We have all heard the old saying, "You are what you eat." Unfortunately, for many people, food is a source of chronic illness. Food allergies and food intolerances can create a host of health problems--from hives and anaphylaxis, to eczema, asthma, headaches, sinus infections, celiac disease, digestive issues, depression, fibromyalgia, autoimmune diseases, and many others conditions.
Over fifty million people--that's one out of five people in the U.S. suffer from allergies. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, one out of twenty children under the age of five and one out of twenty-five adults are allergic to at least one food. The number of people affected by food intolerances is suspected to be higher.
Food Allergy or Food Intolerance
The terms food allergies and food intolerances are often used interchangeably, although they have two different definitions. A food allergy is when the body's immune system generates an immunological reaction when exposed to a food allergen. The symptoms of a food allergen appear quickly, such as eating a peanut and then getting hives or a skin rash or even anaphylaxis minutes to hours later. The term food intolerance is used to describe reactions to foods, however the immune system is not directly involved. People with food intolerances can experience a variety of symptoms including headaches, brain fog, fatigue, depression, stomach aches, eczema, asthma, colic, joint pains, insomnia, and many other symptoms, but the symptoms are usually delayed and can occur hours to days after eating the irritating food.
The Top Ten Food Allergies
The list of the most common food allergens includes: wheat, eggs, dairy, soybean products, corn, citrus fruits, nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and potatoes), peanuts, shellfish and alcohol. Babies and young children are most often allergic to milk, eggs, wheat, soybean products, and peanuts. Older children and adults are most often allergic to peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews), fish and shellfish.
The Elimination / Rechallenge Diet
The gold standard for assessing food allergies is the elimination/rechallenge diet which involves eating a restricted diet, avoiding any potential food allergen for four to six weeks, then reintroducing a suspected food allergen into the diet and observing any reaction. The advantages of this testing method include:
• People can easily identify an adverse reaction to a food when they reintroduce it to the diet
• There is no added cost or expensive testing involved with this diet
The cons to this diet include:
• Many people find it difficult to stick to a restricted diet for 4 - 6 weeks
• It takes extra effort to buy and prepare hypoallergenic meals
ELISA (Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay) Testing
This method of food allergy testing is done through a blood test where serum is measured for specific immune markers--IgE and IgG antibodies--to specific foods. The advantages of this testing include:
• Less time consuming than the elimination/rechallenge diet
• It can be safer than skin prick testing if a person has anaphylaxis reactions to foods
• The results can be very motivating for people to change their diets
The disadvantages of this test include:
• This testing is not 100% accurate or reliable
• Some people show high levels of immune markers, such as IgE antibodies, but when they eat the food they do not have adverse reactions
How to Heal from Food Allergies and Intolerances
Healing from food allergies or food intolerances usually involves some avoidance of the foods that aggravate symptoms for a period of at least 3 to 6 months, sometimes longer. The avoidance of food triggers will help decrease inflammation in the body and give the body time to heal. There are a variety of supplements used to help heal the lining of the intestine. Probiotics are an essential component of reestablishing the bacterial balance in the digestive tract and encouraging intestinal healing. The probiotic strains with the most research include lactobacillius rhamnosus GG, bifidobacteria and saccroymyces boullardi, which is actually a strain of yeast that helps balance intestinal flora. Other nutritional supplements used to heal the gut include:
• Digestive enzymes used to help breakdown food
• L-glutamine, an amino acid used to heal the lining of the intestine
• Whey protein powder used to strengthen the immune system in the gut (not recommended for people with dairy allergies)
• Quercetin, a bioflavonoid used to prevent histamine reactions
• Drinking green tea can decrease allergic reactions
Healing food allergies and food intolerances requires effort. It requires the willingness to change your diet and your lifestyle. There are many health care practitioners who specialize in treating food allergies and food intolerances. Consider consulting with your local health provider to learn more about identifying and healing food allergies.