By Caroline Young Bearden, MS, RD, LD, RYT
We probably all know someone who says they are allergic to certain foods or even food groups. To prevent a reaction from occurring, they steer clear of potentially harmful allergens. Certainly, food allergies are very real and should not be taken lightly because they can dramatically affect quality of life and can be life-threatening.
However, food allergies, along with their symptoms, are commonly misinterpreted, sometimes misdiagnosed, and confused for other issues like lactose intolerance or gluten sensitivity, according to a new report compiled by a committee of 15 doctors appointed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASM). The National Peanut Board helped sponsor the major consensus study, which broadly assesses food allergy causes, prevention, management and public policy.
Evidence Tells the Truth
You may have heard different behaviors are associated with preventing food allergies. But the report committee explained there is simply not enough evidence to link things like breastfeeding and vitamin D supplementation to food allergy prevention.
Plus, the committee said there is not enough evidence to link these behaviors with food allergy prevention:
Allergen-avoidance diets in pregnancy
Allergen avoidance in infancy
So what are the recommendations from scientists?
Positive Change in Action
The report highlights steps to improve the food allergy environment for those with and without food allergies alike.
First of all, the committee suggested the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) help better define the extent of the food allergy problem. To date, no comprehensive study has been done to determine food allergy prevalence in the U.S.
Here are the committee’s recommendations and how you can start to implement them in your own life:
- Choose healthcare providers wisely. Avoid clinicians who are using non-standardized and unproven procedures to test for allergies, such as applied kinesiology and electro dermal testing, according to the report.
NASM recommendation: Physicians should use evidence-based procedures to diagnose food allergies. There is not one, simple test for food allergies, the committee said. A skin prick test and a medical history can help determine the likelihood of a food allergy, the committee said, but sometimes, the oral food challenge, or the supervised, gradual ingestion of doses of the potential allergen, is necessary to confirm a true food allergy.
- Learn the current research. Read about the latest evidence-based research on early introduction. While the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) guidelines are not expected to be released until 2017, check out the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s (ACAAI) recommendations. The National Peanut Board’s provide an easy-to-read graphic.
NASM recommendation: Public health guidelines should have consistent and evidence-based advice for doctors and families about early introduction of allergens to infants when they are about 6 months old and no younger than 4 months old.
- Cut through the clutter. Clear up any misconceptions about food allergies by reading evidence-based information.
NASM recommendation: To improve education and training for everyone from healthcare providers to the food industry to the public, in order to clear up misconceptions about food allergies. They suggested that authorities such as the World Health Organization consistently update guidelines on food allergy diagnosis, prevention and management, based on strong, current scientific evidence. Also, they recommended medical school programs, the food service industry and emergency organizations include food allergy and anaphylaxis management in their training.
- Take note in your community. Find out about current food allergy plans and procedures. Do they provide a framework for a safe environment for those with food allergies? Then, raise awareness around the issue when necessary.
NASM recommendation: To prevent severe reactions, improve practices and policies, such as food labels. They suggested that federal agencies should collaborate to replace current food allergy labels with clearer, more accurate information. Plus, they recommended federal agencies work on implementing emergency epinephrine policies for public venues, including schools, restaurants and airplanes, as well as staff trainings.
Finally, the committee closed their report by recommending more research -- in areas like diagnosis, risk and management of food allergies.
To Sum it Up
All in all, the committee’s point in creating key steps and urging public health leaders to take action is to improve the health and quality of life for people with food allergies. Plus, other goals are to decrease food allergy reactions, and to raise awareness and dispel common myths to clear up the confusion. And eventually, the hope is that there will be consistent and effective procedures for those at risk for food allergies and those already suffering.