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Food Allergies

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An allergy occurs when the body reacts to an otherwise innocuous substance (allergen) as though it were a foreign invader, such as a bacterium or virus. When the substance is an ordinary food or beverage, however, it is a case of mistaken identity.

An allergy occurs when the body reacts to an otherwise innocuous substance (allergen) as though it were a foreign invader, such as a bacterium or virus. When the substance is an ordinary food or beverage, however, it is a case of mistaken identity.

Of course if it were a bug, the immune system could usually fight off the invader in a few days. Where there is a reaction to something that is frequently eaten (or to something unavoidable in the environment), the immune system is constantly being triggered into reacting. This exhausts the immune system and depletes the body of the nutrients that it needs to function properly. When a real bug comes along, the depleted body just doesn’t have what it needs to fight back. One of the long term effects of allergies is a depleted immune system, and therefore frequent colds, flus or other infections.

"Allergic shiners" are dark semi-circles under the eyes, looking like "raccoon eyes" or a pair of glasses. They are a good indication that someone probably has food allergies.

Common digestive symptoms of food allergies include bloating (which may be sporadic or continuous), nausea, diarrhea, constipation, diarrhea alternating with constipation, tenderness of the abdomen, gas, abdominal cramps or colic in babies. However, a food allergy will not necessarily create digestive discomfort. It may cause problems in other areas of the body such as:

  • chronic ear, tonsil, sinus or chest infections which may respond to antibiotic treatment, but which keep recurring

  • excessive mucus in the throat and elsewhere

  • hives, eczema, psoriasis and other skin rashes

  • wheezing, asthma

  • hyperactivity with or without attention deficit

  • becoming sleepy or dull-minded after meals

  • depression

The Heavy Gut

Are more people really suffering from food allergies today, or are we just becoming more aware that problem foods are the cause of existing health concerns?

I believe the answer is "both."

A number of factors increase the probability of people becoming allergic or sensitive to foods.

Leaky gut syndrome in an important causative factor. It usually occurs after the use of antibiotics without following up with probiotics. Antibiotics kill the friendly bacteria in the digestive tract (probiotics) in addition to killing the unfriendly bacteria of the infection. If the probiotics (acidophilus and bifido cultures) aren’t replaced, the yeast that normally exists at low levels in the digestive tract get an opportunity to increase its population, and cause problems. As yeast grows, it infiltrates cells and triggers the immune system. This immune reaction creates inflammation. This inflammation makes the gut more leaky. Partially-digested food products can then pass through the gut wall–and a vicious cycle of increasing inflammation and increasing numbers of food sensitivities arises. I see many patients who are suffering from this combination of yeast overgrowth and food sensitivity reactions. In such cases the yeasts have to be addressed and the gut wall strengthened so that the partially digested foods can no longer cross through the gut wall and trigger the immune reaction.

Modern transportation and preservation methods make many foods available to us year round. We can eat the same foods day after day, rather than eating different foods according to season. Naturopathic doctors know that the foods people eat every day are those most likely to become allergens, especially if the person has any degree of leaky gut. Dairy and wheat are common allergens in Western culture, while rice is more commonly a problem in Asian cultures.

Another factor that increases the number of food sensitivities is the addition of chemicals to foods as colorings, flavoring and preservatives. The body is more likely to react to these unnatural substances. Also, some people do not react to foods in their natural, unprocessed state (raw milk, for example) but do react to processed forms (like pasteurized or homogenized milk).

Testing, Testing

Most of the tests available can tell us if a food is a problem for us, and so can diagnose a sensitivity reaction. That sensitivity may be due to an allergic reaction, but the only way to definitively diagnose a food allergy is by a blood test that checks for an immune reaction. This test is effective but expensive. However, if you know that a food causes you problems, avoid it and seek treatment.

In my experience, muscle testing (applied kinesiology) and electro-dermal testing (using a Vega machine) are the most useful clinical tests and the best value for money. For young children whose meridians have not matured enough for electro-dermal testing, muscle testing works best. Prick and scratch tests are not reliable indicators for allergies that affect areas other than the skin.

An elimination-challenge diet is an effective way of pinpointing problem foods, but is far more work than getting tested. Suspect foods must be completely eliminated from the diet for at least two weeks, and then reintroduced, one at a time, at least two days apart. If the food being reintroduced is eaten in quantity on the challenge day, any symptoms it causes should be easy to recognize. This often works well with children (provided that they haven’t cheated during the elimination period). They get the experience of what the food does to them, rather than just being told not to eat something they like.

For example, a five-year-old girl came to me suffering the side effects of taking steroids as an allopathic last resort for her chronic chest infections. Her allergic shiners were the most spectacular I had ever seen, and elimination challenge so clearly identified dairy products as the cause of wheezing and coughing that she happily gave up dairy, and then could stop using the steroids.

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