Junk Food May be Causing the Food Allergy Epidemic
Food allergies have increased over time, especially in young children, as has the consumption of highly processed foods. New research suggests that this co-occurrence may not be a coincidence. A new study has shown that food allergies in children are in fact associated with higher levels of a compound found in junk food. The compound, called advanced glycation end product (AGE), is a protein or lipid that has been exposed to sugar.
AGEs are already known to have a role in certain neurological disorders and diseases such as diabetes. They are found in processed and microwaved foods as well as in many meat products. Given the high levels of AGEs in junk food, scientists have begun to wonder if these compounds could account for the link between diet and rising food allergies.
To evaluate the relationship between AGEs and food allergies in children, researchers conducted a study comparing children who had food allergies to those with respiratory allergies and those with no allergies. There were 61 study participants, and they ranged in age from 6 to 12 years.
The scientists found that children who ate more junk food had higher levels of AGEs beneath their skin. Additionally, compared to those with respiratory allergies or no allergies at all, children with food allergies had these higher levels of subcutaneous AGE. These results suggest that the AGEs found in junk food could have something to do with the development of food allergies in children.
This new study is not the first to point to suggest that junk food could adversely impact the immune system. Another study, conducted in 2013, investigated the relationship between fast food consumption and the likelihood of developing asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema. This study, which involved the analysis of data from nearly 320,000 adolescents and over 180,000 children found that eating fast food at least 3 times each week was associated with a significant increase in the risk of developing allergic disease.
The specific role junk food plays in allergies, asthma, and other allergic diseases is not yet clear. However, accumulating evidence suggests that these foods may be to blame not only for issues like obesity but also for the rising food allergy prevalence. Though we know that staying away from junk food is important for maintaining a healthy weight, it may be the case that avoiding these foods can also lower the risk of developing food allergies.