Do you have headaches, sinusitis, nasal stuffiness, heartburn, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), muscle aches and stiffness, joint pain, anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, skin itching, inability to focus, palpitations or mental confusion? You could have food allergies.
Many people suffer from food allergies and don't realize it. Rarely can we determine on our own that something we ate four days ago might be causing today's migraine. Many people needlessly endure years of illness with numerous chronic illness and symptoms (arthritis, asthma, migraines, cluster headaches, bowel problems, irritability, eczema, hyperactivity and many others) without even knowing that delayed food allergies are causing these conditions.
"Food allergies?" you say doubtingly. There are two main food allergies; IgE (Immunoglobulin E) and IgG (Immunoglobulin G). IgE allergic reactions to foods can occur within minutes or a few hours after the food is eaten and may lead to many different symptoms including hives, swelling around the mouth, asthma, diarrhea, vomiting, and even life-threatening anaphylaxis (a severe adverse reaction involving the major body systems). Most people are aware of these food allergies. An antibody is a protein used by the immune system to identify and neutralize foreign objects like bacteria and viruses. If the food eaten is a food allergen, the body will react like it is an invader. Actual IgE food allergies are somewhat uncommon, with estimates that four percent of the population has food-based allergies. The most common food allergy triggers are the proteins in cow's milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish and tree nuts.
Some food allergies are more subtle. These types of food allergies (sometimes also referred to as a food sensitivity or intolerance), involve IgG antibodies and are measurable by an IgG food allergy test. IgG antibodies are associated with non-atopic, hidden, and delayed food reactions that can initiate, worsen, or contribute to inflammation and many different health problems. These reactions are more difficult to notice since they can occur hours or even several days after consumption of an offending food. Often the offenders are frequently eaten foods that are hard to avoid, such as milk, corn and wheat. These "hidden" food allergies are said to affect as many as 60 percent of the population, and contribute to a variety of disorders, including ADD/ADHD.
You might be wondering, "How does a patient acquire food allergies?" The tendency to be allergic to foods is either familial (genetic tendency) or by the constant and repeated exposure of the same foods. Since we tend to eat the same foods over and over, our present symptoms continue and new ones start to develop. IBS can also put us at more risk for developing food allergies, and food allergies can cause IBS. A study published in Gut 2005 found that eliminating IgG food allergy antibodies may be effective in reducing IBS symptoms.
Unfortunately, as we grow older and start to become pattern eaters, we become sensitive to foods we always eat or crave. At a certain point, the body's immune system becomes overwhelmed by these foods and begins attacking weaknesses in the body. The food proteins are the foreign substances that the body is attempting to defend against. The manifestations are chronic conditions that over time become a chronic illness. The most damaging are the IgG and IgM antibodies that combine with serum protein and activate complement reactions causing permanent cell damage, i.e. arthritis, multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and a whole host of other serious chronic conditions.
Both parents pass on the tendency to be allergic to certain foods. Normally, a small child will reject these foods in their diets. If at an early age we are forced to eat certain foods that we do not like or the foods disagree with us, then we tend to become allergic to these foods. Unfortunately, over time the food allergies create inflammation from this repeated exposure and we develop multiple chronic symptoms.
As improbable as it sounds, some people get symptoms from eating "healthy" foods such as wheat, milk or even apples. For reasons we do not fully understand, for some individuals, eating a specific food causes the immune system to stand up and fight, yet the immune system loses. Consequently, you become ill. The illness you have is the immune system's allergic response to a certain food.
How can you find out if you're suffering from food allergies? Skin tests, although fairly reliable for the detection of IgE to environmental allergens, are not well correlated with food allergy signs and symptoms. Placebo-controlled food challenges and elimination/challenge diets are extremely time-consuming for the patient and practitioner and require a high degree of patient motivation and compliance. Food allergies or intolerances can be determined by one blood test covering 90 different foods.
In the end, without testing, most doctors may not know what is causing your underlying problem so they will prescribe a medicine for your symptoms. They haven't really cured the problem, but rather have hidden it so you can continue to function. Meanwhile, other symptoms may surface and you will needlessly perpetuate your suffering. Most chronic diseases related to foods develop slowly but become severe and resistant to routine treatment with medication. Unless the food is removed from the diet, the constant immune stimulation persists.
Different treatment options are available — from over-the-counter products to prescription medications and allergy shots. While pharmaceutical medications are sometimes needed, there are both risks and benefits in using them. The action of medications is to block the body's natural response to an allergy. Antihistamines help block the action of histamine, a substance produced by our bodies during an allergic reaction. It is a natural protective response. Decongestants fight nasal congestion by constricting blood vessels. Prescription nasal steroids, or corticosteroids, are inhaled nasal sprays that treat nasal allergy symptoms. If you believe the Nasonex commercial,"“There’s no cure for nasal allergies, but there are Nasonex treatments to help manage most symptoms," you would continue on the medication. The reality is if a hidden food allergy is causing the nasal stuffiness, elimination of the food resolves the nasal congestion. The goal of immunotherapy (allergy shots) is to "train" your immune system over time to be better able to tolerate the allergens that trigger your symptoms. Other treatments include mast cell stabilizers, which help to prevent the release of inflammatory chemicals during an allergic reaction. The release of inflammatory chemicals is your body saying, "Help! What you are doing is not good for you!" Symbicort, a steroid used to help control asthma, contains formoterol, a long-acting beta2-agonist (LABA). Medicines containing LABAs may increase the chance of asthma-related death. Medications may be needed, but it is always recommended to discover the underlying cause of the inflammation and remove it.
If you have chronic symptoms, have food allergy testing and determine if a hidden food allergy may be triggering your symptoms. Of the many and sometimes inexpensive tests, there is a significant variance in results. Use a credible, reputable lab. Your personal immune response system is what determines which foods give you symptoms. The best way to avoid allergy symptoms is to determine the source of the allergies and steer clear of the things that trigger your allergies.
Remember, Any food can cause any problem. Good food can also make you sick.
Written by Dr. Sharon Norling, MBA, www.drsharonnorling.com, 818-707-9355, © 2014 Dr. Sharon Norling
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