Why Are So Many People Allergic To Food?

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /

Thanks to curiosity stream for
supporting PBS Digital Studios one One second.
What do we have here oh no no those are cashews. So is this like a bowl full of
death to you? Yes, well cashews aren’t as strong of a reaction for me but I am
allergic to tree nuts. It’s not fun, it’s not fun at all. Hey smart people, Joe here.
I recently invited my friend wheezy waiter to come by and talk about food
allergies. Just one, they’re not real cashews, they’re stunt cashews. Of course
you should never trick a friend with the food that they’re allergic to, but it’s
okay wheezy waiter and I are friends, and I’m
a doctor. These days most of us know someone with a food allergy, some food
they have to avoid eating, or even coming into contact with in order to avoid a
dangerous reaction or even death. But why are people allergic to food? And why are
food allergies on the rise? It’s nuts. Maybe I’m just getting old but
it seems like food allergies are more common than they used to be. Well we’re
not imagining things, scientific data backs that up. The
percentage of children with food allergy has definitely increased in recent years.
I’m allergic to all tree nuts so I’m allergic to walnuts, pine nuts, almonds,
cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pistachios – here in Texas – pecans
everywhere. Not pecans no pecans I always say pecans, but you’ve taught me it’s
pecans. Yeah I play the right way yeah. That stuff ends up in a lot of different
foods, so I imagine you have to have accidentally encountered this stuff before.
I have accidentally encountered almost all those that I listed. What happens is my mouth swells up, my throat swells up, I get hives, I get hives
in my lungs, I can’t breathe, horrible stomachache, and it lasts for
three hours. But I don’t think about reading labels and that’s a whole
difference about how we navigate the world as things that I don’t have to
think about and you do. And especially now it seems like the nuts are cropping
up in everything like barbecue sauce or cocktails, like drinks now like to have
walnut bitters in them. To make matters even more confusing, adults can also
become allergic to foods that they never had issues with as children. I’m Emily
Graslie I am the host and creator of the YouTube
channel The Brain Scoop and I work for the Field Museum as their Chief
Curiosity Correspondent. So I saw on Twitter recently that you aren’t getting
along with certain kinds of nuts very well anymore. Yeah I’ve never had a
problem really with any sort of food you know, but otherwise never have had
any sort of allergy whatsoever then a weird thing happened. Why don’t we try
almond milk for the first time? I never tried it. The next morning just routine
morning on my way to work I had my bowl of cereal, poured the almond milk on it
and I got to work and I noticed that my nose was just dripping like a
faucet, and I realized I was hot and itchy, and I noticed that I was just
absolutely covered in full-body hives. I just was like this is really weird.
Now a true food allergy is different from a food intolerance. This is really
important like if you’re lactose intolerant and you can’t digest cow’s
milk. It can make you feel really sick Aches, pains and digestive troubles, that
kind of stuff. But if you’re allergic to milk, it could kill you. A true allergy
is when your body’s immune system has a reaction to the food on a molecular
level. It’s your body treating food as a germ or an invader, which actually
doesn’t make sense. Let’s look at how this works. Food is made up of lots of
different molecular bits like the fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. We’re gonna
focus in on the proteins – everything we eat has proteins and they come in a
variety of shapes. Our bodies usually digest food proteins down to their most
basic units, but some food proteins don’t get completely broken down and they
escape into the body where they meet the immune system. Now it’s your immune system’s job to recognize protein shapes that come from dangerous invaders – viruses,
bacteria, things like that sneaking around your body. But peanut butter
should not cause this reaction. This makes no sense. Cobras, jellyfish, really big wasps. Maybe. But not deliciously roasted
legumes. Molecules called antibodies stick to the foreign food molecule
leading to the release of a chemical called histamine. Which makes you really
itchy, or if the reaction is bad enough, it can cause anaphylaxis – where the
entire body just goes haywire. From dizziness to swelling to your ability to
breathe. So I started looking up like can you just develop an almond allergy or a tree nut allergy as an adult – you can and I said
well what could cause it. The only unusual thing was this almond milk, so I
immediately made an appointment with an allergist. We needed to determine if
almonds had specifically caused this allergic reaction. So honestly we did
this food challenge and nothing happened. Nothing happened so you’re sitting there
now and you still have no idea what triggered this, what it really was, or
what you might meet again that could give you a problem. And it could be
nothing, it could be something else that I ate. Emily had an allergic reaction to
something. In cases like these even doctors can be stumped. In the meantime
he told me when I left the office that day that I needed to operate as though I
had a life-threatening tree nut allergy. So he prescribed me epinephrine and
I have an epinephrine injector that I have to carry with me everywhere. I
have to spend the next year carrying this around with me, and maybe have to use it on some mystery food that we don’t know. I keep coming
back to one basic question, why would our bodies bother to have such extreme
reactions? Reactions that could kill us after a handful of trail mix, or a glass
of milk. The truth is we don’t know why food allergies exist – there is a leading
theory and I should stress this is just a theory, that allergies might
exist thanks to parasites. The part of our immune system that recognizes
allergy causing food also reacts to certain wormy, buggy infections.
Humans are a lot cleaner than we used to be, back before hand sanitizer and indoor
plumbing, and you know, science. Today we don’t have as many parasites entering
our bodies, so maybe that bit of our immune system is just bored –
so it’s overreacting and attacking foreign-looking proteins in our food
instead. Our clean, sterile, no dirt eating lifestyles could be behind the rise in
allergies of all kinds. But that’s just a theory, a parasite… wait that’s not my catchphrase What am i doing? Peanut allergies are the most common food allergy, affecting nearly 1 in 40 kids in
the US. In all, we know of at least 400 proteins for more than a hundred and
seventy foods that cause allergic reactions with eight foods
accounting for 90% of those. Now a lot of people are allergic to shrimp and other
shellfish, and a lot of those people are also allergic to little bugs called dust
mites. Now shrimp shellfish and dust mites are all invertebrates and all of
them trigger allergies thanks to a protein called tropomyosin. Well they
share that protein and it’s very different from anything our bodies make.
This is an example of cross reactivity, like if you’re allergic to cashews you
might also be allergic to pistachios or mangos since they’re all in the same
plant family. I’m telling you evolution explains everything. So how can you avoid
food allergies for you or your kids? Well, just a decade or two ago doctors
recommended not giving young kids foods that commonly trigger allergies for at
least the first few years of their life. But that was actually the exact wrong
advice. Food allergy rates continued to rise, so doctors changed their
recommendations. Today’s advice suggests parents should slowly introduce common
allergic foods early, and in small amounts – and it seems like it’s working.
Food allergy rates have stopped rising at least. I mean we’re parents now mm-hmm
How does your having an allergy affect what you’re introducing your chile
– if it were up to me I probably would be incredibly more wimpy about it,
but my wife my wife is introducing all these things. She introduced all the all the nuts to her so far and she’s not allergic.
So yeah, and I got nervous every time. Which is fine.
If you already have a food allergy, unfortunately there’s no cure. We’re
developing treatments like getting the immune system accustomed to allergy
causing foods in small doses, there’s even a sticker that acts almost like a
nicotine patch for peanut allergy. But please remember always talk to a doctor
before you attempt any treatment. Sadly with food allergies there’s still more questions than there are answers. We know what’s causing them, we know a little bit about how to prevent them, but we don’t know why they
exist or how to cure them. It’s really stressful to not know what caused it
and to not have any reliable way of testing what caused it. You take for
granted when you don’t have a food allergy – you can go wherever you want
ready to eat anything and so you’re automatically your world like shrinks
quite a bit. Every restaurant you go to, every lunch that you eat, if you didn’t
prepare it yourself I’m wondering like is this gonna have something in it that
could kill me? And am I allergic to almonds? And if it’s not almonds then what is it?
Are people taking me seriously. That’s a big concern that people who have food
allergies. But, it can be life-threatening.
Is it frustrating that people can’t give you an answer about why this happened.
Yes, yes I would love a cure that would be great. Do you’ve a cure are you gonna introduce? A cure, well it’s called exposure therapy.
But every scientific question that we know the answer to today was once a
mystery just like this an answer barely out of reach, in the fog of not knowing
yet. Someday we’ll figure it out. Some nuts
are just tougher to crack than others. Stay curious.

100 thoughts on “Why Are So Many People Allergic To Food?

  1. A big thanks to Craig and Emily for sharing their allergy stories. Do you know anyone with a food allergy? Share this video with them! I'm on Twitter and Instagram at @DrJoeHanson

  2. Wish you would talk about the commercial farming (aka chemicals) that are likely affecting us all. When you talk to people from other countries (with less garbage being sprayed on their food) they'll tell you that allergies don't exist in such large occurances their societies the way they do here. That would make a much more interesting vid.

  3. This is the last channel I expected to make this mistake! 😡 It a "hypothesis," not a "theory!" Theories can be proven mathematically or experimentally. If we don't know and it's a guess, then it's a hypothesis.

  4. "its a just theory" – this is why people undermine meaning of theories. I've heard this many times for example about evolution.

  5. Is there a sticker for dog allergies? I’m growing an allergy to dogs and I have three and love them so much.

  6. I react pineapple. I do believe I have a strong reaction to bromelain in it. One bite of a freshly cut pineapple, and I felt like a 1000 needles were poking i to my toung, and if I put preassure on the tounge (against my teet just talking) these «needles» were pushed deeper causing pain. It went away after a few hours. Just 1 bite. Now I just stay away from pineapple. I do know that heat should break down the enzyme, but just because of bad experience it just not going to taste good.

  7. Moisture plays huge role in allergy. I have poultry products allergy but in dry states I can eat whole fried chicken

  8. My mom gave me some peanuts on day when I was like 3 at the park 5 or 10 minutes later I threw up and that kept happing. Now I hate my twin brother for not being allergic.

  9. I’ve had asthma since I was a kid and I recently developed a shellfish allergy in early adulthood. Interesting to finally learn of a connection between the two

  10. No it’s the government they want to stop grenades for the army so they make people allergic to peanuts so if they join the army they use that as grenades

  11. rise in allergies? Rise in medical conditions? Hypotension, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, mental health issues? It is simple, but people have "feelings" that will not agree. I am medically trained, work in an acute care facility. This is the sad answer….. Science, medicine, healthcare, and welfare are the reasons. Why, you may ask? Let's take cystic fibrosis. These kids did not live long back in the day. Into their teens usually. Now with all we have today, we are able to keep these kids alive longer into adulthood, 30s at times .. as long as they follow their regimen. At this point they are having children and passing along genetics… Same with diabetes, mental health, and everything else. When you work with medicare recipients, you see mom's with mental health issues having 10 kids with 8 in the foster care system. Consistently popping more babies out. Breeding the genes over and over. The lower echelon of society has more kids than the upper. Not saying that the upper does not have illnesses , etc. But their is a lower instance of illness and issues in the higher echelon of society. If we as a people continue to allow the lower people to breed uncontrolled, the only solution is to control the genetics with crispr . Deleting the bad genes.
    Ever watch Idiocracy? That's basically what I have seen working in the medical field.

  12. Lol my friend alergic to shrimp everyone in my place believe that you just need to get used to it and he literally does it he eat shrimp every week and eat his medicine after it or just bear with the pain after 8 month he not alergic anymore

  13. Had run across an item that stated that the clean environment we live in now is what's causing this increase. Seems to me that our immune system needs to be kept busy studying a baseline of infections.

  14. I'm allergic to certain vinegars. They destroy any part of my skin they touch. The inside of my mouth is horribly torn up because of this.

  15. Exposure therapy probably won't work too well after you've stopped growing. I guess some cure can only be cured through gene alteration like bone fragility.

  16. I'm allergic to fruits like apples, peaches, kiwis, no idea why, my mouth tingles, I head up and my throat turns red and itches. Anyone relates?

  17. Interesting fact!
    In Israel the most popular snack is Bamba, which is a peanut snack that is kind of like a cheeto (but made of peanuts).
    It's soft and therefore it is widely popular among babies. I doubt there's a baby in Israel who didn't have this snack.
    Interestingly, peanuts allergy in Israel is very rare, ten times less than in the UK for example

  18. "Someday, we'll figure it out." Yes, please. I need some hope now because I'm so anxious about my allergies that it's debilitating…

  19. My cousins girlfriends mom swears that she used to be allergic to cats but she loved cats so much she let one scratch her and she got terribly sick then recovered and claims to have been cured. I have mu doubts but who knows

  20. The Dr. could not find any problems in my blood. I just changed my diet on my own. He didn’t offer me anything. I read labels, and avoid A WHOLE LOT of processed foods. Any thing that is labeled “ Vegan “ and the ingredients have the words “ Natural Flavors” ? it goes back on the shelf. Thanks for sharing.

  21. The Dr. could not find any problems in my blood. I just changed my diet on my own. He didn’t offer me anything. I read labels, and avoid A WHOLE LOT of processed foods. Any thing that is labeled “ Vegan “ and the ingredients have the words “ Natural Flavors” ? it goes back on the shelf. Thanks for sharing.

  22. So after 12 minutes the answer to the question posed in the title is… nobody knows. THE END.. You're welcome for saving you 12 minutes :p

  23. Is it just me or do most white people have allergies? I don't get it …… I grew up in Africa where no one I knew had allergies, it's very rare. But here in North America most people have some fancy allergy.

  24. I was born in India and came to canada a few years ago and what surprised me the most is high percentage of people that are allergic to these kinds of food.
    Back in India i never met someone with food allergy..

  25. When I was a kid I used to be allergic to shellfish, not deadly allergic but allergic. My lips would swell up, they'd get red and hot, then I'd get itchy where the shellfish touched. It was okay if I ate it without touching it (idk it was really weird), like if it was in a dumpling I didn't have a reaction at all. But if I was popping open shrimp or crab with my hands BOOM ITCHY. Then all of a sudden in like middle school I stopped having any reactions altogether. The worst thing that would happen is that if I was peeling raw shrimp I'd get itchy where the head or tail stabbed me but I think that happens to most people (someone tell me if this is true). ALSO around late HS I started getting allergic reactions to dust that never happened before, itchy eyes, coughing, itchy lips. Then like 2 yrs ago I started getting a mild allergic reaction to pollen which is now subsided along with the dust allergy to a minor reaction unless the pollen count is super high. idk what is wrong with me, someone fix this body please.

  26. When I was little, early elementary school, I had peanut and treenut allergies. They went away after like 4 or 5 years. But when I started Chemo when I was 10, they came back. The allergists ssid they had never had a case like that but its probably because my medicine weakens my immune system.

  27. As for a cause, my money is on the disruption of the digestive system due to a constant exposure to herbicides, pesticides and preservatives in the modern diet.

  28. Are only proteins the cause for food allergies?
    This means that salt can't cause allergy ?
    Also, can people who have food allergy at least just taste the problematic food and then throw it? Or even in the mouth it causes a problem?

  29. One more question, How do you become un allergic to come thing, my brother became "in allergic " to peanuts but how? He never was around them or even never ate them. How did this happen?

  30. If I remember right, intestinal worms secrete immuno suppressant chemicals that cause immune system to be called down. So having worms (or at least these chemicals) might actually help reduce allergies.


  31. I have an allergy to musk melons (ie cantaloupes and honeydew melons). It causes sores that are like blisters where the juice of it comes in contact with.

  32. i wish you read this, i agree with allergy is from environment and habits. as i love in small village in Indonesia, i saw less people allergic to peanut, but my neighbor is allergic to hair bleach. my father allergic to some fish, but i think because my father was grow up in 60s, it's was a time when food is so rare back then, and my father was live at mountain, may mother who live near biggest river in java doesn't had that allergy. and my village is lowland just 25m above ocean level, i was pretty tough i was ever jump to river at midnight then wore my wet clothes till morning and no problem, but as 2012 i moved to malang, wich is highland 600-800m above ocean level, i avoiding bath at night and early morning, originally i always do morning coolbath at 4 am, but its so cold here after i try few early days in malang, so i avoid it, 2015 i had urgency to take abath eaely morning again, then my skin got allergic to cold water. i don't know why but that was really happen

  33. My 1-year old has multiple food allergies and it’s so frustrating! I did “everything right” – breastfed, introduced allergens early and slowly, absolutely was not a neat freak or germaphobe. But wow- life for those with allergies (especially multiple) is hard! So much food prep and label checking… Not to mention making sure all her nutritional requirements are met with more limited food options! Eating on the go or going to restaurants is so hard. Now that there are so many dietary fads, I have to make triple sure that wait staff understand this is a child’s allergy, not a dietary preference. I never realized how much I took for granted before.

  34. We have the kid version of the Auvi-Q injector that Emily held up in the video at @6:00. Food allergies aren't fun.

  35. Weird. In my country barely no one has nuts allergy, and usually the people who has come from a high socioeconomical background

  36. I became allergic to something in most lip make ups and in Chapstick and got itchy dry skin around my mouth that would peel like crazy when my reaction ended plus my lips would swell up 3x their normal size. This lasted for a while year. And now back to not having allergies at all.

  37. I'm 30 and have developed a minor allergy to lettuce. Specifically Lactuca sativa, or romaine/iceberg. It's the strangest allergy I've ever encountered.

  38. srsly???? please, PLEASE don't perpetuate the "and this is JUST A THEORY" trope. it harms scientific credibility, especially coming from channel that supposed to be about SCIENCE. have you not seen the "just a theory" argument used time and again — successfully — to undermine the theory of evolution, among others? c'mon. be better.

  39. I'm allergic to duck eggs. Not chicken eggs though. Idk why but when i even get a tiny bit in my mouth when baking i get violently ill immediately.

  40. Me and my sister were both allergic to all kinds of nuts, 3 different types of Dust mites, and shellfish. What’s crazy is that I grew out of those allergies but my sister didn’t.

  41. When I eat anything using Worcestershire sauce my mouth breaks out into sores, especially along the bottom. My lips tingle and feel a little swollen. My dad though I maybe allergic to anchovies that is in it as I have not reacted to other ingredients

  42. I loved shell fish my whole life, at 19 I had shrimp and I started puking and coughing within a half hour. Though it was food poisoning or something. Tried lobster I knew was cooked properly. I had the same reaction as the shrimp. Cue a hospital visit and testing. Our of no where I was allergic to shell fish. Its slowly getting worse, the reaction and the sensitivity. I had to have my doctor explained all of this to me. What else is weird is things like seasonal allergies are getting worse to. My doctor have me the same advice as Sarah, carry epinephrine and avoid what I know can make me have a reactions. It's insane, my life literally became terrifying in a matter of weeks.

  43. I get a rash around my mouth when I eat too many Doritos or strawberries but that's not gonna stop me from stuffing my face

  44. Im pretty lucky im not allergic to any common food or anything i know of as of right now so to me i could eat anything i wanted

  45. Only I'm not allergic to anything.

    It's funny, but WHENEVER I go to the hospital (& it's almost always the same hospital), I add, "ohh, probably shellfish". As when I emigrated here in my first year & I tried some local shrimps, I broke out hives. Though, ever since then I've never had ANY allergic reaction to anything. Shock therapy, perhaps? Admittedly the shrimps we've been getting from the grocery are not "local", but it can't be that I avoided local shrimp for the next 15 years here.

    So as I was saying, same hospital, but most of the time the one filling up

  46. I’ve heard that eating non processed foods. Like lactose intolerant people I’ve hear that some that drink fresh milk don’t have a prob with it.
    I think it’s our body’s and/or it saying “faaak yuuuu” to the treatments the governments use on the foods.
    Not all of it is the second one obviously 🙄

  47. I’m allergic to random plants.
    I can’t have most cold medications.

    Edit: also my immune system freaks out after taking shots. I can’t imagine what the real virus would be like.

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