Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nature highlights the current science of allergic disorders

I am beyond thrilled that one of the top science journals (for any field of science!) is dedicating an entire "outlook" to allergic disorders that is freely accessible to all.  Current estimates suggest that 30-40% of the world's population suffers from some kind of allergic disorder (food allergy, asthma, eczema, etc) - World Allergy Organization White Book on Allergy 2011–2012.  Perhaps this will serve as a rallying call for greater collaboration and understanding among scientists in the field and perhaps more research dollars aimed at supporting greater scientific exploration into this clinically prominent problem.  As stated by Roger East in the  "Allergies" introduction, "This Outlook ... is not a triumphant account of strategies that overcame allergy. Recent exploration of the complexities of the adaptive immune system has turned some assumptions about allergies upside down, and researchers are swimming in unfamiliar waters."  Clearly, we have a long way to go in our understanding of the immune system.  There is hope, however.  These are nicely written pieces, aimed at summarizing current advances and pointing out where much work needs to be done.  I personally am most intrigued by how our gut microbes may play an important role in allergy.  Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I love Thanksgiving - the holiday, but more importantly the act of giving thanks.  I have so much to be thankful for, yet why is it that I tend to dwell on the one or two negative things that happen in a given day and overlook all the wonderful positives.  It turns out we may be wired to do so. A very recent piece by ABC news highlights the overwhelming benefits to our mental health (and perhaps physical, too!) of giving thanks.   So instead of dwelling on the jerk who cut you off on your way home from work, perhaps focus on that giant hug and "I love you, Mommy!" that greeted you when picking your child up from preschool.

On the allergy front, it can be incredibly easy to focus on the negatives and all the hassles of travel and holidays, yet as with anything, a "negative" can actually turn out to be a positive.  How I wish that JR didn't have to deal with all of these food allergies and could savor all the same dishes and desserts as the rest of us.  Unfortunately, this wasn't the hand he/we were dealt.  So, what can we do?  Find a way to be thankful!  Here are 5 things I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.

1.  Family -
I can not stress enough, how supportive and understanding our families have been surrounding food.  I have heard horror stories about families not understanding that even trace amounts of an allergen can induce a life-threatening reaction.  "A little bit won't hurt.  You're over-reacting."  Yes, that pie cutter you just used to serve pecan pie can NOT be used to serve my son a piece of "safe" pumpkin pie.  We are so lucky that this isn't the case for us.  In fact, our families have gone out of their way to make sure we have all the safe ingredients (specific brands, from specific stores!) waiting for us at a holiday/vacation travel destination. 

2.  The internet -
I honestly don't know what I would do without it, especially in the beginning of this journey.  JR's allergies require me to modify almost every recipe/dish I want to make.  Once I know the various substitutions, it has become easier to improvise, but it's been an uphill battle for this once cooking-challenged Mama!
One invaluable website -

You can do an advanced search for "pumpkin pie" for example, and specify that you want to include or more importantly exclude certain ingredients (such as egg!).  Since it is user rated, you can get a feel for how "good" a recipe is by the number of stars - a very important feature indeed, especially in the world of substitutions, which sometimes work and other times, not so much.

3.  A greater awareness and respect of food -
Allergies have forced us to take a long, hard look at food.  As a parent of a child with food allergies, you begin to question if there is something that you did or didn't do that caused the allergies, and for me, those questions surround our food supply.  Are there things in the foods we consume that could be causing this dramatic increase in food allergies in the past couple of decades?  If so, can I prevent other people from the same fate of food allergies?  There are no definitive, scientific answers to these questions, yet there are ingredients we are consuming that up until a generation ago, no human consumed.  My rule of thumb - a simple ingredient list is best.

Sources that have opened my eyes:
Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

The Unhealthy Truth by Robyn O'Brien

Robyn also is behind the website:

4.  Watching my son devour a safe dessert!
Corn (in everything commercial whether you realize it or not) has made our life hell at times!  I want nothing more than my son to enjoy a good, sweet piece of candy.  I'd give anything for a sugar-highed crazy three year old - really!  The problem is that if there aren't traces of nuts, it's generally laced with corn.  I've learned to make hard candy and come up with ways to make those desserts that are generally out of reach.  The science of candy making is actually quite fascinating!

And here is a picture of a safe piece of pumpkin pie :)  Mmm... best way to get some fruits/veggies in!  Can't wait to be thankful!

And finally...
5.  A happy, healthy three year old boy and one on the way!
In spite of all those allergies, JR continues to grow and thrive.  We've managed to get in all those essential foods and JR continues to stay on the same percentile growth chart at all his well-child exams.  It's always my fear that he isn't getting enough in the way of essential nutrients and vitamins (we still haven't found a vitamin that is safe for him!).  But, Mom is sneaky and hides all those carrots, spinach, etc. in the foods I love :).  There's always fear, including another child with food allergies, but one thing is certain, there is so much love to go around, and no matter what the future holds, I will be thankful.  Happy Thanksgiving today and everyday!