While NeuroScience, Inc. is nestled in a bucolic pocket of Wisconsin’s St. Croix River Valley, we avidly stay abreast of the latest health and science news. As we pointed out in a recent blog post, a new study by Gupta and colleagues published in the journal Pediatrics concludes that childhood allergy is much more common than previously suspected. The study assessed the prevalence of childhood allergy to be 8% of all children, considerably higher than previously reported findings of approximately 4% (Liu 2010; Boyce 2010). This study also noted that about 39% of those with food allergies had experienced a severe reaction, while about 30% had multiple food allergies.
These troubling findings raise a number of questions. What can be causing this rise in childhood allergies? Are childhood allergies becoming more common, or are food allergies being diagnosed more often? These questions are very difficult to answer from a scientific standpoint. What I do know is that my daughter’s elementary school teacher shared with me that the number of children sitting at the reserved allergen table in the student cafeteria has significantly increased over the last 3-5 years. In fact, for the first time in the school’s history, two reserved allergen tables are required for some of the school’s lunch periods.
I speculate that there are a number of contributing factors: intestinal hyperpermeability, food quality, and obesity.
Intestinal hyperpermeability increases the amount of allergenic proteins that make contact with components of the immune system (Heyman 2005; Hong 2011). Increased intestinal permeability has been linked to chronic inflammation, particularly elevations in the pro-inflammatory cytokines interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) (Ginzberg 2004). Children with intestinal hyperpermeability and resulting inflammation have an increased risk of developing food allergies (IgE reactions).
The rise in consumption of low-quality foods (especially fast foods and processed foods), with a concomitant decrease in consumption of fresh foods, has resulted in nutrient deficiencies, increased intestinal permeability, and likely an increase in food allergies. It is a sad fact that Americans now spend more than $110 billion annually on fast food, according to Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation. For example, in Louisiana there are 13 fast food restaurants for every 100,000 residents, 33% of whom are obese (CDC Obesity Trends). Fast food may be inexpensive, but it is also has very poor nutritional content.
Then there’s obesity, which we know is directly related to food quality. It’s not surprising that the rapid rise in childhood obesity correlates with an apparent increase in food allergies (Wilders-Truschnig, 2007), considering that obesity is now considered a chronic inflammatory disease (Bastard 2006; Moschen 2010). Fifteen percent of all American children are obese, and it has been estimated that a third of children are carrying extra unnecessary weight (Ogden et al. 2010). Overweight children therefore are also suffering from chronic inflammation, which, as I pointed out earlier, sets them up for increased intestinal permeability.
All is not lost by any means, but it’s going to take hard work, commitment, and some serious lifestyle changes to save the next generation from a lifetime of morbidity. By addressing diets, increasing exercise, screening for food allergies/ sensitivities, and addressing intestinal hyperpermeability, many of the alarming health trends in our nation’s children can be reversed.
In the mean time, the news that food allergies are so alarmingly prevalent in our children is another good reason to screen every child for IgE food allergies (55 Foods IgE). Based on the results, elimination diets and intestinal support should be added to any program to further address sources of chronic inflammation.
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