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Why are food allergies on the rise?

Posted on October 16th, 2007 by Alison Read 16 Comments - Add Your Own »

arrowup.gifI often get asked why more people have food allergies today. Some people are concerned, others are skeptical. I hear the tone in the person’s voice — they are thinking that food allergies are somehow invented by parents. They might say something like “When I was a kid, there weren’t any food allergies around” as if to say that people in society today have become neurotic, blaming food allergies for everything.

The fact is that food allergies are real and are on the rise. That is why we are hearing so much about it now. More kids today have food allergies than when we were kids. According to one study, peanut allergy doubled among children between 1997 (1 in 250 children allergic to peanut) and 2002 (1 in 125 children allergic to peanut).

Why have food allergies become more prevalent? No one knows the answer, but here are a few theories, as explained in the Food Network special show Edible Enemies about food allergies (it will air again on October 19 at 10 AM):

1. Mothers are ingesting more allergenic foods like peanuts and breastfeeding their children and then causing an allergy. According to Dr. Scott Sicherer, researcher at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mt. Sinai, studies have shown that this doesn’t seem to be the case. [I have read other opinions, however, that say that this might be a cause because the food proteins pass through the breast milk, sensitizing the child.]

2. We are eating more peanuts. According to Dr. Sicherer, there isn’t really evidence of this.

3. The Hygiene Hypothesis or Cleanliness Hypothesis

“We’re living in such a clean lifestyle that our immune system becomes misdirected. It’s looking for something to do. [We] wash our hands all the time, we have vaccines that keep us from getting germs, if we get an infection we take antibiotics right away. And instead it ends up attacking things it doesn’t need to, and in this case, food proteins, causing food allergy.” – Dr. Scott Sicherer

4. Modern day food processing

“This may be one of the reasons why food allergies are on the increase, because we’re being exposed to these microscopic amounts, in very subtle ways, that may not produce a full-blown allergic reaction, but may continuously sensitize the body. Today’s kids are most at risk since their immature immune systems can’t cope with ever-earlier exposure to a large number of readily available processed foods.” – Dr. Richard Firshein

Examples: the addition of milk proteins (whey and casein), soy protein and wheat to foods that we are consuming — just check the labels of the foods at your house and you will find these ingredients in almost everything!

Other theories:

  • “One explanation for this phenomenon as it relates to peanut allergies may be the way the nuts are prepared. Most peanuts in the U.S. are dry-roasted at high temperatures, and experts say the high temperatures may change the protein structure of the nuts, making them more allergenic. In China, on the other hand, most people eat boiled peanuts, and Asians have a much lower rate of peanut allergies.” (from Qualityhealth.com)
  • The rise in food allergies may be caused by a lowered immune function due to increased antibiotic use, vaccinations, high processed food and pesticide use. (Food Allergy Initiative website)

Whatever the reason, this rise is alarming. Many parents with no serious food allergies are finding, sometimes by terrifying circumstances, that their children have them. I am hopeful that some sort of cure will be found in the near future.

You can learn more about food allergy from the doctors at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute:

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Comments

  1. #4 is my “pet” theory.

    Also, I think diagnosis and awareness are improving. I hear a lot of, “Oh, I’m so glad my kids never had a food allergy.” and then later on that same person describes X, Y, and Z “normal” childhood issues that are symptomatic of food allergy.

  2. Early diagnosis is the key and this can be done simply and cheaply at home these days. If an allergic response is detected early enough, resting the body will allow the imune system to strengthen itself, or, desensitisation can take place using homeopathically prepared remedies.

  3. Shannon,
    I’m with you on theory #4. And I hear it all the time too – kids with all kinds of problems, but no one wants to believe it could related to food.

    Donald,
    Yes, I was told that my daughter’s best chance to outgrow her egg allergy is to have no egg at all for a few years and then retest. I have heard about homeopathy to treat food allergy – I would like to learn more about it.
    Alison

  4. I can’t help but think that soy has a lot, and I don’t mean a little, I mean a lot to do with all our allergies. Along with corn, soy is being fed to all the animals you are eating from cows, to pigs and especially chickens. Ask me how I know about the chicken part. I keep chickens (even though I am allergic to eggs). What I started noticing is kind of alarming (to me, anyway). The chickens don;t like their poultry feed whether it be organic or non-organic and both feeds are prominently soy. Now, if you know chickens, they have a different digestive system and have a gizzard to help them digest things. They do not have the same digestive enzymes, etc. that we have. Thus, the phytates in soy that hurt our digestion do not hurt theirs. However, the fact that they prefer the wild birdseed mix to their food still makes me wonder. Anyway, I have trouble with the rats when I feed them predominately the birdseed mix; however, when I leave the soy poultry feed out (even the organic), the rats seem to die off. I see them and they are cripled and look sick and then I rarely see them. I joked and said I don’t need to leave poison out, the soy feed works just fine. (For the most part, the rats have the same type of digestive system we do.) And, no one around me is poisoning these rats. Likewise, if we consume these animals and their byproducts, we are consuming soy. Just like corn (if you saw the movie, “King Korn”) soy, probably makes up our bodies and if you’ve read about soy consumption, it can wreak havoc on your system, from your thyroid to your stomach. Ask me how I know this. I hurt my stomach and my hair by consurming soy. Plus, so many people, especially women, I know have thyroid problems and don’t think that they are consuming soy. Well, it’s in your meat and dairy, and it wasn’t always fed to cows and chickens. I am not sure when it started, but probably when farmers started growing it for cheap protein. There are now groups who are trying to get better feed for chickens, etc. It is hard for me to believe that they are feeding beans to cows. That alone, doesn’t seem natural. Since I have now been found to be allergic to gluten, dairy and eggs, I am now a gluten free vegan (never thought I’d be a vegan); but, my allergy symptoms are mostly gone!! As far as the gluten allergy, I wonder if the phytates in soy, have hurt our ability to digest gluten, as phytates are enzyme inhibitors and we need enzymes in order to digest our food, gluten or other. Just a thought.

  5. Beth,
    I find your comments fascinating!! I also think soy is really not good for anybody — I haven’t expressed my views on soy as fervently as I have expressed them about gluten. In time…

  6. Did anyone consider the advent of GMO foods to be the cause of this?

    Wheat, corn, soy, potatos, tomatoes and numerous other foods have been tampered with at the genetic level. I wonder if this is a natural reaction of our bodies to the frankenfood?

  7. i was thinking gmo too…check out jeffrey smith on the subject. heard him on npr a while back speaking about how gmo’s contribute to allergies. it was very eye opening.

  8. How do GMO account for my egg allergy? It is illegal with animals. I think that the ultra-hygiene explanation is more plausible, also antobiotic over-exposure in early life raises possibilty of allergies developing.

  9. Phillip, GMO could account for your egg allergy. GMO soy makes-up 63% of chicken feed. If it is fed to the chicken, you are getting it in the eggs!!!

  10. Philip,
    Yes, I guess GMO doesn’t apply to animals, except for what Beth said!

  11. I used to temp in seed labs. Im allergic to wheat & now horribly allergic to corn. I have lupus & have to take a bunch of pills. I was shocked to find out corn product is in the pills. Terrible overuse of GMO corn. FYI if you are on immunosuppresive plaquenil or prednisone you’ll have false negatives on allergy tests. Took myself off these meds & can’t walk but need diagnosis badly. Corn product in IV meds. About killed me in 2009. Had to walk out of hospital. No one believed me.

  12. Jeanne,
    Corn allergy is definitely on the rise. I’m sorry to hear that it has been so difficult for you. Are you completely gluten-free also?

  13. Definitely an informative article. I completely agree with the GMO products being the root of the allergies as well as the corn fed diet of cows, hens etc. I think processed foods being cross contaminated could also be another problem. I have never come across food allergies in my life and where I am from no one has any food allergies. My little boy has some food allergies and I feel terrible every day seeing him suffer with his eczema. I wish I was more vigilant and had watched Food Inc. before I was pregnant. It is a shame that we cannot trust the country to provide us with unadulterated foods, the basic need of it’s people.

  14. You answered some questions I had on this topic. Ill tell my friends about this blog. Thanks!

  15. I was diagnosed with gluten and diary sensitivities in January. Within days of going off wheat and diary many of my symptoms disappeared (gas, bloating, intestinal pain). My dietitian had me take the ALCAT blood test which gave me a list of foods to avoid from 3 to 6 months. It seems that other foods were also involved. I have been slowly adding back foods from the list, but am shocked at how many other foods cause me problems when I never had this before. My dietitian believes that gluten intolerance was at the root of the problem and caused other food sensitivities as time went on.

  16. the answer is in gmos and monsanto. do some googling on glyphosate and gmo conspiracy in relation to food allergy. gluten intolerance is a HUGE allergy on the rise to extreme proportions. its unbelievable what we are doing to ourselves in food manufacturing.

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