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Monday, February 3, 2014

Food allergy: clinical advances and updates

The prevalence of food allergy is on the rise with up to 10% of the population afflicted, though remarkable advances have occurred in understanding and managing food allergies.  In their review article, Sicherer and Sampson focus on advances and updates in epidemiology, pathogenesis, diagnosis and treatment of food allergy (J Allergy Clin Immunol 2014; 133(2): 291-307).  They explain that numerous genetic and environmental risk factors have been identified, with rectifiable risk factors such as vitamin D insufficiency, excess dietary fat, obesity, increased hygiene and timing of exposure to foods as being potential targets to address in prevention for the future.  Interesting clinical insights on route of sensitization, allergen characterization and immune response provide guidance for diagnosis and treatment. Allergen avoidance and emergency treatment remain the current management option for patients, although numerous clinical trials are underway for more definitive therapies.

 A major change in approach to management stems from the observation that many children with milk or egg allergy tolerate heat denatured forms of these foods and that ingestion of these foods by children able to do so may speed allergy recovery.   Furthermore, recommendations about prevention of food allergy and atopic disease through diet have changed radically, with rescinding of many recommendations about extensive and prolonged allergen avoidance. 

There is a wide spectrum of disease caused by food allergy and diagnosis depends on combining a knowledge of pathophysiology and epidemiology with patient history and test results. The authors explain that numerous clinical trials are underway for more definitive therapies, as is basic science research using novel approaches in animal models.  

With a deeper understanding of genetics and the microbiome, incorporation of bioinformatics and numerous approaches to treatment, the next several years show promise of a revolution in the clinical approach to food allergy. 

Questions for the authors:
What impact does the modern world have on food allergy, such as the American diet, lack of exercise, and stress that aren’t discussed in this review?  Are there clinical trials in place that use a more natural approach to improving outcomes?

There are a number of studies underway looking at a more natural approach to introducing foods to the diet (earlier).  The review discusses how modern living may affect allergy outcomes (e.g., lower vitamin D due to sunscreens and indoor activities, obesity, etc., and a study showing a “healthy diet” may be important to reduce allergy.  The role of stress has not been extensively studied but a review of this topic is in press:

Schreier HM, Wright RJ. Stress and food allergy: mechanistic considerations. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2013 Aug 28. pii: S1081-1206(13)00561-9. doi: 10.1016/j.anai.2013.08.002. [Epub ahead of print]

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