Food Allergy May Not Be Real or Permanent

May 21, 2010 in Blog Recipes, Diabetic Menu Item, Immune System, Mediterranean by Joyce Bunderson

Some of my loved ones and friends think they have a food allergy. Persons who believe this may or may not, in fact, have a real allergic reaction to a particular food. Some people have diagnosed themselves following an unpleasant experience with a food.  Others have gotten the idea from quack websites, like an acquaintance who insists she is allergic to salt, which has no protein for the body to react to (an allergy is a strong reaction of the immune system to overcome something threatening that has come into the body). Other believers in their food allergies have interpreted inconclusive medical tests as proof. Then we are left with the real allergy sufferers, including severe reactions that can kill a person.  In this Post I will share some of the research, in the hope to liberate a few from an incorrect belief in a so-called allergy, but not without the care and caution that such a liberation should involve.  You may be one of that small percentage of people who does truly have very serious food allergies.

Food allergies are not a clear-cut issue. Some people with true food allergies have life-threatening reactions, but it appears that not every one that has been told that they have a food allergy really does. About 30 percent of Americans believe that they have food allergies; but the true occurrence of food allergies is only about 8 percent for children and less than 5 percent for adults, according to Mark Riedl, MD professor of clinical immunology and allergy at UCLA and author of a new research paper being published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) regarding food allergy. Dr. Riedl says that about half of the patients coming to his clinic who believe that they have food allergies do not really have one.  If you are one of these, then read on, perhaps your liberation from false fears may add greater enjoyment and health to your life.

It’s an important part of the UCLA Food Allergy Program to do research to improve the food allergy field of medical care. Although there is a keen interest in food allergies, there has been no clear agreement regarding the most effective diagnostic and management approaches to food allergies. As a result, a group of researchers were commissioned by the government to learn from a total of 12,378 articles about food allergies. The researchers state that food allergies affect more than 1% to 2% but less than 10% of the population. Dr. Reidel’s figures of 8% for children and under 5% for adults, fits with this study. This study’s authors don’t know if true food allergy prevalence is really increasing. It seems that the researchers suffer fairly great frustration because of the lack of uniformity in making a diagnosis.

To make food allergies all the more interesting, it appears that these allergies act in strange ways. For example, no one knows why, but people often shed allergies; and others develop food allergies as adults, for unknown reasons. Some children who had true food allergies, as children may not have them as adults.

One test that is more likely to be correct is a food challenge (eat some and see what happens), but physicians are very reluctant to doing that type of test. Not only are they liable if a person swells up and almost dies, but a huge part of the problem is that some patients have been so frightened by the potential food allergies that they have a serious anxiety response. In research they would call these terrified but non-allergic patients “false positives”.

Dr. Riedl and an expert panel have completed a large project organized by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to try to bring some order to the chaos of food allergy testing. They are providing guidelines defining food allergies and giving criteria to diagnose and manage patients. It is excellent work like this that you should look to if you think you could become liberated from a false belief in a food allergy-or to confirm accurately that you have one.

They are trying to bring some clarity to the difference between food allergies and food intolerance. Food intolerance does not generally involve the immune system. An example of intolerance is lactose intolerance to the sugar in milk.

One aspect of food allergies that leads to the perplexing situation is that the two most often used tests have a less than 50 percent chance of being correct. These two tests are first, pricking the skin and injecting a tiny amount of the suspect food, watching for swelling, and second, looking for IgE antibodies in the blood, (antibodies associated with allergies).  Being wrong over fifty percent of the time is an amazingly inaccurate percentage.

Jushua Boyce MD, a pediatric allergist, pulmonologist and professor at Harvard said that one of the reasons for misconceptions by doctors and patients is that they assume that a positive test for IgE antibodies to a food means a person is allergic to that food. This is not necessarily so. Boyce said that the immune system tends to react to certain food proteins, producing IgE antibodies, but in fact, the antibodies can be transient and even inconsequential. Thus, more “false positive” indicators of food allergy.

Hopefully, in the near future, the new procedures will give clearer guidelines for defining who is truly allergic. Dr. Matthew J. Fenton, chief of the Asthma, Allergy and Transplantation Branch at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is overseeing the project to develop the guidelines for the Allergy Institute. He said that doctors should not use either the skin-pick test or the antibody test as the sole reason for thinking that a patient has a food allergy. These tests are not enough by themselves.

It appears to be very hopeful that more definitive guidelines will help settle, presently unsettled, anxiety-producing questions. In the meantime, some of you may know a loved one who is enslaved by unjustified fears of certain foods.  Perhaps you are yourself.  I hope this information will help you and yours toward liberation from false fears, due perhaps from your own “false positive” experiences.  I hope if you have ruled out certain yummy foods, or even outgrown an earlier allergy, you can anew enjoy these foods as part of a program of healthy eating.

I recommend this recipe for Almond Crusted Orange Roughy because it has three fairly common allergens: fish, egg and nuts. I’m truly sorry for those who can’t make this recipe – what a treat! I should have written, ‘What an easy treat!’