News Flash: Misdiagnosed Food Allergies and Mind Over Genetics

Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we look at why so many Americans believe they have a food allergy and some startling news about how important your mindset is to your performance.

Gluten allergy? Maybe not …

A new study published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open estimates that nearly 19 percent of adults think they have food allergies but that less than 11 percent actually do. The discrepancy may come from the misuse of the term.

Most people when they talk about an allergy are actually talking about an intolerance, allergist Dr. Tania Elliott of NYU Langone Health told CBS News.

“They have a headache,” she said. “They don’t feel well. They get bloated. They have stomach discomfort.”

Allergies, conversely, can be life-threatening, with 99 percent carrying skin symptoms such as hives, swelling, itching and redness, caused by the histamine from an allergic reaction. Milder allergies may not show noticeable symptoms for several hours. More dangerous allergies can lead to anaphylaxis, a severe and sudden reaction that can lead to death.

The most common food allergies according to researchers are the following:

The study found that only half of adults with a “convincing” food allergy had a physician-confirmed diagnosis and that less than 25 percent had current epinephrine or EpiPen prescriptions to treat severe reactions when they occurred.

The study’s lead author Dr. Ruchi Gupta, professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University, cautioned that it’s important to see a doctor for testing and diagnosis before eliminating groups of food from your diet.

What you tell yourself matters

Sure, it’s good to have sophisticated tools such as DNA testing kits to unlock information about your genetic predisposition. But what you believe about your body and its capabilities and limitations is even more important, a new study finds.

If you tell people that they have a certain genetic predisposition to certain health characteristics such as a low capacity for physical activity or a tendency to overeat, their bodies respond accordingly, according to a December study in Nature Human Behavior, reported on by The New York Times.

The study comes at a time when a number of testing kits are promising to tell us about our genetic inheritance, such as how we respond to movement or how prone we are to gain weight or metabolize certain foods. Yet the accuracy of these claims remains in doubt, according to scientists who study genetics.

In the study, two groups completed a saliva DNA test and then completed either a running treadmill test or liquid meal. Afterward, some in the running group were told that they had a genetic variant that makes people have low endurance and find prolonged movement difficult even when they did not. Another group was told that they had a genetic variant that either reduced how full they felt after food or a protective variant that made them feel fuller, reducing the likelihood of obesity.

Subsequently, the people who had been told that their genes make them find movement more difficult got tired more quickly in the treadmill test than they had before, and their oxygen intake and lung capacity were lower.

Conversely, those in the diet group who erroneously thought that they had a protective gene variant preventing them from overeating reported feeling fuller and actually produced more of a hormone that increases satiety.

What’s most interesting is that the physical effect on endurance and appetite was more pronounced in those who had been told that they carried the gene variants rather than those who actually carried these genes.

The upshot? Your genes may not be as important as what you believe you can accomplish.

Photo credit: Otto Norin, Unsplash