Saturday, March 20, 2010


Allergic reactions are more or less unheard off in most of the developing countries including India making it a phenomenon almost exclusive to the Western world. Though there are many explanations for the development of food allergy, the one that makes sense argues that the environment where the person is brought up is responsible for allergy development. In countries where infrastructure development is slow and the environment is not as hygienic or clean as that obtained in advanced countries, immunity to allergy is created during the early stages of life. With the body required to fight all types of infection and other immune related exposure, a highly developed immunity is developed that helps to ward off many types of allergic incidences. But till unanimity emerges regarding the scientific basis of allergy, no definitive views can be taken on this issue.

The fact that in many Western countries almost 6-8% of children and 4% of adults suffer from one or the other form of food allergy that can cause serious consequence even threatening life is scary indeed. While minor symptoms like itching or skin reaction can be mild in nature, some allergies can cause Anaphylaxis leading to death. People suffering from serious allergy problems generally carry injectable epinephrine to counteract the symptoms as and when exposed to allergy. Major allergy causing foods include shell fish, peanuts, tree nuts, marine fish, eggs, milk, soybean and wheat. The allergic symptoms appear because of the response of the immune system of the body that mistakes one of the proteins present in the food as "dangerous" and invokes the immunological defensive measures. It is almost like a vaccination all children undergo during their early years of their life against a number of diseases caused by bacteria and virus.

The situation is so serious in a country like the US that there are mandatory regulations to declare on the label use of any of the above allergy causing food ingredients and also mention whether even those foods not containing these allergens have been processed in equipment used previously for allergic foods. Food allergy should not be confused with food intolerance caused by lactose in milk, caffeine tremors, tyramine migraine, histamine fish poisoning or bacterial toxin induced symptoms. Food allergy is a specific adverse immune response to some proteins present in the food and the concentration of these allergic food ingredients can be very low to elicit the response. A few peanuts can be fatal to a person suffering from peanut allergy!

The quality of life of people affected by food allergy is seriously compromised because of the dangers lurking behind hundreds of foods that flood the market with no guarantee that they are free from the ingredients causing allergy. Newer scientific endeavors bring some solace to these unfortunate people and the most promising is the oral immuno resistance technique that can develop the necessary capability to with stand small doses of allergic foods that one may come across once in a while without causing major hiccup. The British study using small concentration of peanut flour daily for 3 years has confirmed that children can develop strong resistance to eating some peanuts without any adverse reaction. Same approach is being attempted with milk and eggs to lessen the severity of allergy due to exposure to them. The innovative oral immuno therapy (OIT) tried with milk and egg has been claimed to be able to overcome the allergy caused by these foods completely. Probably OIT may be equally successful with other allergic foods also if appropriate treatment regime is worked out.


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