Food allergies have become a serious problem in the last few decades. There was a time that they were unheard of, now latest figures show that around 8 in every 100 children in the USA suffer from a food allergy. The prevalence of food allergies rose by around 18% between 1997 and 2007.
Often children will outgrow their allergies, but some carry them on into adulthood. The severity of food allergies varies from a mild tingling sensation in the mouth, on the lips or in the throat when eating, to potentially life threatening reactions, such as a swelling of the airways and a rapid reduction in blood pressure.
In a study published in July 2012, it was found that “oral immunotherapy can desensitize a high proportion of children with egg allergy and induce sustained unresponsiveness in a clinically significant subset.” (Birks, 2012). Egg allergies can be beaten!
Food Allergies and Food Intolerance
It is important to note the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance. Food Allergy is often used when Food Intolerance is more accurate. A food allergy is specifically when the body experiences an immediate, and sometimes deadly, reaction to a particular food. Allergy to nuts is the most common and well-known food allergy.
Food intolerance is when a particular food causes some degree of irritation, but is not life threatening. Lactose Intolerance is a common condition – the intolerance often develops over several days before a person becomes unwell. Diarrhoea tiredness and lethargy and a general feeling of being unwell are the main symptoms of an intolerance.
Food intolerance and food allergies can have the same symptoms, but they are two different conditions.
Food allergies cause the immune system to react in such a way that if effects several organs in the body and can be life threatening. Food intolerance generally only affect the digestive system (such as upset stomach with lactose intolerance).
Causes of Food Intolerance
There are many possible causes, and some people may suffer from one factor, or a combination of several:
- Stress and Anxiety – this is a leading cause of food intolerance. Sustained periods of stress can cause the body to object to food.
- Food Additives – some people are very sensitive to food additives. Additives can be found in most foods. Even innocent looking dried fruits contain sulphites which can trigger asthma attacks.
- Food poisoning – although this is not strictly a food intolerance, a bacterial infection can upset the stomach and lead to an imbalance in the intestinal flora, which can then cause intolerance to some foods. Once the digestive system recovers food intolerance stop.
- IBS / Irritable Bowel Syndrome – IBS is a chronic condition, often with no known cause. It causes cramping, constipation and diarrhoea.
- Celiac Disease – while this can act like a food allergy (it affects the immune system), celiac disease is a type of food intolerance. Symptoms are restricted to the digestive system and people with celiac are never at risk of anaphylaxis (anaphylactic shock).
- Lack of the required enzymes to digest food – different types of food require different enzymes to break down (digest). For example lactose intolerance is caused by a lack, or not enough, lactase.
The Food Allergy Breakthrough
The only way to avoid suffering from a food allergy or intolerance is to avoid eating the problem foods. Avoiding all instances of the problem food is considered to be the only safe solution.
However, a new study has suggested that the opposite approach may actually be more effective. In the same way that a phobia can be overcome by confronting the problem and immersing yourself in the environment, it is now thought that it is possible to overcome food allergies and intolerance by training the body to react positively.
Wesley Burks Study of Food Intolerance
Wesley Burks from the Chapel Hill School of Medicine carried out the largest placebo study to date to examine the effects of consuming foods known to cause a reaction.
Children Cured of Egg Allergy
In the study, 40 children with egg allergies were given a doses of egg white powder over a 22 month period. The initial doses started at 1/10,000th of an egg and increased over the period. At the end of the study the children had 2 months off. When reviewed on the 24th month, 28% of the children were able to eat 2 1/2 eggs with no problems. A year after the study, all 40 children were able to eat eggs daily with no reported problems. None of the children who received the placebo showed any improvement in their egg allergy.
This process is called oral immunotherapy, and it is the same principle as giving injections to help cure airborne allergens such as pollen and dust mite allergies.
“Oral Immunotherapy for Treatment of Egg Allergy in Children” by A. Wesley Burks, M.D et al. New England Journal of Medicine 2012; 367:233-243 July 19, 2012DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1200435
“A Major Study Speeds Food-Allergy Treatments” By Marissa Fessenden, scientificamerican.com.