The Junk Food-Food Allergy Link

Though anecdotal at this point, it is not uncommon for people with sensitivities to synthetic and industrialized food additives to later develop allergies to natural foods and spices. Is there a link between the way the immune system responds to the additives in highly processed foods and the development of allergic reactions to natural foods?  This is still unknown but we may be getting closer to finding out. Following the results of a new scientific study, researchers are now warning of a potential link between highly processed junk food and the spike in food allergies in industrialized nations*.  The culprit?  Something called “advanced glycation end products” (AGE) which are found in abundance in junk food.

What are AGEs?

AGEs are proteins or lipids that become glycated after exposure to sugars [2] and are present at high levels in junk foods – deriving from sugars, processed foods, microwaved foods and roasted or barbecued meats.

AGEs are already known to play a role in the development and progression of different oxidative-based diseases including diabetes, atherosclerosis (where plaque builds up inside the arteries), and neurological disorders [3] but this is the first time an association has been found between AGEs and food allergy.

Study overview

Researchers from the University of Naples ‘Federico II’ observed three groups of children aged between 6-12 years old (61 children in total): those with food allergies, those with respiratory allergies, and healthy controls. The study revealed a significant correlation between subcutaneous levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs) and junk food consumption, and further, that children with food allergies presented with higher levels of subcutaneous levels of AGEs than those children with respiratory allergies or no allergies at all. In addition, the research team found compelling evidence relating to the mechanism of action elicited by AGEs in determining food allergy.

*There is growing evidence that incidence of food allergies is on the increase, especially among young children, and prevalence is reported to be as high as 10% in some countries.


Reference: Study  Berni Canani, R, et al (2019). How junk food can contribute to the food allergy epidemic: the potential role of advanced glycation endproducts. Presented at the 52nd Annual Meeting of The European Society for Paediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition 52nd Annual Meeting in Glasgow.


Other references:

Goldin, Alison, et al. “Advanced glycation end products: sparking the development of diabetic vascular injury.” Circulation 114.6 (2006): 597-605.

Vistoli, G., et al. “Advanced glycoxidation and lipoxidation end products (AGEs and ALEs): an overview of their mechanisms of formation.” Free radical research 47.sup1 (2013): 3-27.

Tang, Mimi LK, and Raymond J. Mullins. “Food allergy: is prevalence increasing?.” Internal medicine journal 47.3 (2017): 256-261.

Loh, Wenyin, and Mimi Tang. “The epidemiology of food allergy in the global context.” International journal of environmental research and public health 15.9 (2018): 2043.

Sicherer, Scott H., and Hugh A. Sampson. “Food allergy: a review and update on epidemiology, pathogenesis, diagnosis, prevention, and management.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 141.1 (2018): 41-58.

Fiolet, Thibault, et al. “Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort.” bmj 360 (2018): k322.

Slimani, N., et al. “Contribution of highly industrially processed foods to the nutrient intakes and patterns of middle-aged populations in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study.” European journal of clinical nutrition 63.S4 (2009): S206.