How to understand Food Allergies

ALLERGIES is a word we hear a lot these days; everybody seems to have them, especially kids. Atopic children — those prone to allergies — have chronic runny noses, red itchy eyes and a little crease just above the tips of their noses from constantly swiping off a drip. This gesture is ruefully called the “allergic salute” in naturopathic pediatrics. Often when people say they have “allergies” they actually mean they have “sensitivities” to certain foods. An allergic reaction has many different manifestations, most of them quite profound. These reactions range from anaphylactic shock and death (for example an extreme reaction to a bee sting where the bronchial airways swell shut) to chronic fatigue, malaise and foggy thinking from constant exposure to the allergen. Besides foods, people can be both allergic to, or have sensitivities to, pollens, danders, molds, preservatives, pesticides, various building materials, and even to their own hormones and tissues (as in auto-immune diseases).

It is important to recognize that a “reaction” to something our body doesn’t like indicates a healthy, active immune system. We are designed so that our secretions (stool, urine, tears, sweat, mucus) increase in the valiant attempt to expell foreign particles. Fever, for example, is the body’s natural mechanism to kill bacteria and viruses, most of which cannot tolerate above 103 degrees Farenheit. However, when a mere bite of cheese or sniff of a lush Spring breeze sets us off into a choking fit, that’s clearly an over-reaction which needs to be remedied

A food allergy can be defined as a chronic or immediate inappropriate reaction to ingestion of a food. Broadly speaking, if the immune system is involved in the reaction, it is called an allergenic response. If the immune system is not involved, such as in upset stomach, nausea, cramping, or headache, it is called a food “sensitivity” response. This distinction may seem academic, but it is important to distinguish to provide proper treatment.

With a bona fide food allergy, whose classic symptoms will be discussed below, the best approach is to “decrease the burden,” in other words avoid the allergen whenever possible. After a period of clearing the offending food from the bloodstream (which may take 7 days to 7 months to forever) some people may be able to take the food in frequently (no more than every 4 days) without ill result. The very best way to determine food allergencity is the “elimination and challenge” diet discussed in Dr. Ronzio’s article. Food sensitivites may be healed by heeding Hippocrates’ maxim, written many hundreds of years ago, “to many this has been the commencement of a serious disease when they have merely taken twice in a day the same food which they have been in the custom of taking once.”

Some foods contain histamine, the biological chemical responsible for itchiness, red skin rashes and increased mucous production. This is why you can buy synthetic “anti-histamines” in the drug store to temporarily quell symptoms of allergy. Much better to avoid the foods: sausage, sauerkraut, tuna, wine, preserves, spinach, tomato. Other foods cause excessive release of histamine from the white blood cells (“mast” cells) that store it: eggs, milk, shellfish, strawberries, tomatoes, chocolate, bananas, papayas, pineapples, certain nuts, alcohol. How about supporting our natural anti-histamine, cortisol, which is secreted from the adrenal gland cortex? Licorice root is excellent for adrenal support. Check it out. Each and every person in a unique individual, and treatment must reflect this principle.

Ironically, the most common food allergens are ones that are ubiquitous in the American diet: wheat, corn, milk, sugar, soy. It is almost impossible to find canned, boxed or prepared foods without most of these ingredients lurking silently within. “Amaranth” and most all other cookies have wheat as the first ingredient; sparkling “natural” sodas contain corn syrup; good old Campbell’s soups may contain lactose, dextrose, corn starch, soy oil. Why are so many people suffering from food allergies today? Hearken back to the quote from Hippocrates. Because we eat wheat, milk, orange juice, sugar, corn and soy constantly, daily, without a break.

Some of the most common warning signs of food allergy are:

  • Dark circles under the eyes (allergic “shiners”)
  • Puffiness under the eyes
  • Horizontal creases in the lower eyelids
  • Fluid retention and bloating (not the pre-menstrual kind)
  • Chronic swollen glands (under the jaw, armpits, groin)

Symptoms and diseases associated with food allergy are:

  • Gastrointestinal: Canker sores, celiac disease (an extreme intolerance to a fraction of wheat called gliadin, which produces crippling diarrhea and weight loss), stomach ulcer, gas, irritable colon, malabsoprtion, ulcerative colitis (may often produces blood in the stool and a constant hungry feeling).
  • Genitourinary: Bed-wetting (eneuresis), chronic bladder infections (cystitis), kidney disease
  • Immune: Chronic infections including ear infections
  • Mental/Emotional: Anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, inability to concentrate, insomnia, irritability, mental confusion, personality change, seizures.
  • Musculoskeletal: Bursitis, joint pain, low back pain.
  • Respiratory: Asthma, chronic bronchitis, wheezing.
  • Skin: Acne, eczema (dry or weeping, itchy, thickened, reddened patches of skin usually on the face, wrists and inside elbows and knees), hives, itching, skin rash.
  • Other: Irregular heart rate, edema (fluid swelling), fainting spells, fatigue, headache, hyperlglycemia, itchy nose or throat, migraines, sinusitis.

In general, besides avoiding allergenic foods, here are a few general principles for minimizing adverse reactions to common foods. First, get plenty of foods containing vitamin C, or take a dialy supplement. Vitamin C strengthens cell membranes, including the cell menbrane of the histamine-containing mast cell. Digestive enzymes, particularly when eating a high-protein meal, may be in order. Many of us suffer from inflammatory responses to indigested protein fragments in the blood stream, that seeped in through our intestines before sufficient digestion into simple amino acids. Essential fatty acids, at least 1 tablespoon daily of raw, cold vegetable, fish or evening primrose oils, help decrease the inflammatory reactions (caused by the 1 and 3 series prostaglandins) and maintain T-cell function.

How does all this relate to juicing? Suffice it to say that vegetables are BY FAR the least allergenic foods, and high in the vital nutrients that preserve the integrity of our tissues. Some people may need to avoid the nightshade family of vegetables because of reaction to the oxylates they contain. These foods are tomato (primary offender), eggplant, potato, red & green peppers and tobacco. Go easy on the fruit — which is high in the monosaccharides (simple sugars) fructose and glucose. One fruit drink a day is plenty. Go whole hog on vegetables, though, and don’t forget you can JUICE your dark leafy greens. And garlic.