April Health News
Written by Dr Tom Nolan for Doctify
This month I’ve been looking for the best health research with the same excitement of a group of toddlers searching the garden for Easter eggs. The studies I’ve found are too big to eat all on my own, so I’m going to share them with you. If you like them, perhaps you’ll share them too.
Nutting ventured, nutting gained
Eating nuts to avoid nut allergies might sound nuts but it seems to be true. The LEAP study, published last year, looked at infants under 11 months old with severe eczema or egg allergy (which meant they were more at risk of developing a peanut allergy). Half were given peanuts in their diet until the age of 5, whilst the other half avoided peanuts. The children who ate peanuts were 80% less likely to develop peanut allergy than the peanut avoiders. In this new study the peanut eating group were asked not to eat peanuts for a year to see if stopping eating peanuts would lead to an allergy developing. It didn’t. What does this all mean? It seems that eating peanuts in the first few years of life helps the body to develop a tolerance that lasts even if you stop eating them.
These days if you can’t do it on an app it probably isn’t worth doing. So when it comes to some blood pressure apps you may be better off not bothering, if this research in JAMA is anything to go by. A top selling blood pressure smartphone app was tested by independent researchers who found that almost four-fifths of people who have high blood pressure would be falsely reassured by the app that their blood pressure is normal.
Ibuprofen’s antibacterial powers
We usually think of ibuprofen as a painkiller, not as something you’d take to treat an infection. In January I reported that about two thirds of women with simple urine infections will get better if they just take regular ibuprofen (and not antibiotics). A response to this research published in the BMJ this month points out that ibuprofen is known to have anti-microbial powers. This was new to me, so I delved a little deeper. It seems that ibuprofen slows some bacteria from growing when tested in a laboratory, but this has never been properly assessed in clinical trials. People often say they don’t like just masking the symptoms with a painkiller but if ibuprofen actually helps to fight some infections (and make you better sooner) I expect more people would take it and there may be less pressure on doctors to prescribe antibiotics. Without more research though, we can only speculate.
Fitting into your Genes
Genetic testing is revolutionising health. A genetic test from a sample of your saliva can tell you which diseases you’re more likely to get later in life, such as diabetes, dementia or heart disease. Experts hope (and marketing departments claim) this will help bring down rates of these diseases by encouraging those at greater risk to live more healthily. Unfortunately, studies have consistently shown that telling people to change their behaviour because they’re at risk of disease doesn’t work. Another concern is highlighted in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which published a survey of over 1000 people in the USA who used a genetic testing service. It found that only a quarter shared their results with their family doctor within six months and of those who did, dissatisfaction levels were high. The most common reason for this was that there was nothing much they could do about their risk. This is hardly surprising: the people most interested in their health are usually the healthiest. The accompanying editorial also highlights these high levels of dissatisfaction. It suggests that the high expectations created by the heavy marketing of these products may be to blame.