Understanding Food Allergies and Sensitivities

Have you noticed that more and more people are avoiding certain foods for health reasons?  It turns out that food allergies and intolerances are more common than we once thought. Identifying and eliminating food allergies can solve a broad range of health problems.  I have had hundreds of patients find that once they learn to eat a diet free of their triggering foods, they can get off prescription medications and enjoy much better health.  It turns out good scientific studies are backing up this treatment method.

The symptoms of food allergies can be obvious, such as when people have anaphylactic reactions to peanuts or shellfish.  These food allergies are usually easy to identify.  Other allergic reactions are much subtler and can be delayed, making it challenging to figure out which foods are causing symptoms.  For instance, acid reflux is commonly aggravated by eating certain foods, but the reaction may come the next day.  I have had many patients who determine that dairy causes their sinus congestion, but it may take two days for their sinus headache to set in.  Therefore, to identify most food allergies, careful testing and dietary experiments are necessary.  Food reactions can range from fatigue, depression, post nasal drip, ear infections, constipation, diarrhea, skin issues, headaches, joint pain and more.  In my twenty years of naturopathic medical practice, I have found that helping people eliminate food allergies has been one of the most successful interventions that we can make to help people feel better with less medication.   I am happy that medical science is confirming my clinical experience in several studies on food allergies.

Children who get ear infections often have food allergies that cause excess mucous in their middle ear, setting them up for infection.  A clinical study showed that 94% of ear infection prone children who avoided their food allergies had fewer ear infections.

Many factors can cause migraine headaches, and food allergies can be one of them.  In a study of chronic migraine sufferers who avoided food allergies, 85% became headache free.  In another study, patients with rheumatoid arthritis who avoided food triggers fared much better than the placebo group who ate normally.  In a follow-up study 10 years later, of the 100 rheumatoid arthritis patients who avoided food allergies, one-third were still well on a food allergy free diet alone, without medication, which is remarkable.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a condition I see frequently and know it to respond well to naturopathic treatments, including food allergy elimination.  In a study published in the Lancet medical journal, 14 out of the 21 patients with IBS who went on a hypoallergenic diet for one week became symptom-free.

Celiac disease is a special type of food intolerance where the immune system not only reacts to gluten, but it can send out anti-bodies that affect healthy tissue, like the intestinal lining, the brain, the thyroid and more.  Screening for this food reaction is available through an MD or an ND through blood testing, and a diagnosis can be confirmed by a biopsy taken by a specialist.  Anyone with digestive issues should be tested, but so should people with autoimmune, neurologic and psychiatric conditions. For people with Celiac disease, avoiding gluten containing food, such as wheat, can be life changing.  While true Celiac disease is uncommon, more people have non-celiac gluten intolerance or a simple wheat intolerance.  These people also fare better off wheat and / or gluten containing foods.

While it may take some careful testing and experimenting to figure out which foods are contributing to a health issue, it is certainly worth the additional effort.  When I coach my patients on how to avoid their food allergies and enjoy healthy alternatives, they are often thrilled that something so simple can make such a difference to their wellbeing.

Dr. Deidre Macdonald is a naturopathic physician whose practice is in downtown Courtenay. Contact 250 897-0235 or www.getwellhere.com.

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