Food Allergy: Definitions, Prevalence, Diagnosis and Therapy

  • Publication Date :
  • Publication Type : Journal Article
  • Author(s) : van Ree R, Poulsen LK, Wong GWK, Ballmer-Weber BK, Gao Z, Jia X, Chen J
  • Journal Name : Chinese Journal of Preventative Medicine

Chinese Journal of Preventative Medicine. 2015;49(1):87-9

Abstract: Food allergy is phenotypically an extremely heterogeneous group of diseases affecting multiple organs, sometimes in an isolated way, sometimes simultaneously, with the severity of reactions ranging from mild and local to full-blown anaphylaxis. Mechanistically, it is defined as a Th2-driven immune disorder in which food-specific IgE antibodies are at the basis of immediate-type adverse reactions. The sites of sensitization and symptoms do not necessarily overlap. Food allergy, which is the theme of this paper, is often confused with other adverse reactions to food of both animmune (e.g., celiac disease) and non-immune (e.g., lactose intolerance) nature. To reliably diagnose food allergy, a careful history (immediate-type reactions) needs to be complemented with demonstration of specific IgE (immune mechanism) and confirmed by an oral challenge. Co-factors such as exercise, medication, and alcohol may help trigger food allergy and further complicate accurate diagnosis. Where food extract-based diagnostic tests are poorly correlated to symptom severity, new generation molecular diagnostics that measure IgE against individual food allergens provide clinicians and patients with more reliable symptom severity risk profiles. Molecular diagnostics also support establishing whether food sensitization originates directly from exposure to food or indirectly (cross-reactivity) from pollen sensitization. Epidemiological surveys have indicated that allergy to peach primarily originates from peach consumption in Europe, whereas in China it is the result of primary sensitization to mugwort pollen, in both cases mediated by an allergen molecule from the same family. Epidemiological surveys give insight into the etiology of food allergy, the size of the problem (prevalence), and the risk factors involved, which together support evidence-based strategies for prevention. Over the past decade, food allergy has increased in the affluent world. Economic growth and urbanization in upcoming economies are likewise expected to lead to increased prevalence of food allergies, sometimes to different foods due to dietary habits. Molecular allergology and biotechnology now offer the possibility to combat the increasing burden of food allergy by developing safe immunotherapies for food allergy, using hypoallergenic mutant recombinant molecules. The first clinical trials to evaluate such approaches are underway. Last but not least, the identification and clinical risk characterization of a more and more complete list of food allergens additionally provides the allergenicity risk assessment of genetically modified foods a firmer basis.

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