Hey, Thoughty2 here. In the East of America there exists a tiny and terrifying blood-sucking creature, and no it’s not Rupert Murdoch, it’s called the Lone Star Tick. If this tiny insect bites you, it can cause you to become permanently allergic to red meat, and what a terrible tragedy that would be. The tick injects your blood with a type of meat sugar which triggers antibodies within your immune system and permanently reconfigures them to react whenever red meat deliciously finds its way into your body again in the future. After just one bite from this tick, you could find yourself having an anaphylactic shock the next time you so much as tediously lick a tempting filet of beef perfection or other red meat. Every year in America, over 5,000 people develop such a cruel allergy from this tiny vegan terrorist. Come to think of it, I’m quite surprised vegans haven’t yet weaponised these ticks.
There is an epidemic happening, allergies are getting more severe, and far more common. In the US and UK allergies among children have increased by over 100% in the past 10 years and hospital admissions for allergic reactions have increased by over 500% over the last 20 years. What’s going on here and is this exponentially growing trend ever going to stop? Or, in 100 years time is the entire human race going to be destitute to a lifetime of porridge and dust? Which would be terrible because dust is not as tasty as steak, that’s a fact.
Allergies are an astonishingly strange and complex phenomenon, and modern science still doesn’t fully grasp the true nature of them. When a victim comes across a mere trace of an allergen they can suffer horrendous, even fatal consequences. Anaphylaxis can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, hives, rashes, swelling, anxiety, confusion, headaches, loss of breath and sometimes death. But the cruelly ironic thing about allergic reactions is that the symptoms are caused entirely by our own mind. Just because you have an allergy to shellfish it doesn’t suddenly make shellfish inherently poisonous, your immune system has learnt to reject that particular food. Viewing it as an invader and so your body does everything it can to eject, what it thinks is an unwelcome guest, from your body. However, the measures your immune system takes can sometimes be so severe, that there are shocking consequences. A sobering reminder of how we are always at the mercy of our own bodies and minds.
The range of allergies is also growing, and you won’t believe what some people are genuinely allergic to. Aquagenic urticaria is an allergy to water, yes you heard me, water. It’s genuine, and it affects about one in every 230 million people. Imagine your insides burning with an intense and unrelenting rage every time you swallow a mouthful of pure H2O. Rain feels like acid, depressingly and ironically so does your own sweat. Taking a bath is akin to submerging one’s self in bleach.
Then there’s cold urticaria, an allergy to cold weather, and I’m not talking about when the temperature drops by two degrees and you freak out like a beached halibut. Sufferers of this bizarre ailment come out in hives, rashes and burning skin whenever the temperature drops just a few degrees or when they touch or drink cold liquids. Cold temperatures cause those afflicted to undergo a severe histamine reaction, which can sometimes lead to fainting, and in some rare cases, death. Just the thought of having such a horrendous allergy gives me the shivers.
What if I told you that a woman can be allergic to her own mood swings, now before you put out a lonely hearts ad with this highly specific requirement, it’s no joke, it’s actually a rather severe ailment. Possibly one of the weirdest allergens is that of an allergy to female hormones. Autoimmune progesterone dermatitis is a severe allergy that affects some women during their menstrual cycle. During the second half of the cycle, progesterone levels in the body begin to rise, and a tiny percentage of women have a histamine reaction to this hormone, that their own body is producing. During this time each month the sufferer's skin can become red, itchy, puffy and wholly covered in lesions and blisters and ones face may be covered in hives. The fact that such severe physical symptoms can be caused by a chemical reaction within our own body, without any outside influence whatsoever, is a macabre testament to the power of our brains and the havoc our own body can wreak upon itself.
Food allergy rates have experienced a sharp rise across the globe over the past two decades, especially in children. So what’s going on here? Is the cause GMOs? MSG? H2O? THC? KFC? Scientists still aren’t entirely sure why there has been such a vast increase in intolerances, but a leading theory is called “Hygiene theory”. For at least the past forty years in all developed countries we have been living more sterile lives, and with each passing decade our homes, public spaces and ourselves have become increasingly sanitary. Antibacterial sprays and soaps have become our best friends and secret worst enemies. Because many scientists now believe that this obsessive cleanliness could be contributing to the rapid increase in food allergies.
When you deprive your immune system of malicious bacteria to fight off, it doesn’t get the practice that is required to develop sufficient defences against a wide range of bacteria. We now enjoy such hygienic lives on a day-to-day basis, that our immune systems have become so deficient, they are mistaking harmless substances, such as nuts, shellfish and other allergens, as malicious invaders, that should be ejected from our bodies by any means possible. The FDA thinks that hygiene theory has some weight to it because recently they have been investigating it as a cause of allergies. So we could essentially be giving ourselves allergies.
One fact that makes this theory so plausible is that researchers found that kids who grow up on a farm or spend a lot of time in the countryside are considerably less likely to develop allergies or asthma throughout their lives. Whereas children who grow up in an urban environment are many times more likely to have intolerances or develop breathing issues. Scientists believe this is due to a specific type of dust that is only found in the countryside and in higher density on farms, this dust has been proven to trigger a strong immune reaction, therefore improving our immune system and strengthening its barriers and of course, a generally stronger immune system means fewer allergies. But exposure to these natural bacteria has to happen during childhood whilst our immune system is still developing. Some scientists are now working to concentrate the irritants found within this farm dust into a vaporiser which could be given to urban children when they’re young, working as a kind of vaccine against allergens and asthma. But until that arrives on the scene, I highly recommend taking your children to your nearest farm and rubbing their face in manure.
But you may not have to do that, because according to recent studies there may be a better way to prevent your kids from inflating like a zeppelin whenever they think about a peanut. In 2012 a group of European researchers conducted the most extensive survey on eating habits in history, they studied 320,000 adolescents and 180,000 children in 51 countries. The study was named... the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood, I couldn't have named it better myself. What the study concluded was that eating fast food or heavily processed foods three or more times a week increases a child’s risk of developing an allergy or asthma by 39%. Conversely, eating fruit was found to have the complete opposite effect, eating fruit three or more times per week was found to decrease the likelihood of developing the aforementioned ailments by 11%.
Following this extensive study and many others since it has been popularly theorised that our chance of developing a severe food allergy is directly relational to the diversity of food we eat as children. Enjoying a whole range of foods from all around the world at an early age, whilst we are still developing, permanently teaches our immune system that these foods and, similar foods are not harmful to our bodies. Whereas if we spend our childhood avoiding all kinds of sea life and shellfish, then at the age of thirty we try an oyster for the very first time our immune system is going to freak out like Enya on crack. Because it has literally no frame of reference as to what this strange new substance is that just entered our body. So it does what it does best, everything it can to eject it, in the worst cases that includes initiating anaphylaxis. Which is like that secret plan in an ominous manilla envelope it keeps for when all else seems hopeless. But in reality what you just ate is not harmful at all; however, your immune system doesn’t know this, because it is the first time it has ever encountered anything even remotely similar to it. And that’s why there’s a special place in hell reserved for parents who raised their children on nothing more than a variety of shaped and frozen potato goo.
The alarming 500% increase in allergies over the past 20 years that I mentioned earlier is based on an increase in doctor-diagnosed allergies, people whose ailments are as real as their cruel symptoms. But there’s another soggy layer of allergy sufferers that sits on top of that statistic, like a disappointingly damp squib, and it’s a far larger group of miscreants - the fakers. Those whose allergies are about as genuine as a fortune cookie.
I am of course referring to those people we've all met whose claims of allergies or intolerances seem as flaky as the delicious pastries they refuse to eat. One of the most pertinent examples is gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease is absolutely, unquestionably real. Yet, despite only around 1% of the population having celiac disease, over ten times that many people now claim to be either allergic or intolerant to gluten.
Waiters often tell of stories on websites and blogs, of customers requesting an entirely gluten-free meal. Causing the kitchen to go to great lengths to avoid the nearest trace of wheat and gluten from touching their food and then when dessert comes they reach over with their treacherous cutlery and wolf down a spoonful of their friend’s gluten-ridden apple pie, with unbridled impertinence. Whilst from the wings the wait and kitchen staff scoff and grind their teeth at the guiltless imposter before them.
Sales of gluten-free products have risen by 15% over the past five years, and it is now a multi-billion-pound industry worldwide. In America one in five people now avoid gluten and when asked one-third of Americans said they would ideally like the avoid gluten. You just know that something truly disturbing is going on when Americans, and the rest of the world for that matter, want to voluntarily give up doughnuts when there is no medical reason for them to be doing so. I’m sure everyone watching knows at least one person who recently woke up one morning and decided that gluten is now the cause of all their worldly issues and is now in fact created by Lucifer.
Whether you’ve noticed it or not, over the past five to ten years going gluten-free has become a fad, trend, craze, neurosis whatever you want to call it. Many have gone gluten-free after hearing from some celebrity that it’s good for weight loss or because Pam from work claims she shed 90% of her body weight in a week. But there are absolutely no credible studies that back up any claims that going gluten-free aids weight loss. Ironically and somewhat humorously, there was a study in 2006 that followed 371 people on a gluten-free diet. The result was that after two years on the diet, eighty-two per cent of them had gained weight. Another study with children found that after 12 months of a completely gluten-free diet, the percentage of overweight children doubled. This weight gain has been mostly attributed to the fact that the majority of gluten-free options available in shops and cafes contain more fat and sugar than their regular, glutenous counterparts. Gluten-free items also contain none of the only healthy components of a lot of bready and doughy items, the fibre.
But hold on there, don't these poor victims actually experience physical symptoms when eating gluten? Surely gluten sensitivity is a real thing? Well, the science is still not certain about the answer to that, but there have been a multitude of new studies in recent years that seem to suggest gluten sensitivity may not actually exist. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology concluded that there was no evidence to link gluten to the symptoms that the test participants claimed to experience. During the study test participants were cycled through three different diets, high-gluten, low-gluten and no-gluten. The participants didn't know which diet they were on at any one time. Afterwards, all test participants, at all times during the study, claimed to experience symptoms such as pain, bloating, nausea, and gas. Even whilst they were on the no-gluten diet. Peter Gibson who ran the experiment believes the test participants were experiencing what's called a nocebo effect. Because, these self-diagnosed, gluten intolerant test subjects were expecting to feel symptoms at some point during the experiment, their brains hence manifested the symptoms anyway, regardless of their gluten intake.
Likewise, another study in 2017 found no evidence to link gluten or wheat to any symptoms the test participants claimed to be experiencing when eating gluten-containing foods. It did, however, suggest that some, but by no means, all people who claim to be gluten intolerant, may actually be sensitive to something else entirely, FODMAPs. FODMAPs are a group of carbohydrates that can cause bloating, gas and stomach pain in some people. FODMAPs can be found in a whole array of foods, including some grains, asparagus, onions, garlic, mushrooms and leek.
Gluten-sensitivity aside, on a more general scope, Portsmouth University recently conducted research which concluded that of the 20% of British people and a whopping 30% of Americans who believe they have a food allergy or intolerance of some kind, only two per cent of them could actually be medically diagnosed as having said allergy or intolerance.
That means there are many millions of people out there falsely claiming that eating a particular food will make them ill, why is this? There are two leading theories to why so many people either knowingly or unknowingly fake an allergy, the first reason is just that it feels easier to simply say “I’m allergic to that” rather than admitting you just don’t like the taste of that particular food. If you refuse to eat something, claiming you’re allergic to it makes you sound less picky, and people are more likely to sympathise with you. Which leads me onto the second theory, psychologists have been quite interested in this fake allergy phenomenon recently due to the fact that it’s becoming more popular than having common sense.
Many such psychologists believe that by creating strict boundaries for ourselves surrounding what we can and can’t eat, we provide order in our lives, people who have otherwise highly disordered lives find this to be a huge relief. In the past, this order was created for us because there were religious or government laws about what foods and drinks we are or are not allowed to eat at certain times on certain days, even more stringently so during times of ration. Some people who may have a chaotic, disordered or stressful lifestyle actually find this kind of limitation comforting.
Psychologists also put forward the hypothesis that creating fake allergies or intolerances for ourselves makes us feel like a special little button, okay they may not have used that exact wording. Humans have an innate desire which stems from childhood, to feel unique and special, and today we live in a highly entitled society, where the younger generation, my generation, have grown up being told they can have anything or do anything they want because they are special. But when the day comes when they realise they aren’t actually any more special than the millions of other people around them, they decide to make themselves special, whether that’s through choosing to be a vegan, going gluten-free or deciding that you’re now allergic to any food that ends with the letter R.
This instantaneously forces everyone they know and those they encounter when dining out, to fuss over them, pay more attention to them than the other diners at the table, and treat them like the special little mushroom that they believe they are. But these self-diagnosed confidence boosts in the form of phoney allergies are laden with irony, and this is why... the mind is an exceedingly powerful entity. If your brain wants to make you feel ill, even when you’re not, it can do so at the drop of a hat. And by continually saying you are allergic to a particular food, gluten or lactose intolerant you can actually give yourself a kind of placebo effect whereby you do start to feel and experience genuine symptoms when you eat said foods. Just like believing that you’re a wizard, you can actually make yourself allergic to a specific food group, if you believe it strongly enough. This works entirely on a mental level, you are not creating an allergy for yourself, your brain is just manifesting the symptoms for you in a very real and tangible way. But the funny thing is, if you do stop eating a certain food or group of foods for many years, your immune system will actually forget how to counteract any potential allergens within that food, given enough time, and then, several years down the line when it reencounters it, it freaks out like a Mormon in a brothel. And yes, you can eventually make yourself, genuinely allergic to something, just by cutting it out of your diet for a prolonged period of time.
But is there anything wrong with this? If people want to self-diagnose to gain recognition and eventually give themselves food intolerances, is it a problem? Maybe not for that person, but for restaurants and for genuine allergy sufferers it causes more problems than you probably realise. You see when someone tells a waiter that they have an allergy or even just an intolerance they are forced by various laws, regulations and food standards agencies to take that extremely seriously. They don’t know you, and they certainly don’t know how severe your intolerance is or whether it actually exists, so naturally, and thankfully any kitchen worth their salt, must assume that even a trace of that food substance within your meal could potentially kill you.
In any decent restaurant, this means taking very special precautions for that diner, such as cleaning and using a separate part of the kitchen, different ovens and fryers, specifically for cooking that meal. Washing and using different knives, utensils, chopping boards and pans. And this level of obsession over tiny details is absolutely necessary because many people with genuine allergies could go into anaphylaxis if only a few particles of their allergen are somewhere on or near their plate of food.
But when chefs go through all these steps to proudly protect their most vulnerable diners, and then they find out that most of their patrons who claim to be so-called “allergy sufferers” are in fact, fakers or at the very least delusional about their own intolerance, it creates animosity between the diners and the kitchen. And you could argue that if you’re paying for the meal the chefs should bend over backwards to accommodate your every need, no matter how genuine those needs are. But the more this trend of fad diets increases, such as gluten intolerance and veganism, then the more chefs everywhere are going to stop taking the needs of their diners so seriously. If you don't believe this is happening then take this one small example from the White Moose cafe in Dublin, who recently posted on their Facebook page "Guests who demand gluten-free food are required to produce a doctor’s note which states that you suffer from coeliac disease. Guests following a gluten-free fad, who don’t even know what gluten is, can cop the fuck on and eat regular food like everybody else."
Most chefs have absolutely no problem catering for genuine sufferers, but when they are repeatedly tested night after night by disingenuous people following empty food trends, it will create a scenario of the boy who cried wolf. And one day a diner with a severe food allergy is going to walk through the doors of a restaurant, and the chefs are going to disbelieve their allergy. Thus standards may slip, and the diner may be given contaminated food, ending in a tragic fatality. I’m not being dramatic, such occurrences have happened in recent years and are only on the rise. That’s why making up an allergy or diagnosing oneself on little to no actual evidence, based on information that Dave from the gym told you, is most definitely damaging to real sufferers and ultimately selfish. Thanks for watching.