Food Allergies and Intolerances - Seeing through the confusion
(Vitalité Québec, August 2005)
Food allergies are linked to a wide range of disorders and symptoms. They're also often insidious. In fact, unlike traditional allergic reactions, many foods can cause symptoms that develop several hours or even days after ingesting them.
The following are just some of the symptoms and disorders associated with food allergies:
- Mental distress
- Attention deficit
- Dermatitis (e.g. eczema and psoriasis)
- Digestive disorders (e.g. esophagitis and gastritis)
- Joint and muscle pain
- Inflammations (including arthritis and colitis)
- Irritable bowel syndrome
We’ve seen a rise in food allergies since the 1980s. Some can be very serious, even deadly. While many adults are affected, children are the primary victims. What’s more, food intolerances can cause similar symptoms to allergies. The only difference between an allergy and a sensitivity or intolerance is that an allergy causes a specific immune system reaction. In the case of an intolerance or sensitivity, the reaction is either mechanical (contact with the substance) or chemical (the body reacts to the foreign protein as it would to a drug or hormone).
Below are some of the possible explanations for the increase in good allergies and intolerances:
- Changes in social behaviour, resulting in early exposure for infants to a wider range of allergens and to potential intolerances for fetuses during pregnancy or newborns when nursing.
- A change in the allergic potential of foods during industrial processing. In particular, genetically modified foods have been shown to have a higher allergic potential.
- Contamination during the harvesting, storage, manufacturing and packaging of food products.
- Eating the same food more frequently due to changes in the availability of food. In the past, people ate locally-grown food in accordance with the seasons. Not all food was available all the time. Today, we can eat the same food several times a day, 365 days a year.
- Xenobiotics clearly play a role. In fact, several studies suggest that foreign substances in the environment (and therefore in our food) increase the risk of allergies.
Key "guilty" foods
The foods that make the top of the list are peanuts, wheat, gluten, yeast, corn, eggs, dairy, soy and sugar.
The major problem when it comes to allergies and sensitivities is identifying them. Even with the most precise tests, false negatives are very common. In other words, it's very difficult to identify the culprits, particularly with sensitivities rather than allergies.
Where do food allergies and sensitivities come from?
A food allergy, like a food sensitivity or respiratory allergy, is caused by a breakdown in a physico-chemical chain reaction.
- For an allergy or sensitivity to develop, it must come into contact with the substance.
- In the case of a food allergy, an individual's digestive capacity must be compromised in order for the allergen to remain intact at the absorption site. This step does not apply to respiratory allergies/sensitivities.
- If the allergen/sensitivity-causing agent isn't digested, it shouldn't enter the bloodstream intact. If the substance is absorbed, it means that the intestinal membranes are too permeable. This is also the case for the respiratory membranes in the case of respiratory allergies/sensitivities.
- When the allergen/sensitivity-causing agent penetrates the blood, it is usually metabolized by the liver. If the liver is unable to do this, it will travel to the lymph.
- If the lymph is unable to break it down, it will enter the bloodstream. There, the immune system will either try to destroy the intruder or it will misinterpret it as endogenous substance (e.g. an endorphin or a hormone).
- The body will then form an antibody-antigen complex with the foreign substance it could not destroy. This complex is a sort of memory of the aggressive substance, which triggers a very quick allergic reaction.
The only definitive way to identify an allergy-causing food is through an elimination diet. This entails removing the suspected allergen and all of its by-products from the patient's diet for at least three weeks. If possible, the patient may also start a hypoallergenic detoxification program. Following this period, the food is reintroduced in large doses at every meal, and observations are made. To ensure a proper evaluation, the individual must keep a journal of his or her diet and symptoms during this period.
Working on the causes of allergies
It's critical to work on the various causes of allergies rather than simply eliminating allergens or boosting immunity. Here are a few tips to help you in that process:
- Make sure your digestive system is functioning properly. Most people who suffer from food allergies have, or have had, difficulties digesting protein. Plant-based proteolytic enzymes are an essential tool.
- The digestive and respiratory membranes need to be repaired. Several elements are key to this process:
- Amino sugars
- Glutamic acid, an amino acid that promotes intestinal membrane repair
- Vitamins and minerals that play a role in forming epithelial cells: vitamins A and C, silica and zinc
- Lactic acid bacteria, which helps rebuild the intestinal membrane
- Your organs need to be supported during detoxification/elimination (especially the liver) by an appropriate detoxification program.
- Your immune system needs to be boosted so that it can destroy foreign substances in the blood. Several tools are available to accomplish this: aged garlic, vitamins A, C and B6, selenium, zinc, astragalus root, echinacea and sterols.
- It's best to protect the membranes so that allergens can't irritate or penetrate them. Mullein tea is recommended for the respiratory membranes, while marshmallow tea and slippery elm are recommended for the intestinal membranes.
- When necessary, you can minimize existing allergic reactions with the following substances: quercetin, vitamins C and B5 (taken at meals), quail eggs and sterols.
Food allergies and sensitivities play significant role in the unhealthy state that many of us are in. Unfortunately, they are often ignored to the detriment of our health. If you are suffering from any of the health problems mentioned above but have been unable to determine its cause, consider exploring the possibility of food allergies or sensibilities.
It might be worthwhile to consult a health professional who has experience in this field, such as a holistic or naturopathic doctor.