The allergy answer

The allergy answer – elimination diet

Deborah Seymour Taylor

The Allergy Answer

Symptoms of fatigue, asthma or arthritis are sometimes caused by allergies to common foods like wheat, corn, eggs and beef. A simple elimination diet may solve your problems.

If you have frequent migraines, chronic fatigue, asthma or arthritis, you may actually be suffering from a hidden food allergy. As a matter of fact, in Good Food, Good Mood Gary Null and Martin Feldman, M.D., call food allergies the most misdiagnosed illness in America today.

Because symptoms are so varied and complex, allergy sufferers are often misdiagnosed. Yet scores of documented cases prove that by eliminating a problem food, severe long-term physical complaints can be alleviated.

An allergic reaction is a reaction of the immune system, specifically antibodies or immunoglobulins, against “foreign” intruders. There are two types of allergies. The “antibody allergy” is caused by the overproduction of an antibody called Immunoglobulin E, or IgE. “Certain individuals have an inherited tendency to produce excess amounts of the IgE-type [antibody], wrote Stephen Astor, M.D. in Hidden Food Allergies. “These people develop an allergy. When excess antibody is present there is an excess reaction — which is why doctors call allergy a hypersensitivity.”

Although everyone produces some IgE as an immune response, allergic people produce larger quantities. IgE antibodies are bound to specialized white blood cells in body tissues, such as smooth muscles, mucous glands, mucous membranes and skin. When these antibodies come in contact with problem substances, or allergens, a chemical mediator known as histamine is released. This causes the smooth muscles around the bronchi to constrict, mucous glands to increase secretions and blood vessels to expand and leak fluid into tissues. The result is constricted airways, an overproduction of mucous, swollen nasal tissues and wheezing.

The second type of allergy is called a cellular allergy. Rather than producing too much IgE antibody, the individual has overactive lymphocytes (white blood cells). Lymphocytes become sensitized when they are continually exposed to certain chemicals and proteins. When allergens enter the body, lymphocytes consider them “foreign” and try to eliminate them from the system. When the allergens are attacked, healthy body tissue also is destroyed.

There are two types of allergic reactions: immediate and delayed. Immediate reactions occur almost at once after exposure to an allergen. Examples are hay fever, asthma, hives and sensitivity to seafood or peanuts. Delayed reactions appear hours or even weeks after exposure. Examples are allergies to poison ivy cosmetics and certain foods. Foods that cause a delayed reaction are particularly difficult to identify.

Food allergies can appear at any age, but more than half begin in childhood. Symptoms will sometimes disappear as the child matures, only to resurface later in life.

Some researchers suggest the increasing incidence of allergies in America is a result of our weakened immune systems. Every year, thousands of chemicals that tax the immune response are introduced into food. According to Dr. Feldman, “from the pesticides in our fruits and vegetables to the antibiotics and tranquilizers in our meat, Americans are slowly being poisoned. We can tolerate only so much contamination before this toxic overload leads to illness.”

Although the immune system does its best to defend the body against foreign substances, it has a threshold. According to the “allergy threshold concept,” one can go over his or her threshold of tolerance because of a variety of factors, both internal and external. Some of these factors are environmental pollutants, genetic predisposition, emotional stress, nutritional deficiencies, immune status and age. Once we pass beyond this threshold, the immune system weakens and becomes prey to virtually every type of disease.

Another cause of food allergies is eating too much of a certain food too often. “Most people eat the same few foods over and over again, sometimes quite literally `ad nauseam,'” wrote Theron G. Randolph, M.D. in An Alternative Approach to Allergies. “Wheat, milk, beef, corn, beet or cane sugars and eggs represent the monotonous basis of the American diet. If a food is eaten in any form once in three days or more frequently, there is a chance it may become a problem.”

Heredity also can be responsible for allergies. According to Dr. Feldman, “if both your parents suffer from allergies, there is at least a 75 percent chance that you have inherited the condition. If one parent is allergic, you have a 50 percent chance.” Heredity does not simply cause a predisposition to allergy. Mothers can pass allergies to their babies, either through the placenta or through breast milk.

Unfortunately, allergy testing often is expensive. But according to Dr. Astor, you can pinpoint specific symptoms without undergoing expensive tests. “The first step in the successful diagnosis and treatment of food allergy is proving that food allergy is the cause of the problem. There is no more accurate test than the general elimination diet. In three weeks you can discover the problem food by yourself, in your home and without disrupting your life or draining your pocketbook.”

The first step is to keep a diary of everything eaten for one week and any symptoms experienced. At the end of one week, note any cause-effect relationship between a particular food and the onset of a symptom. Then follow an elimination diet, omitting for a period of three weeks the most common sources of allergy: dairy products, eggs, beef, chocolate, wheat, corn and any food containing chemicals, preservatives, flavorings and additives. Although this may seem limiting, keep in mind that both chicken and fish are allowed, as well as most vegetables and legumes.

After three weeks, note in your diary whether or not symptoms have improved. If any health problems improved, food allergies may be the culprit. If the elimination diet did not help, then you may be allergic to environmental toxins.

If your symptoms did improve, finding the problem food or foods is the next step. Continuing to follow the elimination diet, add one new food for five consecutive days. Select one food at a time and eat more of it than usual in order to trigger a reaction. But be very careful when adding foods. “When allergenic foods have been eliminated,” said Dr. Astor, “their reintroduction can result in reactions sooner and sometimes harder than when the person was eating them on a regular basis.” If you are highly allergic, it may be wise to consider adding foods under a doctor’s supervision, especially if you are susceptible to asthma, swelling of the throat or any potentially life-threatening allergic reaction.

During each five-day period of reintroducing a food, keep a detailed account of symptoms. Once the problem foods are discovered, simple avoidance may end chronic health complaints. And one of the exciting facts about food allergy is that after a period of complete elimination, the body can sometimes tolerate the problem food again.

According to Claude Frazier, M.D., author of Coping With Food Allergy “an allergic person may find that he can tolerate small amounts of prescribed foods or can develop a certain amount of tolerance by rotating foods and diversifying the diet.”

Once the source of allergy has been determined, try a four-day rotation diet. That is, if you eat a particular food on Monday, do not eat the same food again until Friday. Or follow a seven day cycle which allows you to eat the same basic diet each week. The reason for a rotation diet is to let the body recover from the effects of a food before it is eaten again. This will help to ensure not only that sufferers avoid reactions, but also that they do not develop new sensitivities. “Often if patients do not follow a rotational diet,” said Dr. Feldman, “they begin to eat foods formerly eaten infrequently and then become sensitive to those foods. An individual who is allergic to one food is susceptible to developing allergies to other foods as well.”

The proper diagnosis and treatment of your allergies may require both discipline and a significant investment of time.

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