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Little by Little

As food allergies proliferate, new strategies may help patients ingest their way to tolerance

4:34pm, August 28, 2009

Considering that food is full of foreign proteins, it makes sense that the intestine is the immune system’s version of Grand Central station. It’s the largest organ to regularly sweep up and annihilate molecules that don’t belong. And because food comes from outside, it’s no surprise that some people have allergies to it. The bigger mystery is why most don’t. Somehow during evolution, the immune system and food components developed a secret handshake that allows munchables to pass without a fuss.

Most of the time, that is. Once relatively rare, serious allergies to peanuts, milk, shellfish and other foods appear to be afflicting a growing number of children. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that food allergies now affect about 4 percent of American children, almost 20 percent more than a decade ago. Scientists have ideas to explain the increase — from children raised with too few germs exercising

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