Not surprisingly, the most common foods that trigger delayed food allergy are the ones most Americans eat the most: milk, cheese, wheat, yeast, soy, corn, eggs, beef, and tomatoes. When I put my patients on an allergy-free diet that avoids the major allergens and also takes out all processed foods, sugar, and desserts, remarkable changes occur in most of their main complaints. Headaches, fatigue, joint pain, and digestive problems frequently improve within weeks. To identify the food triggers after an elimination diet, reintroduction of specific foods will often re-create a person’s symptoms. For people with medical problems or multiple allergies, consulting a physician who specializes in food allergies (such as a member of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine) is typically the best approach.
Identifying symptoms of common food allergies
How is one to suspect food allergy? Here are some hints:
A history of any respiratory allergy including hay fever, asthma, nasal congestion, or itching nose, eyes, or throat makes food allergy likely.
Itching in the ear canal, rectal itching, and itching between the shoulder blades also can indicate food allergy.
Any family history of allergy increases the likelihood of food intolerance.
A childhood history of colic, chronic digestive problems, bed-wetting, carsickness, recurrent ear infections, tonsillitis, and frequent colds is suspicious.
Frequent respiratory or urinary-tract infections, or chronic digestive complaints including gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and skin rashes, are usually a sign of food allergy in an adult.
Unexplained fatigue, mood changes, and depression can all be caused by food allergy. Probably the most common complaints from my food-allergic patients are fatigue, aches and pains, and the inability to lose weight.
Where do food allergies come from?
Many of my patients ask why they have developed food allergies. People who have strong genetic predispositions for allergies often have sensitivities to pollens, molds, and dust as well as foods – in addition, they typically have respiratory symptoms such as hay fever and asthma. However, the majority of food-intolerant patients have developed this problem over time rather than through a strong genetic component. The digestive tract is often the culprit. As I discuss in The Adaptation Diet, the use of anti-inflammatory medications impacts the integrity of the gut wall and leads to a leaky gut, which in turn causes absorption of larger molecules from food and an allergic response.
How antibiotics and antacids affect the gut
Antibiotics also play a major role in initiating food allergy by reducing the number of protective bacterial organisms in the digestive tract. This leads to overgrowth of unwanted bacteria and yeast (Candida albicans) or susceptibility to parasitic organisms. With fewer lactic-acid-forming bacteria, the gut wall is susceptible to leaky gut and food allergy. In addition, abnormal organisms in the gut trigger a brisk immune response that can lead to excessive reactivity to foods. Candida albicans is especially problematic because it adheres to the gut wall and directly contributes to a leaky gut.
Acid-blocking medications (Zantac, Prilosec, Tagamet, to name a few) alter the digestive process by reducing stomach acid secretion. (These are important drugs when needed to treat gastritis, gastric reflux, or ulcers but are widely overused by physicians and the public.) With less stomach acid comes reduced pancreatic enzyme secretion, leading to poor digestion of proteins and absorption of substances triggering allergy. These drugs also contribute to nutritional deficiencies (B12, zinc, and other minerals) that affect the immune system as well.
Connections between food composition and allergy
Poor nutritional habits lead to greater food allergy incidence through continual exposure to the same foods, fast foods, sugars, and unhealthy oils and fats. The typical American diet, rich in omega-6 fats and simple sugars and lacking omega-3 fats and complex carbohydrates, impacts the digestive process by encouraging abnormal bacterial growth in the gut while not providing the nutrients needed for the health of the gut wall cells, the mucocytes. Poor nutrition can lead to greater likelihood of viral illness that can at times trigger a food allergy problem.
The change in food composition of the American diet also plays a role. The number of food additives has skyrocketed over the past fifty years, leading to recurrent exposure to chemicals in foods. Foods containing preservatives, conditioners, and artificial colorings and flavorings, and foods that are contaminated with antibiotics from animal feed and pesticides, add to the impact on the immune system in the digestive tract. Other behaviors such as early weaning and pre- mature introduction of solid foods to infants and the repetitive nature of most diets have been suggested to increase food intolerances.
Managing food allergies and allostatic load
Not only do food allergies increase the allostatic load and cortisol burden, food allergies themselves are the result of long-term stress. Allostasis and high cortisol levels inhibit the normal immune response in the gut, leading to more infections. High cortisol also increases stomach acid production, leading to more use of acid- blocking drugs, and furthering malabsorption. Chronic stress and allostatic load will eventually change the immune response, leading to more allergies. Managing food allergies is a major part of the dietary control of cortisol and regaining adaptation.
Next steps: How to evaluate and treat your allergies
We offer a variety of food-allergy treatments at the Moss Center for Integrative Medicine. In most cases, the first step of treatment is a thorough medical history and physical examination. There are often indications in a medical history of what the key problems might be. A special type of elimination and detoxification diet could be prescribed. Many people require allergy skin testing which includes the use of small amounts of the suspected triggers placed under the skin to measure the reaction and identify the allergic response. Certain blood tests might also be employed.
The treatment includes dietary changes such as rotation diet, desensitization if required, nutritional supplementation and environmental changes in the home or workplace if needed. We provide a large number of educational resources to assist you in any changes you need to make. Most people see significant improvement in many of their symptoms within the first month of instituting their recommendations.
Immunotherapy can be an important part of building tolerance to allergens, hormones, and even bacteria in the gut, which contribute to autoimmune states. We use two distinct treatments, sublingual immunotherapy which entails using a small number of drops placed under the tongue on a daily basis. This has become the preferred route of desensitization for many patients.
We also offer LDA (low dose antigen) therapy for airborne allergies, foods, molds, and chemical sensitivity. LDA was developed in England in the 1970s and is currently used by several hundred physicians in the U.S. We have employed this very effective treatment for over 20 years. It is administered every 2 months by injection under the skin and has been of great use in more complex problems.
For further information, please contact our office at (858) 457-1314.