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Food Allergies: The EFA Connection

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Healthy fats help give your body the natural defence mechanism it need.

Peanut-free schools and dairy-free diets do either of these mandates sound familiar? They most likely will. Cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat are the eight most common allergic foods, accounting for 90 per cent of all food-allergic responses.

A food allergy is the immune system's response to a food that the body believes is harmful. Once the immune system decides a particular food is harmful, it creates specific antibodies to defend against it. The next time the individual eats that food, the immune system releases massive amounts of chemicals to protect the body. These chemicals trigger a cascade of allergic symptoms that can affect the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, skin and cardiovascular system. In Canada, about five per cent of children suffer from food allergies, along with one to two per cent of North American adults suffering from true food allergies. Many people mistake food allergies for food intolerances. A food intolerance or sensitivity is an adverse food-induced reaction that can cause great discomfort but does not trigger the same allergic response cascade.

Food allergies can be cured by correcting an immune system response that has gone awry. Once this has been corrected, the person will no longer react to the substance in the same way, except in the case of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is the most deadly type of reaction and occurs when the allergen enters the bloodstream, causing respiratory distress, fainting, itching, hives and often shock.

Offending foods, once discovered, should be eliminated from the diet for six months. After allergens are removed from the diet, adding the proper nutrients will help support the body's healing of the gastrointestinal tract. After a period of time when the immune system abnormality and gut lining have been healed, slowly, the food may be replaced in the diet. Some people may be able to occasionally consume that food without serious response.

Essential fatty acids have potent anti-inflammatory properties that improve many conditions ranging from arthritis to eczema, as well as promote immune system enhancement.

EFAs: Omegas Will Protect

Inflammation is one of the primary responses to a food allergy attack. Minimizing exposure to allergens will help reduce inflammation and support the immune system. Consuming nutrients that help decrease the inflammatory response is also essential to the maintenance and repair of a healthy body. The essential fatty acids (EFAs) of the omega-3 family and gamma linolenic acid of the omega-6 family have potent anti-inflammatory properties that promote immune system enhancement and improve many conditions ranging from arthritis to eczema.

The primary omega-3 is called alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and is found in the highest concentrations in flax seed and flax seed oil (50 to 55 per cent). Fatty, cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and cod contain other important omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Since fish and shellfish are among the top allergy-causing foods, supplementing your diet with fish oil that contains only the EPA and DHA fatty acids is recommended, thereby avoiding the protein and other allergy-causing portions of fish.

Omega-6 oils are found in most plants and vegetable oils, including sesame, safflower, corn, evening primrose, borage and black currant. However, the omega-6 fatty acid that is recommended for reducing inflammation is gamma linolenic acid (GLA). The highest concentrations of GLA are found in borage oil (20 to 24 percent), evening primrose oil (eight to 10 percent), and black currant oil (15 to 17 percent). It is important to minimize other omega-6 fatty acids found in our diet, namely linoleic acid (found in abundance in vegetable oils, margarines and processed foods); too much linoleic acid can actually lead to increased inflammation and allergic responses.

A combination of fish, flax and borage is recommended for allergy sufferers, as these EFAs will help alleviate allergic inflammation and have immuno-modulatory actions that improve the gastrointestinal tract and promote a healthy immune system.

Perilla: A New Source of Omega

The perilla leaf has long been used as a herbal medicine in China. Today, it is receiving special attention in North America because of favourable evidence supporting its beneficial results in the treatment of some types of allergic reactions, without the side-effects associated with most anti-allergy medications. Perilla has been confirmed, in limited trials, to have beneficial effects in the treatment of some allergy-related diseases, including hay fever, dermatitis, non-food and food allergies, and other hyper-sensitivity reactions.

EFAs Can Help

After removing allergy-causing foods from your diet, supplementing with beneficial EFAs will help give your body the natural defence mechanism it needs. EFAs reduce inflammation and improve your immune response. Don't let food allergies get you down essential fats can help!

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