How well do we understand food allergies?

Food allergies are a hot topic in the news right now. According to a recent CDC report, the number of people with a diagnosed food allergy had risen by 18 percent over the last decade. But a recent report by the American Medical Association suggests that the incidence of true food allergies may be far lower than what is generally believed. All of these contradictory reports about food allergies may be leading to a great deal of confusion for the average American consumer and for doctors trying to treat these conditions. A recent Harris Interactive/HomeFree study indicates that a good deal of people (43 percent) think gluten is an allergy, like wheat or shellfish. Just 3 percent of Americans can correctly identify all four of the listed common food allergens (nuts, dairy, eggs and wheat.)

Shellfish are one of the top food allergens. Photo by Chris Hunt/AJC Special.

Shellfish are one of the top food allergens. Photo by Chris Hunt/AJC Special.

One major issue is semantics. A food allergy is not the same as a food intolerance. Food allergies can be life-threatening, and often require treatment with epinephrine and an ER visit, while a food intolerance is generally not, though the symptoms can make one feel extremely miserable for days. (I know the latter condition personally, because medical tests have concluded that I am gluten, lactose and casein intolerant. When I have a reaction, it feels like a cross between the stomach flu and a hangover.)

However, conditions that are not recognized as true food allergies can be very serious. While Celiac Disease, a genetic, autoimmune condition triggered by the ingestion of the gluten protein found in wheat, rye and barley is not immediately life threatening, if one continues to consume gluten their rate of developing intestinal lymphoma can rise 50% above the general population’s rate. Celiacs also often suffer from serious malabsorption issues, due to damage of the intestinal lining, leading to a variety of ailments associated with nutritional deficiencies.

As the CNN article points out the medical community and their approach to treating food allergies and related conditions is an “inexact science.” Procedures like food challenges, where the patient is ordered to eat a suspected offending food, can be a miserable, potentially life-threatening experience. Skin pinprick testing is not foolproof. Elimination diets can be helpful, but many find such diets difficult to follow and results may be inconclusive.

While the medical community struggles to diagnose true food allergies versus a food intolerance or food sensitivity, it is important for people to understand how to identify and treat food allergies, because of the potentially life-and-death situation involved. This is especially true for parents, teachers, restaurant workers and anyone who deals with the public and the consumption of food. At the same time, we should not overlook the conditions of food intolerance or food sensitivity, which can have serious long-term health effects if not managed properly.

Do you or someone in your family have a food allergy or food intolerance? How do you cope with this condition? Do you have advice for others that have just been diagnosed?

23 comments Add your comment

David S

May 18th, 2010
3:51 pm

I paid for a quite extensive food evaluation that is based on the reaction of blood cells to the foods/allergins in question. I don’t remember the exact lab test name, but I know that RAST is one kind that is quite similar.

This test is not as crude as the food challenge or skin prick tests and reveals cellular reactions on a scale of 1 to 4. In this manner, those sensitivities that might be adding up to other physical problems can be idientified and mitigated against (by following the recommendations to limit consumption of the high numbers to very infrequently and not worrying abou the low numbers, etc.).

Doctors are idiots when it come to anything food related. All they know about is the kind of allergies that send you to the hospital and are dealt with with epinephrine. Otherwise, their nutrition training and the like is pathetic. If you are very sensitive to certain foods, but don’t show an obvious reaction – like with shell fish, etc. – but you eat those things all the time, you are going to have symptoms that will be difficult to diagnose but may cause you grave problems.

The actor James Coburn had a massive cumulative reaction to numerous foods and almost died. He underwent this kind of testing, identified his issues, limited their consumption, and no longer has any problems.

I myself have seen major changes since limiting some of the items that showed the most cellular reactions. Cooincidentally, they were also some of the items I consumed a lot of – big surprise.

As well, your body is a giant food processor unit. It takes in all the goodies, but only uses what it can and must dispose of the waste. Any waste that can’t leave, will cause issues. If you smoke, you limit the waste that your lungs and skin can remove effectively. If you aren’t having at least as many bowel movements as number of meals you eat each day, then waste is piling up there. The more preservatives, additives, cooked food, etc. that you consume, the more you burden your liver and its ability to process wastes, and similarly with your kidneys.

Its all about keeping your system flushed out and free to eliminate its waste. I found that a major change in diet, colon hydrotherapy, liver cleansings and the like all worked to actually eliminate an allergy I had to avocados. My throat would swell and make it difficult to swallow and breathe. Since eating more raw food and other changes, I know longer am allergic and eat them with reckless abandon.

There is way more to know about allergies and food, but don’t ever think you will get the information from the traditional western medicine crowd. They are getting all their training from big Pharma.

If there isn’t a drug or a shot, or a surgery for your problem, your doctor won’t know a thing.

Johnny

May 18th, 2010
4:05 pm

Additives such as benzoate, benzalkonium chloride can cause asthmatics to gasp for air, before a meal is done. If you notice your nose stuffing up after consuming food or drink you could be hypersensitive to preservatives.

David S

May 18th, 2010
4:16 pm

Sufites commonly found in wine and dried fruits (they are added to keep the color) are also a big contender for allergies. Generally fruits that have a dark color are processed without them, but read the label. There are plenty of wines made without sulfites, but they are required to put them on the label if present.

Ed

May 19th, 2010
8:38 am

Dave, you hit the nail on the head, when it comes to the doctors, massive lack of nutritional training. Over the past 6 months, I have had some sensitivities regarding certain foods (tomatoes, brown rice, whole oats, chicken, pineapple), and have had swallowing challenges. So much so, that I will be getting a endoscapy scheduled for tomorrow. Obviously going to check for intestinal damage. I did go to a allergist and got a environmental allergy test and food allergy test and there were no food allergies. I would like to find some natural remedies to cure the throat challenges.

Jan Fowler

May 19th, 2010
1:34 pm

I developed a severe food allergy two years ago. I have done all the test, the prick test, the food challenge, all of them. All the results the same. There is no cure, you just have to be careful. I have done everything acupuncture, cleanses, all sorts of different things and I just have come to the conclusion, that I must be extremely careful and embrace this life style. Last week was National Food Allergy Awareness Week (only recognized in 22 states) and I did a week long blog on my food allergy. I have had a great response, so I will link it to here if anyone wants to read it!

http://jan-pugmom.blogspot.com/2010/05/day-1-food-allergy-awareness-blogs.html

lily chung

May 19th, 2010
4:45 pm

Given our research(or effort to fight?) over the past one hundred years, and the little progress we have made, it is time to look for options. My research on cosmic flows has shown cosmic energy cycle having significant input on allergy.

Victims is better off to check out their energy and learn how to read the calendars on cosmic energy cycle. A book provides the procedure and the calendars:

lily chung

May 19th, 2010
4:49 pm

Cont.
the book on finding personal cosmic energy and the calendars on cosmic flows is THE TRUTH OF UPS AND DOWN, COSMIC INEQUALITY. If we want to get some insight beofre reading the book, read the article: Allergy and Cosmic Energy in Womensradio.com.

Creegah

May 19th, 2010
9:35 pm

My dad suffered from Non-Tropical Sprue, an auto-immune gluten intolerence. Unfortunately it was not diagnosed correctly until he was 77, shortly before his death. Physically, he had a miserablr life. I have been tested as have my children because it is supposed to be hereditary and, although we have auto-immune issues, gluten intolerance is not one of them.

SG

May 19th, 2010
11:04 pm

I would like to start by explaining that I have no medical training. I am just a parent and my advice is just based on personal experience. Our son was diagnosed with severe, potentially life threatening food allergies at approximately 1 year of age. He was allergic to milk, eggs, shellfish and tree nuts. These were true food allergies, not food tolerances. I know this because he was tested every year, sometimes 2x a year, since he was a toddler. He was tested with the skin prick method, CAP RAST blood test, and later in life, with food challenges. He is now a college student. My advice for those navigating this challenging journey:
1) Seek a specialist. We chose an allergist and he has been our partner on this journey for almost 19 years. He understood not only the diagnostic issues, but also the lifestyle, social and emotional issues surrounding food allergies.
2) Join the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network and any other network to gain knowledge and coping skills. This website truly changed our life.
3) Develop a consistent game plan for your child to keep them safe. Given the fact that our child was allergic to so many foods, we felt it important to keep the plan simple, especially when our child was young. In our situation, if the food did not come out of our child’s backpack, he was not to eat it. This avoided the stress of wondering if he could have the cupcake or birthday cake brought by someone else, etc. It also kept the responsibility within our family, not relying or asking a teacher or other caregiver to figure this out.
4) Accurate and Appropriate Communication is key. Be clear with caregivers about the seriousness of the food allergies and what to do in the event of an emergency. This should be spelled out in writing with a game plan approved by your physician. It is a good idea to meet with teachers BEFORE the school year starts to discuss this situation and provide med bags. Also, be clear with your child and make sure they understand the situation and what to do in an emergency or if they think they have ingested an allergen.
5) Teach your child to always carry meds. Our child still carries a med bag, which includes epipens, inhaler, Benadryl. When he was in elementary, middle and high school, we had several med bags located throughout the school. Nurses office, PE teacher, with coaches, etc.
6) Advocate and Be Positive. Not everyone will understand. Be positive and raise awareness one person at a time. Teach your child to be their own advocate as they get older. They will take their cues from you.
8)Stay current on food allergy testing, medication prescriptions and meet with your physician annually.
I used to lie awake at night wondering how we would be able to send our child to college and how he would navigate this situation all by himself. He just completed his first year in college (he does not attend locally). He navigated all of this beautifully. Over the past 3 years, through testing, we have learned that he has outgrown several of his food allergies.
I know this email was long, I just wanted to give hope to anyone out there with a small child who may be newly diagnosed. It is overwhelming, we wish you the best and they can live a wonderful, full life.

EEmom

May 19th, 2010
11:21 pm

My 2-year old was just recently diagnosed with Eosinophillic Esophagitis (EE). It is a rare disorder where food intolerance causes inflammation of the esophagus, severe heart burn, nausea, vomitting and chest pain, eczema and asthma. It affects 1 in every 10,000 people. It is commonly misdiagnosed due to the similarity of reflux disease symptoms.

Wordwizard

May 20th, 2010
8:31 am

I’ve spent much of my childhood sick all the time with colds, viruses and earaches. As an adult, I’d get sick headaches, my skin would be clear and then breakout inside an hour, significant water retention, nausea and would feel awful for ~24 hours. The symptoms never last and by the time I got to a dr. they would be gone. 7 years ago I had an IgG-4 Blood test (not to be confused by the standard allergists IgE test) and tested high for Casein (milk protein) and eggs. I stopped eating both and I feel great – better than I’ve ever felt in my life.

Your health food store will have a product called ‘Egg Replacer’ and I’ve used it in many recipes that call for eggs. Also, I use a bread machine. You can’t be sure that store made bread hasn’t been contaminated by the previous product they made. I take probiotics to improve my digestive system. I am VERY HAPPY to have a solution and my health back!

I’ve heard of others who were diagnosed with Chron’s Disease and IBD to completely resolve their symptoms by avoiding foods the IgG-4 blood test identified! Dr.’s, for the most part, don’t seem to like this test because the solution has nothing to do with having you come in for repeat visits and prescriptions!

With IgG-4 food allergy (intolerance?), your immune system is on high alert fighting the allergen every time you consume it. That means there’s less immune system strength to fight other things I was exposed to which is why I would get sick all the time. Work with your body to restore it’s nutrition and health – ignore those that try to minimize this problem and the solution!

robyn

May 20th, 2010
9:20 am

my husband had the ige and igg tests and the only thing he didn’t come back with a problem with is fish and rye bread. everything else is a problem – milk, meat, eggs, bread, fruits and veges. so all he eats is fish and that is horrid as i don’t eat seafood and he is eating herrings, oysters, i wish he would eat tuna instead of the herrings.

my nephew is supposed to have a milk allergy but has no problems when he is with his grandmother – not sure about the reality of the milk problem – his father has it and there is a lactose free milk here in australia that i mentioned to his mother.

we need to get a better word for real life threatening problems – nuts, eggs, fish given they can be life threatening/require a trip to the hospital for that jab. here in australia, kids and adults are encouraged to carry around their jab so that it can be admitted if there is something served to them that causes a reaction – nuts that weren’t meant to be in a food. we all need to get identifications for people with lifethreatening products.

David S

May 20th, 2010
12:10 pm

We are the only species on earth that consumes the milk of another species and the only species that consumes milk past infancy/early childhood. It is just not natural and really no surprise that so many people have problems with dairy products.

Slappy Harlock

May 20th, 2010
4:28 pm

I recently remembered that certain nuts make me swell up. I went and got some and it’s come in handy since they’re a heck of a sight cheaper than Viagra.

Slappy Harlock

May 20th, 2010
4:40 pm

Oh yeah Dave, Put a bowl of cow milk in front of a cat and see what happens.

Jennifer

May 20th, 2010
4:54 pm

David S – you are correct and it is called effective marketing. Half of the world is malnourished and has less osteoporosis and thinning bones than people in the US. That is called turbo marketing.

Lori

May 20th, 2010
4:58 pm

Not sure if it’s a nature thing, Dave. We are also the only species that has hands to milk another animal!!!

I thankfully don’t have any life-threatening allergies, but I do have quite a few intolerances. My doctor has no clue at all. The best defense is just to know your own body (unfortunately this sometimes takes years of trial and error). Once you know what bothers you, just quit eating it.

David S

May 21st, 2010
4:06 pm

Slappy Harlock – there is a difference between eating what is in front of you and choosing to get it yourself. How many cats have you seen suckling off a cow or any other species for that matter after their infancy. What a stupid response to the FACTS that I presented.

As for the only species with hands to do this, I would defer to chimps and other primates, none of whom milk another animal for their sustenance despite the same ability.

If you wish to justify your milk consumption based on the ability to stuff it down your throat, then the skies the limit on what we COULD eat. The question is what SHOULD we eat. Milk is high in fat, made from protein not designed for human consumption, designed to fatten young calves, not humans, etc. The case against it is strong. There are far superior sources of more absorbable calcium, vitamin D is a human additive, all milk produced by the big industrial farms must be pasturized due to its high levels of bacterial contamination (so you are just drinking dead bacteria, they are not filtered out), and so many dairies use antibiotics and bovine growth hormone to increase milk production. Add to that the fact that the majority of the world’s population lacks the enzyme to digest lactose and milk comes up way short on the list of great foods to consume.

David S

May 21st, 2010
4:14 pm

robyn – I find it hard to believe that your husband has severe food reactions to everything but fish. Every vegetable? Every fruit? Maybe you should do another test to confirm.

Generally the way these tests work is a scale of reactivity. Its all about balance. Again I get to keeping the body, skin, colon, lungs, liver, etc. all cleansed and working well to eliminate toxins (start with the colon). Personally I found that even the more severe reactions diminished or even went away when I eliminated the #4’s, cut way back on the 3’s, did a few good cleanses, started eating more RAW fruits and vegetables (cooking only destroys the vitamins and enzymes in the food – which means your body must now make its own enzymes to digest and process the items thus depleting your body rather than nourishing it) and the problems got a whole lot better overall.

Don’t let your husband give up, and certainly a life of just sea food is not the answer. Vegetables and fruit should be the bulk of what everyone eats.

Aria Beullah

May 21st, 2010
11:42 pm

I have just been diagnosed with food intolerances within the last year. Since I have been eliminating those foods (corn, wheat, dairy, and eggs),and doing a lot of my own research on why this happens I have been feeling betterb. I also have been meditating and reevaluating myself spiritually. This has helped me also. I do feel that the doctors are not up to par on knowledge about this subject and you have to research it for yourself.

Renee Wainwright

May 23rd, 2010
8:36 pm

Has anyone ever heard of Nambudraped’s Allergy Elimination Technique? It is a permanent allergy treatment, gentle enough for babies. You can find information at NAET.com. I have been treated with it and have had excellant results. My husband has been treated also. He used to take 30 zertec a month. Now he takes about 30 Zertec a year. Consult with a practitioner for more personal information. It could be a life saver for you or some one you love. It’s cost affective, paying for it’s self in about 18 months in medical costs and lost time at work. Plus, major reduction in misery.
Check it out.

Assisted Living Facilities

August 5th, 2010
11:52 pm

Thank you everyone for your stories.

Assisted Living Facilities

August 11th, 2010
12:33 am

genetics can tell a lot as well.