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Food Allergies

Food Allergies: Frequently Asked Questions

Thursday, March 22, 2012 - 15:43

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Here are some frequently asked questions related to Food Allergies And Intolerance.

Q: What is the difference between food allergy and food intolerance?

A: Food allergy involves a reaction of the body's immune systemfood intolerance does not. Food intolerance stems from problems with digestion or metabolism-the way the body breaks down food-usually because of an enzyme deficiency. Food intolerance rarely causes life-threatening reactions, as is possible with food allergy. A common symptom of food allergy is hives on the skin.

Q: Which foods most commonly cause allergic reactions?

A: The most common food allergies are to eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (such as almonds, pecans, cashews, Brazil nuts and walnuts), milk, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.

Q: Are food allergies inherited?

A: Allergies do tend to run in families. But for food allergy, it is common for only a single family member to be food allergic.

Q: Will my child outgrow food allergies?

A: Most children outgrow their food allergies after avoiding eating the foods for a time. Fewer, however, outgrow their allergies to peanuts and tree nuts.

Q: Can breast-feeding prevent my baby from getting food allergies?

A: Some experts believe that breast-feeding protects against food allergies developing later in life. Others think that breast-feeding delays the onset of food allergies, rather than prevents them. Still, many doctors recommend that you breast-feed your baby for at least six months if you have a strong family history of allergy. Babies are not allergic to proteins made in the breast. However, a baby can react to a food the mother eats.

Q: Is there a cure for food allergies?

A: Science has yet to find a cure for true food allergies. The best approach to avoiding reactions is to eliminate the problem food from your diet. Physicians hope the vaccines being developed will control food allergy even if they do not cure the condition.

Q: Can sugar or other foods influence behavior?

A: Whether foods can directly cause behavior changes such as hyperactivity, fatigue, or irritability is controversial. Scientific studies in which children unknowingly were fed sugar failed to conclude that sugar causes notable behavior changes. Likewise, there is no evidence to support the claim that certain foods can influence behavior. Most likely, a behavior change comes because people believe that eating a food makes a difference, rather than through any physical effect. Food additivesmay be another story, but it takes a large amount of additives to make people hyperactive, and it is difficult to reproduce this evidence consistently. At this time, it is doubtful that food additives cause reactions in very many individuals.

Q: Can food allergies cause or aggravate chronic illnesses?

A: Claims that link food allergies to arthritis, epilepsy, depression and environmental illness are unconfirmed and controversial. Eliminating certain foods from the diet may be helpful, however, for some people who suffer from migraine headaches or arthritis. Studies have shown a link between migraines and some foods in rare cases. In only one well documented case, milk was shown to aggravate arthritis.

Q: What foods are linked to migraine headaches?

A: Foods known to trigger migraine headaches include alcohol, especially red wine; foods with tyramine, such as aged cheese; foods containing nitrates, including cold cuts and bacon; chocolate; drinks containing caffeine; and foods with monosodium glutamate (MSG). Surprisingly, however, there are few, if any, blinded studies confirming these commonly held conclusions.

Q: Can MSG or other food additives cause allergic reactions?

A: Many studies have shown that additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), the sugar substitute aspartame and several food dyes do not cause allergic reactions. Studies of MSG have shown that most symptoms attributed to MSG cannot be reproduced during blinded MSG challenges. However, in some sensitive people, food additives can cause an adverse reaction. This sensitivity is almost always an example of food intolerance, rather than true allergy.

Q: What is sulfite sensitivity?

A: Some people are sensitive to sulfites, preservatives found in wine, beer and some prepared foods, especially dried fruits. Reactions in a small number of people include severe asthma attacks and breathing difficulties. Sulfite sensitivity, however, is not considered an allergy.

Food Allergies