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August 6th, 2010
12:38 PM ET

Food allergies: Your thoughts and questions

CNN.com readers had a lot to say in response to my article about why food allergies are on the rise. We received more than 1,100 comments, a clear sign that people are passionate about this issue.

Many of you have your own theories about why more children seem to have food allergies. People threw out there that perhaps vaccines, antibiotics, and pesticides and genetically modified foods are culprits - but the truth is that there is not sufficient scientific evidence to back up connections between any of those things and food allergies.

There is actually some evidence that breastfeeding for at least four months may prevent food allergies, says Dr. Ronald Ferdman of Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. But no clear-cut recommendations on whether a mom's diet makes a difference, or if introducing solid foods at a particular time helps, or if the type of baby formula given makes a difference.

As commenter starbright writes, "You can do everything right and still have a child with food allergies." She says that she ate an extremely healthy diet during her pregnancy, exercised all nine months, and still ended up with a child allergic to milk from birth (before vaccinations, regardless of breastfeeding).

Clearly, there needs to be more research into what, if anything, can be done to prevent food allergies. We don't know why a child might have an allergy from day 1, or why someone like reader m1e1b1s1 might suddenly react to shellfish for the first time at age 27.

Some readers wondered why the parents of Ethan Wily, featured in my article, allowed the child to have pistachio gelato after he'd shown an allergy to peanuts earlier. First of all, peanuts are not, technically speaking, in the nut family. It is entirely possible to have an allergy to peanuts and not tree nuts, and vice versa - but cross-contamination can be an issue with processed foods, which is why some very sensitive allergic people avoid all of the above.

With regards to this particular family, Ethan's mom Jen wrote in to clarify:

I know people have been critical that we gave Ethan pistachio ice cream, etc., and believe me, no one has been harder on us than ourselves. We did have him tested after his mild reaction to peanuts, but unfortunately, pistachios weren't included in the test (and he didn't show a reaction to other tree nuts).

Fortunately, they always have an epinephrine auto-injector and over-the-counter antihistamine on hand for emergencies. She also told me in an e-mail that Ethan has an appointment with a new allergist in September for a new round of testing.

And to agfinder, who wrote "CNN – DO A STORY ON THE FOOD !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!," I would like to direct you to our food blog, Eatocracy.


soundoff (121 Responses)
  1. leikela

    What I find even more interesting is the reaction that people have taken when it comes to food allergies. My child (16) was given a detention because she brought a pb&j to school for her after-school snack that she had always had. The sandwich was in a ziploc bag, in her lunch bag, in her locker. My question today is still what it was then – why is my daughter being punished for her food choices?

    August 8, 2010 at 17:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. JWW

    People used to eat foods grown or raised locally and are now able to obtain produce (fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, etc.) from all over the world. Their systems may have a better tolerance to local produce that they have grown up with. Shopping at local farmers markets or better yet growing your own produce may improve their allergies.

    August 8, 2010 at 18:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. fdm

    The Hygiene Hypothesis is another proposed idea for allergies. The same part of our immune system that makes antibodies called IgE fights both parasites (intestinal worms, etc.) could alternative make hypersensitive to foods, allergens, and is a component of asthma. So when we are young, and exposed to parasites, the immune system gets directed towards that and doesn't become hypersensitive to allergens. However, the 'cleaner' we get and less exposure to worms, etc., the immune system can become very sensitive and one gets food allergies, asthma, etc. To support this idea, asthma and food allergies are rare in developing countries (where parasites are more common.)

    August 8, 2010 at 21:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Colorado

    My theory on why allergies are on the rise is the state of our food, water, air, chemicals in our clothing, cleaners, lawns, personal products, etc. Our bodies are laden with toxins and pathogens, weakening our immune systems. Our DNA has not been able to "keep up" with this chemical assault, thereby causing the immune system to malfunction. We are having children later, so the child inherits any pathogens or toxins present in the mother's blood which also puts a child at a disadvantage from the get-go. I have been getting NAET allergy elimination treatments which actually changes the body's response to the allergen so you are no longer allergic. This was developed by a Dr. Devi Nambudripad (MD, DC, Lic Acc, PHD) over 30 years ago. No pricks, no shots, no pain. It can handle food allergies, animals, outdoor allergens, chemicals, clothing, detergents, etc. There are answers out there.

    August 9, 2010 at 00:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. T2

    I think there is a bigger issue here and some of you have only hinted at it. Since the mid 50's our entire food industry has shifted into highly processed, high consumption food products. Basically as a global society we have changed how we eat. Prepped, canned, fast food this, boxed that, microwave ready and so on have no doubtedly change us. However I see this not only concerning the increase in food allergies but many other implications; global epedimic increase in diabetes, obesity, and so on.

    I applaud many of you that claim to have gone organic but that trend has only been really the last ten years or so. it will take a fundamentally huge shift in the social and global food industry and basically undo everything we have done in the last 50 years.

    I was recently diagnosed as insulin resistant diabetic (diabetes Mellintus) and it has really opened my eyes to this entire food industry and what we consume. I have had to shift back to more wholesome natural foods and guess what? I love it!

    The use of chemicals, introductions of toxins, exploiting of GMOs, industrialization and mass production in our food chain will be the ultimate culprit to me; not one single source.

    August 9, 2010 at 07:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • fireybuddha

      THANK YOU! You are spot on, my friend. Keep preachin' it, and maybe enough will hear to make a difference.

      August 9, 2010 at 09:18 | Report abuse |
    • CD

      Exactly! People claiming I eat only organic the last few years are not mentioning the years and years of exposure to pesticides and chemicals before that.

      August 9, 2010 at 10:00 | Report abuse |
  6. JB

    My favorite book of all time is Real Food for Mother and Baby. I learned that when exclusively breatfed babies are introduced to meat between 4 and 5 months, they grow more than any other baby. Also, when a baby is introduced as early as 6 months to a variety of natural foods including raw cow milk, fish and runny eggs, they are more tolerant to food alergies. It is important to feed the friendly bacteria in their bodies. Things like gerber baby food and formula are not intended food for the baby and why would we feed our children the stuff if our ancestors couldn't. If you learn about and follow the diet of our early ancestors, you're life will change, you will have more energy and cure your own illnesses and modern day diseases.

    August 9, 2010 at 08:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. fireybuddha

    Ultrametabolism, by Mark Hyman, MD. the books says it all – and I mean ALL. Stop being victims to the food/pharmaceutical/health care industry and take control of your own health and well-being. Read this book, save your life. I did – it helped me treat my recent onset of Type II diabetes, w/o drugs. And within a month. It's all about inflammation, and this book helps understand how to diminish the underlying cause of the majority of diseases affecting populations that have adopted a Western diet.

    August 9, 2010 at 09:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Dr. Ann

    There is a relationship between Autism and Aspartame. The Senate is determining what correlates with Autism. For the Senate Hearing on Autism going on this month, it may be beneficial to know that along with Mercury and other contaminations in the environment, Aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal) has also been linked to Autism.
    See the chart at http://www.rumormillnews.com/cgi-bin/forum.cgi?read=180197, which shows the timeline of Autism rates with Aspartame product approval and usage rates. Europe has banned the use of Aspartame for pregnant and nursing women as well as children. The countries where Aspartame has been banned or never accepted, their Autism rate is only a small fraction of the U.S. rate. Since Aspartame has been approved in 1981, and placed in soft drinks in 1986, the Autism rate has skyrocketed. The Aspartame notes page explains just a few studies on how Aspartame has been linked with brain disorders.
    Some Main Points:
    Dr. Olney warned of the damage that this product would do to the unborn and to children. He said that the FDA acknowledged “aspartame had been shown to induce brain damage in neonatal animals” but FDA dismissed the neurotoxicity as irrelevant on grounds that the approved uses of aspartame don’t include feeding it to newborn humans. Yet aspartame can be found in prescription and over-the-counter pediatric drugs and in pediatric vitamins. Nursing babies receive this poison from mothers who breastfeed. The recent plague of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism, and birth defects manifest the neurologic devastations of aspartame. Supporting this view, Dr. Louis Elsas, Emory Professor of Pediatrics and Genetics, testified in a congressional hearing that aspartame is a teratogen (causes birth defects) and a neurotoxin.
    Aspartame is a teratogen that triggers birth defects. It is a deadly neurotoxin (Dr. Louis Elsas testimony before congress, pediatric professor,genetics). Dr. Russell Blaylock, M.D. says aspartame triggers ADD and autism.

    August 9, 2010 at 09:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. CD

    It is somewhat disingenuous to say there is no/little scientific evidence that GM foods, antibiotics, pesticides cause allergies. Simple fact is no one is studying the interactions between the 1000's of them and definitely not including the multitude of other chemicals in our environment from personal care products, clothing, cleaning supplies, etc. etc. Fact is no industry is going to fund these studies and our government sure doesn't seem interested. Show me proof that all these chemicals are NOT having an affect on human health. The logic that we prove something is harmful before we stop using it is twisted. We should be proving something is 99% not harmful before it is used so readily in our food and environment.

    August 9, 2010 at 09:58 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JB

      Well said. Even CNN has it's own category for toxic america.

      August 9, 2010 at 10:29 | Report abuse |
  10. WAS

    A great fear that parents often have with children who have allergies is that they might have an allergic reaction when they go off to college. I personally experienced this ordeal with my parents. I am a junior at Wake Forest University and I have deadly food allergies to eggs and seafood. Some people have different types of reactions, such as hives and rashes, but I suffer from anaphylaxis whenever I come in contact with eggs and seafood. The greatest way to protect ones child from harm is education. From an early age, my parents showed me that I always had to carry my Benadryl and Epinephrine. Also, they taught me to always ask before taking anything. In college students eat in buffet style cafeterias, so taking my parents life-saving advise, I always ask at every food station if the food has eggs or fish. I know it is annoying sometimes, but these are necessary precautions that one needs to take to stay alive. I also have two sets of small medicine bags, one that stays in my dorm room, and the other in my bookbag, so that I have one close by at all times. Comment or reply if anyone has any question on college life and allergies, and if anybody wants to hear about my allergic reaction stories in college.

    August 9, 2010 at 10:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Kay

    I developed an allergy to soy a couple of years ago, and I am now 57 years old. I pigged out eating a dozen soy bars in one day and got hives all over my neck. Now I can't eat even a tiny bit. My grandson has a different allergy to soy. It causes psychotic episodes where he has horrible tantrums and wanting to kill people. After a few years of these tantrums, my daughter figured out what was causing this when she realized it began when she switched him from dairy to soy. Now with no soy he is a fabulous child. We heard a story about a boy named Benjamin on NPR a couple years ago, and he was diagnosed as bipolar and institutionalized, and his symptoms were the same as my grandson's symptoms. It makes me wonder how many children who have food allergies are wrongly diagnosed and institutionalized. I read The China Study and it opened my eyes. We now eat a diet of fruits and vegetables and seeds. All organic. No soy and no processed foods. Lots of green smoothies and salads. The difference in life is nothing short of incredible.

    August 9, 2010 at 11:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Amisha

    My daughter was allergic to all nuts, dairy and wheat in addition to stuff in the environment like dust etc right from birth (we found out when she was about 6 weeks) . Since she was 3 months I started her on Homeopathy. She is 3 yrs now and can eat all dairy products, wheat & even almonds. She still has a reaction to other nuts. But this is a huge improvement. So as a mom of a child with allergies I will definitely recommend trying homeopathy treatment.

    August 9, 2010 at 13:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Bad Patient

    Personally, I'm still not buying it. I believe our obesity and T2 diabetes problem is too much corn in our diet. Watch the documentaries on corn. Animals don't get along with it (and we can talk – I'm telling you, corn is a problem). Information seems to come through the path of least lawsuits these days. I found my situation to be very similar to what they are describing about animals. I need antibiotics/antifungals when I eat corn. It appears to bother the allergy pathway, but antibiotics/antifungals is what it takes to get my blood ***sugar*** back in control...implying to me that there is an infection there. I can't get my doctors to understand it because they don't understand the concept that I can't keep my blood sugar under control with an infection (not sure why that doesn't make sense to them...I think a lot of medicine is just handed down with the attitude that this is how we always did it, and they knew that diabetics get infections, but they don't get that infections cause diabetics...and that appears to be closer to the truth as far as I can see right now. I get sick when I eat grain, corn is one that has tested as an allergy. I need antibiotics and then antifungals to deal with the antibiotics. I can control blood sugar just fine until I eat grain again. (II repeated that, and it still holds true.) If it were simply an allergy that my body thinks is an infection, then why do antibiotics/antifungals work? And by "work", I mean not only do I feel better, but I can put my blood sugar anywhere that I want to with diet and exercise, as long as I stay away from grain (mostly corn, but I can't rule out others as well. I test ok for wheat allergies, but wouldn't put much faith in the test. I've had two different types at a world class hospital with probably one of the best labs in the world. Testing isn't where we need it to be yet. That is one thing that is very clear to me. We used to have the best diagnostic skills in the world and that brought us a long ways in heart health, but I don't see that in diabetes...and I don't know if thats because that's a feeder for lots of other segments of health care, or if they simply don't know. But, how could people watch millions of people go down this path and not see it? Corn is so deeply ingrained in our culture that maybe it just slipped under the radar. But, high fructose corn syrup is bringing a lot of this to light. Like an engineer would test equipment...stress it until it breaks...only that's what is going on with our bodies. High fructose corn syrup is too fast of a sugar for our body, and possible wouldn't have been good at lower levels. Watch the documentaries on corn that talk about how it affects animals. (Research doesn't always translate well from animals to humans, but they are looking at animals that are close to humans...and none of them are doing well on corn without antibiotics...I don't know where they are at on antifungals with that. I suspect they aren't very far along on that. They spray the corn with antifungals, but I don't think that's getting us where we need to be.)

    On doctors: I don't think it's a matter of reading something and challenging what they know (I think that belongs to them, not me.). It's a matter of going to your doctor with what you know to be true and they don't get it. I need them and they won't help me.

    As far as I can tell, I am getting infections from eating grain that require an antibiotic, and the miss them, but I also need an antifungal (this antifungal problem is a can of worms in and of itself – it's hard to get rid of and not necessarily linear. Some people say that you can control it if you can tightly control the environment that it tries to live in – our body, and they would eat really, really green food – think of those documentaries where they are saying that grass fed is better than corn fed...that's interesting. Read Sick and Tired also. There are people that seem to be on partial right tracks...but medicine doesn't seem to pick up...and given the money involved, we need to question some of this stuff.

    But, as far as I can figure out, infections keep your blood sugar too high (but at levels that are curiously called boundaries by the health care profession...and I would say those are the levels that blood sugar gets stuck at no matter how much you control diet and exercise...because there are true undiagnosed infections there. Could be yeast, strep, not sure about others because those are the two that I run into most often. So, when I ride my bike across Colorado, or Iowa and my blood sugar gets stuck at a certain number, I know, that I have an undiagnosed infection. But, my doctor doesn't. They are in a different plane...they are all over the concept of MRSA and don't want to prescribe antibiotics. We are colliding here. I need antibiotics/antifungals to control blood sugar if I am going to eat corn (it's very, very difficult to find food that doesn't have corn or corn derivatives in it – and very stressful because I know that if I eat it, I WILL GET SICK, there is NO QUESTION that is true for me. But, when I do that, I need to go through the whole litany of trauma trying to get help from the health care profession. And it's stressful. I was told by a guy that was selling KIO3 after 9/11 that the antibiotics that they use for animals would work if the doctors won't give them to us...so I think of that as an alternative, but wonder why we can't just get help from the health care profession. Are they against us too? Maybe they make so much money off of this path that they don't want to change it...look at the big picture...how much of our food is corn...don't even go into the center of the store. And how much of our health care is based on diseases and illnesses from bad food. The Food Bill, the FDA, our national health plan...look at the big picture. How do we elegantly shift this off to something more intelligent than what we are doing now? Is it BT crops? Not sure. Cows, and other animals don't seem to get along with it that well...I definitely don't get along with it. It makes me sick...hands down, every time. There is no "well, maybe I can just sneak it in this one time"...I can't stand the stuff. Infections keep our blood sugar too high (then just about anything you eat is too much), your body sends insulin to deal with it, insulin loves to store fat and hates to let go of fat...very difficult to lose weight with an infection. And very difficult to find a physician that understands it...so we are stuck in a bad place here. Impossible to control blood ***sugar*** with an infection.

    There might be some type of allergic response there also. I seem to need salt to drop the fluid from that (they decided that salt was bad and took it out...added more high fructose corn syrup...that seems counter productive to me. Damage is done in the inflammation...vision, kidneys, feet, etc.). I think that affects blood ***pressure***. I get better after about three days of not eating grain. Grain might make your body retain fluid...not sure why...inflammation from some type of allergic response? Cows, and other animals seemed to do better and not need so many antibiotics when they were grass fed. I would say that is true for me too. I do much better with grasses than grains. That's about all I know for sure. I don't know why so much as that I know that's what it takes for me to be able to deal with it and for now anyway...health care is standing in the way of me getting better. health care in the short run because I can't seem to get what I need out of them to control blood sugar (I'm not going to take their blood sugar lowering drugs. That's just not going to happen. They can go jump in the lake. That's crazy wrong.) The Food Bill and food industry is standing in my way because they aren't transforming this system that totally doesn't work into something that does. The system is broken. It doesn't make sense to do what we are doing and we ran into the wall. Time to shift the whole system to something smarter than this.

    And we haven't talked about plastics in our food, water, medical supply yet.

    August 9, 2010 at 14:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Toeknee1134

    I enjoy the food allergy topics not only because allergies are on the rise, but because I was just diagnosed with Eosinophilic Esophagitis Disease. I am a 24 yr female who has never been allergic to anything. Now, I have a disease that is caused by some allergy I have developed overnight. I was barely able to eat for almost 3 months with little to no explanation of why my body had decided to fight itself. I am in the testing phase and so far how found out I have developed allergies to tree, grass, and weed pollens, and rye. I am set for more tests later to continue to find out what else I am allergic to. Trying to find any type of answers regarding any Eosinophilic disease or food allergies is almost impossible due to the lack of scientific studies. Please continue to raise awareness! We need it!!

    August 9, 2010 at 14:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Bad Patient

    Empowered patients have limits. We need our physicians, but they appear to be bound and gagged by a system that isn't working out very well for any of us.

    August 9, 2010 at 15:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Bad Patient

    Agree that patients with a watchdog, family member (they look like guardian angels sometimes), private nurse do seem to do well. People complain about unions, but hospitals would have the nurse/patient ratios pretty sparse if they could get away with it. Another thing to watch. And having said that...hospitals aren't cheap to run. So, if you want to know why an aspirin cost what it does...you really have to look at the big picture. I have worked in five health care facilities in the Midwest. The problem doesn't appear to be in hospitals to me. There are a lot of good people working hard there...and it's not fun work. The problems seem to be bigger than them. Not just health care policy, but health care doesn't align properly with the Farm Bill, and agriculture in general. What happens over there affects health care. So, can we move this up the pipe where we can actually do something intelligent here? We need to prevent this stuff in the first place. We have better things to do that make people sick and try to figure out how to make drugs to deal with it. It's not going to work and shouldn't be encouraged. Let's just straighten this mess out. We already subsidize corn...lets subsidize it to something healthier for all of us.

    August 9, 2010 at 15:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bad Patient

      Agenices that we were lead to believe were protecting us aren't. We need to direct that charge back to them. Corporations corrupted them to look the other way so people would never be able to figure out how they got sick. We need to stop that.

      August 9, 2010 at 16:14 | Report abuse |
    • Bad Patient

      We haven't even talked about how toxic our environment is...

      August 9, 2010 at 16:16 | Report abuse |
  17. Eva Yeganeh

    People have to rise up against corporations like Monsanto, who use us as guinea pigs!

    August 9, 2010 at 23:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Dr. Ann

    There is a relationship, significant at a 95% correlation level, between Autism and Aspartame. The Senate is determining what correlates with Autism. For the Senate Hearing on Autism going on this month, it may be beneficial to know that along with Mercury and other contaminations in the environment, Aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal) has also been linked to Autism.

    See the chart at http://www.rumormillnews.com/cgi-bin/forum.cgi?read=180197, which shows the timeline of Autism rates with Aspartame product approval and usage rates. Europe has banned the use of Aspartame for pregnant and nursing women as well as children. The countries where Aspartame has been banned or never accepted, their Autism rate is only a small fraction of the U.S. rate. Since Aspartame has been approved in 1981, and placed in soft drinks in 1986, the Autism rate has skyrocketed. The Aspartame notes page explains just a few studies on how Aspartame has been linked with brain disorders.
    Some Main Points:
    Dr. Olney warned of the damage that this product would do to the unborn and to children. He said that the FDA acknowledged “aspartame had been shown to induce brain damage in neonatal animals” but FDA dismissed the neurotoxicity as irrelevant on grounds that the approved uses of aspartame don’t include feeding it to newborn humans. Yet aspartame can be found in prescription and over-the-counter pediatric drugs and in pediatric vitamins. Nursing babies receive this poison from mothers who breastfeed. The recent plague of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism, and birth defects manifest the neurologic devastations of aspartame. Supporting this view, Dr. Louis Elsas, Emory Professor of Pediatrics and Genetics, testified in a congressional hearing that aspartame is a teratogen (causes birth defects) and a neurotoxin.

    Aspartame is a teratogen that triggers birth defects. It is a deadly neurotoxin (Dr. Louis Elsas testimony before congress, pediatric professor,genetics). Dr. Russell Blaylock, M.D. says aspartame triggers ADD and autism.

    August 10, 2010 at 09:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Elizabeth

    Check into Leaky Gut Syndrome. it is the reason for all the increases in allergies, asthma, ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, autism, eczema, etc.

    December 22, 2010 at 00:59 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.