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Food Allergy and Food Intolerance: A Hazard of Human Health

The term ‘Allergy’ is basically defined as an immune response that takes place after eating a particular food. Food allergy is also known as food hypersensitivity. From long past, as humans changed their food habit and became omnivorous for the availability of more food, food allergy has become a companion of them. The interesting thing about food allergy is that, different people can be allergic to different food items. It is not necessary that all the people are susceptible to a particular food item. And also, people never come to know if he or she is allergic to a particular food item before they consume it for the first time.

Common food allergens

Food allergies can be hereditary, i.e. they pass from parents to offspring. But most of the time it is not hereditary. The substance present in the particular food item that cause allergic reactions is called allergen. Allergen is commonly a protein. When this protein is ingested and after its absorption in the intestine, comes into the blood stream, it stimulates the immune system, causing histamine and other chemicals to be released and starts immunological reaction. The immune system reacts to an allergen by producing IgE antibody. These antibodies move mainly to nose, throat, lungs, skin and start allergic reactions like swelling, secretion etc.

Mechanism of development of food allergy

Symptoms of allergy can develop within a few seconds to few hours. The symptoms of food allergy are of a wide range. The general symptoms are swelling of cheeks, lips throat and skin. Squeezing of respiratory tract which leads to breathing problems, itching of eyes, development of rashes on skin, dry cough, watery nose, wheezing, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain etc. Commonly known allergic foods are Milk (casein), Wheat (Gluten), Eggs, Meat, Shellfish, Brinjal, Soy, peanuts.


Currently there is no effective therapy for food allergies. Needless to say, a person is not allergic to all the food items. So, the best way is to avoid that particular food to which the person is prone to allergy. The development of treatment procedure is going on. Some of the effective treatment options for future would be:

  • Sublingual Immunotherapy (SLIT)

  • Introduction of antihistamines

  • Oral Immunotherapy

  • Vaccination. Like if the weakened allergen is introduced continuously to the patient’s body, he or she develops tolerance.

Genetic Engineering to treat Food Allergy

To treat food allergy, genetic engineering can play a major role. The allergic gene in the food item can be removed by ‘molecular scissor’. Or the mRNA produced by that gene can be inactivated by RNAi (RNA interference or RNA silencing) technology. The product of the gene, i.e. the allergic protein can be destroyed by introducing suitable ligand molecules. Thus anti-allergic strains of the food items can be produced.

Food Intolerance

Food intolerance is a situation where an individual is unable to digest a particular compound of a food item because of lack of the functional enzyme for digesting the compound. Therefore, if they intake that particular food item, they suffer from indigestion. Nowadays, lactose intolerance is seen in many children, they are unable to digest milk sugar lactose which is composed of two sugar units, one galactose and one glucose. Enzyme lactase hydrolyze the lactose to form galactose and glucose. But lactose intolerant individuals do not have this lactase enzyme.

Reasons for food intolerance

Some common compounds that can be intolerant include Lactose (Milk products), Gluten (Wheat), Caffeine, Salicylates, Amines, FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polysaccharides), Sulfites and Fructose. Symptoms include indigestion, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, feeling lethargic and tired, headache, constipation, diarrhea etc.

Some common food items that cause food intolerance


  • Ingestion of those food items should be limited, avoiding the food is most preferable.

  • The food can be reacted with the particular enzyme synthesized outside the body by biotechnological methods. After this the product can be marketed for those who are intolerant to the particular food. Eg: dairy products can be treated with lactase before marketing.

  • Gene therapy is also a solution. But it’s not practical because gene therapy is possible only in embryo stage and also, the person can easily live his or her life avoiding that food item.

- written by Ankan Ghosh

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