LAKE OCONEE —
Food allergies (and food intolerances) are fast becoming a growing public concern.
It is estimated that as many as 15 million people suffer from food allergies. According to a 2008 study released by the Center for Disease Control, the prevalence of reported food allergy increased 18% between 1997 and 2007 in children under the age of 18. The prevalence of peanut allergy among children tripled between 1997 and 2007.
Food allergy is a histamine reaction, and potentially serious immune response, to eating specific foods or food additives. A food allergy initiates a sudden reaction; it only takes a small amount of the allergen and happens every time the food is consumed. Eight types of food account for over 90% of allergic reactions in affected individuals: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can include rash, hives, itching, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain and sudden decrease in blood pressure. These reactions are severe and need immediate medical attention.
The incidence of food intolerance is also on the rise. Food intolerance occurs when a consumed food irritates the stomach or is not properly digested. Symptoms of food intolerance tend to be gradual in onset. Unlike a food allergy, it usually takes a large amount of the food to cause a reaction and it may only happen if the food is consumed on a regular basis. Symptoms of food intolerance are not life threatening and include gas, bloating, cramping, headaches, heartburn, nervousness or irritability. In children, a constant runny nose or congestion often can be tied to food intolerance, and many times, the offending allergen is the child’s favorite food or drink.
So with food allergies and intolerances growing in number, that begs the question, “What is causing the increase?” No one knows for sure. However, there are some factors to consider.
Environmental toxins in our food, water, and air have become more prevalent in recent years. These toxins have been shown to decrease our immune system’s response and increase the imbalances that lead to higher rates of allergies. Some of the most common environmental toxins are gasoline exhaust, diesel exhaust, and plastics.
Additionally, many crops today are being genetically altered to resist pests, weeds and other threats. Our country’s main crops -- corn, soy, wheat -- have been altered and make up the bulk of our food supply. Any time a new gene is introduced into a plant, there is a possibility of creating a new allergen or causing an allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. In 1996, the New England Journal of Medicine wrote that a proposal to incorporate a gene from Brazil nuts into soybeans was abandoned for fear of causing unexpected allergic reactions.
If you suspect a food allergy or intolerance, remove the suspected food for 14 days and see how you feel. A food diary is a helpful tool to be able to track what foods initiated what responses. Elimination of symptoms is a good indication that the problems were caused by the removed food. Slowly add the foods back into the diet, one at a time, and see what symptoms show back up.
For food allergies, the best approach is obviously avoidance of that food. If you have a food intolerance, digestive enzymes can be helpful in breaking down the food in the stomach and preventing a reaction. These supplements can also help with constipation and gas issues. Digestive enzymes are easy to find, inexpensive, and a great way to get the most out of the foods that you eat and help you enjoy the foods that you love.