A Link Between Autism and Food Allergies

As we head into the holidays, food is everywhere—from the Thanksgiving table to holiday parties to food gifts from neighbors and friends. But an increasing number of people are dealing with food allergies, changing the way we cook and eat.

Link Between Autism and Food Allergies

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Though it’s unclear what factors are contributing to the rise of food allergies, scientists have recently found an interesting link between autism and food allergies. According to a study published in JAMA Network Online (Journal of the American Medical Association), U.S. children with food allergies are more than twice as likely to have autism spectrum disorder as those without food allergies.

The research behind the publication found that 11% of autistic kids reported a food allergy, compared with just 4% of children without autism. Autistic children were also more likely to have respiratory or skin allergies, suggesting that the immune systems of autistic kids are more likely to be overreactive.

The research was based on a population of nearly 200,000 children ages 3 to 17 and was gathered through the U.S. National Health Interview Survey. The research did not focus on the cause of the link between autism and food allergies. It remains unknown whether food allergies contribute to the development of autism or vice versa or if both are brought on by other factors.

Nearly 17 of every 1,000 children have autism spectrum disorder, a figure that has more than doubled since the year 2000. Food allergies in children doubled between 1997 and 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They now affect roughly 7% of children, an average of two kids per school classroom.

Food allergies are caused when the body comes in contact with food proteins that it perceives as “enemies.” There is nothing wrong with these proteins, and the body should simply ignore them. However, the immune system of an allergic person will try to fight these proteins off by unleashing an arsenal of chemicals. This is a self-defeating measure that only serves to stir up uncomfortable symptoms in the body. These symptoms may include hay fever, skin rashes, gastrointestinal distress, and, in extreme cases, life-threatening anaphylaxis.

The most common food allergy triggers include eggs, soy, wheat, milk, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, and fish. Fortunately, there is a promising food allergy treatment known as sublingual immunotherapy. It involves taking daily drops under the tongue and helps desensitize the body to common food allergens so people can eat more of what they enjoy without fear of reactions.

Physicians can order a food allergy test kit and prescribe sublingual immunotherapy as part of the AllergyEasy food allergy treatment program.

About The Author

Stuart H. Agren, M.D.

Stuart H. Agren, M.D. completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Utah and went on to earn his Doctor of Medicine from Tulane University School of Medicine in 1974. He completed additional training at L.D.S. Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah and then established his private medical practice starting in 1975. Dr. Agren completed a mini-residency in Industrial Medicine at the Robert Johnson School of Medicine at Rutgers University and also completed training to become a certified Medical Review Officer.

Dr. Agren was the Medical Director at TRW and McDonnell Douglas in Mesa, Arizona and at Stauffer Chemical and Kennecott Copper in Salt Lake City, Utah. He also served as an adjunct faculty member at Arizona State University.

In his private medical practice, Dr. Agren specialized in family practice and allergy. In his work as a private practice allergist, he was one of the first doctors in the country to prescribe sublingual immunotherapy to his patients as an alternative to subcutaneous immunotherapy (allergy shots). He has also been a trailblazer in the field of food allergy treatment and research, developing a program to treat multiple food allergies simultaneously using sublingual immunotherapy. Dr. Agren has been featured on local CBS, NBC, and ABC news affiliates and won the peer-nominated “Top Doc” award from Phoenix Magazine.

After 20 years in private practice, Dr. Agren became the Founder and President of AllergyEasy, which helps primary care physicians around the country offer allergy testing and sublingual immunotherapy treatment to their patients. Over 200 physicians in over 32 states use the AllergyEasy program to help their patients overcome environmental and food allergies and asthma.