Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fake food allergies on the rise

Posted By on Thu, Jan 26, 2012 at 4:24 PM

The first (and last) time I ate pho
  • The first (and last) time I ate pho

Are you that guy? The one who, when dining out, claims to be allergic to an arbitrary ingredient just so it doesn't end up on your dinner plate? Well the jig's up; you weren't fooling anyone anyway. According to Hugh Sampson, director of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, “research shows that as many as 20 percent of people claim to have food allergies when the number is actually around 3 to 4 percent."

It's important to note that Sampson's findings should not detract from those with true food allergies. Those with legit cases are confronted with this potentially life-threatening affliction on a daily basis and are forced to alter their lives accordingly. With no known cure, food allergies are serious conditions—especially in children. According to research cited by the Washington Post, nut allergies in children have increased steadily in U.S. households since 1997. This trend, however, does not account for the 15 to 16 percent of adults who claim to be allergic in 2012. What's the deal?

Experts say one main cause for the disparity in numbers is the tendency for adults to develop intolerances to certain foods over time. In other words, most people who claim to be allergic aren't really allergic, they're most likely just old.

So what's the difference between an allergy and an intolerance? It's been discussed at length in the past (just ask Google), but according to allergy studies, some people aren't getting the memo.

More after the jump

According to the Mayo Clinic, "a food allergy is an immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating a certain food. Even a tiny amount of the allergy-causing food can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems, hives, or swollen airways. In some people, a food allergy can cause severe symptoms or even a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis."

A food intolerance on the other hand, is a less serious condition that does not involve the immune system. According to Mayo Clinic allergy specialist, Dr. James T C Li, "food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and are limited to digestive problems."

The lesson is this: People who don't have real allergies shouldn't claim to have them because it undermines those with legitimate ones. No one deserves eye rolls for having a medical condition, but with so many "faux" food allergies floating around, it seems that at least some of the skepticism surrounding allergy claims is justified.

Causes of food intolerance include:

Absence of an enzyme needed to fully digest a food. Lactose intolerance is a common example.

Irritable bowel syndrome. This chronic condition can cause cramping, constipation, and diarrhea.

Food poisoning. Toxins such as bacteria in spoiled food can cause severe digestive symptoms.

Sensitivity to food additives. For example, sulfites used to preserve dried fruit, canned goods, and wine can trigger asthma attacks in sensitive people.

Recurring stress or psychological factors. Sometimes the mere thought of a food may make you sick. The reason is not fully understood.

Celiac disease. Celiac disease has some features of a true food allergy because it does involve the immune system. However, symptoms are mostly gastrointestinal, and people with celiac disease are not at risk of anaphylaxis. This chronic digestive condition is triggered by eating gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains.

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