Food allergies within the US are on the rise and there’s no denying that. Research from the CDC tells us that food allergies in children have grown around 50% between 1997 and 2011. That’s 1 in 13 children in the US. Around 90% of these reactions come from milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. These allergens cause an average of 300,000 allergy-related trips to ambulatory care every year by children under 18.
There are 2 main theories for the rise in food allergies: the hygiene hypothesis and gene expression. The hygiene hypothesis is the thought that keeping our kids too clean has caused them to develop these reactions. The reasoning behind this hypothesis is that a lack of exposure to these foods as a child makes the body mistake the protein for an invading germ. Dr. Leigh Vinocur believes that the overuse of antibiotics, and drugs related to these, cause gastrointestinal changes that affects how the immune system perceives a food protein.
Another area being studied as being a cause in the rise of food allergies is gene expression. While the baby is in the uterus, the mom exposes it to a lot of different environments which affect her and the baby’s immune system. A study in Australia took blood samples from babies that developed food allergies and ones that didn’t. The blood samples from the babies that developed allergies showed molecular differences to the samples of the “healthy” babies. The reasoning behind this is that gene expression is affected by epigenetic processes known as ‘molecular switches’. When the mother is exposed to different environments, it triggers the ‘molecular switch’ which turns a certain gene on or off. By not being exposed or being overexposed to certain situations, the fetus’ epigenetic processes will be disrupted and might develop certain food allergies.
I believe that both areas don’t have the same amount of impact on the fact that kids are becoming more allergic. I was raised by a 20 year-old dad and a 19 year-old mom. They weren’t the cleanest people, obviously, and so I was exposed to a lot when I was little. I went on my grandpa’s boat for the first time when I was 19 days-old. I believe this greatly affected my immune system and is the reason why I don’t get sick as often as a lot of my friends. While this is all true, I still believe that the main root all these allergies is genetics.
My family has no history of allergic reactions and I’ve had the luck to not have any allergies. On the other hand, my stepmom has a shellfish allergy and one of my sibling is already allergic to shellfish as well. Through this line of thought, one can say that maybe the reason for so many allergies is because of the Baby Boomers. They spread their genetic code which might have contained mutations that caused more cases of allergies.
In conclusion, there has been a rise in allergic reactions recently but I don’t think it should be a problem since 90% of these reactions are because of only 8 foods. I don’t think these reactions will ever reach epidemic proportions but it’ll definitely cause a change in the human diet.