Food allergies DEBUNKED
In a recent study of children between the ages of one and three years old, it was found that the most common
allergy was to peanuts, followed by egg with the most
common symptom being atopic dermatitis or eczema. But where does this come from and have people always been this allergic to food and they just didn’t realise it?
What are food allergies?
“The rise in allergies can be pinned to Westernisation,
urbanisation, form of delivery (birth), antibiotic use and much more,” explains Lauren.
Quite simply a food allergy is an inappropriate immune
reaction to a protein found in foods. These food proteins are not limited to any food group. “In an allergic reaction, an
undigested food protein slips through the gut barrier and enters the blood stream. The immune system misinterprets it as harmful, calling an attack on it. This immune reaction releases histamine, which causes the symptoms we assocate with an allergy, like swelling, wheezing, hives, coughing, runny nose, itching, anaphylaxis and more,” Lauren says.
For an allergy to be correctly diagnosed, a reaction will need to occur every time the culprit food is consumed, even in the tiniest amounts. Symptoms can change with age, usually
starting with gut and skin symptoms in children, which can
develop into asthma, sinus or a runny nose later in life. “The most common food allergens are fish and shellfish, soya,
peanuts, wheat, egg and milk,” says Lauren.
Allergies can range from minor to life-threatening
(anaphylaxis), but are in most cases permanent. These allergies can however develop in early child or adulthood and some infants can even outgrow an allergy if it is well managed and diagnosed early on. It is also important to note that allergic reactions can be immediate, take from a few seconds up to two hours, or be delayed, taking up to three days. No two people will react the same way.
What are the causes?
When it comes to allergy development and management,
microbial exposure plays a vital role. In recent years microbial
exposure has decreased mostly thanks to an over-sanitised
environment, antibiotic use, less time playing outdoors, shorter
periods of breastfeeding, an increase in C-section births and an increase in formula feeding. This deprives children from developing a robust and resistant microflora in their digestive systems, which can in turn make them more susceptible to food allergies.
“A poor diet, high in fats and refined starches, low in fibre, fruits and vegetables can also contribute to allergy
development. This reduces the amount of bacteria colonising the gut, our first line of defence, “ Lauren explains. In return your immunity, gut health and ability to digest and absorb nutrients will also significantly decrease, allowing gaps to form in the gut lining, where undigested food particles slip through, eliciting an immune reaction.
Diagnosing the problem
“The best proven method of testing for food allergies is an immunoglobulin E (IgE) blood test. This form of testing is reliable, very accurate and valid, it can be done by your doctor or dietician. A food mix (Fx5) test can also be done to check for food allergies as well as a phadiotop test for inhalant allergies. A CAST test can also be done to investigate allergies to food additives, preservatives and flavourants,” Lauren says. There are, however, a few other unproven methods of testing that she warns about. These include hair analysis, ALCAT, Vega testing and Kinesiology.
Skin prick testing has also shown to not be as reliable as IgE tests. Due to variables that cannot always be controlled a
positive skin test does not necessarily mean you are allergic.
Prevention is key
There are many ways of trying to prevent and manage an
allergy, but those having promising results are centered around
increasing healthy gut bacteria. Babies, for example, are born with sterile guts. Their first bacterial exposure is from breastfeeding, skin to skin contact, as well as delivery of birth: vaginal vs C-section births – these differ in which bacteria the child is first exposed to and which can take a hold in their gut system first.
Introducing solids at the right age (4-6 months) is important as delaying introduction of common allergenic foods can actually increase the risk of allergies. High risk babies (those with a first- degree relative) have been proven to benefit from a very early introduction (3 months) of allergenic foods, while still breastfeeding.
So what can you do? “Let your kids play outdoors as
exposure to bacteria and germs will help to develop their
immune systems. Vary their diets as much as possible, avoiding processed foods. Avoid using alcohol hand sanitisers or those that kill most germs as an overly sanitised environment can also limit bacteria exposure,” Lauren says.
Overall, an unbalanced or insufficient gut flora can influence health risks long into childhood and adulthood, including the risk for allergies. By modulating the gut flora through probiotic treatment, dietary and lifestyle changes, allergies can, to a large extent, be prevented and managed. Now isn’t that great news?
Lauren Sackett is a dietician at Silverlakes Dieticians. For more information on food allergies and to get tested call 012-809-6095 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.