TIME Research

A New Blood Test Can Estimate How Serious Your Food Allergy Is

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A blood test may make diagnosing allergy severity a little less invasive

A blood test can reveal just how severe a person’s food allergy is and could possibly replace more invasive testing, a new study published Wednesday morning suggests.

Around 4 to 6% of American children have food allergies, a risk the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls “a growing food safety and public health concern.” However, determining whether someone has a food allergy and then determining just how severe that food allergy is can be tricky.

To assess whether someone has a specific allergy, doctors will perform skin pricks or blood tests to look for skin reactions or high levels of allergy-specific antibodies. But doctors still don’t have a simple tool to test just how allergic a person is to a specific food. In some cases, the individual will need to eat whatever food they are allergic to in the presence of a physician so the doctor can determine the severity of their allergy in a safe space.

Of course, that experience isn’t without patient anxiety, which is one of the reasons why researchers at Mount Sinai Health System studied whether a blood test could predict allergy severity and potentially replace any tests that require ingesting allergens. Their research is published in the journal The Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

The test is called basophil activation test (BAT). It’s a blood test that measures the levels of an immune cell called basophil which is activated by food exposure. The researchers used the blood test on 67 people with food sensitivities between the ages of 12 and 45 while they also underwent an exposure test comparing their reactions to peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, or sesame versus a placebo. The allergens or placebo were given at random, and the goal was for the researchers to see if the results of the blood test corresponded to how the people reacted.

The test proved accurate, showing a high correlation with the BAT’s scores and the severity of the individuals’ reactions.

The researchers say the ultimate goal is to develop a new test that can become part of clinical allergy diagnoses in order to improve the quality of life for patients. “[This study] should encourage similar studies, which could lead to wide widespread clinical use,” says study author Dr. Xiu-Min Li, a researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Read next: Easter Egg Cookies Recalled For Containing … Eggs

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Foods That Taste Better in April Than They Will All Year

Never know what’s growing now? Let’s take it one season at a time, with the Foods That Taste Better Now Than They Will All Year.

It’s officially spring, which means delicious produce is just around the corner. While it’s still too early for most juicy fruits and crisp veggies to reach their peak, April is the best time for a handful of items grown in warmer regions of North America. “April is a little ad hoc—a little of this and a little of that,” says Chris Romano, an associate produce coordinator at Whole Foods. Here are the four foods he thinks should zoom to the top of your grocery list this month.

Ataulfo mangos: Usually mangos are characterized by their green color with a reddish blush, but these are a bright yellow. Ataulfo mangos are grown all over the world, but in April, some of the tastiest varieties come out of Mexico. “They’re a little bit flatter, a little bit smaller, but the flavor is phenomenal,” says Romano. “They’re very fragrant and very juicy as far as a mango is concerned. It’s great as a salsa or chutney and great to eat out of hand.”

Blackberries: It’s true that they’re typically a summer berry, but keep an eye out for blackberries from Mexico that will start hitting groceries in April. “Blackberries are very prolific in Mexico in April,” says Romano. “They are very big, very plump, and they have virtually no tartness. You eat one out of the container and won’t make it to the car.”

Asparagus: Spring is asparagus season, and April is a great month to pick up some spears. At this time of the year, plenty of asparagus comes out of regions in California where the soil is black and soft. Warm days and cool nights are ideal for asparagus growing, Romano says. During April, asparagus will be nice and thick with less white to trim off the bottom. Go for the thicker varieties, Romano recommends. “A lot of people think thin spears are the way to go, but they’re actually less tender,” he says. “The thicker ones are more fibrous.”

Artichokes: “You can see artichokes year-round, but this is by far the time to eat them,” says Romano. “They’re the most meaty artichokes you will have in the season and all year, and they have the biggest hearts.” Though you can buy artichoke hearts in a can, now is the time to buy them fresh. Don’t let the daunting shape of the artichoke deter you from cooking them—a simple steam will do them justice.

Strawberries: According to Romano, some of the best-tasting strawberries will likely hit grocery store shelves in the next few weeks.

Read next: The Maryland Crab In Your Crab Cake is Probably Fake

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TIME Research

Your Pet Food Probably Isn’t Made of What You Think

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Bad news for pets with refined palates

A new study published Tuesday night shows many pet food brands contain unspecified animal parts that aren’t listed on labels.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Nottingham and published in the journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, looked at 17 popular wet pet foods for both dogs and cats in U.K. supermarkets. They found that 14 of those brands contained cow, chicken and pig DNA—but none of the brands listed the animals explicitly on the label.

Of the seven products that displayed the phrase “with beef,” only two had more cow DNA in them than combined DNA of chicken and pigs.

That might come as a shock to consumers, the researchers say, but by leaving certain animal parts off the label, the products weren’t breaking any U.K. rules.

“Besides the customer not being able readily make an informed choice on the pet food product due to incomplete disclosure of ingredients (allowed by legislation), there could be the added complication of pet food allergies where a dog or cat could have adverse reactions to certain undeclared animal proteins in a product,” says study author Kin-Chow Chang, a professor of veterinary molecular medicine at University of Nottingham.

Since the items in the study were purchased in the U.K., the findings don’t necessarily apply directly to American pet food. But the pet foods studied are international brands, and by looking through regulation and labeling requirements for pet food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), what consumers may think is a full beef product, for example, could also have meat from other animals and still be abiding by proper U.S. regulation.

The FDA does not require pet food to have pre-market approval, but says pet food should be safe to eat, have no harmful substances and be “truthfully” labeled.

According to an FDA spokesperson, the FDA has its own pet food regulation, but individual states can also enforce their own labeling guidelines and may have adopted regulations suggested by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

Under these regulations, “meat” that comes from cows, pigs, sheep, goats or any combination of these species can simply be called “meat” on pet food labels. Meat from horses or other species of mammals must be labeled to indicate the species of animal from which the meat comes (e.g. horsemeat or kangaroo meat). The term “poultry” can mean any mixture of species like chicken or duck.

You can determine a lot about what might be in pet food by how it is labeled. For instance, if a pet food product is called “Beef for Dogs,” then 95% of the product must be beef. However, if a pet food product names an ingredient (like beef) in it’s title, but the ingredient makes up less than 95% of the product (but at least 25%), then the name of the product must have a qualifying descriptive term added to it, such as “Dinner,” “Platter,” “Entree,” “Nuggets” or “Formula.”

The FDA gives the following example: “In the example “Beef Dinner for Dogs” only one-quarter of the product must be beef, and beef would most likely be the third or fourth ingredient on the ingredient list.”

The researchers say their findings underline the need for better transparency among the pet food industry in order to help consumers make more informed choices about what they are buying for their pets.

TIME Infectious Disease

Researchers Link Virus to Mysterious Paralysis in Children

Study finds more evidence linking enterovirus D68 to mysterious paralysis in kids

From last summer to this March, 115 children in 34 states suddenly developed sudden unexplained paralysis—called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM)—that has kept medical experts scratching their heads about what could be causing it. But in new research published on Monday from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), researchers suggest a specific strain of a common virus could be contributing.

MORE: Parents Hunt for Answers on Kids’ Mysterious Paralysis

Scientists and doctors have long thought that an enterovirus called EV-D68 somehow played a role in the clusters of kids who became partially paralyzed, since the emergence of their symptoms happened at the same time U.S. emergency rooms experienced an unprecedented wave of children coming in with severe EV-D68. But in children who’ve been tested for the virus, it’s very rarely been found in their spinal fluid—the location doctors expect to find it if it’s responsible for paralysis.

The other problem is that enteroviruses are incredibly common, so discovering the virus in children is by no means an anomaly. That makes it difficult to pin the paralysis problem on EV-D68. But now, UCSF scientists have discovered more evidence to link the two. In their study, published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, the researchers analyze 25 cases of sudden unexplained paralysis from recent clusters of children. Through nasal swabs, the researchers were able to identify EV-D68 in 12 of those children and found that all of the cases testing positive for the virus were related to a strain called B1, which emerged four years ago with mutations similar to those seen in the polio virus. Even though some of the children in the study were from Colorado and others were from California, they shared the same B1 strain of the virus.

The researchers also discovered this specific strain in the blood of one of the children who developed AFM for the first time. The child was sampled much earlier than the others, though, and researchers think the late timing of testing may have been the reason they didn’t detect the virus in the blood or spinal fluid of most of the children. Even though the researchers couldn’t identify EV-D68 in the children’s spinal fluid, they say they’re not ruling it out, since they also couldn’t find any other infections.

Notably, the researchers also studied the virus in a pair of siblings. One sibling developed AFM, but the other remained normal after symptoms of the respiratory disease went away. This suggests that the reactions to the virus could be genetic, the researchers say.

“The question is, is this coincidental or [are the two] really associated? I think it’s more than a coincidence,” says study author Dr. Charles Chiu, director of UCSF-Abbott Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center. “I think our study answers some of those questions.”

The researchers also sequenced the genome of EV-D68 in six children with AFM and two children without it. They hope that analyzing the virus can help inform future research.

“What’s needed at this point is fundamental biology,” says Chiu. He and his team plan to infect the cells of sibling pairs, where one child got AFM and the other did not, to see if their cells respond differently. Any differences the researchers discover may lead to more knowledge about the underlying causes of the disorder, they say.

TIME ebola

Ebola Cases Top 25,000

The outbreak has infected 25,178 people and killed 10,445

More than 25,000 people have been infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, according to a new report.

As of Tuesday, the outbreak, which has persisted for more than a year, has infected 25,178 people and killed 10,445, according to new numbers released by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Overall, the region has seen a drop in the number of confirmed cases and the number of patients filling Ebola treatment centers. However, medical groups have warned against complacency and Guinea has seen a recent uptick in infections. The country also just recently launched an Ebola vaccine trial.

MORE: 14 Emotional Dispatches From Key Ebola Fighters

 

TIME Diet/Nutrition

An Apple a Day Keeps the Pharmacist Away

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But not the doctor

Researchers who set out to determine if the adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is actually true have found it a bit more complicated.

In their study, published online Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, they concluded that people who consumed apples daily were not less likely to stay overnight at a hospital or visit a mental health professional, but they were likely to use fewer prescription medications.

The study authors reached that conclusion after surveying 8,399 people (753 were apple-a-day folks). Apple eaters were more likely to be educated, less likely to smoke and more likely to be a racial or ethnic minority.

“Our findings suggest that the promotion of apple consumption may have limited benefit in reducing national health care spending,” the study authors write. “In the age of evidence-based assertions, however, there may be merit to saying ‘An apple a day keeps the pharmacist away.'”

Even if apple lovers still have to visit the doctor, there are other perks to eating fruit every day — a healthy habit Americans are encouraged to pick up.

Read next: Foods You Should Eat Instead of Taking Vitamins

TIME States

Connecticut Bans State-Funded Travel to Indiana Over Controversial Law

Following similar bans by San Francisco and Seattle

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy signed an executive order Monday to ban state-funded travel to Indiana as a protest to that state’s new religious objections law, which critics are slamming as discriminatory, following through on an earlier pledge to do so.

Malloy, who called the legislation “disturbing, disgraceful and outright discriminatory” against the LGBT community, according to the Hartford Courant, also suggested it would be “a wise choice” to move next year’s Final Four of the NCAA college basketball tournament out of Indiana.

MORE: Going Into Final Four, No Cheers for Indiana

The law, newly signed and staunchly defended by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, is considered by critics as discriminatory because it would essentially allow businesses to refuse services to customers due to business owners’ religious beliefs. Indiana legislators said Monday that language will be added to the law to clarify that it doesn’t mean discrimination against gay people is allowed, NBC reports.

Connecticut’s travel restriction will follow similar moves by two major cities in recent days. On Friday, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee banned city-funded travel to the state of Indiana, and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray followed suit on Saturday.

Read next: 5 Things to Know About Mike Pence

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Finally, Some Good News About Kids and Fast Food

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Kids are eating fewer calories from burger, pizza and chicken restaurants

Fast food is rarely the harbinger of good news, but here’s some: kids are eating less of it. According to a new report published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, the percentage of kids eating fast food on any given day has dropped, along with the number of calories they consume at certain fast-food joints.

Using data collected from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers found that back in 2003-2004, nearly 39% of American kids were eating fast food regularly. But in 2009-2010, about 33% of kids were eating it. In addition, children consumed fewer calories from burger, pizza and chicken fast-food restaurants. Calories from Mexican and sandwich fast-food restaurants remained stable.

MORE: This Is the Scary Amount of Pizza Kids Are Really Eating

“We’ve seen similar trends in adults, so we suspected the trend would be similar in children,” says study author Colin D. Rehm, a postdoctoral fellow at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “What was surprising was the difference in trends by type of fast-food restaurant.”

The study didn’t look at why children were consuming fewer fast-food calories, but Rehm speculates that the trend is due to a combination of factors. “I think some are related to consumer preference and demand, and some are changes made by restaurants, which may include reducing the portion sizes, reformulating existing items or offering different items to potentially replace higher-calorie offerings,” he says. Less likely, he says, is the idea that people are eating less of their meals at each sitting.

During the eight-year period of the study, none of the restaurant types experienced a significant increase in the calories their children customers consumed.

“We saw a decrease in the number of calories per eating occasion, which suggests that a combination of consumer behavior and changes made by the restaurants can actually impact diet and change the amount of calories people are consuming,” says Rehm. “That’s promising. It means people are not unchangeable.”

The researchers acknowledge that their study looked purely at reported calorie consumption, and not on the quality of those calories. “If the calories are dropping and sodium, added sugar and refined grains are increasing, then we haven’t made much progress,” says Rehm. “We are going to need to drill deeper and figure out if the quality of the calories have changed or remained stable. The last thing we want to be doing is replace calories with even poorer quality calories.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Foods You Should Eat Instead of Taking Vitamins

If you're eating a healthy diet, you shouldn't need all those bottles of vitamins

The supplement chain GNC announced on Monday that it plans to overhaul its quality control systems with new high-tech testing. The move comes after an investigation by the New York Attorney General that revealed the quality of supplements is highly variable, and many pills do not contain the ingredients they say they do or contain other ingredients that may not be on the label.

Most experts say that if you’re eating a healthy diet and don’t have an underlying health conditions that interferes with your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from your food, you generally shouldn’t need to take supplements. The same vitamins and minerals are often available in food. We’ve listed several popular supplements, and suggested a food that you should eat instead.

MORE 8 Things You Should Know About Supplements

  • Vitamin C

    healthiest foods, health food, diet, nutrition, time.com stock, oranges, citrus
    Danny Kim for TIME

    Citrus fruits are some of the best sources of vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant in the body and helps with the absorption of iron. Oranges in particular are high in vitamin C—one large orange boasts 97.9 mg. It’s recommended that adult men get 90mg of vitamin C a day and women get 75 mg. Other high sources are red and green peppers, kiwi and tomatoes.

  • Calcium

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    Kale may be a less obvious choice, but it’s a high source of calcium that’s needed for strong bones and teeth as well as muscle movement and nerve function. Just one serving of kale has 150 mg of calcium which is slightly over 10% of the recommended daily amount. Other sources of calcium are dairy products like yogurt, as well as other foods like broccoli and chia seeds.

    MORE: Here’s Why Kale is So Good For You

  • B Vitamins

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    Photograph by Danny Kim for TIME; Gif by Mia Tramz for TIME

    Vitamin B12 is commonly taken in supplement form since it’s important for red blood cell formation and neurological function. Eggs are a good source, and nutritional experts recently confirmed that eggs shouldn’t be chastised for being high in cholesterol. One large hard boiled egg has 0.6 micrograms of B12, which is about 10% of the recommended daily value. Just 3 oz of trout or salmon give you almost your entire daily needs.

    In addition, vitamin B6 which is involved in metabolism and brain development during pregnancy is found in foods like nuts, tuna and chickpeas.

  • Vitamin A

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    Vitamin A is important for vision, immune system function, reproduction and support for the heart, lungs and kidneys. Sweet potatoes are a particularly potent source of vitamin A. Just one sweet potato baked in the skin has 28,058 international units (IU) of vitamin A per serving, which is 561% of the daily recommended value. According to National Institutes of Health (NIH), around 28%–37% of the general population take supplements with vitamin A.

    MORE: Should I eat potatoes?

  • Vitamin E

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    Danny Kim for TIME

    Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant in the body and supports the immune system in fighting off bacteria and viruses. Almonds, as well as other nuts like peanuts and hazelnuts are high sources of vitamin E. One ounce of dry roasted almonds contains 6.8 mg of vitamin A, which is 34% of the daily recommended value.

     

  • Magnesium

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    Cashews are a high source of magnesium, which is important for regulating blood sugar and blood pressure levels as well as maintaining nerve function. The NIH says Americans consistently do not consume the recommended amount of magnesium. Not only are cashews tasty, but one ounce of dry roasted cashews host 74 mg of magnesium—19% of the daily recommended amount.

     

     

  • Iron

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    Danny Kim for TIME

    Around 14% to 18% of Americans use a supplement that contains iron, many of which are designed for women who are at a greater risk for not having enough. It’s recommended that men age 19 to 50 get 8 mg of iron a day and women in the same age group get 18 mg (and 27 mg if they are pregnant). Half of cup of boiled and drained spinach has 3 mg of iron which comes out to around 17% of the daily recommended amount.

  • Vitamin D

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    Danny Kim for TIME

    Vitamin D is a tricky nutrient. It’s available in very few foods, though fatty fish like salmon and tuna contain it. Lots of foods are fortified with Vitamin D, which is needed for calcium absorption and cell growth. Three ounces of cooked salmon contains 447 IUs (international units) of vitamin D which is 112% of the daily recommended value. People can also get vitamin D from sun exposure.

    MORE: Who Should—and Who Souldn’t—Take Vitamin D

  • Multivitamin

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    Danny Kim for TIME

    The NIH says more than one-third of Americans take multivitamins, even though they agency says they “cannot take the place of eating a variety of foods that are important to a healthy diet.” One of the problems with multivitamins is that there is no regulatory definition for what a multivitamin is, so a supplement from one company can be completely different from another company’s version. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables can ensure that you are getting the nutrients you need.

    MORE: 50 Healthiest Foods of All Time

TIME Research

Pediatrics Group Says Schools Shouldn’t Drug Test

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Random drug testing doesn't have enough evidence to support it, the AAP says

A leading U.S. pediatrics group is recommending against in-school drug testing as a way to prevent young people from experimenting with illegal substances.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement on Monday saying it opposes randomly drug testing students because there’s not enough evidence to show it’s effective, and because random testing can damage relationships between students and their schools. It’s also a possible infringement on privacy, the group says.

Fifteen years ago, the Supreme Court established the legality for school-based drug testing for students. Proponents of the practice say that random testing at schools deters students from using drugs.

But the AAP says they don’t believe it’s worth the costs to schools. “We want to be really clear about this—this is not pushing schools to the side or saying they have no role,” says report author Dr. Sharon Levy, the director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It’s a question of what’s the best way for schools to be involved.”

According to the AAP policy statement, there’s limited evidence to suggest that drug testing programs in schools prevent kids from trying drugs. “We reviewed the studies done to take a look at this question, and while there’s evidence, there are a lot of caveats around that,” says Levy, who adds that many studies rely on self-reports and show inconsistent data.

The tests are imperfect, sometimes showing anxiety-inducing false negatives and false positives, the AAP says. While drug tests should be used to find students who may need intervention, the AAP believes, studies have shown that students are often given severe consequences like suspensions or expulsions that are not followed up by treatment. The tests can also detect substances used by young people for medical reasons, which could result in breaches of their privacy and damage the relationship between schools and their students, the AAP says.

“Random drug testing, particularly on the scale of these drug-testing programs which are typically once or twice a year, is not very likely to pick up sporadic use, which is the majority of use by high school kids,” says Levy. “It depends how important you think it is to pick up sporadic use, but I think it’s very important.”

The researchers also add that drug tests don’t typically pick up on alcohol, which is the illegal substance most commonly used by adolescents and teens.

Levy says that the goal of the new policy statement is not to stop schools from actively seeking out students who are at risk for drug use, but to weigh the best strategies. Instead, the AAP recommends school-based prevention and intervention programs, education, other screening methods like confidential self-reports, counseling and referrals.

Levy says she recognizes that not all experts may agree, but that she and her panel crafted their statement based on the most recent evidence available. She hopes that pediatricians and schools can collaborate to find the most effective ways to help students resist drugs.

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