Allergies in various forms affect about one out of four people. To some, they are merely a nuisance, but to others they are a very distracting and potentially serious chronic condition. Allergies are the result of the body’s immune system recognizing otherwise harmless substances as threats, and then mounting an attack against those substances, which ends up harming the person themselves. The substance that causes an allergic reaction is often called an allergen. The normal function of the allergy-fighting part of the immune system is to fight parasites in the human body. This may be a main reason why people in developed countries tend to have more allergies than people in developing countries: the environment of developed countries is relatively parasite-free, and thus “too clean”. One of the emerging theories is that: the parasite-fighting part of the immune system in humans who live in developed countries have nothing to fight against except foreign substances in the body, such as pollen, food, and certain drugs.
The four common allergic reactions are: food allergies, bronchial asthma, atopic dermatitis (eczema), and rhinitis, or hay fever; the main topic in this article will focus on food allergies. Only about 1% of Americans have a true food allergy, but they can be a serious problem for those who have them. As the Roman Lucretius said in 50 B.C. “What is food to one person may be bitter poison to others”. This saying has later evolved into the more current one: One man’s food is another man’s poison. The most common food allergens are: eggs, wheat, and cow’s milk. Yeast and yeast-containing products, pork, beef, and corn are also common allergens.
Allergy to pork and beef may actually be sensitivity instead of a true allergy (although the symptoms may be the same as a real allergy). There could also often be a sensitivity to additives in the foods above, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartate and/or phenylalanine (Nutrasweet), nitrates and nitrites, or sulfates and sulfites. Be sure and read the ingredients of the foods and drinks you buy at the store. In addition, some foods and drinks such as strawberries, chocolate and coffee may not be true allergens, but may contain a good amount of the inflammatory hormone histamine. Foods and drinks like those mentioned above may also contain chemicals that release histamine in the body. Interestingly, alcoholism may be linked with food allergies.
Allergies may also be worsened by incomplete digestion of food, particularly protein. Incomplete digestion in the stomach and small intestine may not be able to break down all food proteins completely. If there is any “leakiness” in the wall of the small intestine, some of the small food particles could enter the bloodstream later. Since the immune system is not trained to recognize these food particles as harmless, it may cause an allergic reaction against them. The above sequence of events is termed the “leaky gut syndrome” by holistic practitioners. Yeast may also contribute to leaky gut syndrome.
If you suspect a food allergy, you can test for it at home. Take your resting pulse before a meal by putting your index and middle finger on the side of your other wrist. Look at a clock and count the pulse beats in one minute. Eat a small portion of the suspected food, wait twenty minutes, then take your pulse again for one minute. If your resting pulse has rose more than ten beats per minute, you are probably allergic to at least one of the ingredients in your last meal. Food allergy testing can also be done by eliminating a suspect food for several days or weeks, then reintroducing the food and observing any reactions. This technique is relatively safe, but may take a long time to complete, since only one type of food at a time can be reintroduced. A food rotation diet can also be tried, where foods that cause only mild to moderate reactions are eaten only once every 3-4 days. This allows the body and the immune system to recover somewhat between offending foods. I personally do not food rotation diets, unless the person has too restricted of a diet and must eat some allergenic foods.
There are many different nutrients that can help relieve allergies. Vitamin C indirectly inhibits certain immune cells from releasing histamine. A magnesium deficiency can aggravate allergies, so supplementing with magnesium may help (do not supplement with more than 500 mg/day). Unfortunately, many allergy medications lower magnesium levels. Some nutritionists and doctors believe that taking vitamin B3 (niacin) is useful for people with allergies. Niacin releases histamine, often causing a reddened facial flush soon after the vitamin is ingested. Repeated dosing with niacin may eventually lower the body’s stores of histamine. In theory, this may then lower the intensity of any allergic reaction in the future. The above natural therapies have obvious advantages over many of the synthetic antihistamines on the market, such as Benadryl. One study found that driving after taking the first-generation antihistamine Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can cause impairment equivalent to driving drunk. If you would like additional information or consulting about allergies, feel free to contact Dr. Jensen at 1-800-390-5365, or by e-mail in the Contact page.
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