Have No Fear, Food Allergy Prevention is Here!

2010/10/18
By Alice

Photo credits: Darny

Millions of people across the world suffer from food allergies. A food allergy is an unusual response triggered by the body’s immune system after eating a certain food, which can result in signs or symptoms such as digestive problems, hives, swollen airways, or death in severe cases. The most common foods that trigger allergic reactions are shellfish, peanuts, and eggs.  In the United States, it is estimated that six to eight percent of children under the age of three have food allergies, along with four percent of adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, between 2004 and 2006, food allergies were reported to cause approximately 9,500 cases of hospitalization. The number of food allergies among humans is, in fact, on the rise. From 1997 to 2007, the percentage of children with food allergies under the age of 18 increased by 18%. Food allergies are a significant problem, and until recently, a potential cure for food allergies had not been found.

Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have recently discovered a way to turn off the immune system’s allergic reactions to certain foods. Led by Shau-Ku Huang, Ph.D. and Yufeng Zhou, M.D., Ph.D., the research team investigated one kind of immune cell, called the lamina propria dendritic cells (LPDC), which is the immune system’s first line of defense. The LPDC produces a special receptor, which appears on LPDC’s cell surface and combines with certain sugars. When targeted with a specific sugar protein, this receptor, known as the SIGNR1, was able to absorb food proteins that would have normally caused much harm.

The research team decided to test this newly found discovery on mice. The team took a food protein that causes allergic reactions in mice, modifying it by adding special sugars. They predicted after the mice consumed the modified protein, the SIGNR1 receptors on the immune system cells would be able to combine with the protein. After combining with the modified protein, the immune system would learn to tolerate the food protein, no longer causing an allergic reaction when combining with the unmodified protein. Zhou fed the mice the modified protein every day for three days. After five days, he tested his hypothesis by feeding the mice the unmodified protein. This protein caused death and convulsions in the control group of mice that had not been previously fed the modified protein. However, the mice that had been previously fed with the modified proteins had much less severe allergic reactions to the unmodified protein. Reactions included itchiness or puffiness around the eyes and snout, but nothing severe. The research team’s hypothesis had been tentatively accepted.

Data Table:

Group of Mice Are they fed modified protein? Reactions when fed unmodified protein:
Control Group No Tremors, Convulsions, and/or Death
Testing Group Yes, the mice are fed modified protein once a day for 3 days Minor Itchiness or Puffiness around the Eyes or Snout

This experiment could potentially lead to some sort of drug that could prevent allergic reactions in humans. Maybe allergic reactions won’t always be such a huge problem in the future and the death and hospitalization rates could decrease.

Do you have or know someone who has food allergies? What are some of their allergic reactions? Have there been any other recent discoveries involving food allergies? Have any other animals been involved in experiments involving food allergies?

  • Gurk

    Great job Alice! I was doing some research and came across a man who was allergic to water. This allergy is called Aquagenic pruritus . This man never knew until he was trowing up, and itchiness. With the process of elimination, the doctors found out he was allergic to water. This man can bath but with only a gallon of water. Also if he had to brush he would use baking soda in tap water.
    Now here is the link for this video and the description of the disease.
    http://med-mysteries.blogspot.com/2010/02/man-who-is-allergic-to-water-aquagenic.html

  • Sara

    Interesting Article Alice! There was actually a new discovery that most food allergy diagnosis are incorrect. It is said that about 30 percent of americans believe they have food allergies but only about 5 percent of those 30 really do. This is due to a testing process that is said to be incorrect by a researcher at MIT. This researcher has developed a new way to diagnose food allergies and is said to be more accurate.

    If you would like to read about more details here is the website:
    http://news.discovery.com/tech/most-food-allergy-diagnoses-are-incorrect.html

  • Zach

    Great post Alice!! In fact, I know somebody who has a rare disease called Eosinophilic Esophagitis. This rare disease affects the esophagus, in which a set of white blood cells (called eosinophils), are found too much in the esophagus. If the set of white blood cells gets anywhere else in the body except the bloodstream or the intestines, effects can range from asthma if these cells get into the lungs, or basic seasonal allergies if these cells get into the nose.
    When a photo is taken of the esophagus is taken, the appearance will be somewhat normal, but there exists a wrinkly-like feature and it might be covered in a white substance. Now, it might seem that this disease can have an easy treatment. To those who agree, they are wrong.
    The treatment of EE is not an easy process, but it is possible that the disease can be brought down to a lower level. A treatment (commonly know to many with EE) is called an elimination diet. This diet excludes all protein foods, but allow simple sugars, fats, and oils. There are certain medicinal drinks that can help cure this disease. After a few weeks, the EE patient can explore new kinds of food possibilities, but need to have a watchful eye on their diets.

    Link: Pediatric Brochure About EE http://www.naspghan.org/user-assets/Documents/pdf/diseaseInfo/New%20brochures/EE-%20ENGLISH-E.pdf

  • Andrea

    Nice topic, Alice. I did some more research on food allergies, and I found an article that says that children, males, and blacks are more at risk for having a food allergy than the rest of the population. Food allergies can also contribute to asthma, or the allergies can make the asthma attacks more severe. Also, a person would usually get an allergy, and then sometimes grow out of it. There is an antibody called, immunoglobulin E, (IgE). This antibody is produced when a person is exposed to a certain food, like eggs, nuts, or shellfish. When a person comes in more contact with those foods, the antibody reacts, causing the allergic reaction.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101004101139.htm

  • Naseem

    That was quite fascinating, Alice! I also found another article about milk allergies and how there’s a study about a type of food allergy treatment called sublingual immune therapy (SLIT). SLIT is an approach to food allergies where the patient is given small but increasingly higher doses of what their allergic to. This treatment aims to help the immune system “learn” to tolerate the food allergy with little to no allergy symptoms triggered. Another tested treatment for food allergies was studied by Johns Hopkin’s Children’s Center called oral immunotherapy, a similar approach that was proven successful. Oral immunotherapy, however, only involves placing milk under the tongue, as opposed to actual consumption in SLIT. According to the article, oral immunotherapy is more effective. Still, both treatments have to be further tested before any real decision is made.

    Article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100228203213.htm

  • Gunnar

    Great Topic, and Zach i also know a person with Eosinophilic Esophagitis and you mentioned something about the special medical drinks that cures them, but it really doesn’t cure them. like you said it helps there immune system explore more types of food, it gets them more openly active with the food pyramid so they can have natural proteins and sugars so they are not just dependent on there drink(more of the common ones like fruit or pizza). But like i said it doesn’t cure them. Here is the link to the drink that could explain more to you and also a link that explains treatments, causes and symptoms of Eosinophilic esophagitis.

    Sources:
    http://www.neocate.com/aaa_neocate/703-neocate-products-E028-splash.html
    http://www.aolhealth.com/conditions/eosinophilic-esophagitis?flv=1

  • Josh

    That’s pretty interesting, but did you know that your doctor can give an allergy test that can determine if you have allergies to over 50 things. It’s basically a large amount of needles coated with a small amount of the product. If you start to itch at the specific spot that means you are allergic to the product. It tests environmental and food allergies. It’s been out for a while and it’s a simple painless test and has been used for a long time.

    http://www.webmd.com/allergies/allergy-tests

  • Taylor

    Awesome post Alice! Personally, I love how you chose this topic, mostly because I’m very interested in rats. I did some research to see if there are any other animals being tested for food allergies, and to no surprise I found that dogs are as well. Supposedly, they have reactions to the dry dog food they are fed, and often try to avoid eating it. Symptoms include: tearing, hair loss, hotspots, excessive scratching, etc. It has also been thought that lambs suffer from similar types of symptoms from the food they are eating as well. For further information, here’s a great website: http://www.k9web.com/dog-faqs/medical/canine-allergies.html

  • Nick

    Nice post Alice! When I saw the title of this post on the homepage, it caught my eye, because in my family there is sometimes a problem of food reaction from shellfish, so this made me curious. When you told us the statistics of how many people have food reactions i was amazed! I 100% agree with you that this epidemic is unbelievable, and should be focused on more. Luckily for us Shau-Ku Huang took matters into her own hands, and now we have knowledge of a way to cure this food reaction. I did some research and found out that it isn’t just the food that is giving us this reaction. Food is combinded with many chemicals, so maybe if people stop mixing so many chemicals, the reaction rate would go down. The link below shows some of the top chemicals mixed into our food.

    http://www.foodreactions.org/forum/viewtopic.phpt=2831&sid=2472a3cdddad13e91d850f6055180537

  • Emily

    Really interesting topic, Alice! As a baby I was tested for food allergies and was told that I had none, but for around 2 years now, I’ve been noticing itchiness in my throat when I eat different fruits and vegetables. I haven’t yet been tested again, but I was very glad to become more educated about allergies by reading your article. I further researched peanut allergies and found that allergic reactions occur when the body is tricked into believing that something in our food is harmful and therefore our body produces antibodies called immunoglobulin E or IgE. IgE causes a chemical called histamine to be released and histamine can cause wheezing, itchy hives, swelling, and other allergic reactions. Anaphylaxis can be the result of severe peanut or nut allergies and results in the swelling of airways and a drop in blood pressure. This has been known to be deadly, and people with peanut allergies, or any allergy for that matter, should be fairly cautious.

    http://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/nutrition/nut_allergy.html

  • Joe

    Alice, what a great post. I was so interested in this particular topic I researched food allergies. I came across a new discovery published today. In a study at the University Ouolu in Finland scientists found a link between food allergies and the spring. The study showed that babies conceived in the spring were more prone to food allergies. The scientists believe the cause of these babies, who were conceived in the spring, having food allergies is the high exposure to pollen and the sunlight. If you would like to see the actual study attached is the link to the publication and the report on the study:
    http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/644669.html

  • http://blog.coturnix.org/2010/10/23/quick-links-79/ Quick Links | A Blog Around The Clock

    [...] Have No Fear, Food Allergy Prevention is Here! [...]

  • Cartland

    Really good post, Alice! I did some research after read your post.
    I find out that food allergy is actually a big problem, especially for kids. And there’s also many people trying to find out a way that can decrease the food allergy. From the article I found, I knew that the environment of the eating place is also very important for kids. If the kids enjoy the food, and have fun in the place they eating, the food allergy may will not be happen to that kid. Also the shape of the food and the flavor are important too. The interesting and delicious food make kids happy, so they enjoy eating food which is a helpful thing.
    I hope that there will be less food allergy, and everyone will enjoy the food. Because I’m a food fan too!

    source:
    http://larchmont.patch.com/articles/on-a-gluten-free-diet-have-a-food-allergy-no-problem-when-you-dine-at-bellizzi

  • Monica

    Alice, this is a great and very informative post. What I really like is how you chose this topic because there are many people around the world that suffer from this. Children typically, have many food allergies and the visits to the ER (emergency room) have been on the rise since 2001. This is good because now children, as well as adults have a new modified protein to stop this. This will definitely decrease the chances of visiting the ER on a frequent basis. There is actually a very weird allergy pertaining to money. This allergy is becoming more common through each generation, and it triggers the allergy dermatitis (http://onlinenursepractitionerschools.com/20-weird-allergies-that-actually-exist/) . This has been a very lethal allergy in fact.

  • Jessica K.

    Interesting post, Alice! As some other people have previously mentioned, I also know someone who has a disease where allergic reactions play part in almost every food and are a main issue in his life. This disease is called eosinophilic esophagitis. In order to get his fill of nutrients, vitamins, and other benefits that humans receive from food, he must constantly sip a certain juice. Occasionally, he may be tested to see if there are any foods that he may eat and there usually are a few ( for example, in the past, he has been allowed to eat cantaloupe). This condition often results in heartburn, acid reflux, and difficulty in the process of swallowing and digesting food. This disease is also a very uncommon variation of dysphagia. I also researched some information about food allergies in general. I have found that they are often hereditary and that their isn’t a specific treatment besides avoiding the food that causes allergic reactions.
    For more information of eosinophilic esophagitis and other food allergies, check out the links below:

    http://www.medicinenet.com/eosinophilic_esophagitis/article.htm
    http://www.medicinenet.com/food_allergy/article.htm

  • Leyla

    This is a fascinating post, Alice. Your article and the comments got me wondering what the difference is between food allergies and food intolerances, because I know multiple people with lactose intolerance. Apparently, the immune system response triggered by your body in a food allergy is different from the response your body has in the case of an intolerance. In food intolerance, your body’s digestive system is responding rather than your immune system. I was also very surprised to find that food intolerances are a lot more common than allergies, and about 10% of Americans have lactose intolerance, specifically.

    http://www.webmd.com/allergies/foods-allergy-intolerance

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