Food Allergies

IN THIS SECTION
 

Learn what foods might be killing you from the inside out.

We are not all made the same. No food source is for everyone.

Some food sources like gliadin (gluten) and cow’s milk are especially harmful.

Avoidance is the answer. Know what to avoid.

Given the vast numbers of peoples and cultures in the world and the many different types of foods they encounter every day, it is reasonable to assume that everyone has at least some foods that they have problems with.

Allergies versus Sensitivities
Food allergies and food intolerances/sensitivities are two different things.

A food allergy occurs when a certain part of your immune system (called an IgE) reacts to a food as if it were a foreign invader. This type of allergic reaction can create a range of symptoms including itchy throat, difficulty breathing, and hives, but can also be severe enough to require immediate medical attention. This severe allergic reaction is known as anaphylaxis, or an anaphylactic reaction. Anaphylaxis is serious business, sending roughly 50,000 people a year to emergency rooms (accounting for around 100 to 200 deaths per year).1 The most common food allergies in adults are dairy, egg, peanut, tree nut, seafood, shellfish, soy and wheat,2 with peanut being the most common substance to cause an anaphylactic reaction.

Food intolerances/sensitivities are another matter altogether. The classic food intolerance is intolerance to milk sugar (lactose). Lactose intolerance occurs when people cannot digest milk sugar because they lack the enzyme to digest lactose. This undigested sugar (lactose) is then consumed by gut bacteria and their meal is what causes the typical symptoms of lactose intolerance: gas, bloating, pain, and diarrhea. 3

Food allergies/sensitivities, taken as a whole, are responsible for large amounts of pain and suffering. Food allergies are directly associated with diseases such as Celiac Disease (severe gluten intolerance),4 but they can also be linked to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS),5 Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis.6 Food allergies may also play a role in increasing inflammation throughout the entire body and this may lead to arthritis,7 auto-immune disorders,8 and potentially many other diseases.

The stress of reacting food molecules is a major source of chronic stress. Inflammation and cortisol demands lead to an exhaustion of the HPA glands, threatening healthy hormone function and, consequently, all systems of function in the body.

How do you Know if you Have Food Allergies/Sensitivities?
Acute symptoms usually begin immediately, or within two hours after consuming the offending food. In other instances, food allergies can show up hours later or only manifest subclinically—without symptoms—such as in the case of gluten intolerance.

The most common symptoms are wheezing, hives, and a hoarse voice, but a whole range of symptoms can be attributed to food allergies:9

  • Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Fainting or light-headedness
  • Itching of the mouth, throat, eyes, or skin.
  • Nasal or sinus congestion, runny nose
  • Stomach pain or cramps
  • Swelling: eyelids, face, tongue, lips

Types of Food Sensitivities
Food sensitivities come in many forms:

  • Food poisoning: Food can contain proteins that you are allergic to that are the results of bacterial poisoning such as contaminated meat or dairy products.
  • Histamine toxicity: Certain foods contain histamine (a natural inflammatory chemical). Histamine can be high in some wines, cheese, and certain fish such as tuna and mackerel.
  • Intolerances: As already discussed, intolerances usually form when the body cannot break down food into usable portions. The most famous being lactose intolerance which is reported to affect 1 out of every 10 people.
  • Food additives: Food additives can be a source of food intolerances. Sulfites, monosodium glutamate (MSG) are commonly non-tolerated foods; there are many others.
  • Gluten intolerance: Problems associated with gluten involve the immune system, but do not involve a certain type of immune component (IgE) and are not considered food allergy, but food intolerance. This intolerance is much more common than previously thought, occurring in at least 1 out of every 133 people.10 (Clinically, the figure seems to be much higher). See the special section on gluten intolerance.

What to do about Food Allergies/Sensitivities
Medical Approach to Food Allergies

  • Major Food Allergies (Anaphylaxis): This usually requires a trip to the emergency room or other immediate medical care for an injection of epinephrine. People with this type of allergy usually carry epinephrine with them (EpiPen, EpiPen Jr or Twinject).

Integrative Approach to Food Allergies

  • Avoidance: The best way to treat a food allergy is to avoid the offending food altogether. This usually requires special attention to all food labels and can be difficult.
  • Functional Lab Testing: As with any health condition or prevention plan, one should devote resources towards doing as much lab testing as possible to identify dysfunction. Functional lab testing can reveal food allergies and antibody activity against common foods. Use lab testing and rotation diets to determine which foods are best/worst for you. Find a doctor to help.
  • Minor Food Allergies: For natural intervention, natural antihistamines include nettles11 and quercetin.12 Probiotics have also been shown to help with reducing the symptoms of food allergies.13
  • Major Food Allergies (Anaphylaxis): This type of allergy always requires some form of immediate medical attention. Contact your health care practitioner or emergency room if you are experiencing any difficulty in breathing or other symptoms of anaphylaxis.

1 Neugut AI, Ghatak AT, Miller RL. Anaphylaxis in the United States: an investigation into its epidemiology. Arch Intern Med. 2001 Jan 8;161(1):15-21.
2 Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: Allergy Facts and Figures http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=9&sub=30 . Accessed on 8/3/2009.
3 National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: Food Allergy, Food Allergy or Food Intolerance? http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/topics/foodAllergy/understanding/foodIntolerance.htm . Accessed on 7/31/2009.
4 Fasano A, Berti I, Gerarduzzi T, Not T, et al. Prevalence of celiac disease in at-risk and not-at-risk groups in the United States: a large multicenter study. Arch Intern Med. 2003 Feb 10;163(3):286-92.
5 Floch MH, Narayan R. Diet in the irritable bowel syndrome. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2002 Jul;35(1 Suppl):S45-52.
6 Ballegaard M, Bjergstrøm A, Brøndum S, et al. Self-reported food intolerance in chronic inflammatory bowel disease.Scand J Gastroenterol. 1997 Jun;32(6):569-71.
7 Panush RS. Does food cause or cure arthritis? Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 1991 May;17(2):259-72.
8 Kitts D, Yuan Y, Joneja J, Scott F, et al. Adverse reactions to food constituents: allergy, intolerance, and autoimmunity. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1997 Apr;75(4):241-54.
9 Medline Plus: Food Allergies. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000817.htm . Accessed 7/31/2009
10Fasano A, Berti I, Gerarduzzi T, Not T, et al. Prevalence of celiac disease in at-risk and not-at-risk groups in the United States: a large multicenter study. Arch Intern Med. 2003 Feb 10;163(3):286-92.
11Mittman P. Randomized double-blind study of freeze-dried Urtica diocia in the treatment of allergic rhinitis. Planta Med 1990;56:44–7.
12Middleton E, Drzewieki G. Naturally occurring flavonoids and human basophil histamine release. Int Arch Allergy Appl Immunol 1985;77:155–7.
13Majamaa H, Isolauri E. Probiotics: a novel approach in the management of food allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1997;99:179–85.