When I was in elementary school in the early 80’s, we were allowed to have peanut butter at lunch, there was no ‘allergy table’ in the cafeteria, and bake sale items didn’t have to come with a list of ingredients. Today – my kids have friends with life threatening allergies – no strawberries in this class, no cinnamon in that class… the after school program is a nut-free place… What’s going on? Why the rise? And what’s being done to address this issue?
Here to help us better understand the ins and outs of food allergies is Cathryn Nagler. Cathyrn is the Bunning Food Allergy Professor at the University of Chicago where she is currently researching the role that gut bacteria have in a person’s allergic response to food.
Cathy explains what a food allergy is – the body somehow stops being able to handle a food (the default for a body is to be non-responsive to food), describes this thing called the ‘allergic march’ (from dermatitis at infancy, to food allergy between 3-5 years, allergic rhinitis & asthma in school aged kids), what ways food allergies manifest in the body, the current treatment for food allergy and her thoughts on desensitization techniques, and how bacteria (or the lack thereof) might be involved in the reason that there is such a major rise in food allergy these days.
The clinical and subclinical (see: farm animals that we ultimately consume) use of antibiotics & hand sanitizer (triclosan) is deleterious to our microbiome – and consequently hypothesized to promote food allergy. Food allergy may also be on the rise in step with a rise in c-section rates – hypothesized because the maternal transfer of her vaginal microbiome to her child is absent.
Cathy’s lab undertook a mouse study to investigate the relationship between food allergy and bacteria. They were able to resolve a food allergy in the mice by healing the mucous barrier in the gut with a particular species of bacteria. You can read the entire paper online by following this link.
With studies like these, it’s becoming clear that food allergies are a sign of a compromised intestinal barrier – and that bacterial therapies should be investigated as a potential solution for healing the gut barrier and eliminating food allergy.