Food allergies can pose a serious risk to health, and it can be difficult to know what one is allergic until that allergy kicks in. Here’s a simple guide to understanding the critical points of food allergies: what are they? Why are they so serious? And how can we avoid them and become aware?
A Brief Run Down of What Food Allergies Are
Like all allergies, food allergies have specific connection with one’s immune system. It may be due to a hypersensitivity to certain food groups or, alternatively, “delayed T-cell mediated responses”. Doctors point to genetic predisposition as the root cause of food allergies. Because of this, people with parents who have allergies are more likely to experience allergies themselves, as are their children. Strangely, it looks as if food allergies are on the rise in the West, begging the question of its cause as a result of a changing diet or changing people.
A number of statistics are produced regarding food allergies. According to WebMD, about 5 percent of children and 4 percent of the total population have “clinically proven” food allergies. However, despite this seemingly small fragment, many more people report some sensitivity to food. For example, according to Dr. Adrian Morris, “Up to 25 percent of the population report having adverse reactions to foods.” Clearly, the problem is more pronounced that traditional clinical statistics would suggest.
The different may lie in food allergies vs. food intolerances. For example, “being allergic to milk is different from not being able to digest it properly due to lactose intolerance” as argued by WebMD. Nevertheless, the problem still exists.
Let’s hear from Dr. Berka as he describes how to identify your allergies and deal with them.
Dr. Berkas Comment
“I have been having gastrointestinal symptoms like gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort after eating almost every meal. I went to an Allergist and they found that I wasn’t allergic to any foods.” I hear this same type of remark time and time again from patients’ in my clinical practice. In addition to gas, bloating, and discomfort, other symptoms such as gastric pain, constipation or diarrhea, skin rashes, or even sinus congestion can lead me to a diagnosis of “Food Intolerance”.
While various diseases and/or conditions need to be ruled out before looking at the possibility of a “Food Allergy” or “Food Intolerance”, “Food Intolerances” or better known as “Food Sensitivities” are both under and over diagnosed. How can this be?
Dangers of Food Allergies and How to Find Out
For some, food allergies can be life threatening.
This is known as an anaphylactic reaction. Despite its severity, this only constitutes a small percentage of the populations’ adverse reactions to specific foods. Even if an extreme allergy to a specific food source can be ruled out, there are still sub-clinical adverse reactions that can lead to symptoms.
So what is the best way to find out if you have a food allergy or sensitivity? While there are various mechanisms that clinicians claim can test food allergies or sensitivities, the most well known and accepted testing method includes skin testing (RAST) and blood or serum testing (IgE).
RAST is a form of testing that identifies allergens by injecting a minute amount under the skin and observing the body’s immune response. IgE testing identifies a delayed onset of allergic responses by testing blood (serum) and IgG serum testing is usually ignored because it only confirms previous exposure to the allergen.
However, emerging evidence has confirmed that IgG testing can be a preliminary screen to identify the severity of the body reaction to that allergen. In either case, if you feel that you are having a reaction to a food or foods, you should consider finding a doctor whom will test you for both IgE and IgG immune responses. This can be accomplished through serum blood or a blood spot test with comparable results.
I have been doing blood spot testing (IgE/IgG) for many years and have uncovered many underlying food sensitivities that contribute to inflammatory reactions and adverse gastrointestinal symptoms that have been missed by conventional food allergy testing. While many allergists may view these testing methods as alternative or unconventional, it is vital to identify the underlying cause of symptoms to treat the root cause of dis-ease.
What about Organic?
“But what if I eat organic? Then I can avoid allergies…Right?”
Unfortunately, this is a common misconception. In fact, the structural composites of the foods in organic foods may be just as reactive to the immune system as non-organic sources. It is becoming more common to find disclaimers and/or warning labels informing consumers that production was in a facility that processes nuts, or they may have labels identifying themselves as “dairy free” or “gluten free”. In any event, you are what you eat. So be aware of what and when you are putting things in your mouth.
The Bottom Line
If you are concerned that you may have a food allergy, ask your doctor for a food allergy test via blood (serum) and not skin. If your child has any skin condition such as acne, eczema, or psoriasis, and/or continued sinus, ear, nose throat infections, I usually find one or more foods to be culprit in the inflammatory process.
Embrace food to be your medicine!