Health Highlights: Dec. 29, 2010

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Low Vitamin D Could Hamper Babies' Breathing

Newborns with low levels of the "sunshine" nutrient, vitamin D, seem to be at higher odds for respiratory infections as infants and for wheezing in early childhood -- but not at higher risk for asthma, a new study finds.

The body produces vitamin D in response to sunlight, and the nutrient has long been linked to stronger bones. In the new study, Dr. Carlos Camargo and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston looked at data on more than 1,000 children in New Zealand. Levels of a marker for vitamin D were measured in umbilical cord blood samples taken at birth and mothers were asked about their children's respiratory troubles up till 5 years of age.

More than 20 percent of the blood samples came in as "very low" for vitamin D status, the research team said in a hospital news release.

Low vitamin D levels at birth were linked to a doubling of risk for respiratory infections at the age of 3 months, compared to newborns with higher levels of the nutrient in their blood. There was no significant link between levels of the vitamin D marker and asthma diagnosed by the age of 5 years, however.

"Our data suggest that the association between vitamin D and wheezing, which can be a symptom of many respiratory diseases and not just asthma, is largely due to respiratory infections," Camargo said in the new release.

And he didn't rule out a vitamin D/asthma link.

"Since respiratory infections are the most common cause of asthma exacerbations, vitamin D supplements may help to prevent those events, particularly during the fall and winter when vitamin D levels decline and exacerbations are more common," Camargo said. "That idea needs to be tested in a randomized clinical trial, which we hope to do next year."

The findings are published in the January issue of Pediatrics.

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FDA Warns of Salmonella-Linked Alfalfa Sprouts

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday advised consumers to avoid alfalfa sprouts and "Spicy Sprouts" (alfalfa sprouts plus radish/clover sprouts) distributed by Tiny Greens Organic Farms of Urbana, Ill., because of links to outbreaks of salmonella illness across the Midwest.

"The sprouts were distributed to Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and may also have been distributed to other Midwestern states," the FDA said in a statement. "Approximately half of the illnesses occurred in Illinois, where nearly all of the ill individuals ate sandwiches containing sprouts at various Jimmy John's [restaurant] outlets."

The restaurant chain has ceased using sprouts on sandwiches served in its Illinois outlets, the agency added. The Tiny Greens sprouts come in 4- and 5-ounce packages and consumers are advised to "discard them in a sealed container so people and animals, including wild animals, cannot eat them."

Last weekend, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 89 people in 15 states and the District of Columbia had fallen ill since Nov. 1 with salmonella linked to the tainted alfalfa sprouts. Most of the illnesses occurred in Illinois. There have been no fatalities.

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Staph Food Poisoning Spurs Desserts Recall

Rolf's Patisserie, an Illinois-based gourmet bakery, is recalling all desserts made after Nov. 1 due to links to numerous outbreaks of Staphylococcus aureus food poisoning, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Monday. The desserts include cakes, cobblers, decorated cookies, pastries, pies, tarts and tiramisu.

According to the agency, 100 cases of S. aureus illness have been reported after four separate events in November and December, including 70 illnesses linked to one event in Wisconsin. Thirty people also got sick after three events in Illinois, the FDA said.

Rolf's Patisserie desserts are available via the Internet and through retail and wholesale sales, but may not always be labeled as coming from the Lincolnwood, Ill.-based company. "Consumers should not eat the desserts," the FDA said in a statement. "Consumers and product sellers should dispose of them in a sealed container so that people and animals [including wild animals] cannot get access to and eat them."

According to the agency, S. aureus illness typically begins within six hours of eating tainted food, with symptoms typically including nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. In more severe cases, headache, muscle cramps and swings in blood pressure and pulse rate can happen. In most cases, the illness passes within one to three days.

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Scientists Map Genomes for Chocolate, Strawberries

Teams of scientists say they've sequenced the genomes for two popular and delicious treats: the woodland strawberry and the cocoa plant, the source of chocolate.

Reported Dec. 26 in the journal Nature Genetics, each of the studies received funding from academic sources, the U.S. government and industry, including Hershey Corp., for the cocoa study, CNN reported.

Kevin Folta, a strawberry study co-author and a researcher at the University of Florida, told CNN that the map of the strawberry plant genome might result in a more disease-resistant, better-tasting berry, although those products could be five to 10 years away.

As for the study of the Criollo cacao tree, study co-author Mark Guiltinan, a professor of plant molecular biology at Pennsylvania State University, said scientists uncovered 96 genes linked to flavonoids. Flavonoids are antioxidant compounds thought to improve human health.

"That would mean we'd be able to get more of these healthy, health-beneficial nutrients from chocolate with eating less chocolate; that's probably a good thing," Guiltinan told CNN.

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Posted: December 2010


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