Stroll through the aisles of any grocery store and you will find numerous products catering to the millions of Americans suffering from food intolerances and food allergies. You will find lactose-free milk, wheat-free and gluten-free breads, and egg-free mayonnaise just to name a few. Let’s first distinguish the difference between food intolerances and food
allergies. Someone with an “intolerance” to a certain food has difficulty digesting that food and may not react to it until hours after consumption.
The proper enzymes to digest it may be missing so that the food passes through unprocessed, or lingers in the intestinal tract to ferment and cause bloating and gas. Persons with food allergies, on the other hand, have a more immediate reaction to the offending food. The body’s immune system perceives the food as a harmful substance and generates antibodies to the food, releasing massive amounts of chemicals and histamines to “protect us.”The most common allergic reactions:
• Tingling or swelling of the lips, tongue, throat or mouth.
• Wheezing, nasal congestion or difficulty breathing.
• Abdominal cramps, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting.
• Hives, itching or eczema.
• Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting.The most common offensive foods:
• Cow’s milk
• Peanuts (and Tree nuts)
Of the more than six million Americans who struggle with food allergies, a small percentage experience an anaphylactic response to certain foods where the throat closes, blood pressure drops, and breathing is impaired. In these severe cases, unless an antihistamine or an injection of epinephrine is given, a lack of consciousness
or death may occur.
One of the more difficult things about having severe food allergies is that restaurants sometimes unknowingly use minute amounts of the allergen in their dishes by reusing pans or utensils. So read the labels on foods carefully and when dining out, inform the restaurant of the seriousness of your condition. There are also hidden allergic triggers within foods like food coloring, additives or preservatives, such as FD&C Yellow dye No. 5, sulfites and M.S.G. (monosodium glutamate
Sulfites, used to preserve foods, are found in salad bars, dried fruits, wines, seafoods, some soft drinks and even on certain fresh fruits and vegetables such as mushrooms and grapes. If you are allergic to sulfites, check labels for any ingredient ending in “–sulfite” and avoid them.
Who is allergic to foods? If one or both parents are allergic, have asthma, eczema or hives, you have an increased risk of being susceptible to allergies. Food allergies are most common with toddlers and children who, for the most part, outgrow them. More severe allergies to foods like peanuts and shellfish are more likely to be a lifelong condition. It is now commonly recommended that children under the age of one (preferably up to three years old) not use or ingest peanut products. Nursing mothers should be aware that many breast creams contain a peanut oil called “arachis oil” which your baby could ingest through breast-feeding.How do I know what I’m allergic to?
• Check yourself at home by recording your pulse rate after eating the food you suspect you are allergic to. First relax for a few minutes and take your pulse with the second hand of a watch. Count the number of beats per minute (usually somewhere between 52 and 72). Once you know your average pulse, eat a concentrated portion of the suspected food allergen (i.e., cream of wheat cereal to test wheat), wait 20 minutes and take your pulse again. If the rate has raised more than 10 beats per minute, then you may be allergic to this food.
• A more scientific method is to get a skin test at an allergist’s office. After reviewing your medical history, they prick your skin and apply extracts of allergens to see if there is an adverse reaction. Your doctor may also recommend you take a blood test—the two most common being: RAST (radioallergosorbent test) or ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). Note that no single test can check a person for all the possible allergies at one time.
• Another idea is to try an elimination diet by keeping a food diary to record what you are eating and how your body is reacting. Then eliminate, one by one, the suspected food offenders for several weeks, then slowly reintroduce them at a later time and record any symptoms. Make sure, however, that if you eliminate a food, you replace it with something that gives you the same amount of nutrients. What are some alternative treatments to food allergies?
There are no “cures” for food allergies other than to avoid the foods you are allergic to. But there are some things you can do to help support your immune system.
• Since the immune system is fighting against the food it believes to be dangerous, it makes sense to support yourself by eating healthy, organic foods, drinking lots of water, sleeping 8 hours a night, exercising regularly and reducing stress in your life.
• Dr. Vincent Punturere, D.C. says that chiropractic work can help with allergies by maintaining proper communication between the nervous and digestive systems—allowing all the organs involved to work together with the brain for optimal function.
• Darko Juric, C.N. and health coach, samples his client’s blood to look at the percentage of eosinophils (white bloods cells) to red blood cells, the shape and uniformity of red blood cells, and the way they move. Live blood analysis gives him an idea of what is happening in the immune system as it relates to allergies.
• Some people have experienced success with their food allergies by following the advice offered in Dr. Peter D’Adamo’s book, “Eat Right For Your Type” – only eating foods recommended for their certain blood type.
• Dr. Ping Ha, Santa Monica acupuncturist and herbalist, says that, “Food allergies are caused by the immune system overreacting. Acupuncture helps balance the immune system and increase the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients.” Dr. Ha cannot recommend a particular herb to treat food allergies, as it is individual to each person’s situation and needs.
• Erin Naimi, R.D., asks her clients to look at their lifestyles and see what foods they can live with and without. There are a great deal of emotions connected with food and diet. She feels it’s important to consider every aspect of the experience when it comes to substituting and eliminating foods. “I want to make living with food allergies tolerable for my clients.”
• Complementary and alternative therapies open up the energy channels in the body, oxygenate the blood and reduce stress. A Polarity Therapy Practitioner can also assist in examining and releasing emotional patterns associated with food allergies and food addictions that reside in the body and create blockages.Food allergies are a hot topic for researchers trying to find ways to help people eat what they want without discomfort. There are many different theories as to what causes food allergies yet there are no real answers as to how to stop them completely other than avoidance.
The good news is that once some offensive foods are eliminated for several months from the diet, they can sometimes be re-introduced without incident. (Don’t try this of course with foods that cause anaphylactic shock.)
Good luck and enjoy the foods
that you can eat safely!
Rachael McCampbell is a Polarity Therapy Practitioner in West Los Angeles and can be reached at [email protected]