Are Food Allergies Increasing? Experts Say They Just Don’t Know

More Americans claim to have food allergies than ever before, but a report published in 2016 from the National Academy of Sciences says that it’s hard to know how many people in the U.S. actually have food allergies. Although many healthcare professionals involved in patient care agree that an increase has occurred, specifying its actual extent is complicated by factors such as inconsistent data or studies that use variable methods.

Part of the problem is that many people self-diagnose and can easily misinterpret their symptoms. Food allergies can be mistaken for gluten sensitivity or lactose intolerance, e.g., neither of which fits the medical definition of an allergy. [1]

Dr. Virginia Stallings, a board-certified nutrition pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the chair of the committee that wrote the report, said:

“There are a lot of misconceptions about what a food allergy is.”

One of the ways in which a misinterpretation arises is when parents introduce milk or another new food into their child’s diet, and then see that the child has an upset stomach or other gastrointestinal symptoms. These symptoms could indicate lactose intolerance, but the parents may suspect a food allergy. In reality, food intolerance and food allergy are two different conditions.

Stallings said:

“The reason food allergy symptoms are often confused with other [conditions] such as lactose intolerance is because there’s an overlap in some of the symptoms.”

The panel estimated that about 5% of U.S. children have legitimate food allergies, and wrote that:

“Eight food groups are considered to be major allergens. These are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, and crustacean shellfish.” [2]

Stallings added:

“Questions persist about whether food allergy prevalence has been on the rise within the past two decades and why. The current data do not unequivocally support the occurrence of such a rise.”

The Definition of a Food Allergy

Allergies are caused by an immune response to a normally-harmless food or other substance. Allergies typically cause hives and swelling or gastrointestinal distress. Severe food allergies can be life-threatening. In contrast, someone with lactose intolerance can’t easily digest the natural sugar in milk, and the condition is not life-threatening – just highly uncomfortable. [1]

Source: Personal Health News

As the American Academy of Pediatrics points out, “while lactose intolerance can cause a great deal of discomfort, it will not produce a life-threatening reaction such as anaphylaxis.” [1]

Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) can cause someone to go into shock within seconds or minutes of contact with the food or substance (latex, e.g.) that he or she is allergic to. A sudden drop in blood pressure occurs; and the airways narrow, which blocks normal breathing. Other symptoms of anaphylactic shock can include a rapid, weak pulse a skin rash, and nausea and vomiting. [3]

Read: 18 Million Americans Suffer from Gluten Intolerance

Another problem making it difficult to determine how many people have food allergies is the fact that diagnosing food allergies can be complicated. Stallings said that there’s no single skin or blood test that lets physicians accurately determine whether a person has an allergy to a specific food. [1]

Advice for Parents

Parents should seek immediate medical attention if their child’s lips swell or the child has difficulty breathing. When the symptoms are milder, parents should see an expert, such as a pediatric allergist, instead of declaring that the child has an allergy.

Bruce Lanser, who directs the pediatric food allergy program at National Jewish Health in Denver, said:

“We unfortunately see kids avoiding a food unnecessarily because of some fear of a potential allergy.”

The best diagnostic tool at experts’ disposal is an oral food challenge, according to Lanser. Under medical supervision, patients eat small amounts of the food they are suspected of being allergic to. Lanser explained:

“We start with a small amount of food and slowly give increasing doses up to a full serving.”

If the patient has a reaction during the test, “obviously we stop and treat,” he said.

The authors of the report wrote:

“The patient’s medical history and other test results, such as from a skin prick test, can suggest the likelihood of a food allergy, but in some cases an oral food challenge – which involves a gradual, medically supervised ingestion of increasingly larger doses of the food being tested as a possible allergen – is needed to confirm diagnosis. ” [2]

That’s a lot of work to confirm an allergy, so people often just go on a hunch.

Lanser said he tests his patients once a year to see if they’ve outgrown their food allergies. And they often have. Said Lanser:

“Milk and egg allergy are commonly outgrown. About 1 in 5 people outgrow their peanut allergy.” [1]

Food Allergy Safety – 4 Recommendations

The authors of the new report recommend more research to determine the prevalence of food allergies. The report also includes many recommendations for addressing food-allergy safety:

  • 1. Kids who have severe symptoms of a food allergy may require an epinephrine injection. In many schools, only a school nurse is trained to give shots. The report recommends that other administrators and teachers also be trained to administer epinephrine in case of emergency.
  • 3. Health professionals and the public should receive better education concerning differences between true food allergies and other disorders (lactose intolerance and gluten sensitivity, e.g.) that are often mistaken for allergies.
  • 4. Restaurant workers, first responders, and others should receive better training in helping people avoid foods they’re allergic to, and in treating severe allergic reactions with epinephrine, often sold as an EpiPen. [4]

Sources:

[1] NPR

[2] NBC News

[3] Mayo Clinic

[4] The Boston Globe

Personal Health News


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Replace Junk Food Snacks with This FATTY Snack to Lose Weight?

The simple decision to toss back a handful of peanuts a few times a week in place of other junk food snacks could go a long way to help people fight the battle of the bulge and could prevent childhood obesity, researchers say.

Peanuts are packed with vitamins and nutrients that make the tiny legumes one of the healthiest foods around. Look at the nutritional punch you get from just a 1/4 cup:

  • 88% biotin
  • 47% copper
  • 36% manganese
  • 28% vitamin B3
  • 24% molybdenum
  • 22% folate
  • 20% phosphorus
  • 20% vitamin E
  • 19% vitamin B1
  • 19% protein

Peanuts are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, high in oleic acid, and loaded with antioxidants, too. In fact, previous research found that consuming more nuts was associated with decreased overall disease mortality.

But continuing with the original study at hand …

According to scientists, eating peanuts 3 to 4 times a week could help lower body mass index (BMI). That could be especially good news for children and teens with developing bodies. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics show obesity affects about 12.7 million children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 19. (The only problem is that BMI is a bit antiquated.)

For the study researchers at the University of Houston, Baylor College of Medicine, and Texas Woman’s University followed 257 Latino adolescents over the course of 6 months. Each was in the 85th percentile or greater for BMI.

image-bmi-growthchart_example1
Source: CDC

image-girls_chart_OL

During the study period, about half the group snacked on peanuts or peanut butter right after school 3 to 4 times a week. The other half of the group had the same snack less than once a week. All of the students were taught proper nutrition and engaged in physical activity.

The group eating the most peanuts during that time reduced their BMI more than twice as much as the group eating peanuts less than once a week.

“Peanuts provided an acceptable, healthy snack for children. Although peanuts were relatively high in fat, the weight loss intervention of replacing energy-dense and unhealthy snacks with peanuts and peanut butter helped children maintain a healthy body weight.”

Lead study author Craig Johnston, assistant professor at the University of Houston’s department of health and human performance, said in a statement:

“Schools are doing a great job of teaching kids, getting them workforce ready, and a whole bunch of other things. We’ve just got to make sure that our kids are going to live long, happy lives with that kind of education.”

Snacking is more common among teenagers, who are usually left to their own devices in the food department, and that can lead to serious weight gain.

Johnston said:

“What we found is that kids get home from school around 4 p.m. There’s less supervision by parents and less structure. Kids are sitting down at the TV and eating, eating, eating because they really didn’t eat at school.”

The researchers recommend schools cut out energy-dense unhealthy snacks and replace them with healthier ones like peanuts to get kids in the habit of eating nutritious foods in proper serving sizes.

Johnson said obesity “is the most pressing health issue facing us today We’d like to think it’s preventable, but from where I sit right now, there hasn’t been a lot shown to be very effective on a large scale.”

As snacks go, peanuts have been shown to be more universally liked than “health foods” like vegetables, and the protein found in peanuts can help kids feel full longer.

The study was published in the Journal of Applied Research on Children.

Sources:

Medical Daily

Newser

CDC


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