Food Allergies: Real-ish

Food Allergies: Real-ish

Food Allergies: Real-ish

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
May 12 2010 10:18 AM

Food Allergies: Real-ish

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On the subject of food allergies, there are two major camps: The skeptics who believe it's all in your head, and the believers who get wildly defensive when they come across skeptics, reminding everyone in sight that food allergies are a very big deal. (Don't forget that horrible episode of Freaks and Geeks !) Skeptics can't help but notice that a few years ago, no one had even heard of gluten-free food, much less started restaurants dedicated solely to selling it. Believers swear up and down that they or their loved ones' health improved tremendously when the loathed food was finally singled out and shunned. The two camps are polarized in a way that makes modern politics seem like a tea party, and so there's not a lot of room for those of us who consider ourselves moderates in the debate-people who believe that food allergies are a very big deal, but also that they're way overdiagnosed by both doctors and people who wake up one day and blame gluten for all their problems.

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This New York Times article gives the moderates a boost. Dr. Marc Riedl, an immunologist from UCLA, has released a report indicating that food allergies are real, but wildly overreported-5 percent of adults actually have them, but 30 percent of adults believe they do. No mention of how many adults don't claim food allergies, but still avoid eating gluten because they assume something must be wrong with it because of all the attention it gets. Riedl argues that people call themselves "allergic" to food that simply gives them indigestion, something that will no doubt cheer many skeptics.

However, Riedl also rolls up people who have legitimate intolerances into the "not a food allergy" category, which seems a little unfair. Many people simply don't know the difference, but that doesn't mean that their negative reactions to lactose or sulfites aren't real. It's an innocent mistake, and perhaps educating people about the very real differences between common intolerances and genuine food allergies would make the latter easier to spot.

In the meantime, I'm sure drug companies that sell antacids and gas pills will be heartened to hear that perhaps most people who think they have food allergies would be better off reaching for a bottle of these common medications.