My partner recently saw an ear, nose and throat doctor. He was looking for an explanation for the chronic sinus issues that have lingered for most of his adult life. In addition to a CT scan, and a DIY nasal rinse, the doctor requested allergy testing. To our surprise, the results indicated significant intolerance for wheat, eggs, peanuts, dairy and brewer’s yeast. I’ve got another friend who can’t eat Stevia without breaking out in hives, and yet another who treats gluten like the plague.
It seems like food allergies have moved from the realm of little kids into the mainstream, and it’s not all a weird diet bandwagon. Research confirms that food allergies are on the rise, and are among the leading chronic illnesses in the United States.
This change occurred in my fairly short lifetime. When I was a kid, my parents never thought about food allergies, but now, they’re splattered across the top of every parenting and healthy living blog you can find. So what’s going on here? What’s changed in the last 50 to 100 years to make an entire society react to food like they would to a bee sting? Doctors and scientists tasked with unraveling the food allergy mystery have identified three main theories.
It’s well known that allergic diseases tend to run in families, and science agrees that food allergies are no different. If your mother can’t tolerate dairy, or your grandfather can’t eat peanuts, it’s more likely that you will develop similar sensitivities. While heredity is an easy answer for some, it simply can’t account for food allergies’ transformation from a rare condition to a commonplace illness. Scientists have resorted to looking at changes in the food itself: how it’s grown, what it contains, and how it’s packaged. As Robyn O’Brien asks in an article called The Hidden Truth about Peanuts: From Food Allergies to Farm Practices, ”Are we allergic to food? or what’s been done to it?” Which leads us to…
It was back in 1996 that genetically-modified organisms began making their way into the food supply. Eighteen years might seem like a long time, but it’s just a flash in the pan when it comes to determining the effect of GMO consumption on human health. That’s why regulatory bodies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continue to insist that GMOs are safe, even though they know good and well that it could be another 18 years before we’re able to see their full impact. Still, there is compelling evidence to suggest that genetically modified crops are positively linked to food allergies. Especially when you consider that some of the most common genetically engineered foods (soy, corn, milk, peanuts, yeast) are also listed among the most common food allergies. That doesn’t even begin to address all the chemical pesticides and fertilizers we’re spraying on all food, genetically modified or not.
An Overly-Sanitized Environment
This one goes out to all the germaphobes carrying hand sanitizer in their back pocket. Or the clean-freak moms wiping down every toy with Lysol. Your obsession with killing germs and bacteria could be aiding the rise of food allergies. Referred to as the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ this popular premise suggests that “the overly sanitized state of our modern environment is upsetting the normal development of the immune system, leading to a possible overproduction of specific allergy-causing antibodies,” writes Mireille Schwartz, the founder and executive director of the Bay Area Allergy Advisory Board. Never exposing yourself or your loved ones to germs may seem like a good way to avoid illness, but it’s likely achieving the exact opposite. Living in perfectly sealed, sanitized, air conditioned environments has likely weakened our body’s ability to vanquish invaders. “Because of this lack of opportunity, the immune system becomes prone to respond by reacting to otherwise harmless substances — in other words, by developing allergies,” continues Schwartz.
What do you think? Have you noticed a rise in food allergies among your social circles? Tell us your theory about what‘s causing it in the comments.
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