July 06, 2018

 (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)

Note: This piece was originally published on January 19th, 2018

Did you ever trade lunches at school when you were a kid? Maybe you gave away your peanut butter sandwich in exchange for some chocolate pudding. With rampant food allergies, a trade like that probably wouldn't happen today. And while schools and other organizations are very aware of the increased number of people who have allergies, we know little about what causes them.  

Innovation Hub spoke with Dr. Wayne Shreffler, the director of the Food Allergy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and Dr. Katie Allen, the Group Leader of Gastro and Food Allergy at Murdoch Children's Research Institute in Melbourne, about the rise of food allergies, how to prevent them, and treatments that are in the pipeline. 

Three Takeaways 

  • We don't really know what causes food allergies. But Allen says there are a few theories floating around, which she summarizes as The Five "Ds." A couple of those Ds include dirt – babies who used pacifiers that were dropped on the ground had a lower risk of allergy – and Vitamin D deficiency.   
  • So how do we treat allergies? Surprisingly, through exposure. There's more and more evidence showing that slowly introducing microdoses of an allergen to a person will lessen the effects. 
  • In fact, exposure to allergens early in life could be key. The clinical trial known as Learning Early About Peanut Allergy (LEAP) found that peanut allergies were more prevalent in Jewish children from the United Kingdom than Jewish children from Israel. Why? Researchers believe it's because Israeli children start eating peanut-based snacks at just a few months old. 

More reading 

  • There are a few products out there that claim to help detect peanut allergies. This one, according to The New York Times, claims that it can actually reduce allergies.  
  • Want to know more about food allergies? Visit the non-profit, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).  
  • Learn more about the treatments Allen and Shreffler are working on, here and here

Body & Mind, Allergies, Wayne Shreffler, Katie Allen, health

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