What causes food allergies?

The body innately distinguishes between its own natural substances and foreign substances, and attacks the latter when they pose a threat. In the case of a food allergy, that is exactly what happens: the body identifies protein components in foods as foreign substances, and falsely classifies it as a source of danger. In order to combat the alleged danger, the immune system increasingly releases antibodies (type IgE), which leads to the unpleasant symptoms.

Most food allergies occur because the immune system releases too many IgE antibodies when exposed to allergens. There is another, less common allergy mechanism in which the T-immune cells are involved; in this variant, the allergic reaction does not occur within minutes or hours, but only one to two days after consumption of the allergen. The affected individuals experience a skin rash as an allergic reaction. In patients with neurodermatitis, T-cells are involved in the reaction in which a skin reaction occus. 

Why are there more and more people with food allergies?

Food allergies have been diagnosed more and more frequently in recent years - but why? To start, the increased awareness of the existence of food allergies plays a role. Previously, people knew less about allergens and food allergies. In general, people were less concerned about their diet as a core component of their overall health, and  the causes of symptoms and reactions were not as well-researched as they are today.

Improved diagnostic techniques also contribute to the fact that more allergies are now recognized as causes of symptoms and reactions to a person's diet.

Experts also believe that an overly-hygienic environment can cause allergies, caused from chemical cleaners and a lack of exposure to necessary bacterias. There is also evidence of a genetic component of food allergies: a child whose parents are free from allergies develops an allergy with about 15 percent probability. If a parent is an allergy sufferer, this probability rises to 20 or 40 percent. If both parents react to the same allergen, the probability for the child to develop an allergy also rises to as much as 80 percent.

Allergies can disappear

The earlier an allergy occurs, the higher the chances that it will disappear over time. About half of all children with cow’s milk allergy are suddenly symptom-free after a few years, and even with peanut allergies there is a chance that it subsides. It’s as if the immune system had suddenly realized that it did not have to fight the proteins from food, after all!

On the other hand, other forms of food intolerances never go away. For example, both Hereditary Fructose Intolerance and Celiac Disease are lifelong diagnoses.

Further reading:

Food allergy symptoms

Preventing food allergies

Diagnosing food allergies

 Food allergy treatment