Thursday, May 20, 2010

My thoughts on "Food Allergies Overestimated"

A new study points out that "food allergies are overestimated," The New York Times reported in their article "Doubt Is Cast on Many Reports of Food Allergies." But a careful reading of this article reveals that it is the testing itself that often overestimates food allergies leading many people to believe they have allergies which they may have outgrown or not have at all. But, this article is only discussing IgE food allergies--the kind that you can die from immediately.

Several allergists determined my son had "no food allergies" and that he was fine. But that was because his inability to digest gluten was not a immediate type IgE allergy--it was a sensitivity to gluten caused by the genes for celiac which destroyed his gut and altered his ability to tolerate many foods. After two doctors told me my son didn't have any allergies, the GI doctor finally found the genes for celiac which explained why he had gone from the 95% of weight to the 5% of weight after we introduced gluten (wheat) and dairy into his diet. Technically, he didn't have a life threatening IgE allergy. One doctor even told me, "we have a death and disease model" meaning if you are not going to die from something immediately after eating it, it isn't a problem. But my son was wasting away and his brain was starving for nutrients. And if I hadn't changed his diet he would have a serious, lifelong developmental problem. But, technically, he didn't have an IgE allergy. Celiac is actually a gluten intolerance which causes an autoimmune disease--it is not a true allergy. The protein from gluten causes the villi in the stomach to be stripped away so nutrients can not be absorbed and the person is starving for nutrients. Celiac is often overlooked by allergists because you will not die from it after consuming the food. You will die years later from cancer because you didn't absorb nutrients, and you might be infertile and unable to carry a baby because you don't have enough nutrients to support a fetus. You will have chronic, unexplained problems for years and yes, technically, you will be allergic to nothing even though gluten is causing your body to attack itself and not absorb nutrients.

Allergists missed my daughter's obvious celiac signs as well as my son's and by listening to allergists, I watched my son get sicker and sicker until we finally learned that they were talking about a specific type of allergy they can easily test for. After getting better on a gluten free diet, another doctor finally gave my son a diagnosis of "allergy syndrome." Another doctor finally found the genes for celiac.

The article actually makes me mad because it simplifies an issue that is incredibly complex and makes it sound like the issues that people have with food are in their head. It takes the average person with celiac 11 years to get diagnosed. These people can have severe problems ranging from chronic stomach aches, infertility to learning disorders all caused by their inablity to digest gluten. Interestingly, chronic digestive problems and lactose intolerance are frequent problems for the undiagnosed celiac. Furthermore, more and more doctors are recognizing gluten intolerance as a disorder with profound physical and neurological consequences such as arthritis, migraines, and ADHD.

Yes, technically these people say they have allergies and they don't--but they have very real symptoms and those with celiac have a disease that is life threatening caused by a reaction to a specific food. Also, just because there isn't a test for something does not mean it doesn't exist. IgE testing is limited. Although IgE tests do pick up allergies that don't exist they don't pick up the food sensitivities which are causing real, chronic problems for many people. Just because IgE allergies are overestimated doesn't mean the many, many people who get sick from eating food are not having a real reaction to food. Their reactions just aren't IgE mediated. There is also a gastro allergy which is incredibly difficult to test for because the allergy is happening inside the gastrointestinal system. This disease, which is considered incredibly rare, but isn't as rare as it once was, often takes years to diagnose.

The article says that 25% of the population who thinks they have food allergies don't actually have food allergies. What they are neglecting to say is how many of them have been told they have IgE allergies that don't really exist? How many of them get sick from food and think they have allergies, but the allergies might be a food intolerance, which they don't have a test or a name for? How many of them have early signs of celiac and can't digest lactose and think they have an allergy to milk?

Also, they did a food challenge with my son with dairy and determined he wasn't allergic to dairy. But it was because he was intolerant of BOTH gluten and dairy. He did not get better when we removed dairy from his diet. But when we removed both gluten and dairy he finally got better. I almost lost my son listening to allergists. I just wished I had known how little they actually knew about allergies--as well as how little they know about celiac.


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gfe--gluten free easily said...

Great post ... so many of these studies and articles present limited data under specific circumstances, but they are presented and shared in the media as much more. It's very disheartening at a minimum and extremely harmful, leading people and/or their doctors to possibly not take their conditions seriously. It's something that those of us with gluten issues fight all the time. Oh, and excellent point on the dairy issue not being helped by being dairy free until your child was gluten free also. When the gut is compromised still, one can't heal until all the offending foods are taken out of the diet.


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Sherri said...

LOVE this post! Very very true. Sadly I also say my son is allergic to "x" amount of foods...when really he only has 2 true "allergies" which is why we have an Epi-pen. Soy and Corn cause sever hives within minutes of eating and then he swells up like a balloon. However he is VERY sensative to over 40 more things, some more severe than others. But all the same we took the foods out and he got great post!

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My Doodle's Dairy Free said...

Thanks for the great post! I am from a small town and getting my doctors here to comprehend that food affects my daughter and manifests itself as autism is beyond comprehension to them. Just yesterday I asked for a doctors note so my daughter could have a gluten free/dairy free lunch at school and she was reluctant to give it to me, as she had "no medical reason" to issue such a claim. Yet, since being on the diet, my daughter's autism symptoms have completely disappeared. I ask - how is that not medically necessary? I feel so much frustration that the medical establishment can link diet as cause of so many disorders, but absolutely refuses to consider the impact of diet on autism.

Thank you for continually educating me and giving me the courage to fight ignorance in my small little town in MN.

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