Food allergies have become a menace in contemporary society, but the unfortunate thing is that there is no known underlying cause for this upsurge of the food allergies.
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According to CDC (cited in Discovery Channel, 2013), more than 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies, and since the late 1990s, there has been a staggering increase of food allergies in children by 50%. Dr. Sampson and Dr. Sicherer have carried out extensive studies that show an escalation of allergies, and “three to five percent of allergic reactions are due to milk, peanuts, tree nuts, seafood, or eggs” (Groopman, 2011, p. 27).
Individuals with food allergies have high levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE) that impair the regulation of possible attributing molecules such as histamine and cytokines. Food allergies are believed to have a genetic predisposition that has not yet been explicitly delineated. Even though there is continued controversy on the way forward for food allergies, this paper seeks to present ongoing research and some of the proposed feasible and non-feasible interventions that have been used to help address this issue of food allergies.
Literature indicates that both food allergies have detrimental physical and psychologically effects on both children and their parents. In an article by Groopman (2011), Maya’s mother is vigil about what her child feeds. There is always some kind of unrest caused by the fear that whatever a child consumes may turn out to have adverse effects.
It is distressing because while it is difficult to ensure that one’s child stays safe from allergic reactions, on the other end, it becomes more difficult as a mother to watch your child not living her life to the fullest when compared to other children his/her age. The fear engraving mothers compels them to be the vigil of their children, and not to trust anyone with them. Kim (Thernstrom, 2013) never hired a baby sitter for Tessa, and she could only work from home.
Food allergies restrict a mother’s potential because she is forced to shun her socioeconomic life at times to take care of her child. On a different note, however, mothers become tenacious and can do whatever it takes to get their children right on track. For example, they will lobby for external resources like Kim, who lobbied for a full-time aide for her daughter commensurate to the Americans With Disabilities Act (Thernstrom, 2013).
The fear of an allergic reaction makes both mothers and their daughters quizzical of everything that the child consumes, but seemingly, not always do they get accurate answers due to the attacks encountered by Maya and Tessa. Psychological unrest forces mothers like Mindlin to carry emergency drugs in case of an unexpected allergic reaction.
Groopman (2011) indicates that Benadryl, in liquid form, could help relieve symptoms because Mindlin used it on her nine-month-old daughter when she experienced allergic reactions after consuming some yogurt. After one year, Maya experienced another food allergic reaction after mistakenly consuming milk protein in a hotdog.
During that time, an epinephrine injection was used. Epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, has a quick positive effect on severe allergic reactions. Epinephrine is seemingly a more common drug for use in case of an allergic reaction. The medical teams treating Tessa and Max used a combination of medical procedures, but epinephrine was used as the main antidote for anaphylactic shock (Thernstrom, 2013; Discovery Channel, 2013).
Prolonged breastfeeding was proposed as an ideal method that would be used to prevent allergic reactions because babies were not exposed to allergenic foods until their immune systems had become fully mature. Sampson’s laboratory work on mice indicated that delayed exposure was congruous to a delay in allergic reactions or no reactions at all.
Later on, in a controlled study, Dr. Zeiger indicated “reduced exposure of infants to allergenic foods seemingly reduces food sensitization and allergy during infancy” (cited in Groopman, 2011, p. 27). These two types of research are contradicted by the hygiene hypothesis and accompanying research studies to support it.
This hypothesis proposes that the environment in its natural form exposes humans to both life-threatening and non-dangerous microbes that help the immune system to distinguish between the two, and can defend the body against dangerous microbes. However, when children are protected against dirt surroundings and sick children, their exposure to disease-causing microorganisms is reduced, but at the same time, this increases their risk of infections.
In the same way, delaying the consumption of a potential food allergen could only increase susceptibility to that particular allergen (p. 28). Vitamin D and beta-carotene have been suggested to have beneficial effects against allergies due to their ability to reduce tissue inflammation.
Dr. Gideon proposed that foods that trigger an allergic reaction should be avoided. He defended his statement by saying it was illogical to ask individuals not to consume known allergic foods as a way of preventing food allergies.
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Dr. Gideon’s proposition is a critic against the 1998 and 2000 guidelines that lack evidence to support them. In an exploratory survey, Dr. Gideon discovered that more Jewish children in London had higher incidences of food allergies compared to Jewish children in Tel Aviv with similar demographic and economic characteristics.
Unfortunately, this was just an exploration that did not give details about the underlying causes of such a discrepancy. One notable difference, however, was that a peanut concoction was part of the infants’ diet in Israel; thus, the difference in the incidences of food allergies between the two populations could be attributed to diet.
Currently, Dr. Gideon is investigating the appropriate stage when to wean a baby off breast milk and the effect of consuming allergenic foods on the development of allergies in later years. Gideon’s current study is based on his belief that children can become tolerant of allergenic foods when exposed to these kinds of foods in the first six months after birth.
Some years back and currently in some contemporary households and cultures, premastication is a practice believed to reduce the occurrence of food allergies, according to Groopman (2011). Saliva has many enzymes that help breakdown antibodies that cause food allergies. Premastication is received with revulsion by some people such as those critiquing the action of Alicia Silverstone.
Even though Silverstone’s act was received with disgust and loathing by the public, scientists, on the other, hand positively welcomed the gesture and highlighted the benefits of this action in the article by Wolchover (2012). However, it is important to note that the WHO standards that stipulate initiation of complementary feeding at six months are the main guidelines being followed in developing countries.
For a long time, mothers have been asked to avoid food that is presumed to be allergic to them. This concept can be attributed to studies such as that of Zieger et al. (1989), which contraindicates the hygiene hypothesis, and reports of allergists and investigators such as Dr. Sicherer because it indicates that food restriction during pregnancy and lactation has beneficial results associated with food allergies. However, it is now believed that intermittent exposure to allergenic foods can have beneficial effects.
There are ongoing tests to investigate the feasibility and effect of such a practice. The study by Zieger et al. (1989) indicates that different food allergies have different pathogeneses; while some allergies can be controlled by dietary restrictions, others cannot be controlled (p. 84).
In 2008, a report by Dr. Sicherer indicated that there is no evidence to support dietary restrictions during pregnancy or lactation. Also, contrary to the current WHO guidelines, there is no evidence to support the guideline that delayed the introduction of foods after four to six months is beneficial (Groopman, 2011, p. 29).
According to Groopman (2011), Sampson is currently utilizing Dr. Gideon’s investigations and the hygiene hypothesis to come up with a way of desensitizing individuals; thus, reduce the occurrence of food allergies. Sampson believes that children out-grow food allergies with time, but exposure to low doses of these allergenic foods could help attain this much faster. Thernstrom (2013) reports success results of Nadeau in the investigation of oral immunotherapy, Sampson’s interest.
The article mentions low doses are used to re-educate the overly active immune system of patients with a history of allergic reactions using minute doses. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of clarity as to what the authors and researchers are talking about when they say “minute/low doses of the allergens.”
The casein hypoallergenic formula yielded positive effects in a study by Zieger et al. (1989) and current practice, continues to aid in reducing allergies while supporting growth and development of the children. Children fed with the casein hydrolysate formula for three months demonstrated lowered IgE antibody before and after consuming cow’s milk (p. 86). It is necessary to have an actual diagnosis of cow’s milk allergy before turning to a hypoallergenic formula because most people give these hypoallergenic formulas based on mere misconceptions.
All in all, breastfeeding has been deemed the gold standard in as far as feeding the infant is concerned. Zieger’s et al. study indicates that breast milk contains IgA, which reduces the occurrence of allergic reactions. A study by Jevinen, Laine, Jevenpee & Suomalainen (2000) conducted years later indicates that low levels of IgA in both colostral and human milk predispose infants to cow’s milk allergy.
Contrary to indications that there is no relationship between maternal dietary restrictions and allergic reactions during infancy, indicates that ingestion of allergic protein foods while breastfeeding can create a sensitization in the infant. This contraindication is attributed to other factors other than what the mother consumes.
The IgA levels are a great determinant of the occurrence of allergies, but it is not yet known why some mothers contain low levels of IgA. IgA antibodies prevent cow’s milk allergies by forming immune complexes that aid in the removal of potential allergens from food through phagocytosis of the macrophages in breast milk.
It is inevitably true that food allergies have become a current menace, but the worst thing is that there is no cure for it. Also, there is no sufficient evidence to support or reject certain feeding habits. Medicine can be used to relieve symptoms of allergic reactions as soon as they occur, but during the other times, one can only regulate what they consume. The concept of hygiene hypothesis seems workable, but sufficient evidence is required to endorse this speculation.
Discovery Channel. (Producer). (2013). Food Allergies Video [Documentary]. Web.
Groopman, J. (2011). The peanut puzzle: Could the conventional wisdom on children and allergies be wrong? The New Yorker. Web.
Jevinen, K., Laine, S., Jevenpee, A., & Suomalainen, H. (2000). Does low IgA in human milk predispose the infant to development of cow’s milk allergy? Pediatric Research, 48(4), 457-462. doi:10.1203/00006450-200010000-00007.
Thernstrom, M. (2013). The Allergy Buster: Can a radical New Testament save children with severe food allergies? The New York Times. Web.
Wolchover, N. (2012). Should you pre-chew your baby’s food? Livescience. Web.
Zeiger, R., Heller, S., Mellon, M., Forsythe, A., O’Connor, R., Hamburger, R., & Schatz, M. (1989). Effect of combined maternal and infant food-allergen avoidance on development of atopy in early infancy: A randomized study. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 84(1), 72-89.