New Tests Suggest We're Not Actually Allergic To AnythingS

Okay, that's an exaggeration. Back away from the cocktail peanut. But it does seem that an alarming percentage of food allergies are actually - how you say? - not real.

According to a piece in the L.A. Times, "though allergies or intolerances (and recognition of them) do appear to be on the rise, there are far more people who erroneously think they have problems with specific foods." In fact, says one researcher, "Only about 25% of people who think they have a food allergy will actually have one." And the twice-as-high rates of peanut allergies and four hundred percent increase in those who suffer from celiac disease has got to have more to do than just increased awareness and more frequent testing.

While, obviously, some do suffer from severe allergies - which need to be treated vigilantly - it's also true that a lot of kids outgrow early intolerances as their systems mature - or would, if they were allowed to try the offending article. Then too, a lot of milder "intolerances" have apparently been misdiagnosed as "allergies," leading people to avoid the foods altogether. For instance, you can have a bad reaction to gluten - it's hard for us to digest, period - and not technically suffer from the more severe "Celiac disease" (actually an autoimmune disorder.) A lot of the perceived allergies are the result of inaccurate testing. Says the article,

Common food allergy tests aren't very accurate.The only sure-fire way to test for food allergies is with food challenges, in which patients consume controlled and increasing doses of a suspected food under careful supervision. Yet doctors, especially primary care doctors who aren't allergy specialists, are far more likely to do blood tests, which are much less accurate and more difficult to interpret. Experts have seen a proliferation of blood testing by primary doctors, a trend that leads to misdiagnoses of food allergies.

Part of the problem is that a highly restrictive diet can lead to malnutrition and bone density issues. And proliferation of "allergies" trivializes those who have real ones. As anyone who suffers from a serious allergy can tell you, the vigilance and restrictions aren't something they'd wish on anyone. And yet, a lot of people do seem to wish for it - or at least some of what goes along with it. This may sound harsh, but for every person I know who lives with and manages a serious medical dietary restriction, I know someone who's always (self) diagnosed with a new allergy and intolerance (suspiciously often one that's in the news), and tends to talk about it a lot more than the former group. It's obvious that food restrictions, for the natural hypochondriac, can become a control issue and a way to garner attention. Of course, it's a slippery slope, because the power of suggestion - and placebo - are powerful. And for a parent, the suggestion of allowing harm to come to a child through carelessness must be devastating. In an often out-of-control world, it's often tempting to control those things we can - and too often, as we know, that's food. But the thing is this: while a lot of people will probably welcome new, more accurate testing and the accompanying eating freedom with cries of joy, there are also a few, I'm guessing, who won't want to hear it. And those are the ones I'll meet up with after dinner.

Think You Have Food Allergies? Think Again [LA Times]