Food Allergies and Elimination Diets
Food allergies. More than 12 million americans have them, that's one in 25 or 4% of the population. 90% of food allergies are caused by wheat, soy, dairy, corn, eggs, peanuts, shellfish and tree nuts though the first five listed are the most frequent offenders. I believe food allergies are one of the most treatable causes of digestive disorders in the US and that the combination of a little detective work plus Chinese herbs, acupuncture and dietary advice is the best method for dealing with what can be a debilitating and very limiting disorder. In this brief article I will be giving you an introduction to the basics of food allergies - symptoms, causes and treatment - as well as elimination diet information which is a reliable method of self testing. The benefits of identification and treatment of food allergies can be life changing - resulting not only a reduction of symptoms but a sense of empowerment that you are now in control of your diet and your life rather than having food and digestive disorders control you.
Food Allergy Basics - signs, symptoms, causes
The symptoms of food allergies are extremely widespread. They can range from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, digestive pain, bloating and heartburn to skin rashes, fatigue, depression, joint pain and even symptoms similar to seasonal allergies such as sinus congestion and sneezing. Food allergies can be hereditary and can also be due to over exposure over time - hence the reason that the most common allergens above are also some of the most common fillers in packaged foods (soy, wheat, corn). The symptoms we experience are caused by an overreaction of the immune system to the formation of an antigen-antibody complex in the body and symptoms persist due to how long it takes us to naturally rid ourselves of this complex. The time it takes is what surprises most people and why it is often so difficult for people to understand what is happening. It takes 2 weeks to naturally rid the body of an antigen-antibody complex, meaning that if you eat something you are allergic to you can continue to experience symptoms for 2 weeks even if you don’t eat any more of the offending food at all. In the case of wheat or gluten it takes 4 weeks to rid the body of the antigen-antibody complex due to the “sticky” nature of this compound. Again, this means that if you eat something with wheat or gluten in it, you can continue to experience symptoms for 4 continuous weeks even if you don’t eat any more of the allergen.
Identifying Food Allergens
So now that we know how long it takes to rid the body of allergens, how do we determine if we have them? There are several methods. A blood test is standard allopathic procedure, but this will only show the most severe allergic reactions and doesn’t give you any experience of what ingesting that allergen will do to you. Next is food journaling, or writing down everything you eat including what time of day you ate what, and keeping a concurrent list of symptoms by time of day as well. After several weeks you can review the journal looking for correlations between foods and symptoms. This is a good way to start, but since symptoms can persist for so long due to the lingering antigen-antibody complex it can be difficult to draw accurate conclusions. The last method is to do an elimination diet where you eliminate all allergens and inflammatory foods from your diet for 2-4 weeks during the “elimination phase” and then reintroduce allergenic foods in a controlled manner one by one and see what happens. I personally believe this to be the most accurate method of diagnosis since it not only shows you what you are allergic to, but also gives you a visceral experience of how your allergies affect you. Once you have tested yourself you know exactly what you are allergic to, how it affects you and exactly how long those effects last. This puts YOU IN CONTROL of your allergies since you can always choose to eat or not eat a particular allergen with complete knowledge of how it will affect you. If you have asthma, this method is NOT advisable without the supervision of a qualified practitioner. Elimination diets can be done on your own (unless you have asthma) without supervision, but it can be helpful to work with a qualified practitioner such as a Licensed Acupuncturist, Naturopath, Certified Nutritional Therapist or a Registered Dietician who can help you moderate any symptoms you experience during testing. If you Google “elimination diet” you will find many links to different methods for self testing, but you can download a PDF of how to do my favorite elimination diet by clicking here:
There are many different ways to treat and deal with food allergies and sensitivities. First and foremost is to avoid eating the allergen. While it doesn’t sound ideal, avoidance is usually better than experiencing persistent and painful symptoms PLUS since food allergies and sensitivities can be due to overexposure over time, giving yourself a long break can down-regulate the bodies’ response to the allergen. This means that if you give yourself a long enough break, your body can often tolerate small amounts of the “offender” without difficulty. Its advisable to completely avoid identified allergens for 6 months before trying to incorporate them into your diet again and, if you start eating the allergen again it is best for it to remain a minimal part of the diet -meaning a couple times a month or less ideally.
Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs can also be very effective in treating mild food allergies. By balancing the body energetically, herbs and acupuncture will affect the body physically moderating the allergic response. Acupuncture and herbal treatment is not instantaneous, however. Known to have a cumulative effect, a course of treatment is usually recommended and herbal therapies for long standing allergies can take 2-3 months but when you compare 2-3 months with years of health problems, it is a short span of time to develop long term health. It can also be helpful to incorporate cleansing supplements into your regular diet such as Nutriclear which is a nutritional shake that greatly decreases inflammation in the GI tract. Drinking a Nutriclear shake daily for breakfast or as a mid-morning snack can help you clear allergen-antibody complexes from the body more quickly and decrease the effects of allergens as fillers in common foods.
Food allergies affect a major portion of the population in the US causing pain, digestive disorders and often a feeling of not being in control of your life. With a little detective work along with diet modifications and/or Chinese medicine treatment, however, they can be successfully reduced and eliminated. I hope now you can see why I believe that food allergies, while debilitating, are also very successfully treated using the methods I’ve described. Again, the benefits of identification and treatment of food allergies can be life changing - resulting not only a reduction of symptoms but a sense of empowerment that you are now in control of your diet and your life rather than having food and digestive disorders control you. If you suspect that you or a friend or family member might have food allergies or sensitivities, consider trying an elimination diet or making an appointment with a qualified practitioner like myself to help take you through the process of identification and treatment.