Do You, Or A Child You Know, Have Food Allergies? | A Black Girl's Guide To Weight Loss

Do You, Or A Child You Know, Have Food Allergies?

800px-Peanut_closeup

TIME recently published an article about a study that took place at Northwestern University Medical School, and I think it’s pretty relevant:

Dr. Rajesh Kumar, a pediatrician at Northwestern University Medical School, and his team report in the journal Pediatrics that black children are more than twice as likely as white children to have sensitivities to eight foods that commonly cause allergic reactions, and that they are especially vulnerable to peanut allergies.

While other studies have linked African American ethnicity to a higher risk of asthma, Kumar’s group was interested in investigating whether race also affects children’s risk of allergy to certain foods. Using a multi-ethnic database of 1,104 children who participated in regular health checkups at 6 months, then again at 1, 2, 4 and 6 years old, the scientists measured the youngsters’ antibodies to egg white, cow’s milk, peanut, soy, shrimp, walnut, wheat and cod.

To determine race, the researchers used two measures — the children’s mothers’ self-report of race as well as the distribution of 150 genetic markers in the children’s blood, which track ancestry. The researchers included the second, more objective measure because self-reports of race can often be inaccurate, especially given the amount of racial mixing that occurs in a country as diverse as the U.S.

“If you look at populations who describe themselves as one race like African American or Hispanic, they may have ancestors from different continental groups,” says Kumar. “So the description loses precision if you just use race. Whereas if you look at ancestry, you get a more precise proportion of what ancestors came from one continent compared to another.”

The researchers found that children whose mothers reported them as being black were nearly 2.5 times as likely as self-reported white youngsters to be sensitive to any of the eight foods tested, and they were also more likely to be sensitive to more of the foods than white children.

When the researchers looked at the genetic markers for ancestry, they found that for every 10% increment in African ancestry, children were 7% more likely to have antibodies to the allergy-causing foods than white children. And the association was strongest for peanuts; more children with African ancestry showed antibody levels that would correlate to a possible allergic reaction if they were to eat peanuts.

Kumar stresses that his findings do not suggest that black children with more African ancestry are likely to develop food allergies, or even a peanut allergy. His study was only able to find links between levels of antibodies that are likely to generate a reaction.

“This is one way for us to start teasing out why there are increased risks in this population,” he says. “What we did was confirm that, one, yes, there is increased risk among black children for food sensitization and, two, we are starting to get at why they are at increased risk.”

Although the genetic markers are likely to reflect some inherited factors that affect how the immune system reacts to foods, it’s also possible that they encompass environmental factors. For example, the children who self-reported themselves as black showed a stronger likelihood of sensitization to milk and egg allergens, but not to peanuts, while those with more African ancestry showed the opposite trend: they were more likely to be sensitive to peanuts but not to milk and egg.

“Overall, black children seem to be at higher risk of being sensitive to foods, but if you break down that risk, self-identifying as black explains the risk to milk and egg allergens but not to peanut, while ancestry explains some of the risk to peanut allergens,” says Kumar. “That may mean that different factors go along with an individual’s self-identified race compared to their genetic ancestry.”

These factors may include things such as the fact that newborns of African American ancestry tend to have lower vitamin D levels, which has been linked to an increased risk of allergic diseases. Or, that those who identify themselves as being black may adhere to cultural dictates for when babies are introduced to milk, which can affect how newborns’ immune systems react to it.

I’m trying to reconcile this with what I know, historically, to be true of peanuts, dairy and our lineage with both. Peanuts aren’t from Africa – but I’m trying to remember if we had experience with peanuts before we were brought over to the Americas. I know you guys thought it was strange when I posted Robyn O’Brien’s TEDx talk about nuts, allergies and processed food, but I’m with her. I think there’s something in the processing that is causing our bodis to treat this stuff as “foreign invaders.” And, trust me, I’m speaking from existence – I learned, the hard way, that I’m allergic to shrimp that’s been pre-shelled but uncooked because of the chemical they spray on it to keep it from spoiling. (Because no one will acknowledge – or admit – to me what that chemical is, I can’t identify it.) We weren’t eating dairy when we came over (I think there was only on tribe that drank the milk of other animals?), but we’ve been using peanuts in everything for ever. Why, all of a sudden, are all these allergies springing up?

Do you, or a child you love, have an allergy? What do you have to avoid? Are you only allowed to have your “allergic” food in some forms and not others, like me? I’d like to hear about it!

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes health, fitness, nutrition, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She now lives in New York with her family, and is working on her 4th, 5th and 6th certificates.

12 Comments

  1. Roz

    October 8, 2011 at 11:07 AM

    Hi Erika,

    Thank you for the letting me know what’s going on with my food, and what’s out there that can’t even be classified as food, because I had no idea. I never had any food allergies as a child, so I found it odd that I’d been able to eat shrimp all my life, but then a couple of years ago my doctor ran an allergy panel and told me that I had a “moderate shrimp allergy.” Since then, I’ve been advised to avoid all shellfish. I’ve also become lactose intolerant as an adult, and I’ve wondered why drinking Lactaid milk doesn’t work for me. As far as wheat allergies go, with cinnamon raisin bagels/whole grain bread: sometimes I can eat them, and other times I’m doubled over in pain. I usually just avoid them. However, I can eat white bread and whole wheat pasta just fine. Go figure. Then there’s my daughter, who was previously able to eat peanut butter, but now has a peanut allergy. Also, when she was a toddler, she’d develop a rash on her face, throat, and chest after eating eggs or drinking orange juice. She drinks orange juice now and is able to eat foods containing eggs. However, she doesn’t like the way eggs taste (neither do I), so we avoid them. Sorry for such a long response, but I knew I wasn’t crazy.

  2. KalleyC

    October 8, 2011 at 10:46 PM

    Oh yea, my home is riddled with food allergies. I don’t have any, but my 2.5yo daughter has two: milk (which includes–yogurt, plain milk, any kind of cheese) and eggplant. I think she may be allergic to coconuts too, but we just avoid them because one time we has ice-cream (soy) and coconut was listed asan ingredient. Shebroke out in a rash and was itching all over.

    My hubby isallergic to corn, shellfish, and eggplant. He’s also mildly allergic to a host of other things.

    Needless to say, I cook with everyone’s allergies In mind. Oh how I do miss stuffed shells.

  3. Savannah

    October 10, 2011 at 11:18 AM

    I have a few food allergies: I am allergic to nuts but can cook with peanut oil and hazelnut oil has no affect on my skin. I am also allergic to fish but can eat canned tuna and shellfish with no problem. There is also the egg white allergy that I had as a child but have since grown out of – however I prefer to only eat my eggs scrambled ( I love egg yolk but am not a fan of the whites). When I have my check up this year I am going to have another allergy screening to see what else has changed.

  4. Latoya

    October 11, 2011 at 12:38 PM

    Hey Erika –

    You know, most of my life, I’ve had an oral allergy, one that was not diagnosed until recently. CNN had an article on it back in 2009:

    http://articles.cnn.com/2009-04-08/health/oral.allergy.syndrome_1_allergy-shots-pollen-allergies-oral-allergy-syndrome?_s=PM:HEALTH

    So, it’s kind of tough to live/eat heathy when you’re allergic to half of the staples of most eating plans. I can never just pick up an apple, a pear, or other fruit. I can’t eat raw celery. Certain soymilks will put me in the hospital.

    What’s horrific/hilarious about this is that more research is starting to show a link between oral allergies and exposure to fresh fruits and veggies earlier in life. So essentially, if I had grown up in an area where these things were plentiful, and I hadn’t eaten so many canned peaches or so much canned spinach, this allergy wouldn’t have developed as heavily as it has. Which makes me angry in a way – it’s another poor tax.

    But still, I can make do. Unprocessed nut butters don’t work for me, but a lot of things do. I can still drink Naked Juice. I can still cook my apples/figs/pears and alter their structure enough to eat them. I can enjoy all the veggies I am used to.

    And luckily, it generally isn’t fatal, so I can try new foods – the only price is discomfort. But it’s amazing to think of what causes these allergies.

  5. shantay

    October 13, 2011 at 7:45 PM

    I knew.I wasn’t crazy.. over.this.past year and more so over.this.past summer I acquired a banana allergy.. i was like how the… It’s more.than likely one.of.my first.foods and.after.32 years I.have a burning mouth and.itchy throat.during and.after.consumption.. sigh

  6. Bpurpleb001

    October 13, 2011 at 7:57 PM

    Giiiiirrrrrlllll my story is almost as bad as Latoyas. I have been allergic to nuts for as long as I can remember but didnt realize it until I became an adult that it was actually an allergy. I learned to avoid things with pecans and walnuts because of the pain it caused in my mouth, throat and stomach. But if I ever accidentally ate them hidden in a cookie or something no one would believe that I was really having a physical reaction to them. They would think I was simply trying to get attention. As I got older and with each pregnancy all of my allergies got worse. Both food and environmental. I was prescribed Allegra-D twice a day to control the environmental not knowing that it was probably helping with other allergies I had developed over time.

    Fast forward a lot and today you find me taking large amounts of benedryl to combat the increased sensitivity to both food allergies and environmental allergies. I’m now allergic to all tree nuts, watermelon, bananas, cucumber, raw carrots, sometimes grapes, sometimes chocolate, peanuts(which aren’t really nuts at all) in any form, and I’m discovering more and more each day. Now I have to avoid things that were processed on equipment that also processes tree nuts and peanuts. Oh I forgot coconut isn’t my friend either.
    I recently discovered that I can no longer use hair or body products that contain almond oil which sucks because its so hard to find good hair products for natural ethnic hair and I have 3 natural ethnic haired daughters.

    My daily drug regimen is 2 claritan and 2 zantac with my coffee in the morning. 2 zyrtec and 2 zantac before dinner. 1 t0 2 hydroxyzine at bedtime. 2 benedryl as needed for break through allergy symptoms like swollen tongue or throat or that pesky all over itching and hives from head to toe. I sleep a LOT. I keep my inhaler and my Epi-pen and benedryl close at all times.

    I still count myself lucky because it could be worse. My friends son is allergic to corn and corn products. He’s also allergic to wheat and wheat products. They didn’t discover this until he was a teen and it has caused scarring in his esophagus. If he doesn’t change his eating habits now he may end up with a tracheotomy just to breath.

    Oh and sometimes I have no idea what I ate that caused my allergic reaction so….

  7. Miss tinyhips

    October 25, 2011 at 12:34 AM

    I am severely allergic to milk (the actual protein) and eggs. I never liked either of these food items as a child but I ate them anyway. At age 27 I became extremely ill with continuous hives, gastrointestinal issues, weight loss, and insomnia. I was hospitalized because doctors thought I had crohns or celiac or an auto immune disorder. Hundreds of tests later they found absolutely nothing. I knew there was a food connection so I found a holistic doctor who did non traditional allergy testing. It cost me way too much money but I finally figured out my allergies and was help to start healing myself.

    Along my long journey I also read eat right for your type (diet for blood types). I am blood type O and the author clearly states that those of us with African ancestry should avoid all dairy and eggs.

  8. Michelle

    November 27, 2011 at 2:47 PM

    Hello there.
    I have suffered with seasonal allergies and chemical sensitivities my entire life. I have taken almost every allergy medication available. I’m waiting for my insurance to approve a new contender to my regimen. I was finally diagnosed with food allergies approximately two years ago. I’m 36 now. It started with oral allergy syndrome to all of the standard OAS triggers. My symptoms include an itching or burning mouth, vomiting, and diarrhea. A few months later I became violently ill after eating almonds. The symptoms were the same as the OAS triggers with the addition of facial swelling. It was at this point that I saw an allergist. Tests revealed an overwhelming number of allergens. The only shocker at this point was the addition of soy to my many allergens. I would like to note that I had never been tested for seafood allergies. I guess they assumed that if I had been eating fish all of my life I would know whether or not it made me sick. Well, I’d been eating nuts too, and we all know what they say about assuming things. Fast forward six months or so while in seafood department of a local grocery store. While my bass was being prepared I decided to look at their selection of dried fish. My curiosity almost cost me my life. Fish is officially off the menu and out of my house until I finish my allergy shots and possibly for the rest of my life. To recap, my food allergies include fish, nuts, soy, any raw fruit related to birch, tree pollen, grass pollen, and mold

    M.

  9. milaxx

    November 27, 2011 at 3:35 PM

    I really need to get officially tested because all the allergies and sensitivities I have I learned I had the hard way. Even knowing that I still have occasions where my face/lips randomly swells. I do know one thing; the less processed the food the better for me.

    Known allergies: Seafood, all of it. I get anaphylaxsis/hives/itching just being near some of it. The doctor thinks it’s the mercury and has warned me not to even allow them to use betadine if I am in the hospital. Walking by the seafood dept at Whole Foods or the Asian groceries makes me cough from the smell.

    Sensitivities; red dyes in food, powdered cinnamon, sometimes peanuts. Cooked carrots unless really well hidden in food makes me gag, but carrot cake or raw is fine.

    Drugs: Other than the betadine caution, I was placed on gabapatin fo pain management this past winter and spent a not so fun day in the ER when my tongue swelled up like a balloon.

    • Milaxx

      April 20, 2013 at 8:21 AM

      Update: I had allergy testing and sure enough I am allergic to all seafood, even tuna fish. Because some seafood tends to have high levels of mercury I am also advised to avoid mercury based products.

      Drug allergies are gabapatin and percocet.

      I also have year round sinuses.seasonal allergies.

      I also have what the doctors describe as 20th century allergies. Basically there is some unknown allergy trigger that does not show up on repeated allergy testing and bloodwork. As a result I have random facial swelling despite taking precautions against the know allergies. I currently take a zyrtec daily to try and keep that at bay.

      It has made me more vigilant at the market, since chemicals and additives are also triggers. Of course cooking my own food from scratch is safer as well.

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