Food Allergy and Health

Studies show that up to one of every two Americans could have some food allergy or intolerance. There are two types of food allergy: immediate and delayed. Immediate food allergy involves symptoms such as hives, breathing problems and bowel symptoms occurring within a few minutes of ingesting a food. Typically, this is limited to certain foods such as shellfish, peanuts, strawberries and tree nuts like Brazil nuts. The mechanism of immediate food allergy, which can be life threatening, is release of histamine triggered by IgE antibodies. These allergies are fixed, meaning they don’t change much over a lifetime.

A much more common form of food allergy and intolerance is delayed hypersensitivity where symptoms might not occur for up to 24 hours after ingesting a food. Symptoms can include fatigue, digestive problems, headaches, joint pain, muscle pain, urinary problems, skin rash and nasal congestion and asthma. The most common food triggers are wheat, dairy, sugar, beef, soy, tomatoes, citrus and corn. Many people have developed masking where frequent use of an allergic food prevents the person from seeing the connection between the food and symptoms. These allergies are mediated by IgG antibodies and often do not include major histamine release.

One way to identify if these foods are contributing to symptoms is to do an avoidance diet and then add the food back into the diet. This approach is detailed in The Adaptation Diet as well as information on rotation diets.

The Curious Case of Gluten

When I wrote The Adaptation Diet, one topic I included which causes a lot of  confusion for  my patients, is gluten intolerance and celiac disease. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, malt, triticale, spelt, and kamut.  It doesn’t make much sense that  foods that were integral to human evolution  have caused so many people health problems. However, like many things in life, too much of a good thing has become a problem for some people. Sensitivity to gluten is widespread in the Untied States, especially in people of Northern European extraction (Scandinavian,English, Irish, and German).

Individuals vary in their response to gluten proteins. On one end of the continuum is simple gluten intolerance (also called non-celiac gluten intolerance) with symptoms of fatigue, headaches, digestive bloating, flatulence,diarrhea, weight gain, skin problems, depression, and joint or muscle pain. It is estimated that one in ten Americans could have gluten intolerance or wheat allergy. On the other end of the continuum is the more serious celiac disease, with major bowel symptoms, a less common problem with an incidence of 1 in every 133 Americans.

There are blood tests to help identify if you have gluten intolerance, but if there is any question the best approach is to adopt a gluten-free diet  for at least 3 months. If you are concerned about the celiac disease aspect, see a gastroenterologist to discuss the need for a biopsy before you stop eating gluten.