Food Allergies – When Our Food is Bad for Our Health
~ May 2004 No.178 ~
For most of us, eating is a pleasurable experience. It is even said that the French live to eat. Some foods can cause fatal reactions. Food allergies are becoming more and more of a problem world–wide. Right now the best way for sensitive people to not suffer is to completely avoid certain foods.
Food allergies are caused by proteins. In most cases, when we eat our digestive system is able to break down food protein into small peptides and amino acids. These are then absorbed and metabolized. Our immune system is the first line of defense against bacteria and viruses that can cause illness and infection. The immune system of people with allergies sees food proteins as a potential threat to the body or allergen. The immune system then mounts an attack on the allergen by releasing substances such as histamines that in turn produce an inflammatory reaction in the body. Different parts of the body can be affected. Some reactions such as itching, diarrhea and abdominal pain are short term and are merely inconvenient. Other reactions such as difficulty in breathing, heart failure, and circulatory collapse can sometimes lead to death. Highly sensitive people can only try to avoid certain foods and carry a syringe of adrenaline (epinephrine) obtained by prescription from their doctors to counteract effects of an extreme reaction. Reading food labels can help avoid some problems; restaurants are particularly challenging for food allergic people.
Allergic reactions to certain foods are quite commonly discovered in infancy (days or months after birth) but may develop in older life. Even breast fed infants can show allergic reactions if the food allergen they are sensitive to is in the mother's diet. In many cases sensitivity to food allergens decreases with age. Accurate data on the number of people with true food allergies are difficult to obtain because clinical tests are needed to confirm suspected sufferers. Figures as high as 11 million have been quoted for food allergic people in the Unites States. A higher percentage of children than adults have food allergy problems. There is a general feeling that the incidence of allergic reactions to peanuts is increasing, but as yet there is no explanation why. Some food manufacturers now advertise what their products do NOT contain (no dairy products, no egg products), as much as what they DO contain to assist food allergic people in avoiding problems.
Food Allergies: When Food Becomes the Enemy
FDA Consumer magazine 2001,July-August