Warning: May Contain a Cure for Food Allergies
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 was designed to help consumers avoid potentially dangerous food, but low dose allergen content may become a selling point to parents who wish to desensitize their children to food allergens.
In the past few decades, the number of children with food allergies has risen at an alarming rate. Although some claim this increase is due to parental misdiagnosis, skin prick studies have confirmed the sudden increase in allergies. National skin prick test surveys from 1976 to 1994 have shown a 2.1 to 5.5 fold increase in positive prick test responses for common allergens. In the most recent national survey, 8.6% of those tested had positive skin reactions to peanuts.
Food allergies in children are especially dangerous as common allergens like peanuts, tree nuts, milk, and eggs are ubiquitous in the American diet. There is increasing evidence that early exposure to low doses food allergens could desensitize children and prevent the development of allergies. In a peanut allergy twin study, only 9 of 14 identical twin pairs shared peanut allergies indicating there was a large environmental component in allergy development. Differences in twin responses may be due to unintentional oral immunotherapy.
Oral immunotherapy, the gradual desensitization to allergens through low doses of allergens mixed into food, has been shown to greatly reduce or eliminate children's allergic reactions to peanuts. Peanut oral immunotherapy for children is now routinely offered by some clinics, but is not covered by most insurance plans requiring several thousand dollars out of pocket. Clinical oral immunotherapy can be effective in less than 4 months, but more gradual exposure could reduce risks of adverse reactions that currently require clinical observation.
A more economical solution to the increasing rate of childhood food allergies is to add low doses (micrograms) of the eight common food allergens to baby food and baby formula. While some children may have mild reactions to low doses, these reactions could prevent anaphylaxis upon accidental exposure to high doses of food allergens.