Food allergies seem to be on the increase in America. Nearly 1 in 13 children and over 9 million teens and adults have an allergic response to some kind of food. Peanuts are estimated to be the number one food that leads to the allergic response, followed closely by tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat, milk, and eggs. With this number of people allergic to foods, many people are in search of methods for reducing food allergies.
Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerance
One of the first steps to take is to determine whether you genuinely have a food allergy or if your symptoms are caused by food intolerance. One of the major differences in these two conditions is the severity of symptoms.
A food allergy is a response to certain foods triggered by your immune system. In food intolerance, the immune system plays no part, even though the symptoms of the two conditions may be similar.
You must know the difference because if you have a food allergy, your symptoms can become very severe. In some cases, they may be fatal.
When you have a food allergy, the fragments of food responsible for your allergic response (allergens) are proteins that aren’t broken down by cooking or your digestive process. These allergens cross the gastrointestinal barrier, enter the bloodstream, and enter organs where they bring on symptoms. Your immune system recognizes these allergens as invaders and begins the process of trying to get rid of them.
Some of the most common food allergies are to peanuts and other tree nuts, shellfish, milk, and eggs. Any of these foods can bring a condition called anaphylaxis in which the airways constrict, and blood pressure can drop rapidly, sometimes becoming fatal if not dealt with immediately.
Many hope reducing food allergies can help avoid this situation.
With a food intolerance, you may have some of the same symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as nausea, cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. However, you won’t be at risk for anaphylaxis. Also, you may be able to tolerate small amounts of the problem foods with no reaction, or the reaction could appear a day or two after eating the food.
One of the problems with dealing with a food intolerance is determining what exactly you are intolerant to. It could be to the food itself, food additives, something used in its preparation, or the way it is prepared. It may be that you don’t have enough of the enzymes needed to digest certain foods.
However, there is a lot of overlap between food allergies and food sensitivities, and one of the best ways to determine which you have is to see an allergist.
The Immune System’s Role in Food Allergies
When considering ways of reducing food allergies, you need to be aware of the role of the immune system. The entire purpose of the immune system is to protect your body from foreign substances that can cause illness and infection. It’s made up of a complex network of cells and organs that seek out and destroy bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other infectious microorganisms that would damage your body.
Most of the time, this process works well. It recognizes cells that are threatening and those that are harmless. Unfortunately, sometimes the immune systems of some people identify certain food particles as foreign cell invaders, as threats, and begins the process of destroying them.
There are two features of the immune response involved in food allergies. One is the development of immunoglobulin E (IgE), a protein antibody circulating in the blood. The other main feature of immune response is mast cell activation. These cells are prevalent in all body tissues but are more frequently found in the nose, throat, lungs, skin, and GI tract.
When a person develops IgE as an antibody toward something as harmless as food, there typically is a genetic background responsible. Someone in their family lineage had allergies to something, not necessarily food. A person with both parents having allergies is more likely to develop allergies than someone with only one allergic parent.
When a person who has a food allergy is exposed to a problem food, this food triggers cells to produce large amounts of IgE during the digestion process. When the IgE is released, it attaches to mast cells. The next time you eat that food, the IgE cells developed against it will trigger the release of chemicals like histamine that then brings on allergy symptoms. Depending on the location of the mast cells to which the IgE attached, your symptoms may be in your ears, nose, or throat; in your skin; or in your GI tract.
The food allergens can travel to various parts of your body after they cross the GI barrier and get into your bloodstream. As they travel, you may experience symptoms in different parts of your body. From itching in your mouth as you chew the food, to GI symptoms during digestion, to a drop in blood pressure as the allergens travel through your blood, to hives when they get to the skin, to wheezing in the lungs. It only takes from minutes to an hour for these symptoms to appear.
The Inflammation Circuit and Food Allergies
Reducing inflammation also plays an important role in reducing food allergies.
When you eat foods that bring on an allergic response, the immune system is alerted to the presence of what it considers invaders. One of the tools the immune system brings to the fight is inflammation. The inflammation that is triggered leads to the adrenal glands secreting cortisol and other hormones that negatively affect blood sugar and insulin levels. High insulin levels trigger enzymes that cause you to gain weight by depositing fat cells rather than burning them for energy. If you have adrenal fatigue as well as food allergies, this weight will likely be around the middle of the body.
Through this mechanism, food allergies can lead to significant weight gain, stored as adipose tissue, or fat. Then the adipose tissue will itself lead to increased inflammation creating a vicious cycle click here to find out more.
If you gain more weight, the fat cells accumulating around the body become larger. At some point, they begin leaking, and the immune system releases macrophages to clean up the leakage. The pro-inflammatory chemicals left behind by the macrophages lead to many of the chronic health problems of the overweight.
Stress, such as that which triggers Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), can also cause more inflammation. It leads to the release of cortisol by the adrenal glands. Cortisol is the stress-fighting hormone that aids your body in dealing with the damage caused by stress. When cortisol levels are high, the hormone can break down the lining of the intestine. This makes you more likely to have bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and viruses cross the protective barrier of the intestine and lead to more inflammation. If stress continues, cortisol levels drop because of adrenal exhaustion, and you become more and iller.
Sometimes health care professionals have difficulty deciding whether your symptoms are due to food allergies or something else. AFS is a common and pervasive problem with many symptoms, which he or she is not trained to spot. You will likely be directed towards a method of reducing food allergies, such as avoiding problem foods.
Only a professional trained in the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) model of stress response will know to look for the interrelationship of symptoms in the six circuits of your body. With the possibility of food allergies contributing to your condition, the metabolic response will be the one most affected. The inflammatory circuit is also triggered. Knowing and following this NEM model will allow your healthcare professional to get to the root cause of your symptoms and devise remediation efforts that will best deal with your condition.
Continuing stress also limits your body’s ability to produce the enzymes and hydrochloric acid needed for appropriate digestion. Likewise, the constant hurrying and rushing so common in our stress-ridden culture interferes with proper digestion.
The best way to assure good digestion is to eat meals in a slow, restful fashion, rather than grabbing something on the way to the next meeting. Poorly digested protein literally rots in your stomach and intestines, leading to more stomach upset.