Food sensitivities and allergies have become major health issues. We can develop food sensitivities and allergies to any substance that we inhale, that contacts our skin, and that we eat. Many times they cause aggravating symptoms that are not life threatening, but for some there can be life threatening or serious health consequences. Every parent that has had to take a child to the emergency room for treatment of asthma understands this issue.
The Center for Disease Control reports that hay fever symptoms results in 14.1 million annual visits to primary care physicians. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology reports the following statistics:
Allergic disease is the 5 th leading chronic disease in the U.S. among all ages.
A recent nationwide survey found that more than half of the population in the U.S. is positive to one or more allergens.
Allergic rhinitis (hayfever) is believed to affect 20 percent of all adults and 40 percent of children.
Allergic rhinitis and asthma are the two leading causes of absenteeism in the workplace and in the schools.
Allergic dermatitis (itchy rash) is the most common skin condition in children.
12 million Americans suffer from food allergy – seafood, tree nuts, and peanuts account for the most.
One in 17 children under the age of 3 has a food allergy.
Food Allergies vs. Food Sensitivities
Making a distinction between allergies and sensitivities is really a matter of interpretation. The American Academy of Asthma, Allergies and Immunology defines allergies as an immune system response to a food substance. The reaction occurs within 15 to 60 minutes after eating the food (Allergy & Asthma Advocate, Winter 2005). Symptoms may include hives, itchy mouth, throat closing, cough, wheezing, or shock. This indicates what is medically considered a “true” allergy.
The person who suffers this type of reaction usually knows what food causes the symptoms after the first few times of eating it. In classic immunology, this is usually categorized as an IgE response. IgE is a type of antibody that creates an immediate immune response to the allergen. This type of food sensitivities reaction may be genetic and total elimination of that food or foods is required so as not to cause serious health consequences.
On the other hand, a food sensitivities or intolerances are usually defined as an adverse response that is not caused by the immune system. Therefore, many people are not told that their
symptoms may be related to food, because when they are tested for “food allergies” they are told that they don’t have an allergy or IgE response. Fortunately for all of us, nutrition science is much more sophisticated nowadays and research into food reactions has been extensively studied over the past 30 years or so.
Medical science, unfortunately, has often not caught up with this new body of research and thus, conventionally trained physicians may not recognize a person’s symptoms as being related to food sensitivities. Food intolerances can be mediated by other antibodies such as IgG, IgM, and IgA. This means that the immune system is still involved and reacting to foods, but with a different set of antibodies. These antibody reactions are usually delayed and not immediate. The symptoms may not appear until 6 to 72 hours later. The reactions may vary each time with the exposure to a food or a food group and may cover a wide range of symptoms that may not usually be associated with food:
Migraines Heart racing or irregular heartbeat Headaches Sinus problems Stomach distress Weight gain or loss Heartburn Gas, bloating Brain fog Constipation, diarrhea
Stuttering, stammering Joint pain Asthma Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue Back or neck pain Ear infection Eczema or Psoriasis Fatigue after meals Dark circles under the eyes Flu-like symptoms Depression or anxiety Itchy skin
Eliminating the trigger foods that are causing symptoms could bring about dramatic relief. In addition, many health issues are directly related to and made worse by food intolerances. Some of the symptoms of food intolerances mimic some of these health issues. All autoimmune conditions, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, neurological issues, arthritis, and osteoporosis have food intolerances as an underlying trigger.
Not All Food Reactions are Antibody Mediated
Other immune system substrates such as lymphocytes and cytokines can also be involved in immune responses to foods. This is why it may be problematic to determine what, if any, foods are behind those distressing symptoms and subsequent health issues.
What foods are usually involved with food sensitivities?
According to the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology, the most common foods that cause an allergic (IgE) reaction are: cow’s dairy, wheat, soy, corn, peanuts, eggs
fish, and shellfish. Ironically, these foods are also commonly implicated in delayed-onset food reactions as well. Having a reaction to one of these foods may not cause anaphylaxis, but may cause chronic symptoms.
If we have chronic food sensitivities we may likely have chronic reactions to other substances such as chemicals in foods (MSG, sulfites, nitrates, aspartame, pesticides), airborne pollens, chemicals in both indoor and outdoor environments, as well as low immune function, making us susceptible to chronic coughs, colds, and viruses.
Conversely, if we have hay fever symptoms we may be more likely to suffer food reactions, especially during hay fever season. Or if we have had repeated exposures to a chemical and
are now experiencing reactions upon further exposures, we are very likely to begin suffering food reactions as well. These reactions may occur because of the “total load” effect in which our immune system is now hyperactive and our liver is so overwhelmed trying to breakdown and excrete the allergens that any further exposure to allergens makes us feel worse.
Some foods also cross-react with other substances in that they belong to similar food or pollen families. For example, many people who suffer from arthritis or joint aches are sensitive to the solonacae family of nightshade vegetables (tomato, potato, eggplant, peppers). This family also includes tobacco. Thus, they may be sensitive to tobacco and tobacco smoke as well. Latex is another common allergen that is found in surgical gloves, rubber products, clothing, and bananas. So, if someone has a latex allergy, eating bananas would also cause a reaction.
Why are we sensitive to foods?
A Sea of Foreign Proteins
This is the one-million- dollar question! According to William Walsh, M.D., author of “Food
Allergies: The Complete Guide to Understanding and Relieving Your Food Allergies,” there is
“one explanation of food allergy that is accepted by allergist…All animal and vegetable-derived
foods are made up of proteins in addition to fats and carbohydrates. Many of the food proteins
are identical to the body’s own protein, and even allergic individuals absorb and digest them
with no difficulty. But, some food proteins are not like our body’s proteins. They are found in
such foods as shrimp or nuts or cow’s milk but not in our own bodies, and our bodies do not
recognize them.”(1) This sets up a chain of events that result in either severe or mild symptoms.
A Stressed Immune System
Along with foreign proteins in food, our food supply is full of chemicals – pesticides, synthetic
additives, and metals – that are truly foreign substances that our body needs to attack and
eliminate. If food is made from these chemicals or if the chemicals are attached to the foods,
then the body must attack these foreign invaders. A food reaction occurs, but not necessarily to
that particular food, only to the chemicals.
A vicious cycle occurs upon each repeat exposure to the foreign food proteins and chemicals to
create a hyper-reactive and overwhelmed immune system, which further weakens an already
weakened immune system. Thus, multiple food reactions can result.
Eating Too Much of a Good Thing
Most of us are eating boring, repetitive diets. One of the major reasons people get food
allergies and sensitivities is that they are exposed to the same few foods over and over.
As a result, many of these favorite foods have become highly allergenic. The U.S. Department
of Agriculture has categorized the top nine foods rated by the number of calories consumed
Whole cow’s milk
2 percent cow’s milk
Processed American Cheese
Refined sugar (15 to 21 percent of calories)
Cola (more soda is consumed than water)
What are consumed in abundance are three main food groups:
Refined flour (wheat and gluten)
These foods are not only among the most highly allergenic, but are among the lowest in
nutritional value. The immune system needs a variety of nutrients (zinc, vitamin C, vitamin B,
selenium) in order to maintain its effectiveness. Eating these foods and not receiving adequate
nutrition from these foods create an immune system that has less ability to distinguish friendly
from unfriendly foods.
One of the best methods to determine your gastrointestinal health is with our Comprehensive Digestive Analysis.
The treatment is total elimination of gluten grains for life. For those with celiac disease, after
eliminating gluten from the diet, even one small exposure will trigger a serious immune system
response and manifest in obvious symptoms. For those with gluten sensitivity the same is true,
as one exposure may still trigger an immune system response and may also manifest in obvious
symptoms. For example, if migraines are stopped by eliminating gluten then eating a piece of
bread may trigger another migraine. Failure to eliminate the gluten grains will result in long-term health consequences. Autoimmunity is a common finding in those with celiac and gluten
Here are some suggestions to reverse and minimize food allergies and intolerances:
1. Chew your food! This will allow for food particles to be broken down into digestible
pieces before it is digested by the gastrointestinal tract.
2. Undertake a gut rejuvenation program to restore good digestive function.
3. Eat smaller, more frequent meals. This encourages more complete digestion and more
viable energy for the immune system to function more effectively.
4. Cook the food at first to make the food more digestible and to allow for repair of the gut
5. Relax when you eat. Stress can inhibit digestion and sets up an inflammatory response
from the immune system which exacerbates food reactions.
6. The primary treatment is to completely eliminate the food or foods from the diet for
at least one month. This gives the body time to calm down the immune reactivity and
One of the best remedies for either identifying or remediating food reactions is the elimination of the most typically “allergenic” foods. This is called an elimination diet. The best diet for this
purpose is one that only contains four food groups:
- Protein (chicken, fish, lamb, and turkey)
- Fresh, organic vegetables
- Fresh, organic fruits
- Olive oil
The key is to start to enjoy a variety of fresh, nutrient-dense foods!
This type of elimination should be undertaken for at least one month. This means a willingness to give up favorite foods and perhaps go through withdrawal or detoxification symptoms the first week of the program.
Healing the Gut
It is crucial to undertake a gut restoration program under the supervision of an experienced
health professional. Calming down the inflammation caused by food reactions and actually
restoring the gut lining may allow for the re-introduction of the foods that have caused a
Here are some effective natural choices to start the restoration of the gut:
1. Drinking Aloe Vera juice daily will calm and soothe the gut and assist in repair of the
2. Drink herbal teas consisting of slippery elm and marshmallow root. These herbs act as demulcents to restore the gut mucosa.
3. Re-inoculate the friendly bacteria by eating fermented foods such as miso, live culture
coconut yogurt, and sauerkraut.