Gerber Life Family Times --- News and tips for familes of all ages and stages of life

Food Allergies

September 2003 Issue

Food Allergies

Art & Music—The
Educational Advantage

Bundle-up Your Home
for Winter

Honey—Not So
Sweet for Infants

Did You Know?

Medicine Cabinet
Staples and Safety

Mail Bag

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According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one out of three people say that they have a food allergy or modify their family’s diet because a family member has a suspected food allergy. In actuality, only about three percent of children have a clinically proven food allergy and that number drops to about one percent of the population in adults.

Actual food allergies, or hypersensitivities, are abnormal reactions to specific foods prompted by the immune system. Allergic reactions involve two immune system responses. The first is the production of immunoglobulin E, an antibody that circulates through the bloodstream. The second involves mast cells which occur in all body tissue but are most prevalent in sites typical for allergic reactions (skin, nose, throat, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract). For an allergic reaction to occur, a person must first be exposed to the food. During digestion, the food triggers specific cells to produce large amounts of immunoglobulin E. The antibody is then released and attaches to mast cells. The next time the food is ingested, it interacts with the antibody on the surface of the mast cells and triggers the release of chemicals like histamine. Reactions range from the mild (itching, sneezing, stomach discomfort, diarrhea and vomiting) to a more severe drop in blood pressure (anaphylaxis).

Common foods to cause allergic reactions in adults include eggs, fish, shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp), peanuts, and tree nuts, such as walnuts. In children, common culprits are eggs, milk and peanuts. Whereas children can eventually outgrow their allergies, adults rarely do. If an allergy is suspected there are a variety of tests available to confirm the suspicion. Most often a "scratch skin test" is used where a diluted extract of various suspected allergens are placed on the skin of the back or forearm. The skin is then scratched with a needle and observed for redness or swelling that would indicate a reaction.

If a specific food or foods are suspected of causing reactions, you can try eliminating them one by one from your diet to help confirm the problem food. Also be aware that some reactions to foods may be intolerances and not allergic reactions. Such instances include food dyes, the flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG), sulfites (used to prevent mold growth), gluten (found in wheat and grains) and lactose (found in milk). With some knowledge and awareness (and some willpower in avoiding problem foods), everyone can rest easy after meals.

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