People with GERD more likely to develop asthma

The first evidence linking gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and asthma has been discovered by Duke University Medical Center researchers.
An association between the two conditions was first noted in the 1970s, and since then studies have shown that between 50 percent and 90 percent of asthma patients also experience GERD symptoms. But the actual link between GERD and asthma hasn’t been clear.

In experiments with mice, the Duke team found that inhaling tiny amounts of stomach fluid that back up into the esophagus — a hallmark of GERD — can cause immune system changes that lead to asthma.

The researchers placed miniscule amounts of gastric fluid into the lungs of mice over an eight-week period. When exposed to allergens, the immune systems of these mice responded differently than those of mice that didn’t have gastric fluid in their lungs.

The mice with gastric fluid in their lungs developed what’s known as a T-helper type 2 response, a type of immune system reaction characteristic of asthma. The other mice had a more balanced immune system reaction consisting of both T-helper type 1 and T-helper type 2 responses.

The study was published in the current issue of the European Journal of Clinical Investigation.

“This is the first experimental evidence in a controlled, laboratory setting linking these two very common conditions in humans. These data suggest that chronic micro-aspiration of gastric fluid can drive the immune system toward an asthmatic response,” senior author Dr. Shu Lin, an assistant professor of surgery and immunology, said in a Duke University news release.

“This does not mean that everyone with GERD is going to develop asthma, by any means,” noted study co-author William Parker, an assistant professor of surgery. “But it may mean that people with GERD may be more likely to develop asthma. If there is an upside to this, it is that developing GERD is something we can pretty much treat and control.”

Poor diet, lack of exercise and obesity all contribute to GERD.

“People should avoid the risk factors for GERD. We strongly believe that the rise is asthma, particularly among adults in the country, is in large measure due to lifestyle choices that can be changed,” Parker said.

More research is needed to fully understand the relationship between GERD and asthma, but this study does offer new directors for developing more treatment options for both conditions, the researchers said.

As for people who already have GERD can minimize gastric reflux and reduce their risk of developing asthma by following a few simple steps: Eat smaller meals and eat several hours before going to bed; raise the head of the bed a few inches; and limit consumption of fatty foods, caffeine and alcohol, all of which can relax the esophageal sphincter and increase the likelihood of reflux.

Why you should wash your hands: You’ve heard it over and over, starting from your parents: “Wash your hands.” But if you knew why it’s so important, handwashing would always be on the top of your list of ways to stay healthy, says the US Department of Agriculture.

Scientists believe most people get colds and other illnesses by touching a sick person or by touching something a sick person touched.

All you have to do to protect yourself is wash your hands — after you go to the bathroom, after you touch a cut or sore and always before you touch food.

Wash your hands front and back and between the fingers. Soap up your wrists, too. And don’t forget your fingernails. A good nail brush does the best job there.

Saturday can be toughest for those trying to drop pounds: Anyone who has avoided Monday morning weigh-ins knows this unalterable truth: Weekends are not a dieter’s friend.

Now, researchers have some science to back up dieters’ complaints about weekends being their undoing: Most people do eat more on the weekend, even when they’re trying to lose weight.

“Weekend indulgences can wreak havoc on weight control, either causing our weight to increase or if we are following a diet to lose weight, can hinder our weight loss efforts,” said study author Susan Racette, an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis. The research was published online in the journal Obesity.

Racette and her colleagues followed 48 men and women for a year, trying to determine the effects of weekends on weight loss efforts.

They assigned the participants, who ranged from being healthy weight to being nearly obese, to one of three groups: The controls did not change diet or activity levels; the calorie-restriction group reduced intake by 20 percent, and the physical activity group increased physical activity every day by 20 percent. Participants kept food diaries and wore devices to measure activity.

But even before the intervention started, Racette gathered data — on daily weight, food intake and physical activity — and found that the weekends were for indulging.

“At baseline, before they were supposed to be following a diet or exercise plan, we found on weekends, people gained weight,” she said. During the week, the weight would decline. But the weekend effect was strong. “If you translate it out to a year, it could have increased weight by 9 pounds.”

Before the intervention, participants ate an average of 2,257 calories on Saturday compared to just 2,021 during the week. But the average activity on weekends overall didn’t differ much from average weekday activities. So, it was the food, not the lack of activity, that was to blame, Racette said.

Racette monitored the participants for a year after they started the intervention, and the weekend indulgences continued. The calorie restriction group stopped losing weight on weekends, while the physical activity group gained slightly (about .17 pounds). There were not significant weight changes in the controls on weekends.

Weekend indulgences help explain the slower-than-expected weight loss of many dieters, Racette said. “There is less structure on the weekend for a lot of people, and that can wreak havoc,” she said. “A little indulgence turns into a big indulgence. Being vigilant on the weekends is really important for people either trying to lose weight or maintain a weight loss,” she said.
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