Don't Let Food Allergies Get You Down

By Dr. Christine Doherty, ND Food allergies are more common than most people think, and can cause of a host of health complaints. The Center for Disease Control estimates that food allergies range from four percent to eight percent of children and two percent of adults.1,2 The most common allergen are shellfish, peanuts, eggs, wheat, and soy.

Seventy percent of the immune system is in your digestive system, so it is not surprising that you could develop reactions to food, since food comes into contact with your immune system every time you eat!

Common Types of Allergies

You’re probably most familiar with a peanut allergy, which triggers a specific type of allergic reaction called an IgE antibody reaction. This reaction can trigger anaphylactic shock, a life threatening reaction where the airways swell shut. Doctors can usually diagnose peanut allergies with a blood test or scratch testing.

But not everyone with this type of allergy will have that violent type of reaction. Other common food allergy symptoms include:
  • Asthma
  • Eczema,
  • Constant runny nose (allergic rhinitis),
  • Hives, and
  • Digestive symptoms like vomiting or abdominal pain.
This is also the allergy responsible for environmental allergies like ragweed or dust mites. There are several types of prescription and over-the-counter medications to treat this kind of allergy, although strict avoidance of the food is key. There are also many naturopathic approaches to managing these allergies without the side effects of the prescription medications.

Celiacs Disease – A Range of Symptoms

Foods can also trigger different immune systems in different ways, causing many different symptoms and making them difficult to diagnose. For instance, celiac disease is often thought to be a food allergy to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. But celiac is actually a genetic autoimmune disease, and is an IgA and IgG antibody reaction to food. The National Institutes of Health estimates that around two million people in the United States have celiac disease, or about one in every 133 people, and more than 95 percent of people with the disease remain undiagnosed.

The possible symptoms of celiac disease range from none (asymptomatic celiacs), to diarrhea, weight loss, weakness, and fatigue (also called classic celiac disease). All forms of celiac cause damage to the lining of your intestines. They can also cause liver damage, anemia, and osteoporosis, all of which can be subtle enough that you don’t actually feel them.

There is also atypical celiac, which is the most common form of the disease. Atypical celiac can have a range of symptoms, and is therefore much more likely to go undiagnosed. The symptoms of this can vary from migraines to constipation, but is usually affects the immune system, digestive system or nervous system. Celiacs can also cause Dermatitis Herpetiformis, an itchy skin rash that can affect any part of the body. For some it looks like facial acne and for others it can look like eczema.

There are three parts to the diagnosis of celiac disease:
  • Blood work, which includes Tissue transglutaminase IgA, anti endomysial IgG, anti gliaden IgA and IgG and total IgA
  • Small intestinal biopsy; and
  • The response to the gluten free diet.
The treatment for celiacs, the gluten free diet, has to be strictly followed for life. Treatment also involves reversing any nutritional deficiencies that may have developed as a result of the damage to the small intestine, which is where we absorb nutrients from our food. Many celiacs still have multiple nutritional deficiencies even years after going gluten free.

Some Allergies Are Difficult to Diagnose

The most controversial type of food allergy is a type of allergic reaction called IgG antibody reaction. These reactions can be range from debilitating fibromyalgia, to irritable bowel syndrome, to infertility, and more. If a food allergy is causing chronic symptoms like those mentioned above, the food responsible is likely a staple in your diet. There are no drugs to treat this form of allergy, and the reactions tend to be cumulative and worse over time. But elimination of the food and nutritional supplements can help heal your gut and reverse your symptoms.

This type of allergy is diagnosed by a blood test. Often an allergist doesn’t test for this kind of food allergy, but many naturopathic physicians work extensively with this type of allergy. Some physicians do elimination/challenge testing, where you stop eating all the most common allergens for at least three weeks, and then add them back one at a time to see if symptoms occur. This can work well if you are allergic to the things that were eliminated. But if you just have a rare allergy, the elimination test isn’t effective, and only a blood test will likely pick it up.

Naturopathic Doctors Can Help

Naturopathic doctors, with their comprehensive training in therapeutic diets and nutritional biochemistry, are the ideal physicians to work with these conditions. We can also offer homeopathic, herbal, nutritional and other treatments to help improve your symptoms safely, effectively and usually without side effects.

To find a naturopathic doctor in your area, visit the AANP's Find a Doctor page.