New studies point to why and how of food allergies

Food allergies are on the rise—and quickly. In recent reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergy rates in children younger than 18 grew about 18% between 1997 and 2007. Many of these food allergies can be narrowed down to a few types of food (peanuts, eggs, milk, tree nuts, wheat, fish, soy and shellfish), but studies have been under way for several years that have increased scientists’ knowledge behind allergies and people’s reactions to them.

  1. Cow’s milk advancements: There are two studies of note centering on cow’s milk, the most common food allergy in infants and young children. One study has shown correlations between asthma risk and allergic rhinitis. Another study has pinpointed immunoglobin E (IgE) in food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES). Essentially what this means is that the IgE antibody binds to allergens and triggers the allergic inflammation in the body. Soy, rice and oats were also found to have the same reaction in patients. The study suggests that “introduction of milk formula, soy formula or both within the first weeks of life is an important risk factor for development of FPIES to milk, soy or broth.”
  2. Allergy awareness increases: A new survey from the Rich Products Corporation has shown that awareness of allergies has grown amongst shoppers in grocery stores. The survey looked at those with and without food allergies (but specifically those with allergies to nuts and peanuts), and how the awareness of allergies may change their shopping habits.
    According to the study, which polled just over 1,000 mothers in the U.S., one in four commonly checked labels for “nut-free” to meet school requirements for nut-free foods. Around 27% of those surveyed checked labeling all the time for such types of allergen notices.
    Peanut allergies have nearly tripled between 1997 and 2008, according to Food Allergy Research and Education.
  3. Allergy rates in minority children: A 2011 report from CNN stated that food allergies are more common and more severe among children. The report also cited that Asian and African American children are more likely to have food allergies than those of Caucasian children. Interestingly, Caucasians are more likely to get a confirmed diagnosis than Asians, African Americans or Hispanics. Experts weren’t sure what the root cause of these discrepancies was—perhaps better access to health care or higher incomes—but nothing could be confirmed.
    Boys were found to have more severe food allergies than girls, especially those under the age of two and with multiple food allergies.
    Some of the data in the report should be taken with a grain of salt, however, as parents of the 38,000 children surveyed supplied the information without any follow-up with doctors to confirm diagnosis.
  4. Allergies can begin during pregnancy: It isn’t a new revelation that food allergies can begin at early ages, but new research shows that allergies may even begin to develop even while in utero. Research from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia studied molecular pathways between children with and without allergies. Their findings show that allergies are, in part, based on genetics, but also based on what mothers eat during pregnancy.
    But the studies on babies with allergies did not stop there. European researchers say that increased diversity of food in the first year of life can help protect against allergies while avoiding foods early in life can actually lead to more allergies.
  5. Scientists may have found the root cause of allergies: In what Peanut is calling the “most important study of the year,” scientists may have discovered why the body is allergic to certain types of proteins. Many foods and other proteins, such as pollen, can render the immune system hypersensitive, but researchers at the Messerli Research Institute in Vienna might have found the cause for why the body becomes hypersensitive.
    The study used Bet v 1, a common birch pollen protein, and found that it was similar to naturally-occuring human molecules called lipocalin 2. Both have the same iron-binding properties. When Bet v 1 bound with iron molecules, the body did not react. When Bet v 1 did not bind with an iron molecule, the allergic reaction took place.
    According to scientists, the key lies in the similarity amongst Bet v 1 and lipcalin 2. Bet v 1 can take the place of lipocalin 2 (which manipulates T-helper 2 cells) and cause the Th2 cells to overreact.
    Scientists are hopeful that this research may give insight as to why and how allergic reactions happen, and what could be done to prevent them or reactions to them in the future.

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