The Genetics Of Food Allergies
In today’s world, food allergies are getting more and more attention as people place a higher value on health and nutrition.
Some people exhibit food allergies while others may just have a simple food sensitivity. The difference is important when trying to understand the genetics of food allergies.
For example, sensitivity to milk is a result of a reaction in your digestive system.
An allergic reaction or an allergy to foods like crab are likely to be linked to other shellfish allergies as they contain similar properties and may stem from a genetic variation.
Keep reading to learn more about common food allergies, their links to genetics and the environment, and how DNA testing can help you uncover insights.
Common Food Allergies
Today, It is hard to walk down a grocery store aisle and not see food packaging labeled as dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, soy-free, or peanut-free.
As awareness has grown about food allergies, companies have responded by providing alternatives to allergy sufferers.
The most common types of food allergies include:
- Milk: Many kids are allergic to the proteins that can be found in cow’s milk. Various baby formulas are also based on cow’s milk so be sure to read ingredient labels carefully. The good news is that many kids tend to outgrow this particular allergy.
- Shellfish: This includes mussels, clams, oysters, lobsters, and other seafood. Having an allergy to one type of shellfish or fish does not mean you will be allergic to all, but the probability is higher.
- Soy: The protein from soy lurks in many ingredients and can cause an allergy, especially for kids.
- Wheat and Gluten: Probably one of the most well-known allergies today, an allergy to gluten indicates your body’s inability to digest a certain protein. The most common disease associated with an allergy to gluten is Celiac disease.
- Eggs: Despite these being an important protein source for many people, eggs that are present in a variety of products can cause serious issues for those allergic to them.
- Nuts: Perhaps the most common nut allergy is a peanut allergy. Allergies to other nuts like almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts are becoming more common.
The list of potential food allergies is long. If you have a known allergy, it is best to carefully read all product labeling. Many foods contain ingredients that you would not expect to be in them so be sure to double-check.
What Effects Do Food Allergies Have
Food allergies can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms and issues.
- Issues with digestion like constipation and diarrhea
- Skin rashes
- In the case of Celiac disease (an allergy to gluten), parts of your intestines become damaged by any gluten that is ingested
- Sneezing, coughing, and trouble breathing
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, and fainting
- In some cases, allergic reactions can cause death
Food allergies can have major consequences for your body and well-being. If you suspect a food allergy, it is best to get tested right away.
If you have known food allergies, be sure to always ask restaurants about the ingredients they use and thoroughly read packaging labels.
Genetic Vs. Environmental Causes
So, where do food allergies come from? The answer is a combination of two factors: genetics and environmental factors.
Here are some common points about genetic food allergies:
- They are often hereditary
- If both of your parents have an allergy to the same food, you are more likely to inherit that allergy as well
- Researchers are continuously learning more about food allergens and how they are passed down through genes
Your food allergies and sensitivities are most likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
By becoming aware of our environment and what we breathe or ingest, we can try to curb food allergies and food sensitivities.
Certain genetic markers may indicate whether or not you are more susceptible to a certain food allergy.
For example, a specific genomic region that hosts genes like the human leukocyte antigen is linked to a peanut allergy.
Interestingly, this is also the same location that may give people a predisposition to celiac disease.
Researchers have begun to identify these markers, learn what causes them, and how they are passed on.
While many genetic factors affect our predisposition to certain food allergies, allergies are not determined by genes alone.
Certain environmental factors can play a big role.
Environmental factors that contribute to food allergies include:
- Medications you may take
- The quality of air and air pollution
- Exposure to cigarette smoke
- Viral infections
Researchers are still working on understanding the environmental triggers that cause allergies to certain foods.
One thing is for certain, a clean and healthy diet, as well as the quality air we breathe, will go a long way.