Posted by: Ticktock | June 19, 2008

Fresh Air – Allergies

I have a love/hate opinion of NPR’s daytime interviewer Terry Gross.  Even her name is an embodiment of my conflicted opinions about her.  Terry and GrossTerry is the thoughtful, engaging, and eloquent interviewer that keeps me coming back.  And Ms. Gross is the annoying, clueless, and lame reporter that made me delete the podcast from my itunes.  I never know which host I’m going to get in any given episode, usually a bit of both, but Tuesday’s show was worth mentioning.

Tuesday’s episode of Fresh Air featured Dr. Hugh Sampson, an expert from the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mt. Sinai Hospital.  This was just the kind of interview that I needed because Dr. Sampson was talking about allergies, and I happen to have a one year old who recently sprouted a mysterious food allergy.  A few weeks ago, my daughter’s skin looked like a galaxy of hives.  We don’t know what caused the reaction, but we suspect cashews or soy milk (or both according to one study).  She’ll get her bloodwork tested next week.

Dr. Sampson talked about how more people are developing life-threatening food allergies.  The rates of peanut allergies, for instance, are way higher than decades ago.  The peanut allergy is mostly an American phenomenon that may have to do with how we prepare our nuts (roasting instead of boiling causes a maillard reaction).  The Jaffe Institute is looking at why children in Israel have fewer incidences of peanut allergy.  The working hypothesis is that the Israeli children are exposed to peanuts at an earlier age.  They’re given a weaning treat called “bamba” that contains peanuts.  There’s only one problem with their working hypothesis – it contradicts years of medical advice.  This may be a big breakthrough!

I was also intrigued to hear about a study by Dr. Xiu-Min Li that looked at Chinese herbs as an allergy treatment.  You can click on over to my page on “acupuncture” to see that my spouse studied Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for a time before the birth of my first daughter, so the topic always sparks a lively conversation in our house.  While I don’t think needling has been shown to work in most clinical trials, I do think that some Chinese herbs can be useful when appropriately tested.

Dr. Sampson mentioned that TCM offers no formal treatment of allergies.  Unbelievably, Dr. Li improvised a successful formula of Chinese herbs that completely blocked anaphylactic shock in mice with peanut allergies.  This FAH-1 formula stood up to testing, was revised and stood up to testing again, and a third test proved that the individual ingredients are not as effective as the synergistic mixture.  This is HUGE!  First, because TCM has yet to really prove it’s medical worth until now.  And second, because they’ve found the closest thing to a peanut allergy cure!  Hopefully, we’ll see the same benefits of chinese herbs on humans as mice.  I have my whiskers crossed!

I’ve put in an interview with Dr. Xiu Min Li, and she has written me back to say that she may reply in a few weeks after she’s finished her grant proposal.  It should be an interesting read, so check back here soon for that interview.

*UPDATE 10/3/08 – Harriet Hall writes about the Chinese herbal peanut allergy cure for Science Based Medicine.


  1. very helpful and informative.. 😉

  2. Interesting topic that has caught me presently as well…

    Personal observations among friends (just within Malaysia and Australia) revealed that of all the kids we know who have food allergies, they were all born in Australia, while those that were born in Malaysia (where we live) none have food allergies. Although it is a small group, I’m still puzzled as to the difference. In Malaysia, we don’t follow the same practice of the Israelis by introducing peanuts at an early age so I still question what is the difference that brings about these differing results.

  3. […] feel bad for the researchers who had previously discovered that peanut allergies may be cured by a combination of Chinese herbs.   Duke kind of stole their thunder.  It’s too bad because Traditional Chinese Medicine […]

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