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Hot 20: The Catcher in the Rye, Kari Nadeau, MD, PHD

" I love the Exploratorium. It's so hands-on and it gets you to think about cause-and-effect relationships. So, as a nerd, it's fun to go."
Photograph by Zach Gross.

HOT. The word carries so many meanings: passionate, sizzling, trendy, intense, and yes, sexy. But for us, it signals our favorite month. Meet the 20 movers and shakers that have us fired up this year.

Should you ever find yourself thinking, “Really? My kid can’t take a good old peanut butter sandwich to school?,” thank your lucky stars your daughter doesn’t risk dying of anaphylactic shock the next time she eats out because, say, the waiter doesn’t know the chicken is fried in peanut oil and she’s forgotten her EpiPen. Or that you don’t have to worry about buying that $120 EpiPen that your health insurance might very well not cover.

“When I was a kid, I had bad asthma attacks—it’s like you’re breathing through a straw,” says Dr. Kari Nadeau, associate professor of allergies and immunology at the Stanford School of Medicine. “But food allergies are a whole different scenario for living in fear, 365 days a year.” In fact, say a silent thank you to Dr. Nadeau. First, because her lab is doing groundbreaking research on what’s causing this worldwide epidemic. “One in 13 U.S. kids under the age of 21 now has food allergies,” she says. “This is not my son saying he’s allergic to broccoli. These are real, doctor-diagnosed allergies that can lead to death if you don’t treat them.” Equally important, she’s working on ways to desensitize patients to multiple allergens simultaneously. And, in the process, convert fear into hope.

What Kari Nadeau tells all of her patients

“The big things that seem to be helpful to prevent food allergies is if a mother and if a child right away, or even if you’re an adult, can have more of a Mediterranean diet with simple fatty acids and olive oils rather than hydrogenated fats and more synthetic fats. Those are the precautions that seem to decrease your likelihood of allergies and food allergies and asthma by about fourfold.

There’s also been a lot of research now on the fact that if kids can get vitamin D early, that seems to help food allergy and asthma, and then lastly, that having your gut populated well with good bacteria has been very instructive to helping the immune system to becoming nonallergic. I tell all of my patients to take Culturelle, to take probiotics, to take lactobacillus, because it really does help, and now what we’re finding is that certain species of bacteria really do turn on the immune-regulatory component of the immune system.

There was a study in Australia, done with women who were pregnant sometime in the 1980s, some [ob-gyn] there decided that they were going to clean out the mother’s gut before she delivered—do a high colonic and an enema—so they did that, washed it out with soap, and all those kids turned out to have a high likelihood of food allergies.”