In 15 years of clinical practice as a U.S.-based allergist and clinical immunologist, I have served thousands of food allergy families living a life of fear, isolation, and frustration. Amongst those patients, there were over 40 Australian children whose life was changed forever after completing our program in Utah. The time has now come to bring America closer to Australia in the field of food allergy diagnostics and best-practice translational research to transition from a life of fear to full food freedom. But what does typically happen to food allergy families upon diagnosis, whether they are in Australia or overseas?
More than a diagnosis: a life-changing condition
When a doctor gives a diagnosis of food allergy to a patient, they will usually spend a few minutes going over the diagnosis, strict avoidance measures, and use of epinephrine in case of exposure and reaction. They may provide a few hand-outs on label reading, how to epinephrine, and an emergency plan. They will answer a few questions and then move on to the next patient. But what just happened to the patient and their family? Their whole life changed! Every second of every day just changed. Food allergy is more than a diagnosis, it is a life and a lifestyle. What can we do about it as practitioners?
Food allergy studies
When we look at food allergy studies, in particular food allergy treatment studies, they focus on emergency room visits and epinephrine usage. It reminds me of the COVID pandemic when all the media focused on were number of positive tests, hospitalizations, deaths, and numbers of vaccinated. There was very little being shared about how many recovered, what can we do to optimize our immunity, and what were the restrictions doing for our mental, emotional, physical, and financial well-being? What about the missed life events?
My U-turn on Food Allergy approaches
A new family came to my rooms at the Rocky Mountain Allergy Centre in 2008 after hearing the news about their child’s newly diagnosed food allergies. “What will I feed my child?”, a mother asked in shaky voice, with her eyes pleading for an answer. I did not have any. After this family left my office in tears, I knew that something must be done to give food allergy families hope and provide them with options and solutions. This was the beginning of my new approach to food allergies, which combines a gut health approach with oral immunotherapy. After years of working with food allergy families, collaboration with specialists across the world, and applying a perspective gained through my own health issues, I have developed an integrative and individualized approach to food adverse reactions – resulting in full food freedom for thousands of patients, including many Australians who sacrificed so much for a life-changing approach that was not available in their country. My youngest patient achieving food freedom was only 9 months old and my oldest 65! You are never too old to overcome your food allergy.
Baseline immunity and microbiome play an enormous role in managing food allergies. It is incredible to see families overcoming the life of fear, isolation and frustration and living it to their fullest potential. When young adults and children achieve full food freedom, they are more confident, take part in a wide range of sporting and recreational activities which they did not dare in the past.
I hope that with my clinical and research experience and expertise, I can advance the conversation in Australia and globally on the food allergy front. The most important message I have to all food allergy families: there is light and hope at the end of the tunnel, but you need to work on your gut health and immunity optimization to prep your body for the change.