Stomach bacteria may reduce risk of asthma

ISLAMABAD: Did you know that a common bacteria found in our stomachs could help protect children from developing asthma? This type of stomach bacteria in adults has been known to cause ulcers and even cancers, but new research has found that this bacteria just might be helpful in treating childhood asthma.

Asthma is a chronic disease that causes the airways in the lungs to swell and in turn they become inflamed. The sensitive linings on the airway walls will react to the irritants by squeezing shut and making it very difficult to breath. In some of the more severe cases, asthma attacks can be deadly. There is no cure for asthma, however, there are medications that can help control the disease and relieve the pressure in the airways during an asthma attack.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 20 million American suffer from asthma, including 9 million children. Current government figures show that the number of children that are affected by asthma has more than doubled since the 1980s.

The research shows that children between the ages of 3 and 13 that were infected with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori were less that half as likely to have asthma as those children who did not test positive for the bacteria, according to the study that was published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. These children were also less likely to have signs of wheezing, allergies, and hay fever.

The findings of this study support the “hygiene hypothesis,” which says that a sterile environment shields children from the microbes that are needed for their immune system to mature. Since the 1990s, antibiotics have been used to wipe out this H. pylori bacteria, since it was shown to cause gastric cancer and ulcers.

The chair of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center, Martin Blaser, said, “We’re beginning to understand the role of normal organisms in human health. H. pylori was virtually universal, and now it’s disappearing. As rates go down, asthma is rising. We showed very clearly that the absence of H. pylori was associated with asthma, hay fever and allergy.” Blaser also said that the people who are infected with the microbe have an immune response to it, producing more regulatory immune system cells in the gut that will help control allergies. Those same cells in children could help them withstand exposure to other antigens that could provoke a strong immune reaction. The relationship did not persist in the adults, who were just as likely to develop asthma regardless of the status of their H pylori infection.

Blaser and an assistant professor of epidemiology at New York University, Yu Chen, gathered this data from the Nutrition Survey and National Health, which is a comprehensive health analysis that involved 7,412 volunteers across the United States. They found that the H. pylori rates were inversely related to the development of asthma only in the children. The association ebbed as they started to study groups that were older in age. They also found that only 5.4 of the children born in the 1990s tested positive for H. pylori, which is down from 70 percent two decades ago.

The bacterium H. pylori is typically acquired in the first years of life and has been found in humans since the initial migration of man out of Africa almost 60,000 years ago, according to Blaser. The decline has said to be astonishing and could have further implications on our health. “The disappearance of an organism that’s been in the stomach forever and is dominant is likely to have consequences,” said Blaser. “Maybe there is some way to package H. pylori to get the good stuff without the harm. We need to do a lot of research on this question.”

Racial disparity seen in prostate cancer treatment: Black men with early prostate cancer may be less likely to receive aggressive treatment than their white counterparts, a small study has found.

The reason, researchers say, seems to be that doctors are somewhat less likely to offer extensive surgery or radiation treatment to black patients — and not that black patients more often refuse more-aggressive treatment.

The study found that of 79 African-American men with earlier-stage prostate cancer, 71 percent received what is considered to be more-aggressive treatment — surgical removal of the prostate gland or radiation therapy.

That compared with 82 percent of 158 white patients, the researchers report in the journal Urology.

Black men were about as likely to accept treatment as white men — about 10 percent refused, versus 8 percent of white men. But while doctors offered prostate removal or radiation to white men 91 percent of the time, they offered it to black men in 85 percent of cases.

Dr. Kathryn E. Richert-Boe, of Kaiser Permanente Northwest in Portland, Oregon, led the study.


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