June 27, 2023 – While the prevalence of food allergies is increasing, a treatment called oral immunotherapy may help patients reduce their symptoms, according to Kari Nadeau, John Rock Professor of Climate and Population Studies and chair of the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
In a June 1 podcast from the Guardian, Nadeau explained that food allergies are caused by a type of antibody that reacts to proteins in foods such as nuts, seeds, and milk. “You have a pre-formed molecule in your body called IgE that is like the match that lights the fire,” she said. “Within two hours after eating a food—no matter what dose, really—you can actually have a reaction.”
According to Nadeau, several factors in people’s environments influence whether they develop allergies, including food allergies. For example, although skin typically acts as a first-line barrier against allergens, cracked, dry skin—exacerbated by detergent preservatives and synthetic clothing—can be less protective. On the other hand, people are less likely to have allergies if they eat a diverse diet as an infant or live on a farm and develop a healthy gut microbiome from being exposed to animals.
Nadeau said that oral immunotherapy can treat food allergies in some patients. Under the supervision of a doctor, carefully consuming increasing amounts of allergy-causing foods can train the immune system to tolerate them. “It’s just like when you go to the gym and you lift weights—you start with a low weight and then you climb up over time, but you don’t do the heavy weights all at once,” she said.
Listen to the Guardian podcast: Why are food allergies on the rise and is a cure on the horizon? – podcast