergies: Accurate Diagnosis Is Key

Posted by Brigham and Women's Hospital April 2, 2013

A physician-supervised food challenge is often needed to determine whether someone is truly allergic.

If you suspect that you or your child have food allergies, you may want to visit an allergist. “Unfortunately, food allergies are often over-diagnosed. For example, approximately 9 percent of the U.S. population tests positive for peanut allergy, yet only 2 percent are truly allergic,” says Dr. Jessica Savage, an allergist who sees both adults and children in the Department of Allergy and Immunology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

If you test positive for a food allergy, your allergist may recommend a food challenge: eating the food under physician observation. Because food allergy testing is imprecise, this is often needed to truly determine if you are allergic or not, or if you have outgrown your allergies. After a successful food challenge, it is generally safe to reintroduce the suspect food into the diet.

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