Food Allergies Tied to Genetics and Ethnicity
In 1997, food allergies in children age 17 and under rose 3.4%. Between 2009 and 2011, food allergies in the same age group increased 12.5%. Why? A question that resonates with thousands of people with food allergies, but not so easily answered. While there are many theories and suppositions on the subject, fortunately, there are also numerous scientific studies that serve to enlighten us on genetic and ethnic ties to food allergies.
Genetics and Food Allergies
According to the Stanford School of Medicine, individuals who have an allergic mother have a 65% chance of developing some kind of allergy themselves. This probability increases to 85% if both the mother and father are allergic. However, genetics only predispose a person to the development of allergies and do not explain their recent rise.
In a 2013 study, scientists identified the main genes they believe to be responsible for inherited allergies. The conclusions of the study, based on genome sequencing of DNA from 30,000 people, represent a breakthrough in allergy research.
In the study, the researchers compared the genomes of about 10,000 allergy patients with the genomes of 20,000 people without allergies. The researchers found that people with allergies often exhibit tiny changes in specific sites in the genome, where one of the DNA building blocks has been replaced by another. These changes in the genome did not occur to the same extent in the group of people without allergies.
The findings do not present an immediate revolution in the treatment and diagnostics of allergies, but rather suggest the study be used as a tool that researchers can use to sharpen their focus for future research.
Ethnicity and Food Allergies
Not all children are affected by food allergies in the same way. In a study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal, Pediatrics, findings show that African American children, especially boys, are more likely to have serious food allergies to foods like milk, eggs, soy, peanuts and shellfish.
According to a CDC study, Hispanic children had a lower prevalence of food allergy, skin allergy, and respiratory allergy compared with children of other ethnicities. Non-Hispanic black children were more likely to have skin allergies and less likely to have respiratory allergies compared with non-Hispanic white children.
Researchers noticed that Chinese people were less likely to be allergic to peanuts than Americans, and speculated that the reason could be the cooking method. Sure enough, a recent U.S. government study confirms that peanuts that are boiled or fried are less likely to cause an allergic reaction than the roasted variety. It is believed the higher temperatures used in roasting increased the allergenic traits of peanut proteins.
Many believe that food allergies are less common in developing countries and emerging economies such as China, Brazil and India. This raises questions about potential health impact increases in food allergy and suggests evidence should be provided to support the assumptions. As the health and social burden of food allergy can be significant, national and international efforts focusing on food security, food safety, food quality and dietary diversity need to pay special attention to the role of food allergy in these countries.