The Role of Hidden Food Intolerance in Chronic Disease

When most of us think of food allergies, we think of someone eating peanuts or shellfish and then having a life-threatening allergic attack (known as anaphylactic shock). However, as in most processes in the human body, there are many shades of gray when one starts to examine the full range of allergic reactions to food. Some people have allergic reactions to food that manifest as less serious symptoms such as eczema or they get a stuffy nose. Still others experience symptoms such as stomach upset or itchiness that may not occur until one to three days after they eat a certain food. This last scenario falls under the heading of a hidden allergy since it is very difficult to correlate the ingestion of the food with the corresponding symptoms. Furthermore, reactions of this type do not typically show up on standard skin-prick allergy testing.

An even paler shade of gray would be something known as a food intolerance. This is a reaction in which the food does not cause an allergic response, at least not in terms of how we usually think of allergic responses, but instead disrupts the proper functioning of the body due to its presence. It may be because of an enzyme deficiency or it may just be that the body is not able to properly digest that certain food. When this happens, the adverse reaction caused by food will contribute in an insidious fashion to the development of a disease process. Many practitioners have observed that hidden food allergies, or intolerances, are a common cause of (or triggering factor of) a wide range of physical and emotional disorders. According to some estimates, as much as 60% of the population suffers from undetected food allergies, and this has been my experience as well.

Adding to the difficulty of identifying which foods may be causing problems for an individual is the fact that people have the tendency to become addicted to the foods they are allergic to. This is known as the “allergy-addiction syndrome” and has been observed by many clinicians over the years. The mechanism for this is found in the “general adaptation” stress response theory. When we eat a food that the body knows to be harmful, the first response is to bolster the body against the coming aggravation. Thus, people experience short term relief after ingesting offending foods. In the long run, though, these same foods may turn out be a causative factor in their chronic symptoms.

However, if we avoid that food for 2 weeks, the body shifts from an allergy-adiction state to one of higher sensitivity and alertness. In this hypersensitive state, ingestion of the offending food results in a rapid and exaggerated reaction to the food. This allows the individual to identify that food as an allergen. This mechanism is the basis for the elimination-challenge (E-C) diet. To do this, one must follow a strict hypoallergenic diet for at least two weeks. Then, reintroduce the possible allergenic foods one at a time at least 3-4 days apart. Any adverse reactions to certain foods should then become readily observable.

The most common allergenic foods are: dairy products, wheat, eggs, corn, chocolate, tea, coffee, sugar, yeast, soy, citrus fruits, pork, rye, beef, tomato, peanuts, barley, nuts, and seafood.

The following is a list of conditions which have been proved to be, at least in some people, caused by food allergy/intolerance.

  • Migraine Headaches - As early as 1930 food allergy was recognized as a cause of migraines. In the most recent study of a small population of migraine sufferers, 85% became headache free after eliminating the 10 most common allergenic foods.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis - In studies to date, 45-91% of sufferers experienced significant improvement after identifying and eliminating their offending foods. By far, the most common offending food was dairy products.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome - it appears that fully half of the people with IBS could heal themselves by performing a simple E-C diet. Given that conventional medicine offers no known effective treatment for this condition, I think that all sufferers should at least try this type of diet.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease - People with Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease have a have a very significant chance of helping themselves with an E-C diet. In studies done on the issue, it appears that around 50% of sufferers can put themselves into permanent remission if they identify and eliminate their food intolerances. In this group, foods in the Brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower) must be added to the possible allergen list.
  • Asthma - In a study of 188 children with asthma, 90% had total or partial symptom relief after six weeks on an elimination diet. In adults, up to 40% of people appear to have their symptoms caused by food allergy alone.
  • Recurrent Ear Infections - In a study of 104 children, 86% of those with documented food allergy/intolerance improved significantly when those foods were eliminated. By far, the most common offender was dairy.
  • ADD/ADHD - Numerous studies have shown that around 70% of children with ADD/ADHD improved on an elimination diet. It should be noted that with this condition, it is very important to eliminate all food additives and food dyes.
  • Other conditions which may respond to the avoidance of allergenic foods include: fatigue, frequent urination, bed wetting, epilepsy, teeth grinding, colic, eczema, hives, chronic bronchitis or rhinitis, and gallbladder disease.
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