It’s no secret that kids’ allergies and asthma have been on the rise for some time. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology describes the increase in children’s allergies over the past 30 years as “explosive”, and many researchers have classified kids’ allergies as a “growing epidemic”. Likewise, a report published in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that children’s asthma rates began increasing in 1960, and by 1990 kids diagnosed with asthma had reached “epidemic numbers”.
It’s been estimated that approximately 5.6 million American kids – one in every 13 – under the age of 18 have allergies, according to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education). And it’s not just kids: in total, over 50 million Americans (some sources quote far higher numbers) and more than 235 million people worldwide suffer from diagnosed allergies.
The NIH report states that the dramatic increase in kids with asthma and various forms of allergic conditions goes hand-in-hand with lifestyle changes that have swept much of the world; specifically, children spending more time indoors, which has led to decreased physical activity, prolonged periods of shallow breathing, and more food and allergen sensitivities. Other studies state that the sharp increase (estimated to be 40-50 percent over the past 50 years) in kids’ allergies and asthma has also been attributed to the increase in fast food, processed food, and overall junk food consumption.
The connection between these junk foods and increased cases of asthma and allergies was reported in the journal Thorax (a leading international medical respiratory journal) after a huge study of over 400,000 children in 51 countries found that “fast food consumption may be contributing to the increasing prevalence of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis and eczema in adolescents and children.” The study concluded that teens eating the most fast food had a 39 percent higher risk of developing “severe asthma”, and the risk for younger kids in the same dietary category was 27 percent higher. In addition, the study showed that kids who ate fast food at least three times a week were more likely to have runny noses, eczema, and asthma.
On the other hand, children in the same study who ate higher amounts of fruit were 11 to 14 percent less likely to experience asthmatic symptoms. It’s interesting to note that these children only consumed three or more servings of fruit in a week, which is far below the recommended two to three servings per day.
The results of a separate study conducted by researchers at the University of Naples showed that high levels of AGEs (advanced glycation end products) are abundant in all junk foods, from fast foods to processed foods. AGEs are known to increase the risk of both allergies and asthma, as well as diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders, cancer, liver/renal dysfunction, reproductive disorders, and many more.
This effect can even be seen in developing countries, as they move away from their traditional diets of locally grown whole foods and adopt more westernized diets. New studies are also showing that processed and fast foods negatively impact gut bacteria, making both children and adults more prone to allergies and asthma. Researchers are now focusing on the impact of unhealthy junk food ingredients like sodium, sugars, trans-fatty acids, preservatives, carbs, and linoleic acids (which can impact the immune system).
The unfortunate thing is that when a person develops allergy symptoms, the standard go-to answer is usually either OTC or prescription medications, which may relieve symptoms but doesn’t look for a root cause. When a specific food allergy is identified, the person is told to avoid that food, which is, of course, the right first step. However, it’s only a first step, not a final solution.
A deep dive into the reason why a person is exhibiting allergic reactions to a particular food or food group probably will not be offered by most medical doctors. Diet and lifestyle should be examined and coupled with results from comprehensive lab tests. Putting the pieces of these puzzles together will help your functional medicine doctor create a path to eliminating, minimizing, or managing the allergy without the use of risky medications while improving your overall health and wellbeing.