• Robb G. Best

Food Allergies: Nothing to Sneeze At

Do you have a food allergy? If you’re an adult in the U.S., there’s about a 10 percent chance that you do—and, according to a new study, a 19% chance that you think you do.

This piece of research was led by Dr. Ruchi Gupta, from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern University. In a survey of 40,000 adults, chosen to form a representative sample of America, roughly one in ten reported experiencing allergic symptoms brought on by a food. The most common culprits were shellfish, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fin fish, egg, wheat, soy, and sesame.

However, nearly another one in ten claimed a food allergy but with self-described symptoms that did not match up with the label.

What gives? Are 9% of U.S. adults delusional? Not necessarily—often, the confusion can be a matter of semantics. Red wine may give you a headache, but unless that discomfort stems from your body’s immune system flagging that vino as a foreign invader and responding by affecting multiple organs, what you’re dealing with is technically a sensitivity or an intolerance.

Mayo Clinic notes that there are a number of potential causes of food intolerance, including:

  • Lack of an enzyme needed to fully digest a substance—for instance, in the case of lactose intolerance

  • Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS

  • Reactions to food additives, such as the sulfites found in wine

  • “Psychological factors,” which are not fully understood

  • Celiac disease

How do you know what’s going on? While only a doctor can tell you for sure, WebMD reports that food allergies tend to come on suddenly, are triggered by even consuming a small amount, and happen consistently—every time you eat the food. Meanwhile, food intolerances come on more gradually, often require a large amount of the food to trigger, and may only occur if you eat the food often. Oh, and food intolerances, unlike food allergies, can’t be life-threatening.

Of course, just because a food doesn’t trigger a multi-organ immune response doesn’t mean that you should ignore a bad reaction. If eating something impacts your quality of life, it’s just common sense to cut it out of your diet, or at least invest in some Lact-Aid. Especially given the growing body of evidence that the brain and the gut are closely linked, you want your digestive organs to be in harmony.

And if your food issue is a genuine allergy, Dr. Gupta urges you to take it seriously: “If food allergy is confirmed, understanding the management is also critical, including recognizing symptoms of anaphylaxis and how and when to use epinephrine.” The study also found that only half the adults with what appeared to be a genuine food allergy had a confirmed diagnosis from a doctor. And less than half that number had a current prescription of epinephrine.

Just one more reminder that it’s critical to watch what you eat…

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