New data from London Medical Laboratory suggests that the number of adult food allergies could be far higher than previously thought. Current NHS and Food Standards Agency estimates put the number of UK adults with food allergies at just 2%. However, new data from London Medical Laboratory reveals a figure of around 10% of over-18s now have food allergies, which coincides with the latest research from the US.

The leading testing expert, Dr Quinton Fivelman PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at London Medical Laboratory, says: ‘Looking at the results of our allergy tests, there has been a considerable jump in the number of people showing high sensitisation to food allergens. As many in one in ten of adults taking our test are in danger of severe allergic reactions to foods, and over half of these food allergies have started in adulthood.

‘Surprisingly, the feedback from our clients is that these are often of previously favorite foods. The reasons behind the onset of adult food allergies are poorly understood at present, and London Medical Laboratory is calling for more, urgent, research into the causes of these allergies, which can lead to itching, stomach cramps or, in more severe cases, eczema or even anaphylactic shock.

‘With most allergies, the first exposure sensitises our body to a particular allergen, so that the second or third time we come into contact with particular foods or are stung, for example, the reaction could be far worse. However, in the case of adult-onset food allergies, the patient may have come into contact many hundreds of times previously without showing any symptoms of a reaction.

‘Our results closely match those of a study in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2019, which revealed 10.8% of the participants were food allergic at the time of the survey, and nearly half of food-allergic adults had at least one adult-onset food allergy. Shellfish were the most frequent cause of new adult allergies.

‘Many of our own clients told us that it was their favorite foods such as Kiwi fruits, pistachios, mangos, peanut butter and shrimps that they were now showing high sensitisation to. Allergy tests typically grade people’s to many common and less familiar potential allergens from 0 to 4. A level 4 result indicates high sensitisation has taken place, which could prompt a significant reaction such as reactions as an asthma attack or anaphylactic shock if they are exposed to the substance again.

‘At the moment, the reason for this remains a mystery. One convincing hypothesis is that overexposure to certain foods could trigger food allergies in people. This seems credible, but without proper scientific research we cannot say for certain.

‘Part of the cause might also be the globalization and standardization of the food industry. For example, the prawns we ate in those 1970’s and 80’s prawn cocktails are a different species from the Vietnamese tiger prawns popular today. Also, we used to eat a far wider range of mixed fruits and vegetable types while, nowadays, we all tend to eat apples, carrots and bananas from the same plant variation based on a standard global seed stock run by multinationals.

‘That’s why we are also recommending more adults should be testing for potential allergens. London Medical Laboratory’s new Allergy Complete blood test is the UK’s most comprehensive allergy test, analyzing 295 allergens, including well known potential food allergens, such as nuts, shellfish and eggs; common foods less likely to trigger allergies but still known allergens, such as strawberries, mustard, carrots and avocado; and rarer foods such as camel’s milk, rabbit, mealworms and ray. It even includes tests for latex, and allergens that may cause hay fever such as pets or grass and tree pollens.

‘If your test does reveal a strong reaction, there are several steps that you can take to ensure accidental contact with a severe allergen – whether a food, a particular protein type or an insect sting – can be successfully managed. Anyone discovering that they are at risk of a severe reaction will need to inform their doctor. They will probably be prescribed a pre-loaded adrenaline injection device such as an EpiPen.

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