Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How Common Are Food Allergies?

A New York Times article published during Food Allergy Awareness Week caused quite a stir in the food allergy community.

Why the uproar?

The article begins with the statement, “Many who think they have food allergies actually do not.”

Wouldn’t that be nice? A study is done, an article printed and presto – food allergies miraculously disappear. If only it were so easy.

The truth is – there is no good reason for anyone to overstate his or her food allergies. Nobody wants to have food allergies. Nobody wants to deal with the restrictions that come with having food allergies. No parent wants to have to worry about whether his or her child will be safe. And surely we don’t need doubt cast on what we know is a real problem.

Some are lucky enough to outgrow their food allergies, but others suffer for years before an accurate diagnosis. We know that one size doesn’t fit all. Not all allergies can be diagnosed with skin pricks, and not all allergies can be diagnosed with blood tests. Thankfully, not all food allergies result in anaphylaxis.

I think Dr. Stephen Wangen responded to the NY Times article perfectly when he said the issue is “Largely a semantics problem.” Dr. Wangen points out that researchers and doctors are stuck on an out-dated definition of food allergy, and that the public recognizes there is a larger problem. Thanks go out to Dr. Wangen for his down-to-earth approach.

And thanks go out as well to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) and the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI) on their joint press release calling for more funding for allergy research. Clearly we need it.

What I know for sure is that if a food makes you sick – whether that’s a rash, swelling of the throat and mouth, closing up of the esophagus, inability to breath, etc. – and avoiding that food keeps you well, then you need to avoid that food.

Shall we call that a food allergy? I would.


Jean at The Delightful Repast said...

Hi Colette, The statement “Many who think they have food allergies actually do not” probably riled a lot of people. I'm sure the reverse is true: Many who think they DON'T have food allergies actually DO!

Colette said...

Jean -- good point -- there are a lot of people in denial!

StephanieC said...

Colette - I just finished reading this article about how our province pizza-chain rolled out gluten-free crust.

The doctor in the article seems to think that many people just 'think' they have the problem.

He says no scientific data can support - but a steady elimination diet could certainly be controlled and find results!

Some quotes:

"But many other people are seeking food products without gluten to deal with a real or perceived food sensitivity, resulting in a gluten-free boom at mainstream grocery stores and restaurants."

"Many people think they are sensitive to gluten without having celiac disease, says Dr. David Jenkins, the Canada Research Chair in Nutrition and Metabolism at the University of Toronto.

In clinical research training, Jenkins, 65, learned that many people with gastrointestinal problems other than celiac disease appear to benefit from a gluten-free diet. But that can't be scientifically validated, due to the fluctuating nature of the conditions, says Jenkins, who is also director of the risk factor modification centre at St. Michael's Hospital."

Colette said...

Stephanie, thanks for sharing that article!