Friday, March 15, 2013

Check out My Guest Post for Asthma, Allergies, Children!

I am very honored to have authored a guest post for the website, Asthma Allergies Children, which is the web-resource component to the book by Dr. Paul Ehrlich, Dr. Larry Chiaramonte, and Henry Ehrlich.

If you have not checked out this website, it is a fantastic resource.

Here is Part 1 of 2.

Update on Friday, March 22:
Part 2 of 2 is now published.  Check it out.  Thank you again to Asthma Allergies Children!  

I hope it encourages much thought and discussion.  Happy reading!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Science fun- going buggy!

It's been a busy week and let's face it - the last several posts verge on the rather deep.  So, because I'm a scientist, an educator, and a Mom to a food allergic child, I've decided to start a new little series on the blog aimed at fun, simple science experiments you can do with your food allergic child to inspire all the little future Einsteins and Curies out there!  Oh, and if you're an adult who does not happen to have a child, by all means, let your inner curiosity that is itching to get out (I hope not literally) and share with the little scientists in your life, whether it is niece, nephew, or family friend!

Have I mentioned that I love science?!  Have I mentioned that I love fostering the science in all of us?!  My poor children are probably doomed to all things geek-dom and I couldn't be any prouder.  Science rocks!  As humans, we are constantly striving to understand the world around us, and I strongly believe we are all born with an innate scientific ability that gets squashed for way too many of us as we get more "educated." 
Image source:

Alright, I'll get off my little soapbox, and get to the first fun science project for kiddos, inspired by none other than JR's fascination with all things "bug." 

I admit it. I am a life scientist with a very narrow focus on all things vertebrate (those animals with a backbone), and I have neglected a large swath of the animal kingdom for far too long.  One major animal division (phylum) are the arthropods - those animals with an exoskeleton (hard outer shell) in lieu of an internal skeleton like us humans.  Included in this phylum are classes of animals, which include insects, spiders (arachnids - FYI - did you know the highly allergenic dust mite is similar to a spider?  Now you do!), and the highly allergenic shell fish (crustaceans), among others.  By the way, a great way to ruffle the feathers of an entomologist...oh wait, "bugs" don't have feathers, is to lump spiders together with insects.  Faux pas - don't ever do that.  Here is a nice side-by-side comparison of these two classes of arthropod. 

Now that you know what insects are - on to the fun part - the science!  When it comes to insects, I'm a bit inept.  Therefore, I will refer you to an awesome, easy-to-do experiment  on a fantastic blog by The Bug Chicks!  In this experiment (link to experiment), you can leave a bug trap outside in your back yard (different brightly colored bowls filled with soapy water) and determine which color bowl is the "better" trap.  Be sure to define what "better" means - one possible example is a higher number of bugs landing in the trap.  And, like all good scientists do, form a hypothesis and think of what your experimental control will be - your baseline for comparison against the brightly colored bowls, your treatment.  Don't forget to encourage your kids to form a hypothesis (what do they think is going to happen and why).   Even if you, the parent, have an idea of what the outcome of the experiment will be, shh... do not tell your kids!  Let them discover it all on their own - this is doing science!  Once you have your results, look online to see if you can find an explanation for why your experiment turned out the way it did :).  Have fun and be sure to comment below with your findings if you end up doing the experiment!
Tools for your buggy experiment. Image source:  The Bug Chicks

 Oh, and if you or you or your child has a potential allergy or are appalled by the creepy crawlies, you can always turn to anatomically correct lego bug collections for all the insect fun without the creepy crawly :).  

I am in no way endorsing this product, other than to say this looks really cool!  Image source:

Fun sources:

1.  Explore the animal kingdom with beautiful pictures and sound explanations from the Dept. of Zoology at the University of Michigan.
2.  The Bug Chicks blog
3.  JR's favorite book on bugs:  On Beyond Bugs!  All About Insects  by Tish Rabe.

PS - I'm so excited to find out the Bug Chicks are Portland, Oregon gals!  I definitely will be on the look-out for upcoming events for JR! 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Vitamin D - A Tale of Two Studies

I'm throwing this out there today because this is confusing and definitely demands further attention.  Just in case you only noticed one of these studies making the rounds through the social networks, I wanted to make you aware of the other study showing a seemingly opposite finding.  Let me make this clear at the beginning, I do not have an answer today.  I merely just want you to be aware of the "controversy," which I will highlight in future posts.  The take-home message I want to stress today is that you should not change any current habits based solely on either of these studies!  In fact, it is never a good idea to change any habits based on evidence from any one study you see in the news.  A tenet of science is that results MUST BE REPRODUCIBLE, and the Vitamin D story appears to be, shall we say, a bit... umm (throat clear, nervous pulling at collar)... complicated.

The two different studies, published in two different journals, only one month apart - 

1.  Higher Vitamin D levels linked to the development of food allergy in the first 2 years (24 months) of life.

Maternal and newborn vitamin D status and its impact on food allergy development in the German LINA cohort study
Authors: Weisse, K, et al.
Journal: Alllergy, 2013, Vol. 68, Issue 2, pages 220-228 

2.  Insufficient (Lower) Vitamin D levels linked to food allergy in infants aged 12-18 months.

Vitamin D insufficiency is associated with challenge-proven food allergy in infants
Authors: Allen, KJ, et al.
Journal: Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI), 2013, Published online March 1.  

Is one of these studies "wrong?"  Is one of them "right?" Maybe they're both "right!"  It turns out that upon further analysis of past "controversies" in science, what seemingly appears to be conflicting results often reveals a very complicated process going on in the body - meaning, they both may be right!  Stay tuned!

Keys to thoroughly analyzing the Vitamin D controversy will be:

1.  What is Vitamin D and how does the body get it and use it?
2.  Are there known direct effects of Vitamin D on the cells of the immune system?  If so, what are those effects?  Would those effects seen on an individual cell level support the development of allergy or refute it?
3.  When and how did each of these studies measure vitamin D?
4.  When and how did each of these studies measure food allergy?
5.  Are there previous studies on this issue?  What do those studies show?
6.  What about previous studies on vitamin D and other allergic disorders (e.g. eczema, asthma, etc.)? 

Would you like to add any other suggestions to the list?  Please feel free to comment below!
Image source:

Friday, March 1, 2013

I Need Your Feedback! What Kind of Science do You Want to See?

Having a vision is so very important.  My intention with the Food Allergy Sleuth blog, Facebook, and Twitter page is to explore all matters allergy/immunology and share them with the rest of the world as I learn more about these topics myself!  I guess I never had the specific details worked out on 'how' exactly I wanted to accomplish this, though.  Here is where you come in - all of you allergy sufferers, allergy parents, allergy/immunology experts, and plain old science buffs alike.
I want your feedback!  Help me figure out what to blog, facebook post, tweet.  How can I best serve you?
Right now, I'm struggling with questions of quantity over quality.  There are many studies out there that receive a press release, but the quality and conclusions that can be drawn, ranges from really good to just okay and sometimes, unfortunately, abysmal.  Would you prefer to see any study with a press release pertaining to allergy/immunology passed along via FB/Twitter (undoubtedly most of you can't keep up with them all on your own!  I can't!), or would you prefer me to pass along a few higher quality pieces personally "vetted" be the sleuth? 

In all honesty, there is no way for me to vet everything that I see coming in daily.  However, the more in depth I go into one science article means that quite likely I will miss something important elsewhere.  At the same time, I want you to see what all is out there, so if you choose, you can evaluate it for yourself.  Hmm...  thoughts, anyone?

Something that troubled me yesterday was seeing articles circulate based on a new study in the journal Allergy (link to the study) - Food Allergies In Children Linked To Mother’s Vitamin D Intake During Pregnancy (link to article about the study).

The thing is, we know that environmental factors during prenatal/postnatal life are critical to a child's development, hence, strong recommendations like avoiding alcohol (prevent fetal alcohol syndrome) and taking folate (prevent nervous system defects) during pregnancy.  As a mother, I want so very much to give my child the best start possible for a lifetime of good health.  I knew that my second child would be at increased risk for allergic disorders, so I personally took measures during pregnancy and early postnatal life that I believed could be preventive based on the current evidence.  One of the measures happened to be Vitamin D supplementation.  Akkk!!!!

Anyway, upon closer inspection, the fanfare to the general public over this particular study seems premature at best, in my opinion.  Whew, personal crisis of setting my second child up for allergy temporarily averted, especially since we are currently trying to figure out what we think is a food allergy, gosh darn it (see previous post) :(.  However, what I'm wondering is how many out there don't have the experience to read between the lines and realize the study is premature?  How many out there are considering changing their behavior as a result of this study?  Worse yet, how many out there begin having trust issues with science when one week you should "vitamin D," only the next week you find out you shouldn't "vitamin D?"

I really want to provide people with access to scientific studies, but at the same time, I don't want to be a purveyor of unnecessary angst and worry - the vitamin D study a prime case in point.

Help!  What would you like to see?  Please send me your feedback!