Allergies are just so-o-o trendy these days. All around me folks are busy banishing this or that edible from their plates.
But how do you know if you’ve fallen for the “phantom’’ food reaction fad or are really suffering from what you ate for dinner?
Of course, some people are dangerously allergic to peanuts or shellfish, or gas up painfully from lactose intolerance, but a lot of us out there may be pinning the blame for a whole slew of ailments from eczema to headaches to nausea on guiltless munchies.
The fact is, self-diagnosis is never the best medical practice, folks. And you’re going to need your bunkum detector figuring out which tests really do the job.
What the experts say
“Food allergy – an immune response to the protein in food – appears to be increasing, as are other ‘allergic’ diseases such as allergic asthma, hay fever and allergic skin rashes. Studies show a doubling of peanut allergy among children in the past 10 to 15 years, and also show that about one in five persons alter their diet because of a presumed ‘allergy’ when they do not have one. On the other hand, those with a true food allergy need to know what to do to stay safe by having emergency treatment available (e.g., an injection of epinephrine).”
SCOTT H. SICHERER, associate professor of pediatrics, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, author of Understanding And Managing Your Child’s Food Allergies, New York City
“People say that 20 per cent of us now have allergies, but that’s untrue. Maybe 2 to 3 per cent of the population have true food allergies, and the other 17 to 18 per cent could be self-diagnosed. Some people blame weight gain on food allergy, but that doesn’t make biological sense. Allergies don't cause headaches; they don’t cause lethargy. ‘Food intolerance’ is an umbrella term. Celiac disease is one form of intolerance that is on the rise. All sorts of people are doing hair, nail and Vega testing out there, but these are unsubstantiated.”
SARAH SCHENKER, dietitian, British Nutrition Foundation, London, UK
“Yes, there is a difference between food allergies and food sensitivities. About 80 per cent of people have some sort of food sensitivity they never knew about. We do a blood test called the ELISA test [a biochemical technique to detect the presence of an antibody or antigen]. Food allergies are tested with a skin test. Food sensitivities can cause gas, sweating, diarrhea, eczema, fatigue, you name it. The common foods that cause reactions are milk, wheat, yeast and corn.’’
SUSHMA SHAH, naturopath, Toronto
“A true food allergy or sensitivity is when the body’s immune system is reacting. The more general term ‘food intolerance’ is a reaction to a certain chemical in foods, like sulphites or other chemical ingredients. It’s important that when people think they have a food intolerance, they get it checked out. Symptoms affect the GI tract, the respiratory system or the skin as rashes or hives. Then there are anaphylactic reactions, which are systemic and happen very quickly, whereas the others may take hours or days. That makes an allergy difficult to diagnose.”
CARLA TAYLOR, professor, department of human nutritional sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg
“The only standardized, acceptable testing for allergies is skin testing, either a prick or intradermal test. Some of the stuff out there is hocus-pocus. About six years ago [in Ontario], a naturopath told a family, after some testing related to reflexology, that their child was not allergic to peanuts, and the child died [from a reaction]. Even our standard tests are not 100 per cent. ELISA testing is not proven and is not standard for allergies.”
MILOS KRAJNY, specialist in internal medicine, secretary, Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Society of Ontario, Toronto