Peanut Allergy: Browned Off

BROADLY speaking, East Asians and Westerners suffer the same types of food allergies in about the same proportions. But there is an exception. Westerners are roughly twice as likely as East Asians to be allergic to peanuts. This is a puzzle—as is the question of why anyone is allergic to peanuts in the first place. Read the rest at The Economist.

New Test Could Eliminate Allergy Skin Pricks

This article was originally published on RealClearScience.

When I was a kid, I remember going to the allergist’s office and having him stick me in the back with several dozen tiny needles, each filled with a common allergen such as cat hair. After a few minutes, my back became itchy, and patterns of bright red bumps emerged like this, indicating an allergic reaction. My doctor, along with my parents, stood over my back, pointing at all the pretty colors. He informed us that I was mildly allergic to dogs and terribly allergic to cats, but not at all allergic to goats. (We ended up getting a dog, anyway, and I spent the next several years getting allergy shots, too.) Continue reading

Bee Sting Allergy Might Actually Be Useful

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

The adaptive immune response is the branch of our immune system that most people are familiar with. It’s the reason vaccines work. When exposed to a molecule that triggers an immune reaction (known as an “antigen”), the body produces antibodies that specifically bind to that molecule, eventually leading to its destruction. The most common class of antibody produced is called immunoglobulin G (IgG).

Our bodies can also produce a less common type of antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Notably, IgE helps fight off parasitic infections, but other than that, its role is largely unknown. In the developed world, parasites are no longer a major concern, so immunologists believe that IgE occupies its time by causing trouble, instead.

If you have allergies, blame IgE. For some reason, benign substances such as peanuts and cat hair can incite our immune system, which kicks out gobs of IgE. These antibodies then bind to an immune cell called a mast cell, triggering it to release a bunch of chemicals which produce all the symptoms we commonly associate with allergies — sneezing, coughing, itchiness and overall misery. In worst case scenarios, an out-of-control allergic response called anaphylatic shock occurs. This can be deadly.

Does IgE have any modern-day redemptive qualities? According to new research in the journal Immunity, the answer is yes. Continue reading