Breakthroughs in Food Allergy “Cures”

Before getting started on some interesting updates on food allergy research, note that in the title I put “cures” in quotations.  This is because headlines are often trumpeting a cure and when you read the article, you find that the “cure” is years of research away, may have been testing on a sample too small to have conclusive data or isn’t a cure at all, merely another step to the potential for a cure.

So let’s just say that several recent studies are very interesting and may have some correlation to each other that put us on the path to better understanding a potential cure for food allergies.  At this point, the prevalent “Hygiene Theory” cause of all food allergies that was popular a few years ago has fallen out of favor.  While being too clean appears to have a role to play in food allergies, it’s certainly not the only answer.

In fact, it appears that there isn’t a single answer at all but a multiple set of factors ranging from everything from genetics, nutrition, food preparation, gut health, hygiene and geographic location as well as other medical conditions such as asthma and eczema.  For example, Australia has the highest rate of food allergies in the world and is also one of the highest for asthma as well.

Several well-regarded food allergy researchers from Australia and the Jaffe Institute in the USA (including Dr. Li who has had success with Chinese herbal medicines and food allergies, currently in Phase III clinical trials) have been working on the False Alarm Hypothesis.  This hypothesis theorizes that we have certain receptors, similar to the allergy IgE response that can be triggered by a variety of factors from excess sugars to the way we prepare food that is causing our body to vastly overestimate the “emergency” when a food allergen is eaten.

Dr. Peter K. Smith

Dr.  Peter K Smith, the Australian researcher on the False Alarm Hypothesis team,  likens it to your cat triggering your house alarm and sending in the SWAT team.  The scientific explanation (in other words, super complicated and best read by a chemistry major!) can be reviewed here:  http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091674916306182#!

If you’re not a chemistry major but would prefer a more plain English version, you can read the Asthma, Allergies, Children interview with Dr. Peter K Smith:  https://asthmaallergieschildren.com/the-false-alarm-hypothesis/ 

So now, if we can agree on the hypothesis that the immune system has several potential triggers that create a massive overreaction, and that some of those can occur because of what’s happening in our food preparation and our gut health, the other two studies get more interesting.

First, a study that had nothing to do with food allergies and everything to do with babies developing their immune systems through gut health was published last week.  It was a very large trial in rural India with newborns pairing a specific probiotic with a prebiotic (sugar that feeds the probiotic bacteria) in what’s called a synbiotic.  That trial was very successful in reducing infant mortality from sepsis, a big issue amongst newborns in rural India.  In fact it was so successful, the trial stopped because it was considered unethical to give this synbiotic to only some of the infants in the study rather than to all, as is the norm in a randomized study.  If you’d like to learn more, here’s The Atlantic article:  https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/08/at-last-a-big-successful-trial-of-probiotics/537093/

You might wonder why on earth I bring that study up but it’s because an Australian peanut allergy study published immediately after the India study was released specifically pinpoints probiotics as a successful treatment for peanut allergies.  That study, completed with a success rate of 82% of subjects able to tolerate peanuts, combined peanut flour with a high dose of a specific strain of probiotic bacteria.  Now, 4 years after the end of the study, 80% of those cured children (therefore 65.6% from the initial study) were able to still freely eat peanuts without harm and no specific dosing requirement.

I’ve shared before that my husband and I believe that antibiotic treatments of our daughters before the age of 1 was one factor in both of them developing food allergies.  We have no scientific basis, just thoughts based on the timing of treatments and the appearance of the food allergies.  In our opinion, while the antibiotics were absolutely necessary (one child’s life was in danger, the other’s kidneys were at stake), we feel that their immune systems were hammered by treatment.  These studies would suggest that there is indeed a scientific basis behind our beliefs.  If my daughters could have been given a synbiotic during these treatments, would it have been possible to keep their immune systems fully functioning?

So while these developments are indeed not on the shelf in your local pharmacy as a “cure” today, they are most definitely exciting for the potential for that cure of any “False Alarm” responses from food allergies to wasp stings.  This is definitely the time to stay tuned!