July 20th, 2011
By: Nancy Walsh
Smoke gets in your ears — if you’re a teen exposed to secondhand smoke — and is associated with hearing loss, a large study suggested.
Exposed adolescents were 1.83 times more likely to experience low-frequency hearing loss than those who had no exposure, according to Dr. Anil K. Lalwani and colleagues from New York University in New York City.
And the greatest risk for hearing loss — a 2.72-fold increase — was in those with the highest levels of exposure as determined by serum cotinine levels, Lalwani’s group reported in the July Archives of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.
The list of potentially harmful outcomes associated with exposure to secondhand smoke continues to grow, from low birth weight to behavioral and cognitive problems and respiratory tract infections — and more than half of U.S. children are exposed.
In the first study to examine secondhand smoke exposure and sensorineural hearing loss in young people, the investigators analyzed cross-sectional data from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
They identified 1,533 nonsmokers ages 12 to 19 who had undergone audiometric testing and whose serum cotinine levels had been measured.
Low-frequency sensorineural hearing loss was defined as a pure-tone level above 15 dB for 0.5, 1, and 2 kHz, while high-frequency loss was a level above 15 dB for 3, 4, 6, and 8 kHz.
Overall rates of hearing loss ranged from 3.68 percent for bilateral high-frequency hearing loss to 9.55 percent for unilateral low-frequency hearing loss.
Yet only 18.43 percent of the teens with these forms of hearing loss were aware of the problem.
Other factors associated with hearing loss included a history of eczema, black race, and having been cared for in a neonatal intensive care unit.
When participants were divided into quartiles by level of serum cotinine, the prevalence increased from 7.53 percent in nonexposed adolescents to 17.05 percent of those with the highest level of this marker of tobacco exposure.
The researchers noted that the link of secondhand smoke exposure with elevated thresholds ranging from 0.5 kHz to 8 kHz suggests “that the injury to the inner ear is global.”
In addition, the unilateral hearing loss is probably an early phase of ocular damage that is likely to progress in severity, they cautioned.
The elevated thresholds at 2, 3, and 4 kHz were particularly important, according to Lalwani and colleagues.
“These mid-to-high frequencies are critical for hearing in humans and are responsible for the clarity of hearing that allows us to discriminate between similar sounding words,” they observed.
Possible mechanisms by which secondhand smoke could result in auditory damage include effects on the vasculature of the inner ear and injury from nicotine or other components of the smoke.
Hearing loss in young children has been shown to interfere with not only speech and language development, but also cognitive function, academic progress, and social interaction.
But newborns and young children are routinely screened for hearing difficulties, while adolescents are not.
The findings of this study suggest that teens who are exposed to secondhand smoke should have their hearing tested, and parents and caretakers should be made aware of the auditory hazards of their smoking.
Limitations of the study include its use of cross-sectional data which doesn’t allow assignment of causation, lack of information on duration and sources of secondhand smoke exposure — including prenatal exposure — and absence of data on other factors such as exposure to loud noises.
The researchers also were unable to rule out the possibility that some of the participants had conductive, rather than sensorineural, hearing loss.
They concluded, “Future studies need to investigate the adverse consequences of this early hearing loss on social development, academic performance, behavioral and cognitive function, and public health costs.”
January 11th, 2011
By: Julie Deardorff
Food coloring is the reason glace cherries are red rather than beige and that children’s tongues sometimes appear freakishly blue. But man-made dyes may do more than make processed food look vibrant and whimsical. Some blame the additives for triggering behavioral problems in youngsters.
Acting on research published in the Lancet, the European Parliament last year began requiring products containing synthetic food colors to carry warning labels saying that “consumption may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has scheduled a March hearing on whether food dyes adversely impact children’s health. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, or CSPI, is asking the agency for a synthetic food-dye ban and to place warnings on products until the colors are removed.
The dyes are often used to enhance the appearance of sugary cereals, candies, sodas, fruit-flavored snacks, fast food and other products that are aimed at children and have little nutritional value, the CSPI said in a citizen’s petition signed by 18 physicians and researchers. Since naturally derived alternatives exist, the continued use is hardly worth any potential risk, it said.
“What’s the benefit? To make junk food even more appealing to children than it already is?” asked CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson.
Other experts say food dyes, which require pre-market approval, are among the most tightly regulated additives on the market and there’s little evidence for the long-suspected link between food colors and hyperactivity.
“The (synthetic food dyes) used in the U.S. are absolutely safe,” said Joseph Borzelleca, a professor emeritus of pharmacology and toxicology at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. “Food colors are among the most thoroughly studied of the food ingredients.”
That hasn’t always been the case. Originally, naturally derived ingredients were used to make food look more appealing — saffron, for example, gave rice a yellow tint. In the 1850s, manufacturers began using long-lasting coal-tar dyes to brighten both fabric and food, a practice that sickened countless unsuspecting consumers.
Nearly 200 substances were in use when safety testing was finally required in 1960; only a handful survived the testing process.
Today, the nine synthetic hues approved for use in food — meaning they’ve been certified by the FDA — are used primarily to help restore the color washed away by industrial processing, even out natural variations and make foods look more appealing or “fun.”
August 30, 2010
by David Gutierrez
A product survey conducted by The Independent found that the toxic chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) is used in 18 on the 20 top-selling canned food products in the United Kingdom.
BPA is one of the most widely produced chemicals in the world. It is used to harden plastic in everything from infant and water bottles to mobile phone and computer casings, and also to make linings for cans of food, beverages and infant formula. Yet a growing body of research has implicated the chemical as an endocrine (hormone) disruptor that can lead to cancer, birth defects, behavioral problems and other diseases.
The FDA recently reversed its position on the safety of BPA, acknowledging concern over the chemical’s effects on the development and brains of infants and young children. This move sparked a new, still-ongoing review of the chemical’s safety by the European Food Safety Authority. The British Food Standards Agency still maintains that BPA poses no health risks.
The Independent surveyed manufacturers General Mills, Heinz, Spam, Asda, Baxters, John West, Princes, Premier Foods, Sainsburys and Tesco about the use of BPA in the liners of several of their canned food products. Together, the 20 products represented account for £921 million ($1.4 billion) in sales, or 43 percent of the total for all canned food sold in the United Kingdom.
Every manufacturer sold at least one product lined with BPA. The only cans not lined with the chemical were those containing Tesco canned fruit and Tesco Value tomato products. Yet Tesco and Tesco Value canned fish both came in cans lined with BPA.
Other top-selling products in BPA-lined cans included soups, baked beans, corned beef, canned pies, chopped ham, long spaghetti and Green Giant Niblets.
Claire Dimmer of Breast Cancer UK called for manufacturers to clearly label all cans that are lined with BPA.
“Otherwise it’s impossible for us to make a decision on ways of limiting our and our families’ exposure to this chemical,” she said.
April 2, 2010
By: David Gutierrez
Ninety percent of parents would like to know more about alternative medical approaches for their children, according to a survey conducted by Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota (Children’s), a nationwide leader in integrative medical approaches.
Integrative medicine combines traditional Western medicine with medical therapies from other traditions, including acupuncture, massage and nutrition.
The survey also found that 90 percent of parents have a strong desire to eliminate their children’s pain and improve their quality of life, while 85 percent would like to minimize their dependence on drugs. Parents felt especially strongly about reducing drug treatment for mood or behavioral problems such as anxiety or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Sixty-eight percent of parents believed that integrative treatment could be effective, and more than 75 percent said that hospitals should offer experts on both conventional and alternative treatments.
Yet only 12 percent of parents surveyed had ever spoken to their child’s doctor about the possibility of alternative or integrative medical treatments.
“Many children with chronic or acute health conditions seek a complementary or integrative approach only after they have exhausted all other conventional treatment options,” said Timothy Culbert of Children’s. “Parents should be aware that integrative medicine can be helpful from the onset of disease and can save time, money and most importantly, improve a child’s quality of life. This is true for all kinds of conditions including acute illnesses like cancer or chronic problems like migraines or behavioral issues.”
Among parents of children with serious health issues, 42 percent had more knowledge of integrative medicine than others in the survey. Yet nearly two-thirds had still never considered integrative medicine due to insufficient familiarity with the subject.
“Parents need to consult and work with their child’s physician to determine what integrative medicine options are available that may be helpful,” Culbert said. “There are so many different kinds of complementary therapies, it’s important to learn about options to find an approach that will work best for each patient. I see first-hand every day the difference it can make in a child’s life.”
Ninety-five percent of parents whose children had undergone integrative treatment reported a positive experience.
March 23, 2010
By: Murray Wardrop
Researchers found that sons are less likely to get into trouble later in life if they enjoy a warm relationship with their mother during childhood.
Those who cannot turn to their parents in times of need face a greater chance of developing behavioral problems later in life.
Experts, who analyzed data provided by around 6,000 youngsters aged 12 and under, found that boys who never forge close relationships with their mothers are more likely to be aggressive and suffer mental health problems.
By contrast, boys grow up to be calmer, more self confident, and more empathetic if they have been able to seek comfort from their mothers as children.
Relationships between mothers and sons break down from a young age if children are repeatedly dismissed when trying to turn to their parents for help, the study found.
Pasco Fearon, associate professor of psychology at the University of Reading, who led the study, said: “Secure children have had repeated experiences of a caregiver who is responsive when support and proximity are needed and expect the caregiver(s) to be available and comforting when called upon.
“In contrast, children with insecure attachment relationships may have had experiences in which bids for proximity have been discouraged, rejected or inconsistently responded to.
“They rely more heavily on secondary coping processes to deal with stress and challenge.
“More specifically, children who seem unable to maintain a coherent strategy for coping with separation are at greatest risk for later behavior problems and aggression.”
The study, published in the journal Child Development, reviewed 69 different studies comparing child/parent relationships and the effects on youngsters’ behavior.
January 12, 2010
by David Gutierrez
Children can suffer cognitive and behavioral damage from lead exposure at half the blood levels currently considered safe, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Bristol Center for Child and Adolescent Health and published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood.
“Lead in the body is one of many factors that [has an] impact on education, but this is a reminder that environmental factors are important and pediatricians must test more children with behavioral problems for lead,” said lead researcher Alan Emond.
Researchers tested the blood of 582 children, all of whom were 30 months of age, then followed them until they were seven or eight years old. After adjusting for other factors, they found that children who had blood lead levels between 5 and 10 micrograms per deciliter scored an average of 49 percent lower on reading tests and 51 percent lower on writing tests than children with levels below 5 micrograms.
The maximum level considered safe by the British and U.S. governments is 10 micrograms per deciliter. Lead is a neurotoxin that is especially damaging to fetuses and young children, although it can harm the brains and nervous systems of adults, as well.
Children with blood lead levels higher than 5 micrograms per deciliter were also significantly more likely to exhibit antisocial behavior and hyperactivity than children with lower lead levels. Children with levels above 10 micrograms per deciliter scored even worse on hyperactivity, antisocial behavior, and educational performance tests than children in the 5 to 10 microgram per deciliter group.
“We did our blood survey when the children were about two-and-a-half years old,” Emond said. “We think this is quite close to the peak age for lead ingestion when the children are putting everything in their mouths as they explore their environment.”
Twenty-seven percent of the children tested had lead levels higher than 5 micrograms per deciliter.