Perfect produce, not so perfect

Friday December 7, 2012

Appearances can be deceiving. When we shop for fruits and vegetables we look for flawless produce and cast aside those with any imperfections such as bruises, discoloration or evidence that insects have infected the food. When we turn on the faucet we expect to see sparkling clear water and assume that means it’s safe to drink.

However, a new study released this week suggests that certain chemicals used to purify tap water may play a role in the development of food allergies. Researchers from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology noted that the chemicals, known as dichlorophenols, are also used to make pesticides and may be found in treated fruits and vegetables, according to a report from HealthDay News.

While the study could not prove a cause-and-effect relationship, it suggests "that high levels of dichlorophenol-containing pesticides can possibly weaken food tolerance in some people, causing food allergy," the study’s lead author, allergist Dr. Elina Jerschow, explained in a press release. "This chemical is commonly found in pesticides used by farmers and consumer insect and weed-control products, as well as tap water."

The researchers found that those with sensitivity to one or more foods had higher levels of dichlorophenols in their urine compared to people without such allergies.

Previous studies have shown that both food allergies and environmental pollution are increasing in the United States. In fact, peanut allergies in children tripled between 1997 and 2008, according to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. Other common food allergies include milk, eggs, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish. More than 12 million Americans, or 4 percent, have food allergies. Some are so severe that even trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a reaction.

These reactions can be life-threatening, especially if the person goes into anaphylaxis shock. This more severe allergic reaction can affect a number of different body systems at one time, including the skin, lungs, nose, throat, and gastrointestinal tract. Every 3 minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency department - that is about 200,000 emergency department visits per year, and every 6 minutes the reaction is one of anaphylaxis.

Researchers from this latest study say the growing prevalence of food allergies is cause for concern and warrants further examination into any possible correlation with the use of dichlorophenols in our water and on our food.

"The results of our study suggest these two trends might be linked, and that increased use of pesticides and other chemicals is associated with a higher prevalence of food allergies," said Jerschow. Suddenly that perfect produce and the sparkling clean water don’t look so good after all.


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