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Although most foods do not want to be eaten, there are exceptions to the rule in the form of fruits and nuts. These contain the seeds of the plant and they rely on animals eating them to disperse the seed. The wild version of a fruit such as an apricot consists of a juicy, sweetish layer on the outside, with which the plant tempts birds and other animals. Inside is the seed, which is protected by a hard kernel or ’stone’. The idea is that the animal eats the fruit, but that the seed passes through its gut to the outside and is voided with the animal’s droppings, some distance away from the parent plant.
The seed itself is highly nutritious – it contains all the food the young seedling will need to become established – so the plant must guard its seeds well.
Animals who might be tempted to break the apricot stone open and eat the seed as well are deterred by toxins, principally cyanides (the chemicals that give almonds and apricot kernels their characteristic smell and flavour). As a final safeguard, die parent plant adds a chemical to the outer skin of the fruit that affects the animal’s gut. It speeds up the movements of the gut, making it void the stone more rapidly, so that the damage done by the digestive juices is minimised. This is why so many fruits have a laxative effect.
Nuts are rather more generous to their animal partners. They rely on animals such as squirrels that hoard food for the winter months, and they operate a ‘planned loss’ strategy, whereby a great many of the seeds are actually eaten. The pay-off is that the squirrels not only disperse the seed, but also plant them in a suitable spot when creating their winter stores. Since they inevitably forget where some are planted, a proportion of the nuts survive and grow into trees.

In the last 20 years the traditional picture of allergies has changed substantially, as conventional allergists have recognized that things are much less neat and logical than they originally seemed. Allergens do not necessarily cause their major symptoms at the place where they first encounter the body. They can enter the body by one route and then cause symptoms somewhere else entirely, because they are carried to that point in the blood. Thus foods can cause asthma or  eczema, although they are likely to share the blame with inhalants or contactants respectively. Inhaled allergens can also cause skin reactions because they enter the bloodstream through the membranes of the nose or lung and are carried by the blood to the skin.
It has taken a long time – 40 years or more – for these new ideas about allergy to be accepted by orthodox allergists. This is largely because the discoveries were first made by the clinical ecologists in America and their counterparts elsewhere – they tended to attract those patients who had been declared incurable by more conventional doctors. Because of the long-running controversy over clinical ecology, the traditional allergists at first regarded their findings with great suspicion.
Even today, there are vestiges of the old ideas about allergy in the way conventional allergists think about food. The traditional concept of a food allergy is a severe reaction to food which is almost always immediate. The types of symptoms produced are fairly well defined and limited in number – the sort of symptoms seen in Jane’s case. Although most conventional allergists now accept that foods may produce slower and less violent reactions, with more varied symptoms, such as asthma and eczema, these are not what spring to mind when the words ‘food allergy’ are used. The same tends to be true of family doctors, and this is sometimes a contributing factor in the disagreements and misunderstandings over food allergy.

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