Food Allergies - Discover and Treat What May be Making You SickFood Allergies - Discover and Treat What May be Making You Sick

By Dr. Mao, L.Ac., D.O.M., Ph.D, Dipl. C.H., ABAAP

Food allergies are a growing concern among individuals of all ages. It is estimated that around 32 million people in the United States alone suffer from food allergies - many of them children, which is of great concern to parents.

Food allergies are caused by an immune system reaction to a specific protein in a food. When the immune system detects this protein, it produces antibodies, which then release chemicals like histamine into the bloodstream. These chemicals cause the symptoms associated with food allergies, such as hives, itching, swelling, and difficulty breathing, which may result in anaphylaxis that can be life-threatening.

I will discuss in this article the causes, diagnosis, and both Western and Eastern medical approaches to the treatment and management of food allergies.

Causes of Food Allergies

  • Genetics: Studies have shown that food allergies tend to run in families. If a parent has a food allergy, their child is more likely to develop one as well. This is thought to be due to a genetic predisposition to developing allergies.
  • Environmental Factors: Environmental factors such as pollution, exposure to certain chemicals, and a diet high in processed foods may contribute to the development of food allergies. These factors can weaken the immune system and make it more susceptible to reacting to certain proteins found in food.
  • Lifestyle Choices: Lifestyle choices such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and a sedentary lifestyle may also contribute to the development of food allergies. These factors can weaken the immune system and make it more susceptible to reacting to certain proteins found in food.

Diagnosis of Food Allergies

There are currently three types of tests that can be performed to discover food allergies ranging from skin prick test, food challenge test, and blood test for antibodies to specific foods. Both the skin prick and food challenge tests are done in the office under close observation by a doctor in case of severe reactions. Whereas the blood test can detect both sensitivity and allergies to a broad range of foods based on levels of specific immunoglobulins (IgG) in your blood which may indicate problems with your intestinal lining—called “leaky gut” that can lead to common health conditions like:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Migraine headaches
  • Skin rashes such as eczema
  • Joint aches
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Crohn's Disease
  • Obesity

The Leaky Gut Connection

The presence of circulating IgG antibodies in foods may be suggestive of increased intestinal permeability, also referred to as "leaky gut syndrome." When the tight junctions forming the barrier in the gut don't work properly, larger substances can "leak" through, causing an immune response. This immune response may result in the production of IgG antibodies in foods. There are multiple dietary and lifestyle factors that contribute to increased intestinal permeability. These factors include alcohol, stress, chronic NSAID use, a Western-type diet (high consumption of red meat, animal fat, high sugar, and low fiber food), and prolonged and strenuous exercise.

Leaky Gut

Medications such as antihistamines can help relieve mild symptoms like itching and hives, and epinephrine auto-injectors are used to treat severe anaphylaxis.

Specialists like allergists may offer weekly shots containing small amounts of allergens that you react to to help your body increase its tolerance to the allergens. It's a commitment that often involves twice-a-week shots for up to a year and may need to be repeated as the effectiveness wears off.

Other than the frequent allergy shots, prevention of exposure is key to managing food allergies which means being vigilant about reading food labels, asking questions at restaurants, and being prepared with an EpiPen in case of accidental exposure.

For people with severe food allergies, it's also important to have an action plan in place in case of an allergic reaction. This plan should include instructions on how to administer epinephrine and when to seek emergency medical attention.

Natural, Eastern Medical Approaches to Food Allergies

Allergens, whether food or air borne are considered pathogens, according to Chinese medicine. Due to unique responses from individuals exposed to the same allergens each patient is evaluated and treated differently. The goal is to strengthen the digestion, in particular the spleen, and neutralize and detoxify the allergens from the body and resolve the allergic symptoms.

Here are five treatment modalities that we regularly employ:

Acupuncture

Acupuncture can often produce immediate relief in patients with respiratory and digestive allergy symptoms. Studies have confirmed the immune regulation action of acupuncture. For example, a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in 2010 found that acupuncture was associated with an increase in regulatory T cells, which are important in the regulation of the immune system and may help reduce allergic reactions and reduce inflammation.

Herbal Therapy

There are a number of herbs used in Chinese medicine for the relief and prevention of food allergies. Here are three examples

  • Schisandra berry - A review published in the journal Molecules in 2018 concluded that Schisandra had anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects.
  • Rehmannia root has been found to have anti-allergic properties that may help reduce the severity of allergic reactions.
  • Angelica root has been traditionally used in Chinese medicine to treat allergic reactions. Studies have found that it has anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties that may help reduce the severity of allergic reactions.

These and other herbs are found in the Allergy Tamer Formula.

Nutritional Supplements

Studies have confirmed the benefits of certain nutraceuticals for their anti-allergy properties.

  • Quercetin is a flavonoid found in many fruits and vegetables, as well as in supplements. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may help reduce allergic reactions.
  • Probiotics: Some studies have suggested that probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria found in certain foods and supplements, may help reduce the risk and severity of food allergies by modulating the immune system.
  • Vitamin D: Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with an increased risk of developing food allergies. One study found that vitamin D supplementation reduced the severity of egg allergy symptoms in children.

Low Histamine Diet

Many foods naturally increase histamine in the body, which increases allergic reactions. By avoiding or reducing high histamine foods such as fermented foods and beverages, vinegar-containing foods, cured meats, dairy and cheese, dried fruits, and nuts, you can decrease your food allergies. Download the anti-histamine diet here.

Stress Reduction

Stress has been linked to the development and worsening of allergic reactions, and relaxation techniques such as qi gong have been shown to help reduce stress and improve overall well-being. In addition, some research has suggested that qi gong may have a positive effect on immune function and inflammation. Learn qi gong online at home.

Food allergies are a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that affect millions of people worldwide. However, with an integrative approach to the treatment of food allergies along with proper management and prevention strategies, it is possible to minimize the impact of these allergies and live a healthy and fulfilling life. /p>



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