July 7, 2015
1. What do 1/3 of Americans try to avoid?
Answer: gluten free this, gluten free that. One third of Americans try to dodge the potentially misunderstood protein found in wheat, barley and rye because it has been tied to certain gastro-intestinal diseases and plain old feeling lousy. However, could it be that we’re the bad guys and not these innocent cereal grains? According to one geneticist, “[i]f eating wheat was so bad for us, it’s hard to imagine that populations that ate it would have tolerated it for 10,000 years.” By now, at first blush, humans should have evolved where any persisting genetic intolerance to gluten should have been naturally eradicated over time. In fact, the opposite seems to hold true. But why? In the Middle East, where wheat was first domesticated, people began developing, not eliminating genetic variations now associated with adverse gluten-related responses. But, again, why? It may simply be a matter of cost/benefit. Potential susceptibility to one thing may protect us against something much worse. It’s a case of perhaps getting sick versus the alternative, dying — that somehow gluten sensitive genes protected us from something that could have killed us in a certain environment. However, when potential sensitivity evolves into intolerance, it becomes a problem. For some reason, sensitivities in general have escalated over the years, becoming more serious. We don’t have an answer as to why that is. It could be many things but instead of blaming wheat, rye and barley, we should maybe look more closely at our habits, environment and diet. Read more here.
2. What recent event ought to give Andrew Wakefield many sleepless nights?
Answer: a young woman whose immune system was compromised due to medication she was taking died recently. From measles. The woman allegedly contracted measles from another patient who happened to be attending the same health clinic around the same time. A person may catch the measles even if previously vaccinated. Basically, anyone with a suppressed immune system, regardless of vaccination history, is susceptible, as in the case of the aforementioned deceased. So are children under the age of 12-15 months (recommended age for the first installment of the MMR vaccine) and, of course, those who remain unvaccinated. Unfortunately, “one child in 12 in the United States is not receiving their first dose of MMR vaccine on time, underscoring considerable measles susceptibility across the country.” That’s a scary statistic considering how easily measles are spread: via breathing, coughing or sneezing. “If you’re not protected, you can get measles just by walking into a room where someone with the disease has been in the past couple of hours.” With so many unpreventable illnesses out there, why take a chance with those that are preventable? Read the story here.
3. What newly-launched health study potentially reads like a tennis game in terms of advantages and disadvantages?
Answer: the NIH-funded BabySeq Project “is the first randomized, controlled trial to measure the harms and benefits of newborn genomic sequencing.” The study will specifically consider the pros and cons of providing genetic information to parents and pediatricians. Eventually, by screening for 1,700 variants of genes implicated with childhood-onset diseases, researchers hope to answer many questions. For instance, whether the information will result in better, more timely or beneficial health interventions? Will it cause risky or unnecessary treatments? Will it cause discrimination on a parental or broader, societal level? Will it affect parental bonding in cases where a child carries a variant associated with a poor prognosis? At the end of the day, as part of the ballooning concept of population-wide genomic sequencing, the issue is whether it is beneficial to mainstream sequencing the DNA of newborns as opposed to other members of society. Read the details here.