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You May Have Food Allergies and Don't Know It

Do you experience asthma, eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, ear infections, sinusitis, migraine headaches, irritable bowel, inflammatory bowel disease, anxiety, depression, fatigue, hyperactivity, obesity, or post nasal drip? If so, you may have food allergies.

What is a Food Allergy?

Food allergies are a common condition in which the immune system reacts to certain foods in the same way that it reacts to bacteria and viruses, namely by producing antibodies. Food allergies can be immediate and life threatening, as in the case of someone who eats a strawberry and can't breathe. Or they can be delayed and much less severe but nevertheless cause significant problems. The vast majority of people who have food allergies, many of whom don't know it, have the delayed type of reaction.

Delayed Reactions from Allergies to Food

The reason that many people aren't aware that they have food allergies is because the allergic reaction can take up to two days to occur after eating the allergic food. This makes it very difficult to associate the symptoms of an allergic reaction to a particular food. The other difficulty is that food allergies can cause a wide variety of symptoms (as described above) beyond just the hives or anaphylactic shock that many people are aware of. While estimates of the prevalence of food allergies varies widely, a study published in Annals of Allergy found for example that 78% of childhood ear infections are associated with food allergies.

Common Food Allergens

The foods that people most commonly become allergic to are dairy, eggs, and gluten. Other common allergens include peanuts, corn, soy, citrus fruits, nightshade vegetables (tomato, potato, pepper, eggplant), chocolate, yeast, beans, and nuts. The list of foods that a person can become allergic to, however, includes everything that he or she eats. Ironically it is actually the foods that a person eats most frequently that he or she is most likely to be allergic to. This is because food allergies can lead to a type of food addiction where eating the food can in some ways make a person feel better, while avoiding the food can lead to withdrawal symptoms.

Underlying Conditions that Can Cause Allergies

There are a number of underlying conditions which can promote the development of food allergies, including poor digestion, a "leaky gut" which allows too many intact food proteins to be absorbed into the blood stream, and chronic intestinal infections by yeast, bacteria, or parasites. Correcting these underlying problems is crucial to healing the food allergies.

Food Allergy Testing

There are many different options when it comes to diagnosing food allergies. The most commonly used tests include skin prick tests, allergy elimination/challenge tests, and blood antibody testing.

Skin Prick Tests

Skin prick tests, while widely used by allergists to diagnose respiratory allergies, are not an accurate way to test for food allergies except in the case of the immediate, life threatening type of reaction. As mentioned previously, the majority of people with food allergies do not have this type of reaction.

Allergy Elimination Diet

The elimination/challenge diet is free and highly accurate, but is the most difficult to do. It requires eliminating all potentially allergic foods for a period of time, usually two weeks, and then challenging oneself with these foods one at a time. For this test to be effective, most or all allergic foods must be eliminated and the food challenges must be spaced adequately far apart. If done properly, a person will feel better after eliminating the allergic foods for 5-7 days, and then feel worse within 1-2 days of challenging with the suspect food.

Blood Antibody Tests

Blood antibody testing, which is much better than skin prick testing for the common delayed reaction, involves testing a sample of the persons blood with a variety of different foods in the laboratory. A report is then produced which lists the amount of antibody found for each of the foods tested. The advantage of this type of test is that 100 or more foods are commonly tested, and the list of foods that need to be eliminated is usually shorter and easier than with the elimination diet.

Avoiding Foods that Cause Allergies

Complete Food Avoidance

Complete avoidance of the allergic foods is the most effective way to treat food allergies. This can be very difficult for a person who is allergic to things such as dairy and wheat which make up a large part of most American diets. Fortunately there are many hypoallergenic alternatives now available for these foods, and numerous dairy and wheat free cookbooks are also available. The good news is that these foods don't need to be given up forever. Most people are able to tolerate their allergic foods on an occasional or rotation basis after giving their immune system 3-6 months to calm down.

Rotation Diets

Rotation diets are a good way of preventing food allergies from developing in the first place, and are the best way to reintroduce foods for those who have been on an elimination diet. One of the primary reasons that people develop food allergies is from eating the same foods day in and day out. It is no coincidence that dairy and wheat, the most common foods in the American diet, are also the most common food allergens. Rotation diets solve this problem by cycling foods through the diet every 4-5 days. A person allergic to dairy, for example, could only eat dairy once every 4-5 days.

Natural Supplements that Help Food Allergies

Natural supplements that can be especially useful in helping to heal food allergies include quercetin (a bioflavanoid that reduces inflammation in the gut), glutamine (an amino acid that heals the lining of the gut), milk thistle (an herbal medicine that protects and restores liver function), and inulin (a vegetable fiber that promotes the growth of good bacteria in the gut). These natural products have potent anti-allergic properties in the gut, and therefore help to reduce allergic sensitivity when used in conjunction with an allergy elimination diet.

While elimination and rotation diets may seem overwhelming at first, there is a wealth of information available to help. Most people quickly get the hang of it, and the improvement in the way they feel makes it all worth it.

How We Can Help

To find out if you have food allergies and what to do, schedule an office visit or food allergy test.

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