Roundup: Red Meat & Heart Disease; First Peanut Allergy Drug; and Stress Linked to Premature Gray

Red Meat, Processed Meats Raise Risk of Heart Disease, Confirms New Study

Eating two servings of red meat, processed meat that includes poultry – but not fish – per week was linked to a 3 to 7 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Eating two servings of red meat or processed meat – but not poultry or fish – per week carried a 3 percent higher risk of all causes of death, researchers also said.

The connection between red meat and heart disease is not new. But this study seems to contradict a separate study released last fall that could not find with certainty that eating red meat or processed meat caused heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) said the conclusions of the previous study were “questionable.”

The U.S. government’s dietary guidelines, also known as My Plate, focus on plant-based options.

“It’s a small difference, but it’s worth trying to reduce red meat and processed meat like pepperoni, bologna and deli meats,” said the senior study author of the new research paper, Norrina Allen, associate professor of Preventive Medicine in the Division of Epidemiology at Northwestern University. “Red meat consumption also is consistently linked to other health problems like cancer.”

The new study looked at existing clinical data spanning three decades. The study encompassed 29,682 participants (mean age of 53.7 years; 44.4 percent men and 30.7 percent non-white). Diet data were self-reported by participants, who were asked a long list of what they ate for the previous year or month.

“Fish, seafood and plant-based sources of protein such as nuts and legumes, including beans and peas, are excellent alternatives to meat and are under-consumed in the U.S.,” said study coauthor, Linda Van Horn, chief of Nutrition at Northwestern’s Department of Preventive Medicine, who also is a member of the 2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory committee.

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FDA Approves First Drug to Treat Peanut Allergy in Children

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first drug treatment peanut allergies in children, following the agency’s preliminary go-ahead by an advisory committee in September.

The drug, Palforzia, can be used for children from 4 and 17 years of age. It’s function is to minimize the incidence and severity of a child’s allergic reaction to peanuts, the FDA says.

More than 2.5 percent of all children in the U.S. are allergic to peanuts, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. It is one of the most common food allergies in the U.S.

“Peanut allergy affects approximately 1 million children in the U.S. and only 1 out of 5 of these children will outgrow their allergy. Because there is no cure, allergic individuals must strictly avoid exposure to prevent severe and potentially life-threatening reactions,” said Peter Marks, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a statement.

The effectiveness of Palforzia is “supported” by a study conducted in the U.S., Canada and Europe in about 500 peanut-allergic individuals, the FDA says. The results showed that 67.2 percent of Palforzia recipients tolerated a 600 mg dose of peanut protein, compared to 4 percent of placebo recipients, the FDA states.

Peanut allergy is a condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly identifies even small amounts of peanut as harmful. Allergic reactions to peanut are unpredictable in occurrence and in how they present, with some individuals experiencing severe reactions from even trace amounts.

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Stress Does Actually Turn Hair Prematurely Gray, Animal Study Finds

It’s a bit of an old adage: Too much stress can turn your hair prematurely gray. Now, Harvard University scientists believe they have some evidence it may be true — at least in the mice that were studied.

Assisted by Brazilian researchers with the Center for Research on Inflammatory Diseases, the Harvard team found that stress increases activity in the “sympathetic nervous system,” the network that controls the body’s “fight-or-flight” response to stress.

This response spurs melanocyte stem cells — which produce hair color — to undergo cell differentiation, which is when cells can turn into other specialized cells. The cell differentiation is permanent. This increased cell activity depletes the supply of melanocytes, essentially leading to loss of hair pigmentation.

The research may lead to other studies looking into the physical effects stress, says Ya-Chieh Hsu, the study’s senior author and a Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology professor at Harvard.

“Our discovery of the connection between the sympathetic nervous system and this stem cell population raises many questions about how stress might be affecting cell and tissue regeneration throughout the body,” Hsu told the The Harvard Crimson.

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