Food Allergies are dverse reactions to foods and can be caused by many different mechanisms and can
trigger various symptoms. But contrary to popular belief, not all of these
adverse reactions are food allergies. A true food allergy or food
hypersensitivity refers to "adverse responses to food that are:
- mediated by immunologic mechanisms,
- occur after consumption of a particular food, and
- cause functional changes in target organs"
Reactions that do not involve the immune system are food intolerances
and are not true food allergies. These nonallergenic reactions are thought to be
much more common than food allergies, and can be caused by toxic, pharmacologic,
metabolic, or idiosyncratic reactions to chemical substances and proteins in
foods. The most common cause of food intolerances is improper or incomplete
digestion, as is the case with lactose intolerance. Those with lactose
intolerance are not allergic to milk or dairy, but do exhibit a reaction because
they are lacking the enzyme lactase to completely digest these foods.
The exact cause of food allergies is unknown but is thought to involve a
genetic predisposition. However, just because your parents have food allergies,
does not absolutely mean you will develop a food allergy. There must also be an
"environmental insult" that triggers the allergy. The "environmental insult" can
be pollution, eating a particular food while your gut integrity is diminished
due to illness, or even developing an airborne allergy.
Food allergies are relatively rare and occur in only 6% of children under 3
years of age and in 1.4% of adults. The most common food allergies are: milk and
dairy, eggs, nuts, fish, wheat, and soy. Symptoms involved in food allergy
reactions can range from gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and
diarrhea or skin reactions such as uticaria, eczema, and itching to respiratory
reactions such as asthma or a full systemic response called anaphylaxis or
The immune system is designed to protect the body from exposure to invading
organisms (bacteria, viruses, etc.) by responding to invading organisms or any
proteins that are not recognized as part of the body. The most common entrance
to the body for these invaders and foreign proteins is through the gut. However,
since every food we eat contains proteins that are foreign to the body, it would
be inefficient for the body to create a full immune response every time we eat.
As a result the body has developed an "oral tolerance" that exists only in the
gut and prevents the immune system from hyper-responding to foreign proteins in
foods. The unique system in the gut that favors tolerance is called
Gut-Associated Lymphoid Tissue (GALT).
The GALT system still protects the host from ingested pathogens that can
cause harm, but can also protect the host from over-reacting to ingested
proteins. In normal, healthy individuals the GALT system responds to ingested
invaders to protect the individual and will elicit an immune response against
the invader, but will not elicit an immune response to ingested food proteins.
However, in individuals with food allergies, the GALT system will respond to
particular food proteins as invaders and will elicit a full immune response
against the ingested food protein. Depending on whether the response is systemic
or local, the individual will experience symptoms ranging from nausea and
vomiting to full-blown anaphylactic shock and respiratory arrest.
There are some preventive measures that can be taken to assist individuals at
risk for food allergies. The first preventive measure is breast-feeding. If the
child is at risk for food allergies (by having one or both parents with
allergies), the mother can help prevent the food allergy from developing by
avoiding foods that are potentially allergenic during pregnancy and lactation
and by breast-feeding the infant. If the mother breast-feeds, but does not
follow the avoidance diet, most of the protective effects of breast-feeding are
diminished. In addition to breast-feeding, the mother can help by delaying the
introduction of solid foods into the child's diet and specifically by delaying
the introduction of common allergenic foods.
Researchers have also found that those with food allergies and food
intolerances can minimize symptoms and reactions by:
- Following an avoidance diet or rotation diet.
- Minimizing exposure to pollution and other toxins.
- Including essential fatty acids from flaxseed oil or fish oil that
moderate the inflammatory response.
- Including glutamine to improve the integrity of the intestinal tract.
- Including probiotics to improve the function of the intestinal tract.
- Ensuring complete digestion through the use of digestive enzymes.
Although following an avoidance diet or rotation diet may be difficult, it is
helpful in minimizing irritation and inflammation of the intestinal system. The
swelling and irritation can interfere with absorption of vitamins and minerals.
Even if you are eating a wholesome, nutritious diet, the food may not be
absorbed properly and you may not be getting the full benefit of many essential
nutrients. For this reason, it is important to avoid foods that trigger
reactions and provide the nutritional support necessary to repair the intestinal
For more information on food allergies, listen to an Evening with the Experts
Tuesday, May 6, 2003 at 8:00pm EST.
Consult your health practitioner on all medications, herbs and supplements
you are taking. Consult your health professional before beginning The Enzyme
Diet™ or any other diet or exercise program. Some herbs can react with
medications, both prescribed and over the counter, and some herbal combinations
can cause serious side effects.