Post by by Eliza Barclay, The Salt at NPR Food (7/1/13)
One out of every 13 children has a food allergy, but the affliction still regularly stumps doctors. As Kari Nadeau, director of the Stanford Alliance for Food Allergy Research, told Terry Gross in April on Fresh Air, researchers still don't understand what "flips the switch between a food allergen versus a food nutrient in children."
While the origins of food allergies remain unclear, scientists are learning how to treat them. An emerging body of research shows that kids may be able to kick a food allergy by regularly consuming — under doctor supervision — a small amount of the food every day for a set amount of time, at a dose that increases over time.
The idea behind "oral immunotherapy" is that you can teach an allergic child's immune system to ignore the food protein that pushes it into overdrive. It's the same principle that has dictated how people with environmental allergies have been treated for decades – they are given shots with small amounts of the allergen.
Preliminary experiments involving milk, peanuts and other allergenic foods have shown this strategy works. The most common problematic foods among kids with allergies are peanuts (25 percent), milk (21 percent) and shellfish (17 percent). More than a third of kids with food allergies are allergic to more than one food.