Dietary Challenges: Food Intolerances, Allergies and Inflammation

by Teri Gentes |   Date Released : 01 Jul 2014

Food intolerances, allergies and chronic inflammation have become a familiar challenge in our society. You or your clients may be plagued with health issues related to allergic reactions to specific dietary foods. Our body responds to these allergies and perceived antigens by releasing anti-bodies; thereby causing an inflammatory reaction. Under normal conditions this built-in response is an effective healing mechanism; however, challenges arise with chronic exposure triggering chronic inflammation.

Avoiding common food allergens, supporting digestive health and consuming a well-planned, balanced variety of whole foods can offer powerful healing potential to prevent, minimize and control allergic reactions and chronic inflammation.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Understand the difference between food allergies and food intolerances.
  2. Review the most popular food allergens and food additives to avoid.
  3. Discover natural ways to overcome these health challenges.

Dietary Challenges

Dietary challenges are more prevalent now than ever. Once upon a time when food wasn’t mass produced, over-processed, genetically modified, over-consumed and laden with additives - such as sugar, hydrogenated fats and sodium; as well as chemically derived texturizers, flavors, colors, stabilizers and undisclosed items - many of today’s dietary-related diseases and allergies were nonexistent.  

Excessive consumption of nutrient-void food has caused numerous digestive disorders with ever increasing numbers of people afflicted with food intolerances and allergies. As a result, one may experience symptoms including lethargy, chronic pain, fatigue, indigestion, insomnia, headaches, hormonal imbalances, weight gain, acne, hair loss, inflammation, etc. However, there is much confusion (and misunderstanding) surrounding the differences between true food allergies and food intolerances, along with what can be done to help minimize the symptoms.

Food Allergy versus Food Intolerance

Even though allergies and food intolerances may cause similar symptoms, there is a major difference between the two: A food allergy is an immune system response and tends to produce acute symptoms. A food intolerance is caused by the lack of enzymes needed to digest food; which often leads to chronic illness, including inflammation. 

Food allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to a food by creating IgE antibodies. If this same food is again consumed, these antibodies cue the immune system to release an arsenal of chemicals (e.g., histamine), which then triggers a variety of allergic symptoms including asthma, hives, inflammation, skin rashes, mood swings, headaches and heart palpitations. These acute symptoms generally occur minutes after ingestion of the particular food.

A true food allergy involves the immune system and can be life threatening causing hives or anaphylactic shock almost immediately after exposure to a certain substance. These foods account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions: Milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnut and cashew), fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.

Food intolerance symptoms are often delayed and can occur hours to days after ingesting the particular food. Food intolerance is linked to compromised digestive ability and a lack of digestive enzymes. For example, a person with lactose intolerance lacks the enzyme (lactase) needed to digest milk sugar. Therefore, when eating milk products, symptoms such as gas, bloating, abdominal cramps and pain may occur. Because food intolerance symptoms often occur hours to days later, they are typically difficult to link to the particular food(s) causing the reactions. 

Unlike a food allergy, a food sensitivity or intolerance doesn’t typically involve the immune system. It’s a common term used with all negative reactions to foods and, as mentioned, may be caused by digestion challenges/enzyme deficiencies or interactions with drugs and medicines. Food intolerance often causes symptoms such as indigestion, irritated skin conditions, nasal congestion, gas, heartburn, bloating, abdominal pain, constipation or diarrhea, inflammation, headaches/migraine or leg pains, hyperactivity, irritability, lack of focus, etc. 

Both allergies and food sensitivities are symptoms that reflect an underlying health issue. While many medical authorities believe there is no cure for food allergies and intolerances, in many circumstances much can be done. Experts offer numerous suggestions including what seems like a most obvious solution: elimination of offending foods along with augmentation of the immune and digestion systems via natural nutritional supplements (e.g., digestive enzymes, herbal formulas and homeopathic remedies). Improving digestive ability and healing a damaged intestinal lining can help to eliminate the adverse food reactions and strengthen the immune system. Elimination diets help to identify the food(s) causing the reactions.

Top Food Allergens and Additives to Avoid

With food allergies, the immune cells that line the gastrointestinal tract are hypersensitive; which can be caused by a variety of issues (e.g., low stomach acid, unhealthy gut flora; pancreatic, liver and gall bladder challenges). When eating a food you are allergic to, the intestinal immune cells perceive a potential invader and quickly act to prevent harm. This is experienced as inflammation.

In her book Meals that Heal Inflammation, Julie Daniluk R.H.Nlists the following top food allergens and additives to avoid, plus the top five causes of allergies:

Top Food Allergens:

  • Dairy
  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Wheat/Gluten
  • Shell fish
  • Tree nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Eggs

Top Food Additives to Avoid:

  • Food Coloring – FD&C blue #1 and #2; green #3; red #3 and #40; yellow #5 and #6
  • Sodium Nitrate
  • MSG
  • Sulfites
  • Pork
  • Coffee
  • BHA
  • BHT
  • Artificial flavors and sweeteners
  • Propylene gluycol
  • Parabens 

Common Foods Linked to Inflammation (AKA "Nightshades"):

  • Tomatoes
  • White potatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Peppers (sweet and spicy)
  • Tobacco

Top Five Causes of Allergies:

  • Feeding babies solid foods too early
  • Poor digestion
  • Environmental toxins and chemicals
  • Stress
  • Genetic predisposition

A Natural Approach to Overcoming the Challenges

Consuming Digestive Enzymes

Plant enzymes can help ensure the proper digestion of food but due to the mass production of foods and excess consumption of cooked foods enzyme deficiency is quite common. A sign of compromised digestive ability is indigestion and when food is not properly digested, the food particles cannot be efficiently absorbed, assimilated - used as nutrients. Instead, the body recognizes these food particles as foreign invaders and activates the immune system causing allergic reactions and inflammation. Digestive supplements consisting of plant enzymes can be effective in overcoming allergies issues because the enzymes break down the protein allergens and decrease allergic reactions.

Reducing Inflammation

Inflammation is an immune response to illness, injury, allergy, infection, toxins, etc., intended to protect the body. When our body encounters injury or a perceived invader, it revs into gear communicating the challenge with symptoms in the form of pain, swelling, redness and/or heat in the infected area(s). Although inflammation is a natural healing process, our challenge comes with chronic inflammation, which sets in when the healing process is incomplete.

Chronic inflammation is a systemic condition occurring when the body’s immune response produces an excess of inflammatory chemicals - sometimes because of the foods consumed. Today’s diets are often imbalanced and can overproduce inflammatory chemicals while at the same time blocking production of necessary anti-inflammatory chemicals. 

Arthritis, gastritis, colitis, dermatitis, cystitis, neuritis, bursitis are all common inflammatory conditions related to systemic inflammation. Coronary artery disease, regarded as an important risk factor for heart disease is considered to be directly associated with inflammation.

Additionally, cancer, obesity, dementia, migraines and Alzheimer’s disease all involve inflammation. Infections, hives, allergic reactions, asthma, diabetes, psoriasis, IBS and all such autoimmune disease involve inflammation. 

Conventional medical treatment includes anti-inflammatory drugs and/or surgery as a main therapy. This approach might suppress symptoms, yet doesn’t address the underlying causes. In addition, long-term use of commonly prescribed non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs can have serious side effects leading to additional health complications. Drugs and/or surgery don’t prevent inflammation, therefore, a better approach to dealing with allergies and inflammation is to prevent, treat, reduce and eliminate the root causes with lifestyle and dietary/nutritional changes.

Avoiding Trigger Foods

With over 70% of the body's immune system cells in the lining of our digestive tract, the foods we eat have immense impact on our immune system. Many foods literally fuel or subdue inflammatory responses. Certain foods trigger inflammation while others can abate it. 

With food allergies and excess consumption of the most common allergens – wheat/gluten, dairy, corn, soy and eggs - our immune system is in a chronically reactive state. The safest way to prevent this is to avoid problem foods triggering the allergic response (including nightshades) and to consume anti-inflammatory foods.

Conclusion

For optimal wellbeing and prevention of allergies, food intolerance and chronic inflammation research has revealed the benefits of augmenting digestive health (with suggestions such as those above) and avoiding or minimizing intake of the top food allergens. In addition, sustaining a well-balanced "whole foods" approach that includes an abundance of fresh, seasonal produce is great insurance. Experts recommend at least 50% of our diet be plant-based.

Have your clients experiment with food elimination if they are plagued with allergies, intolerance or chronic inflammation. Most are often quite astounded to discover that some foods they thought were "healthy" were the triggers for their symptoms. Lifestyle and dietary changes offer significant relief, prevention, treatment and even reversal of many of the common diseases that ail society today. Encourage your clients to seek out the advice of professional health care practitioners for advice and guidance with their nutritional approach. It may very well be the key to their optional wellbeing. 

References:

M.D., S. M., & Group, A. R. (1998). Alive Encyclopedia for Nutritional Healing: Authoritative Home Reference for Self Help. California: Alive Books

Balch, P. A., & Balch, J. F. (2000). Prescription for nutritional healing (3rd ed.). New York: Avery.

Daniluk, J. (2010). Meals that heal inflammation: a practical nutrition guide. : Playter Press.

M.D., M. G. (2014, January 1). nutritionfacts.org. Retrieved July 10, 2014.

Monica, R. (2014, January 1). The Inflammation Factor - Inflammation and Health.        
Retrieved July 11, 2014, from http://inflammationfactor.com/.

Weil, A. (2014, January 1). DrWeil.com - Official Website of Andrew Weil, M.D.    
Retrieved July 11, 2014, from http://www.drweil.com/

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