Monday, March 7, 2011


It's tough going through life with a slew of food allergies, and even tougher to have young children with them. We start life off trying to put whatever we can put our hands on in our mouths, and for kids that have serious food allergies, that can create a 24/7 sense of panic.

For the past while, young parents have been told to keep their newborns away from certain allergy-prone foods (eg. peanuts and dairy) until the babes have developed enough of an immunity system to fight off allergens on their own. Though the practice has grown wide and common, food allergies are still rising incredibly fast, with an estimated 3 to 5% of the US population allergic to milk, eggs, peanuts or seafood; peanut allergies have doubled in the past ten years.

There's a slew of theories behind this, particularly when one compares the geographic locations of the spike in allergy occurrences. Food allergies have grown more prevalent in the western world, without seeing a similar pattern of growth in Africa or Asia. Some say it's linked to diet: as people eat more animal fat, it increases chemicals that contribute to the body's inflammatory responses, and as people eat fewer vegetables and fruit, they fail to take in substances like beta-carotene, which limit inflammation in tissues.

One of the theories also lies in the late exposure to allergy-prone foods. It's along the lines of that old chestnut: let your kids eat dirt to toughen them up. When parents keep their newborns away from certain foods, it's been based on limited research without a lot of comprehensive data. In January 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a clinical report that concluded "current evidence does not support a major role for maternal dietary restrictions during pregnancy or lactation... There is also little evidence that delaying the timing of the introduction of complementary foods beyond four to six months of age prevents the occurrence of [allergies]."

Where does that leave us? In Jerome Groopman's article, "The Peanut Puzzle," there's a description of studies by Dr. Hugh Sampson, the director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mt. Sinai. Basically, he's been experimenting with providing allergens in altered forms - for example, milk proteins get broken down during baking - to help build up tolerance. A seven year old who was deathly allergic to dairy is fed muffins on a daily basis, which then allowed her to later have a slice of pizza without having an anaphylatic reaction. While research is still ongoing, what that means is that the girl "can now go to a birthday party and have a slice of pizza," which means there's progress.

Read the article here.

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