Every now and then a catchy title circulates “most adults who claim food allergies are not allergic!” or “millions of Americans not food allergic as they claim”.
This makes it sound like many are faking their illnesses.
First of all, if you actually read these studies, the percentage of people who actually do have food allergies are quite high. So you could have made the title “majority of adults who claim food allergies are actually allergic” or “millions of Americans food allergic” or “food allergy in adults are on the rise”, which would have all been closer to the truth. But maybe not quite as clickable or joke-worthy.
Dismissing them as faking it, being hypochondriacs, stupid or mental helps no one.
Then what are the possibilities? What might actually be happening?
1. False negative. They actually do have an allergy but it did not show up in testing.
2. Non-IGE mediated allergy. Some of these can be severe, like FPIES.
3. Autoimmune disorder, like celiac disease.
4. Gastrointestinal allergy. Can be both IGE or non-IGE mediated and most don’t show up on skin tests.
5. Food intolerance. Not an allergy, not immediately life threatening, but can still cause a lot of havoc.
6. Wrong culprit. They have a food issue, but to a different food.
7. Outgrew the allergy. They had the allergy but outgrew it by the time testing was done. Actually a happy ending!
You feel relief from a gluten free diet. And the questions begin.
Are you celiac? That we concede.
Do you have wheat allergy? It’s very rare.
No? Are you a suggestible fool swayed by placebo effect?
Some who have studied a bit more may also ask:
Then, are you gluten intolerant (or have NCGS: non-celiac gluten sensitivity), which may or may not exist and might be all in your head?
Have you neglected the fact that you incidentally cut out something else that was your real culprit?
Questioning and being skeptical itself is not a bad thing. But the error here is that we forget that we don’t know everything. There is still much research needed about food reactions, especially non-IgE mediated hypersensitivity reactions.
I observed this train of thought quite a few times since gluten-free became something of a trend. People worrying that other people who don’t need to be on a gluten-free diet are hopping on the trend and possibly risking something. Their health? A balanced diet? Forgetting, again, that there are plenty of cultures that do not depend on wheat and its kin.
Medical science is not complete. There are a lot of gray areas, which we need to navigate the best we can, considering what is known but also what may still be unknown or unexplained. These days, partly because we perceive our scientific knowledge to be quite advanced, we can be slow in acknowledging that there really might be something going on when it doesn’t fit neatly into what is already known. It is too easy to dismiss, too easy to suggest that perhaps it is all in your head. That happens too much. We can keep that as one of many options of what might be going on. Besides such condemnation doesn’t actually help even if someone is ‘mental’.
While I think the scientific method is still the best we have so far, we must remember there are many things still to be uncovered. Unproven does not necessarily mean it does not exist. Reality is much more complicated.
If you are directly affected, you can’t just wait around until someone proves with certainty. Even if something is fringe/ niche/ experimental, if it works for you, it may be the best option for now. Hopefully further studies will prove it for larger populations.