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The intestine as the central organ in cases of food allergies

(Vienna, 23-04-2015) Four per cent of the population which is about 320,000 Austrians and up to 250 million people worldwide suffer from food allergies. The majority of those affected suffer from gastrointestinal problems, including symptoms such as diarrhoea, sickness, or vomiting. The intestine not only serves for ingestion, but probably also is the organ where the development of a food allergy first occurs. 80 per cent of human immune cells are located in the intestine to protect the body – as a consequence, a healthy intestine as part of the immune system is crucial for developing tolerance for food components and harmless agents.

“The fatal thing about a food allergy is that it may cause even life-threatening shocks,” says Medical Specialist for Immunology Eva Untersmayr-Elsenhuber of the Institute for Pathophysiology and Allergy Research at the Medical University of Vienna. A food allergy is an overreaction of the immune system against otherwise harmless components of the food, so-called allergens. Even minute amounts are sufficient for the allergen to be identified by antibodies. The subsequent histamine release may trigger not only gastrointestinal complaints, but also e.g. swelling and burning in the mouth, coughing, dyspnoea, asthma, but also eczema and itching of the skin – up to a life-threatening anaphylaxis. “This also is the difference to food intolerance.” Currently there is no other measure against food allergies than to avoid the allergen in the diet.

The Medial University of Vienna’s Service Day on the occasion of the World Day of Immunology
On the occasion of the World Day of Immunology next Wednesday (29 April), the Medical University of Vienna with the support of an FWF(Fund for the Promotion of Scientific Research) scientific communication project will therefore organize a service day for the interested public on Tuesday, 28 April 2015 (Lugner City, 1150 Vienna) which will focus on food allergies, their diagnosis and prevention, but also on the intestine as the central immune organ. Under the supervision of the experts of the Medical University in Vienna from the departments of Immunology, Gastroenterology, Allergy Research or Molecular Biology between 12.00 and 20.00 hrs visitors will have the chance to explore the model intestine with an approximate length of 16 metres and 2.80 metres in height which has been sponsored by the Felix Burda Foundation, which is about 16 metres long and 2.80 metres high, to be able to better understand the processes involved in a food allergy. In addition, the experts of the Medical University of Vienna are available for answering any kind of questions about food allergies.

The Austrian pollen monitoring service run by the Medical University of Vienna will also be present with a stand for answering questions by people allergic to pollen. The programme also features the presentation of the first specialist book published in cooperation by the Medical University of Vienna and Manz-Verlag “Pollen und Allergie”, written by Uwe Berger and Katharina Bastl from the pollen monitoring service of the Medical University of Vienna.

The intestine as an important barrier
An important factor for the development of a food allergy are the intestine and its function: “In this context it is true that the person is doing well if the intestine is doing well,” says Untersmayr-Elsenhuber. Intestinal mucosa, the intestinal mucus and the bacterial plaque form an important functional barrier. If proteins from the food are insufficiently broken down, or if the intestine is “leaky”, increased amounts of nutritional components can enter the body. The proteins which are not broken down pass into the small intestine, immune cells identify them as “foreign” and are activated. In case of a renewed contact, an allergic reaction may occur as a result. “In th event of gastrointestinal problems, the possibility of a previously unknown allergy should be considered, because the symptoms of a food allergy may also be unspecific.”

All information about the service day of the Medical University of Vienna on 28 April in Lugner City and in general on food allergies is available at: