is it really a food allergy?

by Sandy Todd Webster on Aug 16, 2010

Food for Thought

It seems every time you turn around these days, there is a new food allergy in the news. There are horrific stories of kids who cannot even be in the same room as a peanut. Gluten-free products have sprung up all over the supermarket shelves. You probably know someone who is lactose-intolerant. The question is, are food allergies really more prevalent these days? A group of researchers did an exhaustive research review to get to the heart of the matter.

Their report, commissioned by the federal government and published in the May 12 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (2010; 303 [18], 1848–56), found that the field of allergy research is full of poorly conducted studies, misdiagnoses, and tests that can give misleading results. Researchers concluded that the evidence for the prevalence and management of food allergy is greatly limited by a lack of uniformity in the criteria used for making a diagnosis.

For their report, the authors reviewed more than 12,000 food allergy papers published between January 1988 and September 2009. In the end, only 72 met the researchers’ criteria, which included having sufficient data for analysis and using more rigorous tests for allergic responses.

From the worthy studies, the scientists gleaned that food allergy affects more than 2% but less than 10% of the population. It was unclear whether the prevalence of food allergies is increasing and also whether one method of food allergy detection (skin prick versus serum food-specific IgE) is statistically superior to the other. Although elimination diets (physician orders not to eat certain foods) are the mainstay of therapy, the review revealed that this method has rarely been studied. Immunotherapy is promising, but data are insufficient to recommend its use.

The paper is part of a large project organized by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to try to impose order on the chaos of food allergy testing. An expert panel will provide guidelines defining food allergies and giving criteria to diagnose and manage patients’ conditions.

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About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL and IDEA FOOD & NUTRITION TIPS, the industry's leading resources for fitness, wellness and nutrition professionals worldwide. Sandy joined IDEA in 2001 as executive editor of IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER and IDEA FITNESS MANAGER magazines and was promoted to lead the editorial team in 2003. More than 20 years in magazine publishing, marketing communications and creative services have shaped her straightforward approach to multi-channel communication. Early experience in Los Angeles as a sports writer/reporter, and then enriching years as a managing editor in allied health care publishing have pulled her across a spectrum of stimulating subject matter. Fitness, health and nutrition reside at the perfect center of this content continuum, she feels. A Chicago native, Sandy grew up fully engaged in various competitive sports. Her drive and dedication as an athlete translate to a disciplined work ethic and unwavering approach to challenge in her career. Shortly after graduating journalism school from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, she was recruited to L.A. for her first post in magazine publishing. After two decades of working on magazines--and now in the throes of applying the unbelieveable multi-media content delivery options available in the magazine 2.0 world--she is still "completely in love" with the creative process it takes to deliver meaningful, inspirational content to end users. She is an accomplished home cook and gardner who would love to combine those skills and passions with her health and fitness background to continue educating readers about a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.