Nick Crysanthou has spent much of his life battling food. As a kid, he wanted to chug mini cartons of chocolate milk with his friends. But they always made him feel ill.
“My mom would tell me, ‘Stop doing that. You have a milk allergy,’ ” says Crysanthou, who is 28.
Back then – in middle school – milk and peanuts were his only big concerns. But when he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at age 15, he learned that his digestive system was extra fragile, and that he could experience excruciating flare-ups at any time.
He tried to control it, but the flare-ups worsened shortly after his wedding three years ago. He found himself in and out of the hospital, sometimes for a week at a time. He lost his job, and had to go on disability.
He continued searching for answers. And in December, he found them – 84 to be exact.
That’s how many allergies he reportedly has, according to his most recent test results.
“I think over time, I developed more allergies,” he says from his Houston home. “Initially, I probably started off with just a few. Maybe the peaches, or the more serious ones, like the peanuts and the almonds. And I think over time, I started to add more allergies.”
He pauses, then cracks a joke: “Just to see what it would be like, I guess.”
He laughs. But he knows it isn’t funny. With a list of 84 no-go ingredients, there are only a few things he can safely ingest. Mostly, he’s turned to fruit-and-vegetable smoothies, stocked with supplements to make sure he’s getting the nutrients his body needs. Some nights, he’ll eat salmon. But for the most part, he sips on a smoothie while his wife and two young sons eat a separate dinner.
His wife, Sasha, doesn’t mince words about how this affects their family life.
“It’s stressful,” she says. “But researching all these things, it’s like a lifelong thing, and you have to adjust to it – in case our kids have it, too.”
And with a genetic link in many food allergies, his kids are more likely to have dietary restrictions in their future than children whose parents don’t have allergies.
It seems as though food allergies are becoming more common across America as a whole.
“Certainly surveys throughout the country have shown an increasing prevalence of food allergies over the past many years,” says Eric Sandberg, a doctor at the Kelsey-Seybold clinic, who specializes in allergy and immunology.
There is one area where scientists are in agreements that there’s been a massive increase. “Most people believe that in the last 20 years, peanut allergies have probably tripled in frequency,” Sandberg says.
These days between 1 to 2 percent of American children have a peanut allergy, up from less than 1 percent 20 years ago, he says. It’s still a small share of the American public, but scientists are unsure how to battle the allergy. For Crysanthou, living with allergies has forced him to be conscious of what he’s ingesting at any given moment.
“My initial reaction when I found out about all these allergies was, ‘Oh my goodness! All these years, I’ve been eating this stuff and it’s been contributing to the disease I already have,’ ” he says. “So I had to adjust my thought process to accommodate a lifestyle change. I’ve added positive behaviors.”
Now, he’s begun growing some of his own food in a fledgling backyard garden. There are tomatoes and oranges. Blackberries and limes. When the bounty grows, his harvests will provide him with food. But in the meantime, they’re a stepping stone to peace of mind.
“Watching things grow, I think, is probably the number one thing,” he says as he kneels near his scrappy little orange tree. “You have kids, your relationship with your wife, plants. And watching these things grow and develop is what has helped focus and center me on a good path.”
“Houston man with 84 food allergies takes control of his diet”By Maggie Gordon