According to a study published in 2019 that included 40,443 participants, about 10.8 percent of Americans have an allergy to one or more foods. People can be allergic to any food, but the nine most common culprits are peanuts, milk, shellfish, tree nuts, eggs, finfish, wheat, soy, and sesame.
About twice as many — one in five — American adults believe they’re allergic to a food, says Northwestern University pediatrics and medicine professor Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, author of Food Without Fear: Identify, Prevent, and Treat Food Allergies, Intolerances, and Sensitivities. “But half of those folks may be suffering from another food-related condition, such as an intolerance.”
In the 2019 study referenced above, Gupta and her coauthors found that nearly half of the participants reporting food allergies had developed at least one of them as an adult.
“Food allergies are not just a childhood thing anymore,” she notes. Shellfish are the most common adult-onset allergen, but allergists are seeing increasing reactions to the other top-nine foods.
10.8% of Americans have an allergy to one or more foods.
Food allergies are also on the rise in kids. Allergic reactions in children increased by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 1997 and 2008, the prevalence of a peanut or tree-nut allergy in U.S. children more than tripled. In Gupta’s research, one in five parents reported having taken their child to the ER in the past year for a food-related allergic reaction.
There’s no single trigger for this dramatic rise in food allergies, although there are several likely culprits. A 2018 study of 792,130 infants, published in JAMA Pediatrics, found that babies who were given acid-suppressive medications or antibiotics in the first six months of life had an increased risk of developing nearly every kind of allergy, including food allergies. “Not having the right [gut] bacteria in the right quantities is one of the top hypotheses for the rise in food allergies,” says Gupta.
Widespread use of antibiotics and NSAIDs and exposure to chemical pesticides and environmental toxins have been implicated in damaging the gut lining and triggering leaky gut. This can lead to allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities to food. (For more on repairing a leaky gut, see “The Little Molecule That Could”.)
This was excerpted from “Making Sense of Food Allergies” which was published in the May 2022 issue of Experience Life magazine.