Preventing Food Allergies
Millions of kids can't eat with their friends, have cake at birthday parties, or even go to baseball games.
It's all because of allergies.
Doctors want to know if those allergies could have been prevented. New research suggests it's possible. But the research is controversial and parents are being warned NOT to try new strategies at home without medical advice.
Dylan Grabowski, a 4-year-old Pewaukee boy, knows all too well what it's like to have food allergies. He's allergic to milk, soy, wheat, eggs and nuts. It doesn't leave much. And he has to have special formula to make sure he develops property. That's a big challenge for his parents, Kevin and Melissa.
"Just hard to figure out his diet and what food allergies are all about," Kevin Grabowski told us, "And how many kids have food allergies and all the things we had to learn about reading labels."
It's no picnic for Dylan either.
"I see him at school and he sits at a different table with some of his friends, so that's hard," mom Melissa told us.
Mary Beth Fruehling, a dietitian at Children's Hospital, helps plan meals for the Grabowskis. "A big part of my work is helping families monitor appropriate nutrition," she said. She showed us a number of convenience food products designed for kids with severe and multiple allergies like Dylan.
Parents who deal with allergies wish, of course, they didn't have to. Now new research shows you could possibly prevent food allergies. It's based on the theory that we are too clean as parents.
"Maybe we've sterilized the environment too much and certain bacteria would be helpful early on in our immune development and we've eliminated these and maybe there's more allergy as a result of this," said Dr. Michael Levy, an allergist at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and the Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr. Levy said this "hygiene theory" isn't proven, but early studies suggest that avoiding certain foods could actually hurt us later in life.
"Introduction of certain foods earlier on may actually be helpful in preventing certain food allergies," he suggested instead.
Another controversial theory to prevent allergies is oral immunotherapy. Basically, you put drops of the protein that you're allergic to, under your tongue. And gradually use more of it until you can tolerate the food.
But Dr. Levy cautioned, it's not a sure bet. "It doesn't cure the allergy but may be able to handle some of the protein."
Until now, complete avoidance of those foods has been the recommendation from doctors. That avoidance starts, for some, before children are even born.
That's what Melissa Grabowski did when she got pregnant with her daughter.
"So far we've found she has no allergies that we're aware of, she's 1 (year old) now ... Hopefully we find she has none just based on my limiting my diet," she said.
But Dylan could be looking forward to a lifetime of special menus, extra caution, and the peanut-free table.
Researchers are studying the hygiene theory - comparing kids whose parents ate everything, to kids whose parents avoided particular foods during pregnancy and early in life.