If it seems like more people – your son, your granddaughter, the neighbor kid down the block – have a food allergy, it isn’t your imagination.
Doctors are diagnosing and treating more patients with food allergies, says Dr. Benjamin Davis, an allergist with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
“It’s a phenomenon that is true not just for food allergies, but for allergies in general,” Davis says.
While experts aren’t sure why food allergies are on the rise, research suggests it is related to what’s called the “hygiene hypothesis,” Davis says.
“This hypothesis states that as a society, we are becoming too clean, and we are losing a lot of natural infections that are immune systems are taught or developed on. So people are more inclined to develop things like allergies, when there immune system goes a little haywire,” Davis says.
There’s also a possibility, Davis says, that physicians may have contributed to the problem. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, doctors advised parents to avoid highly allergenic foods in infants’ diets.
“Now there’s been really strong evidence to support that was bad advice and that, in fact, the earlier we introduce the food into the diet, the less likely it will be allergic to a person,” Davis says.
Pediatricians now recommend that parents introduce some allergic foods, like peanuts and eggs, into the diet of infants as young as four to six months, Davis says.
Despite rumors on social media, researchers haven’t found a link between the rise in food allergies and how our food is produced, Davis says.
Specifically, there is no proven connection between food allergies and genetically modified (GMO) foods, he says.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that scientists who develop GMO foods run tests to make sure they aren’t allergenic.
In the United States, livestock have consumed GMO feed (over 2 trillion meals worth for more than 20 years. Many studies have confirmed that no intact or immunologically reactive protein or DNA has been detected in animal tissue.