You May Have Food Allergy/Intolerance 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 allergy/intolerance.
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 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.