Some people get annoyed to hear someone say at a restaurant that they are allergic to pepper, or strawberries or any of a number of other cooking ingredients, fruits and vegetables. To someone who doesn’t have an allergy, it can often seem unnecessarily precious that the smallest everyday things we take for granted, should cause anyone this much trouble. Some people wonder if allergy sufferers couldn’t just suck it up and brave it? Of course that’s what it feels like when you don’t really understand a problem. But here is a new report by the government that seems to give those irritable friends a reason or two to feel vindicated. The findings say that the study of food allergies has traditionally been done with shocking carelessness; in fact, most tests that find that you have a food allergy, are actually wrong. Most people with food allergy complaints actually have none.
Certainly, food allergies do exist – thay are a valid concept in themelves. Scientists are able to completely reproduce over and over again the allergic reactions that some people break out with when they come in contact with certain foods – and it can range from swellings, and rashes to conditions that make the heart stop. However, of all the reactions that people seem to have to various foods, genuine food allergies occur in only about 5% of all people – and this is in a world where one out of three people believes he or she has a food allergy.
Part of the reason this happens is, that the food allergies that people have as children, don’t always make it to adulthood. Just imagine what it would be like if as a child you had a terrible reaction to, say, peanuts, and you learned never to go near them ever again. You grow up, and as an adult, you still believe you have that allergy. In reality though, lots of food allergies don’t make it intact into adulthood. They just slip away for no known reason. This is one reason why so many people complain of food allergies that you don’t really have. They have it at one time, and unknown to them they stop having it.
Another reason why there are so many unjustified reports of food allergies is that most studies on the subject, are badly done – done with a lack of awareness of what it takes to accurately gauge the situation in a study. Barely 1% of all the studies done over the last 20 years meet the criteria for scientific rigor. For instance, most tests for food allergy use a couple of simple tests. One involves injecting a small amount of a certain food into a drop of blood, and then studying it for any antibody overactivity. In fact, this is a perfectly unreliable test that is wrong as often as it is right. You might as well not do it at all. The other way to test for food allergies is to let the person under study actually eat the food, to check for any reactions. But doctors don’t usually use this test, for fear of how serious the reactions could be. If you were a doctor trying to study a patient, you wouldn’t want to actually aggravate a terrible allergy just to see if it was real, would you?
There’s a major new study put together by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases coming out that wants to set the record straight. The study has even found that the belief people have that you have fewer allergies if you were breast-fed as a child, and the belief that says that you shouldn’t give babies eggs for the first year, are nothing more than old wives’ tales. The thing is, food allergies are different from food intolerances. If you drink wine and it gives you a headache, that isn’t a food allergy. If you have lactose intolerance, that’s just because you don’t have the right digestive enzyme. It’s intolerance, not an allergy. Some people who get acid reflux in response to certain foods similarly think they have a food allergy.
And the whole antibody test makes no sense at all. There are lots of people who produce massive quantities of antibodies in reaction to certain foods, but still don’t break out. And antibodies to certain foods like peanuts are more able to bring about allergic reactions than others. One day, a proper food allergy test could come about that could help. For now, existing tests are pretty inadequate, and no one should come away thinking they have food allergy, just because they tested positive on one of the existing tests.