Here is a question that we probably never think to ask ourselves… Is it possible that the foods that we eat (even supposedly healthy foods) are the cause of our chronic illnesses?
Migraine Headaches, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Asthma, Depression, Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue, Panic Attacks, Eczema, Chronic Allergies, Arthritis, Sleep Disorders including sleep apnea and snoring all may have a common cause… hidden food sensitivities. Attention Deficit Disorder, Chronic Ear Infections and even Autism in our children have also been linked to foods that they may be sensitive to.
All of us are familiar with overt food allergies… this is the kind of allergy where the food is consumed and within minutes or hours a reaction occurs, which can range from hives all the way to anaphylactic shock. This is known as a Type 1 food allergy, which involves the IgE antibody, and is very easy to self-diagnose… you eat the food and you have a reaction.
The IgE antibodies attach themselves to “mast cells” which, when activated by the offending food, release histamine and other chemical mediators producing classic allergic reactions such as hives, wheezing, swelling, stomach cramps, diarrhea, or more rarely, anaphylaxis. These cells are located in the linings of the digestive tract, urinary tract, skin, and airways, and surround small blood vessels.
Less well known and much harder to self diagnose are the Type 3 food allergies. A different antibody causes these reactions… IgG. The mechanism by which IgG antibodies evoke their allergic reactions is through the formation of immune complexes of antibody attached to food particles. The complexes circulate throughout the body via the bloodstream, rather than being attached solely to mast cells; they may affect any tissue, organ or system of the body.
Whereas the Type 1 allergies only occur in 2-3% of the population and are obvious when they happen, the Type 3 allergies may occur in up to 95% of us, and may not show up for 2 to 3 days, or sometimes up to a week, later. This is why they are known as “delayed-onset” allergies or sensitivities.
There are two main difficulties encountered when figuring out what is really going on with the foods that we eat and which ones we are reacting to negatively. First, because there is not an immediate response, it is difficult to pinpoint which food caused the problem… was it the broccoli that you ate 3 days ago or the bread you’ve had every day for the past week or the sesame oil that was used to prepare the stir-fried chicken and vegetables from the carry-out the other night?
The second complicating factor is that the actual reaction that you have may be in a form that you do not normally associate with an allergy. You know those cluster headaches you’ve had since you were a teenager? Or that irritable bowel issue that seems to crop up at the weirdest times? Or that low-level depression that your doctor keeps telling you is just a Prozac deficiency? Or that skin condition that prescription creams don’t seem to work for anymore? The list goes on and on… and the reason goes back to a keen understanding of the complex nature of how the body works… it all happens because these IgG antibodies can attach themselves to any tissue or organ that you have… and then disrupt normal functioning!
A disturbing fact is that most of us are reacting to anywhere from 3 to 10 different foods in this manner, sometimes up to 20 foods. And they are often foods that we think of as being healthy for us… milk, wheat, vegetables, fruits, nuts. Foods implicated in type 3 allergies are frequently favorite foods commonly eaten in large amounts.
It is important to note that a food intolerance, for example lactose intolerance due to insufficient lactase enzyme to digest milk sugar, is not a food allergy; however, intolerant individuals often suffer from allergy to cow’s milk. Casein, a milk protein, is one of the most common allergens in the Standard American Diet (SAD). Soy protein is also high on the list of common offenders, making soy products a poor substitute for dairy, unless testing has deemed it a “safe” nonallergen.
Other common food allergens include gluten (from wheat and other grains), yeast, corn and eggs. Chemical food additives, preservatives, and food colorings can also contribute to the problems of food allergy.
You may ask why it is that we come up with these allergies in the first place. I believe the answer is found by closely examining our dietary habits today compared to those from the vast majority of our history. Throughout history, we have eaten foods that were grown locally, picked fresh, and did not contain additives, preservatives, colorings, flavorings, etc. Furthermore, we ate the foods that were available to us according to our climate and the particular time of year.
Today, we eat what is known as a “monotonous” diet, even though we may not really be aware of this fact. Monotonous means repeating the same foods over and over again; not necessarily boring. There are many foods that we eat that appear and taste different, even though the base ingredients are the same… thus is the magic of modern food technologies. Many of the prepared foods that we eat use the same ingredients as flavorings. Furthermore, our diets today contain a large percentage of grains, compared to ancient cave man diets, which had no cereal grains.
Of course, none of us eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables, and you can usually count on two hands the variety that we do eat. In other words, our repertoire of foods has become less and less varied as time goes on. The constant, repeated exposure to the same food is the reason the body creates a mechanism to make you change your habits… the creation of the IgG antibodies is your bodies attempt to make you pay attention and make a change in your diet.
Unfortunately, in today’s medical climate, we respond to the health problems we have by prescribing pills instead of making substantive changes in our lifestyles, including changing what we eat. In fact, we are so far removed from that process now that we don’t even realize what is occurring.
So how do we find out which foods may be the ones to avoid? Skin testing, by the scratch test, as well as certain IgE blood tests identify type-1 food allergies only, but not type 3. Delayed type food allergies require an ELISA blood test that detects IgG antibodies to the problem foods.
Once the hidden food allergies have been identified, then the hard work begins… these foods need to be avoided! When tested, food allergies get reported in two levels… foods to avoid and foods to rotate.
The foods to rotate are ones that have registered a minor allergy and should be eaten no more often than every 3 days. Foods to avoid need to be avoided for up to 6 months, then reintroduced one at a time to test for continued reactivity. Retesting is sometimes warranted. Occasionally, there are foods that need to be avoided for longer periods of time.
Sometimes avoiding these foods may produce cravings and withdrawal or increased suffering instead of relief. There are often times strong emotional ties to certain foods, and the breaking of these cycles can be a trying experience. Eventually the withdrawal symptoms will subside and then you start feeling better. If cravings occur, they will usually only last a few days!
At the same time, care should be taken not to eat a monotonous diet consisting of “safe” foods, or new allergies may develop to these foods over time.
There are a whole host of nutritional and herbal supplements that may be helpful in dealing with these hidden food allergies and your body’s response to these food. They include:
- Digestive Enzymes – a plant based digestive enzyme will help your digestive tract be more efficient at breaking down foods into their smallest parts.
- Methyl Sulfonyl Methane (MSM) – this is a naturally occurring form of sulfur that helps to calm your body’s over-reaction to inhaled or ingested allergens.
- Essential Fatty Acids – these “healthy” fats are anti-inflammatory in nature and help with overall gut and immune system function.
- Quercetin – this bioflavanoid works to stabilize mast cells, thus it is known as the natural anti-histamine.
- Probiotics – these “good bacteria” play a vital role in the normal functioning of the gut and help with digestion and assimilation of food. They also play an important role in proper elimination and immune function.
- Glutamine – this amino acid is basically “fuel” for the gut cells to help them reproduce and function properly.
- A Multi Vitamin – including Vitamins A, B-6 & C and Minerals like Magnesium & Zinc, which all play important roles in proper gut function and repair.
All of these supplements help to eliminate the food allergy, improve gut health, remove toxins from the body, fight inflammation, and improve immune system function.
So, as it turns out, there are many foods that you may think are healthy that actually are at the root of many of your chronic health conditions. Chances are that the foods you are reacting too are ones that you eat on a regular basis (maybe even have cravings for) and you likely have no idea that they are cause for concern.
Care to try an experiment? Determine which food is the most common in your diet and then completely eliminate it for 3 weeks. I’m willing to bet you start to feel better… and that may come in the form of better energy, better sleep, better mood, or the beginnings of control with your blood sugar, blood pressure or even a little weight loss.
Tegan, Nutrition Nourishment