Living with food allergies is anything but easy. When you know certain things on your plate might trigger unpleasant and even dangerous reactions in your body, it can be difficult to relax. How this affects your life, it seems, may be closely linked to your baseline temperament — and one study examining food allergies and personality is highlighting the effect of just that.
If you live with a food allergy and have a generally cautious nature, it may very well work to your favor by allowing you to be more astute about your limitations. But if you are a spontaneous, thrill-seeking adventurer, it could be more of a struggle. These two seeming unrelated aspects of oneself, it seems, may actually be more closely linked than previously believed.
This latest study out of New Zealand provides some fresh insight into the topic. In an effort to explore, "...individual differences in the big five personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness)" researchers from the University of Otago followed 108 participants with food allergy diagnoses for two weeks. Over the course of the study, participants would complete daily online surveys that asked about the incidence of 25 food allergy issues, as well as their levels of stress, and their mood. Initially, the scientists leading the study believed having a high level of neuroses as a personality trait would result in an increased number of allergy issues, or an even lower reported mood on days one's food allergy made them experience more barriers to daily life.
The results of this experiment were surprising. Disproving the researchers' hypothesis, having a neurotic personality did not, in fact, lead to more frequent allergy issues or a depleted mood. In fact, the results show quite the opposite. Dr. Tamlin Conner, a professor within the department of psychology at the university and head of the study, explained to Science Daily, "We were surprised that neuroticism did not lead to more frequent allergy issues or poorer mood on days with more allergy issues. Instead, higher openness to experience was the biggest predictor of more issues, which included going hungry because there is no safe food available, problems finding suitable foods when grocery shopping, anxiety at social occasions involving food, being excluded, and feeling embarrassed and poorly understood about their food allergy."
Effectively, people who exhibit a high level of neuroticism do not experience heightened levels of anxiety when encountering the barriers associated with having food allergies (such as being at a social event and encountering your allergen in the food, or not being able to eat anything.) Rather, this character trait is in line with the heightened vigilance one must possess when they live with a food allergy. On the other hand, higher levels of openness to new experiences (which is, in this case, the antithesis to a neurotic personality) is a bigger predictor of frequent allergy issues or dampened mood on days with more allergy issues. The researchers conclude people who are more open to new experiences crave adventure, and seek out unknown, exciting new experiences they may not be able to pursue when limited by a food allergy.
Dr. Conner explains she hopes this new discovery will allow people to attain a deeper understanding of how their personality affects how they deal with, and manage their food allergy. This is an increasingly vital field of study when you consider how prevalent food allergies are in the United States (and they are only becoming more widespread). Upward of 15 million Americans — more than a third of whom are children — live with at least one food allergy, according to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE). Plus, since 1997, peanut or tree nut allergy diagnoses have more than tripled.
People with food allergies and food sensitivities must maintain extra caution when going about daily lives. As there is no easy treatment or cure for the condition, any insight into the nuances of how one can live life to the fullest in spite of it is invaluable.