Today, we are going to explore the question of whether or not food allergies are genetic. Is it possible for parents to pass allergies down to children, or do people simply develop allergies themselves? By looking at all of the existing evidence out there, we’re able to come to a conclusion.
What are food allergies?
It is estimated that around 10.8% of US adults and 7.6% of US children suffer from food allergies. But, what exactly do we mean by a food allergy? Often, this term gets confused with food intolerances, but the two are entirely different.
You see, a food allergy is something that triggers an immune system reaction. This leads to a whole host of symptoms, ranging from mild to life-threatening. It can only take a very small amount of a certain food to trigger an allergic reaction in someone’s immune system.
By contrast, food intolerance only affects your digestive system. The symptoms are less severe and you are able to eat small amounts of a food substance without seeing any effects, even if you have an intolerance to it.
Common food allergies
Naturally, there are lots of different food allergies out there. However, recent statistics from FARE pinpoint these eight things are the major food allergens in the US:
- Tree nuts
Are allergies genetic?
This is a question that has constantly been asked. Are people likely to be allergic to certain foods if they have a family history of allergies?
Well, babies are not born with food allergies. They can develop them as they get older, and there is some evidence that suggests genetic factors may play a role in increasing the likelihood of someone having food allergies.
In fact, there was one particular study that analyzed thousands of children and their biological parents, with most of the children having some kind of allergy. During the study, millions of genetic markers were looked at, and the results showed that some genes could link to food allergies. Specifically, this study uncovered a particular gene present in at least 20% of people suffering from peanut allergies.
How do genetics play a role in allergies?
In the simplest way possible, certain genomes can predispose children to an increased likelihood of developing allergies. This isn’t just the case for food allergies – if a parent has another allergy, such as pollen, there’s a bigger chance that their children will also develop this allergy.
However, this does not mean that children will definitely have a food allergy if their parents have one – it just means there’s a greater chance of this being the case.
Can environmental factors cause allergies?
While genetics can increase the chances of someone developing a food allergy, there are also environmental factors that could be at play. Indeed, a lot of other allergies are caused by different factors in the wider world. However, most of the research surrounding this focuses on airborne allergens – such as dust mites, pollen, etc.
Indeed, many people suffering from allergic rhinitis could develop an allergy when constantly exposed to allergens in the air. If an individual is always around dust mites, there is a chance they can develop an allergy to this particular allergen.
So, the same can be theorized for food allergies, though there isn’t enough research out there right now. Experts are certain that there is an environmental role, but they don’t yet have enough evidence to make a concrete statement. Having said that, some studies have shown that exposure to things like traffic pollution could increase your sensitivity to allergens, possibly boosting the chances of developing a food allergy.
What else can cause allergies?
Remember, allergies lead to immune system responses, which basically means that any substance could cause an allergic reaction. Ultimately, it comes down to what your immune system decides is a threat or not. If it feels threatened by something you come into contact with, it can trigger responses that display typical allergic reaction symptoms.
Food is obviously one big cause of allergies, but others include:
- Insect bites
- Certain materials – like wool
How do you reduce the risk of developing food allergies?
Unfortunately, if you are pre-disposed to developing a food allergy, it is not easy to reduce the risk of it. The best thing you can do is speak to a dietician or get an allergy test to see if you are allergic to anything.
Working with a dietician can help you understand what foods to introduce or remove from your diet, reducing the chances of an allergic reaction. There is also the possibility that consulting a dietician when you have a baby can help you know what foods to give them to maybe lower the chances of them developing food allergies. For instance, giving them cooked egg or peanut butter when they’re very little might prevent them from getting these particular allergies when they’re older.
When should you see a doctor?
You should see a doctor if you start having allergic reactions after eating certain foods. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Mouth itchiness
- Facial swelling
- Difficulty breathing
Even if you keep getting digestive issues after eating, it is worth seeing a doctor to get tested. Here, you will at least discover if you have a food allergy or if it’s just an intolerance to something you keep eating.
Get help from an online doctor
Don’t waste any time contacting your doctor when you suspect a food allergy. At DrHouse, we have a team full of online doctors ready to consult with you at a moment’s notice. They’re able to provide full consultations to help you figure out what’s wrong. You can even get prescriptions from your online doctor, as well as book multiple tests.
In conclusion, food allergies can be caused by certain genetic factors, but there are also environmental factors at play. If you have a family history of food allergies, there is a much larger chance you will develop the same allergy when compared to someone without a family history of allergies.
- Erin Nicole Benton, Christie Maria Sayes , Environmental Factors Contribute to the Onset of Food Allergies (2017) , Journal of Environmental Science and Public Health, ISSN: 2575-9612, Available from: https://www.fortunejournals.com/articles/environmental-factors-contribute-to-the-onset-of-food-allergies.html
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- Hong X, Tsai HJ, Wang X. Genetics of food allergy. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2009 Dec;21(6):770-6. doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1097/MOP.0b013e32833252dc . PMID: 19851108; PMCID: PMC2892276.
- James T C Li, What’s the difference between a food intolerance and a food allergy? Mayo Clinic, Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-allergy/expert-answers/food-allergy/faq-20058538
- Allergy Facts and Figures, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Available from: https://www.aafa.org/allergy-facts/
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