Curious History

Curious History

Exploring Food Allergies

Common Food Allergies

Food allergies have been around since antiquity. Lucretius, the Roman philosopher, in 50 B.C. had observed, ‘What is food to one person, may be bitter poison to others’. The first recorded food allergic reaction was somewhere around 430 – 370 BC when Hippocrates found that the cheese made some people sick. Many Greek writers witnessed aggressive reactions to honey, eggs, strawberries, oysters, shellfish and nuts.

In  1905, Dr. Francis Hare from Australia wrote in his book, The Food Factor in Disease, that migraine was relieved after the patient consumed special diet that excluded fats, carbohydrates and sugary alcoholic drinks. He explained that diseases such as asthma, epilepsy, bronchitis, hypertension, degenerative diseases, etc. were related to food allergies. The term ‘allergy’ was introduced by an Austrian pediatrician, Clemens Von Perquet, in 1906, to describe unwanted reactions to food and other substances.

Englishman Dr. Alfred Scofield in 1908 wrote in a journal how successful, he was in treating a boy suffering from angioedema and asthma because of an allergic reaction to eggs. In 1917, Dr. Longcope and Dr. Rachemann mentioned how 6 patients had reacted to food with urticaria and renal insufficiency.

Modern Allergy Testing

The first food allergy test was conducted by Carl Prausnitz and Heinz Kustner in 1921 when they came up with the Prausnitz-Kustner test/ Passive Transfer test. They found that a particular element in the blood resulted in deadly reactions. Kustner who had a reaction to fish, extracted a bit of blood and injected it into Prausnitz’s arm. Next day, the extract was again injected into the same spot resulting in a red itchy bump. Prausnitz was also given fish extract before it was extracted from Kustner’s blood and had no reaction. They called this unknown component found in the blood as Regain. For a brief period of time, this test was used to determine food allergies.

Another major development was when Dr. Albert Rowe in 1931 documented in his book, Food Allergy: Its Manifestations, Diagnosis, and Treatment, that food allergies can lead to symptoms affecting different parts of the body, irrespective of the age. Three years later, Dr. Warren T. Vaughan studied an entire village in Clover, Virginia and found that 62.6% were allergic to food, 23% to inhalants, and 14.4% to contact allergies. Between 1942 – 1953, Dr. Arthur Coca observed the food allergens changed the pulse of the human body. In 1956, the Pulse Test was introduced. In 1960, an allergy molecule (IgE) was discovered by Japanese couple Kimishigo and Teruko Ishizaka. This discovery explained the series of events leading to an allergic reaction. Today,  Skin Prick Test, Blood Test, Oral Food Challenge and Trial Elimination Diet are conducted to find food allergens.

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