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Confronting the Rising Prevalence of Food Allergies

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A food allergy is a condition where the immune system misidentifies certain proteins in food as a harmful substance, known as an allergen. Globally, the estimated number of people suffering from a food allergy has reached 250 million-plus. More than 170 foods have been reported to cause allergic reactions. These are symptoms of a life-threatening condition known as anaphylaxis.

Emerging evidence suggests that gut bacteria could play an influential role in whether we have food allergies. One type of bacterium that thrives in the digestive tract of those with a meat-heavy diet has been found to be associated with inflammation and bowel diseases. Not only does a meat diet change the gut environment, but also herbicides and pesticides used to cultivate crops can contribute to the imbalance of microbiota in the digestive systems of those who eat the produce. Another potential cause of food allergies is vitamin D deficiency.

Research published in the Italian Journal of Pediatrics reports that around 2 to 6% of children suffer from cow’s milk protein allergy. Adults can also be allergic to milk and experience wheezing, vomiting, hives, and/or digestive issues. According to Dr. Neal Barnard, MD, founding president of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine and a Shining World Compassion Award recipient, adopting a plant-based diet can be beneficial in dealing with food allergies. If our diet is composed of whole and minimally processed vegan foods, such as fruits, vegetables, oats, rice, nuts, etc., we do not have to worry that we are accidentally overlooking allergy-causing ingredients on a product label.

Even though no treatments are currently available to cure food-allergic reactions, we can wisely choose the lifestyle that is best for our health. For example, there are plenty of delicious and nutritious substitutes for dairy milk, such as soy, almond and rice milk. Sufficient sunlight can boost our immune system to cope with some allergy problems related to insufficient vitamin D. In addition, having animal companions could be a way to help avoid allergies. A UK study involving more than 1,300 3-month-old babies found those with dogs in the household had a greatly lowered risk of a food allergy.

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