Allergy Answers

Preventing unwanted reactions

Allergy Answers

In order to understand reactions to food, it is important to differentiate between allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances, or take a food allergy test.

There is an old saying, “One man’s food is another man’s poison.” In other words, a food that agrees with one individual (for example, soy, gluten, or dairy) may not agree with another.

In order to understand reactions to food, it is important to differentiate between allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances.

Food allergies
Food allergies are caused by a protein that triggers an immune system response. Antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE) and histamine are released to protect the body from the protein that the body thinks is an invader. The response can include skin rashes, heart palpitations, cramping, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and inflammation of the esophageal tract.

In rare situations, food allergies can be life threatening due to airway constriction. This type of allergic response is called anaphylaxis. An example of an anaphylactic allergic response is when a child’s throat begins to close following consumption of a peanut. The only way to prevent this type of allergic response is to avoid eating the food item entirely.

It is recommended that the individual carry an EpiPen, an auto-injector that administers epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) in the event of an anaphylactic reaction. Examples of common allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, fish (including shellfish and crustaceans), and sulphites. According to Health Canada, food allergies affect as many as 6 percent of young children and 3 to 4 percent of adults.

Food intolerances
Food intolerances do not trigger an immune system response. Typically, symptoms related to food intolerances often take anywhere from an hour to a few days to develop. Because of this, they are often more difficult to pinpoint, as the symptoms vary from individual to individual.

Food intolerances commonly result in gastrointestinal disturbances due to the individual’s inability to digest and absorb the food. Other related symptoms can include an inability to lose weight, chronic fatigue, skin rashes, and a persistent stuffy nose. The foods that trigger the most common reactions are dairy, wheat, soy, and gluten.

Chemical sensitivities
Chemical sensitivities are reactions to chemicals added to foods or to chemicals that occur naturally. Some examples include caffeine, herbicides or pesticides, food colouring, monosodium glutamate, and sulphites.

The key to alleviating symptoms related to food allergies, intolerances, and chemical sensitivities is to pinpoint the sensitive or allergic food in question and eliminate it from the diet, either completely or for a period of time.

Food allergy detection
Detecting a food allergy may feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. There is, however, a blood analysis measurement called the ELISA test that can be used to detect the reactions of white blood cells to certain foods. This test is useful for measuring immediate or delayed allergic responses.

The drawback of the ELISA test is that it is quite costly; it ranges from $120 to $1,200. The upside is that test results are immediate and the foods in question can be automatically pinpointed.

Another effective way to detect food allergies is to follow an elimination or rotation diet. This type of diet eliminates the food in question (for example, dairy) for a recommended period of time (a minimum of two to four weeks) while symptoms are monitored.

It is best to eliminate potential allergens one at a time to accurately detect the irritating food. Following an elimination diet, some individuals may be able to reintegrate the irritating food on a rotational basis.

By implementing the recommendations on the next pages and getting to the root of the problem, those who suffer from food allergies can be on the path toward health and wellness in no time. 

Strengthen your immune system
Anaphylactic reactions aside, there are certain dietary and supplement approaches that can help to strengthen the immune system against an allergic response.

1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is considered an anti-allergy supplement, as it helps to stabilize mast cells (the cells that secrete histamine); vitamin C is also known to boost immune system function. Take an extra vitamin C supplement, and include citrus fruits, cantaloupe, strawberries, kiwi fruit, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, and sweet red peppers in your diet. In addition to food sources, 1,000 mg of vitamin C is recommended one to three times per day to boost immune system function.

2. Digestive enzymes
When on an elimination or rotation diet, take digestive enzymes with meals. Digestive enzymes help to break food down into smaller, less allergenic molecules and thereby decrease the chance that the body will treat the food in question as an invader.

3. Organic produce
If you are suffering from multiple chemical sensitivities, opt for certified organic fruits, vegetables, and meats. Of course, certified organic is recommended for all, but is a must when chemical sensitivities are a factor.

4. Natural cleaning products
Eliminate harsh cleaning products from your home and replace them with natural cleansers, such as vinegar, that use chemical-free options.

5. Fish oil
Supplement with a distilled fish oil capsule daily to reduce inflammatory reaction in the body. Recommended dosage is 1 to 2 g per day.

6. Water
Keep your body well hydrated with six to eight glasses of fresh, clean water every day. By doing so, you will speed transit time and help to foster proper elimination of foods. In order to enhance digestive capacity, start your day off with warm water mixed with fresh-squeezed lemon. Lemon has a natural astringent effect on the body and can also help with the breakdown of food.

7. Probiotics
Supplement with a high-quality mixed strain of probiotics to prevent the overgrowth of yeast in the body. An overgrowth of yeast (Candida albicans) contributes to the development of food sensitivities. When purchasing probiotics, invest in a mixed strain with a minimum of 10 billion organisms per capsule.

8. Breastfeeding
If you are a new mom, try to breastfeed your baby for at least six months to strengthen baby’s immune system. 

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