Food allergies – what’s the deal?

What makes someone allergic to a food?  Does it have anything to do with what the mom eats or doesn’t eat while she’s pregnant?  The dad?  Is it genetic?  It seems no one really knows.  My sister is a second grade teacher and she says that her school and many others, have “nut free” tables in the lunch room.  Kids that sit there have nut allergies (mostly aimed at the peanut free crowd) or their friends, but the friends have to show their lunch to the person in charge to show there are no nut containing foods in their Dora lunch boxes.  My sister supports a theory that she read somewhere, that in the US, we have been so immunized from everything and have become such antiseptic soap using, germ killing, antibiotic taking, disinfectant abusers, that our bodies have nothing to fight off and so have created something.  Food.  Other parts of the world have incredibly low cases of food allergies. In the same vein, maybe it’s all of the preservatives and additives in our foods.

I came across a great blog post by the Cleaner Plate Club on the same topic that I highly recommend. She sites numerous articles I was too lazy to research myself, including ones from Newsweek and the New York Times.

As a person who has suffered from a very serious food allergy all her life and seen it increase, I sympathize with those who have allergies, and want to know what I can do to minimize the chance my children will have them.  They are a pain sure, but can be life threatening.

Personal anecdote:

I’m allergic to all tree nuts, so no peanuts, which are actually a legume.  How allergic you may ask? Severely.  When I was a kid if I had a nut, I’d feel nauseous, throw up, and be fine.  My parents thought I just didn’t like nuts so this was my way of acting out.  Let me assure you, I have always hated throwing up so no, that wasn’t it.  As the years went by it got worse.  My lips would swell up and if I got any nut oil on my skin it would get blotchy and itchy.   It progressed to the point that 2 years ago I accidentally used a spoon that was used to scoop out cashews, (no actual cashews on the spoon when I used it) to scoop some rice at a restaurant, and I went into anaphylactic  shock.  Evidently, according to my allergist, if you don’t outgrown a food allergy by the time you’re about 12, it gets progressively worse each time you eat it.  My mom and sister were with me, and my sister in all her sister-ness, grabs my epi-pen and stabs me in the thigh.  Simultaneously giving me a little time to get to the ER before I stopped breathing, and taking out any little sister aggression she might have built up over 28 years, by jamming a needle into my leg with all her might.  It felt like what I would think would be the scene in Pulp Fiction when the guy slams the adrenaline syringe into Uma Thurman’s heart after she ODs.  I wanted to link to a video of that here, but after watching it again, it’s too gruesome; my nut allergy doesn’t involve foaming at the mouth or bleeding.  So there you go.  Remnants of nut oil on a spoon I used to scoop something else sent me to the ER.  Am I careful?  You betcha.  But you know how on many products there is a disclaimer that says something like “made on equipment also used to manufacture tree nuts”?  M&Ms have that label, and I eat M&Ms.  It seems that at least 99% of packaged food has that disclaimer.  It is a calculated risk.  Would I eat cereal bars or bread that has that label?  No.  But chocolate M&Ms, yes.  Not because I can’t survive without chocolate, but because in my head, it seems more likely for a nut or nut oil to get into bread than an M&M.  Do I carry an epi-pen with me everywhere, absolutely.

Also, interesting recent article on CNN.

Oh, and thanks sis!


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