Why the Increase in Food Allergies?

Does it seem to you that food allergies (and Celiac) have become much more common in the past decade?  Growing up, I don’t recall ever hearing about people having life-threatening food allergies.  Seasonal allergies or a bee allergy, sure.  Why is this? Are the incidents of food allergies really on the rise or are we just hearing more about it?

Food allergies increased 18 percent from 1997 to 2007 (according to results from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).  Doctors are reporting increased incidents of ER visits for severe food allergic reactions,  based on anecdotal evidence.  The allergic reactions are not only rising in numbers, but also becoming more severe.  There are greater numbers of children having anaphylactic reactions than a decade ago.  Furthermore, additional factors in the “allergy triad” have increased as well (i.e., asthma, hay fever and eczema).

There are numerous theories that doctors and researchers hold, yet there has been no conclusive evidence that any of them can be causally linked to the increase in food allergies.  Doctors do not believe that the increase in food allergies is related to an increase in awareness, rather this rise is real.  One theory that is considered to contribute to the rise in food allergies is the “hygiene hypothesis,” that people in industrialized countries are living in a much more sterile and “too clean” environment.  We have killed off the “good” bacteria that is needed to fight infections, thus making us hypersensitive to anything deemed “foreign.”  Along this same line is the overly prescribed use of antibiotics (as well as that found in our food) and vaccinations.

Another theory circulating is that so much of the food we consume now is inundated with fillers and preservatives and who knows what else.  You can find a McDonald’s every mile with Wendy’s right beside it.  The FDA has increased the amount of fillers allowed in fast food and school lunches.  (Some professionals believe this is the reason for the earlier onset of maturation, especially in girls, because of the use of soy as a filler in many foods.  There is a link between the molecular structure of soy and female hormones, but this is a discussion for another day.)  Instead of preparing more food from scratch at home, we go the easy route and pick-up fast food or processed food off the grocery shelf.

There are many other theories that are floating around out there (for example, vitamin supplements or deficiencies, use of antacids, and tobacco smoke, to name a few), but researchers and doctors just really don’t know.

Do you have any theories on this increase? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Stay tuned for the discussion in two weeks about the various methods being employed to help combat food allergies.  Next week we will discuss how you deal with food allergies at school.

Read the full CDC article.

(Sources: Dr.Robert Wood; CNN.com; HealthDay News)

PrintFriendly and PDF
This entry was posted in Food Allergies & Health. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.