This Week in Health: Occasional binge drinking impacts immune system

Binge drinking impacts the immune system. Even a single episode of binge drinking can trigger an immune response.
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Occasional binge drinking impacts immune system


Location of study: U.S.

Study subjects: 11 men and 14 women

 

Results:Binging on alcohol, even occasionally, may do more harm than you think. New research indicates that single episodes of binge drinking are likely to increase bacteria leakage from the gut. This, in turn, can raise bacterial toxins in the blood. The result? A strained immune system. For the study, participants were given alcohol until their blood alcohol levels reached at least .08 percent. After monitoring their blood, researchers found that even a single alcohol binge was associated with a significant increase in bacterial toxins.

 

Significance: “While the effect we observed was transient, it still could result in induction of an inflammatory response,” said study leader Dr. Gyongyi Szabo. According to researchers, their findings suggest that binge drinking is more dangerous than people may think. Car crashes, injuries, and liver and other organ damage are the most widely recognized side effects of alcohol. This research shines a light on another potential new danger.

 

Early menopause may be tied to heart failure


Location of study: Sweden

Study subjects: Over 22,000 postmenopausal women

Results: Heart failure may be more likely for women who experience menopause between the ages of 40 and 45. A recent study found postmenopausal women in this age group to have higher rates of heart failure when compared to women who went through menopause between the ages of 50 and 54. This risk was even more pronounced in smokers, who typically experience menopause about one year earlier than women who don’t smoke. The study found that for every one-year increase in age at menopause, the rate of heart failure was 2 percent lower.

Significance: The link between early menopause and cardiovascular disease isn’t new – prior research has associated early menopause with coronary heart disease and stroke. However, the Swedish study is rare in that it takes a closer look at heart failure. “Most of the studies on menopause and heart disease focus on cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and atherosclerosis,” said Dr. Margery Gass, executive director of the North American Menopause Society. (Gass was not involved in the study.) “By focusing on heart failure, this study contributes important information to the field. It also raises questions about cause and effect.”

Novel approach to treat peanut allergies


Study subjects: Mice

Location of study: U.S.

Results: Oral immunotherapy works by building up a person’s tolerance to food allergens by gradually ingesting them over a period of time. If successful, the body becomes desensitized to problem foods. The downside is that immunotherapy has been associated with adverse effects in some people. Now researchers are developing a new type of flour that might help the process move along more safely. The new flour powder is made up of compounds called polyphenols derived from cranberries. These polyphenols are bound to peanut proteins, which allowed lab mice to become desensitized to their peanut allergies without experiencing any allergic reactions.

Significance: “I do not know the percentages of problems [associated with immunotherapy], but the danger is severe enough that oral immunotherapy treatment can only be performed under attendance of a physician in the clinic because patients – commonly children – can unpredictably react with severe symptoms including anaphylactic shock,” said Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University. The next step in the research may be to extend the strategy to other food allergies.

Cardiac protein may explain heart failure


Location of study: U.S.

Study subjects: Mice

Results: A newly discovered heart-specific protein may help experts predict heart failure. While there’s currently no cure for the condition, researchers at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute have discovered a protein that appears to shield the heart from arrhythmias (irregular electrical impulses that cause an abnormal heartbeat). Arrhythmias can lead to heart failure and sudden cardiac death. The protein, called BIN1, sculpts small folds within pockets that are on heart muscle. These folds are critical in that they trap the chemicals that regulate heart rhythm.

Significance: “In most types of heart failure, this protein decreases about 50 percent,” said cardiologist Dr. Robin Shaw, an expert in heart failure and rhythm abnormalities at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute. “Our results suggest that one of the reasons that the heart can stop from an arrhythmia is not because of any real structural problem. It’s because the diseased hearts have less of the protein.” B1N1 could potentially be used as an indicator for heart failure, especially since it can be detected in the bloodstream.

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