National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)
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Public Health Burden

A wide range of medical conditions related to food and digestion affect people of all ages and account for millions of outpatient visits and hospital stays each year, as well as millions of dollars spent on medications. In terms of both human suffering and economic cost, these conditions represent a major public health burden—one that complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches may help to lessen.

Food Allergy and Immune Function in the Gut

Certain CAM therapies may offer valuable options for treating conditions related to food allergy and immune function in the gut or alleviating their symptoms, once the efficacy and safety of these therapies have been demonstrated. ARRA-funded grants are exploring several possibilities.

  • Food allergy is a serious and growing health concern in the United States and is the leading cause of anaphylactic reactions—often severe and sometimes fatal reactions to certain substances. At present, there are no definitive treatments for food allergy. An ARRA-funded grant is investigating an herbal formula (Food Allergy Herbal Formula-2, or FAHF-2) that showed potential for treating food allergies in earlier animal studies. The researchers will test the safety and efficacy of FAHF-2 in a group of people with four of the most severe and chronic food allergies: peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. This is the first clinical investigation of a botanical drug for multiple, persistent food allergies.1
  • Rotavirus (RV) is a leading cause of diarrhea in infants worldwide. An ARRA-funded grant is using an animal model (newborn pigs) to study how a probiotic (lactic acid bacteria) might combine with antibodies in breast milk to strengthen digestive system immunity in newborns. The findings may suggest new strategies for combating RV-related infant diarrhea in developing countries. The findings will also contribute to our understanding of how the immune responses of newborns can be modified and enhanced, which in turn has implications for controlling food allergies, inflammatory bowel conditions, and antibiotic-induced diarrhea.2
  • More than 1 million Americans suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and about half of those affected have ulcerative colitis (UC)—a condition that leads many to try a variety of diets and alternative medicines. Previous research in animals and humans suggests that the amino acid L-arginine plays an important role in UC. An ARRA-funded grant will build on that research by determining whether people with severe UC have high levels of L-arginine in their blood (an indication that their bodies are not making L-arginine available to colon tissue), and whether dietary levels of L-arginine relate to its availability to colon tissue and to reduction of UC disease. Study results will provide new insights into IBD treatment and related nutritional issues, including possible benefits of dietary interventions and L-arginine supplementation.3


  1. 2 R01 AT001495-05A1—Effect of Chinese Herbal Medicine on Food Allergy. Li, Xiu-Min. (NY)
  2. 1 R21 AT004716-01A1—Lactogenic Immunity/Probiotics: Effects on Neonatal Gut Immunity. Saif, Linda J. (OH)
  3. 3 R01 AT004821-02S1—Immunomodulatory Effects of Arginine Supplementation in Colitis and Colon Cancer. Wilson, Keith T. (TN)

This page last modified December 11, 2011