Patients can sometimes feel like they are exploring the unknown when learning about their food allergies or intolerances, but practitioners can help shed some light on any confusion.
According to Food Allergy Research & Education, whose mission is to “improve the quality of life and the health of individuals with food allergies, and to provide them hope through the promise of new treatments,” it is estimated that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies. More than one-third (5.9 million) of this total includes children under the age of 18, averaging out to about one in 13 children. Further, approximately 30 percent of children are allergic to more than one food.
Many of these adults and children who comprise these statistics could very well be one’s patients, and it is imperative that practitioners continue to stay up to date on content in this field. With proper understanding that is supplemented by research, patients and medical professionals alike can rest easy knowing that food allergies and intolerances can be handled rather reasonably.
Food allergies and intolerances have their differences, and can be broken down further into food sensitivity.
According to Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN, CSCS, advisor and consultant on the clinical consulting team for Arizona-based Cyrex Laboratories:
• “A food allergy causes a particular immune reaction, called Immunoglobulin E (IgE), to elevate along with other immune factors like mast cell activation.
• Food sensitivity is mediated by different components of the immune system, primarily IgG and IgA.
• Food intolerance develops due to deficiency of a particular enzyme that is supposed to break down a food component. An example is lactose intolerance, where individuals with this condition lack an enzyme called lactase.”
Dr. Larson also added that “people can develop immune reactions to nearly any food, but some common ones are gluten/wheat, dairy, peanuts and other nuts, soy, corn, eggs and shellfish. Some lesser known, but fairly common food reactions are, yeast (baker’s/brewer’s), food coloring and gums (like xantham gum, mastic gum and guar gum).”
Serena Goldstein, ND, who serves on Natural Practitioner’s Editorial Advisory Board, expounded on Dr. Larson’s sentiments. “There’s IgE, that immediate allergy where people usually need to pop Benedryl or carry an EpiPen to prevent going to the ER, and then IgG, an intolerance that can contribute to a wide variety of symptoms that may not be right away,” she noted. “For example, someone may have an intolerance to gluten but not realize it, if the days they just feel a little more sluggish than usual is a day or two later after consumption. Or it’s not until perhaps a few days or so of avoiding a certain food that they feel different, then back to feeling not so great upon consumption again of that food. Gluten and dairy are big offenders, and I explain to people that while we have healing going on, those are the ones I really look for as potential contributors to disease. Diet diaries can really help pinpoint certain foods. Other ones may be sugar, soy, corn and eggs.”
According to Eric Hamilton, president and CEO of QuinTron Instrument Company, Inc. in Wisconsin, up to one in three people (33 percent) has some level of sugar mal-absorption, with the most common intolerance being to fructose. Why in fact is this subject becoming a larger topic of discussion? Some individuals may argue that this is only the tip of the iceberg.
For Leah Linder, ND of Nevada-based Klaire Labs, she expressed that “there is not one distinct cause for the rise in food allergies and sensitivities. It’s the perfect storm that has disrupted our intestinal barriers and immune function.”
However, Dr. Linder did list some potential factors such as:
• Environmental toxins and chemicals
• Food additives
• Food-borne illnesses and infections
• Genetically modified (GM) foods
• Over sanitization
• Increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut), especially during pregnancy and childhood
• Processed foods
The aforementioned GMOs (genetically modified organisms) have garnered plenty of attention over the years, often for negative reasons. Combine this with additional outside factors and one could be looking at a potential disaster.
“Food isn’t what it used to be,” Dr. Goldstein said. “In the U.S., we have some of the most genetically modified foods (biggest ones are corn, soy and gluten) versus in Europe, for example, where food tastes different for a reason (better quality). Also, living in an urban area places more stress on the body, versus a suburban or rural area, generally speaking, so even if food isn’t great for us, there’s already multiple offenders at play (e.g. stressful lifestyle, pollutants) that can lower one’s defenses in tolerating poor quality food.”
Natural Solutions & Tips
From a straightforward perspective, Dr. Larson recommends that an individual suffering with a food allergy or sensitivity takes a look at his or her diet, runs a food sensitivity test and avoids those foods that his/her immunity system is having a reaction to.
Precisely, he is referring to immune tolerance.
“When an individual can consume a food without having any reaction, then their immune system is tolerant to that particular set of proteins. Loss of immune tolerance, on the other hand, is indicated when there is an abnormal immune and/or inflammatory reaction when the person is exposed to that food.
“After we figure out what is causing their immune system to react, we may consider other aspects of immune tolerance such as support for the intestinal barrier or mast cell stabilization. The following nutrients are often considered if it was determined that a person has hyperpermeability of their intestinal barrier (leaky gut): l-glutamine, n-acetyl-glucosamine, vitamin A, vitamin D, fish oil and probiotics. Demulcent botanicals are also considered, like ulmus (slippery elm), althea (marshmallow) and DGL (licorice root). For mast cell stabilization, we can use natural medicines like bioflavonoids, quercetin, curcumin, nettles, bromelain and silymarin, to name a few. However, immune tolerance is very individual, so dietary and targeted nutritional supplementation recommendations need to also be individualized for optimal results.”
Dr. Goldstein was in agreement with many of Dr. Larson’s suggestions, and even recommended precise examples that patients can consider taking. “In regards to natural remedies,” she said, “high dose vitamin C (usually to bowel tolerance) with bioflavonoids and quercetin are a powerful combo, as well as a B complex, optimizing vitamin D (helps boost immune system), vitamin A and zinc. They’ll want to aim for an anti-inflammatory based diet, stress reduction, and foods high in flavonoids and carotenoids like dark leafy greens and orange vegetables. Herbs like ginger and nettles are also great additions. However, regarding herbs, it’s also based on the person’s constitution, as ultimately treatment is tailored to who is sitting in front of us, as some herbs are stronger than others and someone with a weak constitution may need a different herbal remedy.”
Many of the previously mentioned items directly target the immune system, especially the letter vitamins.
“As we go after immune function, vitamin A & C are powerful antioxidants and immune boosters,” Dr. Goldstein continued. “Vitamin C acts like an antihistamine. Vitamin D has been shown to improve numerous symptoms and health concerns; optimizing levels to around 50 can help not only allergies, but also all-around health. Nutrients like bromelain can help decrease nasal swelling and thin mucus, and quercetin is another powerful anti-inflammatory, acting similar to an anti-histamine. Another really good supplement to employ that’s as well-rounded as vitamin D is magnesium, ‘nature’s relaxer,’ which helps decreases our stress response, great for adrenal health, and also helps relax muscles.”
Practitioners should also consider the elimination diet as a potential way to avoid certain foods. Further, regulating allergens that are present around the house can also go a long way.
“To treat a food sensitivity/intolerance, avoidance of the identified food(s) for a period of time is essential—the gold standard is to follow the elimination diet,” Dr. Linder advised. “After the elimination phase, the food may then be rotated back into the diet (that is, eaten every few days, but not every day). While children can often reintroduce foods after three months of avoidance, adults may require six to 12 months to truly bring about resolution of the sensitivity/intolerance. Some sensitivity/intolerance are fixed, meaning that they will occur no matter how long a particular food is avoided. Most sensitivity/intolerance, however, are not like this. They are cyclic, coming and going depending on consumption patterns, stressors and other factors in a person’s life.
“Beyond avoidance, choosing low-inflammatory, nutrient-dense foods supports immune system function, provides your body with essential vitamins and minerals, and supports healthy gut microflora balance. Controlling household allergens such as dust, mold and animal dander can reduce the overall allergic load.”
Factors such as the continuous presence of allergens certainly impact the present market as well.
Currently, there is enough room for both the conventional and natural medication market to coexist—however, these two sides of the spectrum are producing different sentiments.
“For better or worse,” explained Dr. Larson, “the state of the drug market for allergies is alive and well. Like many other drug categories, these medications are designed to suppress symptoms (itching, wheezing, discomfort, stuffiness, heartburn, GI [gastrointestinal] distress, etc.), without much focus on supporting normal physiology or treating the underlying cause.”
On the other hand, Dr. Goldstein, who described the conventional market as “dismal” with a “watch and will til it gets bad enough” point of view, noted that when it comes down to using natural medications, a plethora of options are available.
“The adrenals, the two glands that sit on top of each kidney responsible for our stress response (amongst other functions) take a hit trying to control the allergic responses, so it’s important to support them,” she described. “The gut (e.g. diet, lifestyle) will also be an important system as most of our immune system is there, such as balancing gut bacteria and ensuring a healthful anti-inflammatory diet to help relieve stress on the system and promote healing. And most likely there can be other systems at play like hormone imbalance, blood sugar issues and thyroid issues, so it’s imperative to understand that the natural approach isn’t just about using them the same as a pharmaceutical, but to employ various supplements to heal other organ systems that are not quite optimal. Consider emotional symptoms too, such as how asthma affects the lungs, and lungs represent grief—if their concern began with a certain life event, then you need to incorporate healing around that event.”
Dr. Larson broke this question down further. He said, natural medication does not have the purpose of treating the patients per se; rather it is meant to properly address the symptoms at hand.
“The question is being asked within the context of mainstream pharmaceutical medicine which promotes that there is a pill (a monotherapy) for a given symptom or set of symptoms. Natural medicines, at their best, are prescribed to treat the person, not a symptom. Also, natural medicine, at its best, is almost never prescribed as a monotherapy but rather as part of a protocol to address the health issues from a variety of angles, or at least one specific underlying angle. For example, five individuals visiting five different pharmaceutical-based doctors with the exact same headache description will be prescribed the same, or very similar, pain-relieving medication without any individual recommendations.
“On the other hand,” Dr Larson added, “if the same five people visited five different natural medicine doctors, their evaluations might indicate that each person has a different source of their headache. One person may have neck tightness, another a sinus infection, another dehydration, another low blood sugar and one may have a food sensitivity. They all require a different treatment, not just the same pain-killer!”
Although it does not conduct its own studies, for decades, QuinTron’s breath-testing equipment has contributed to completed studies in the field.
“QuinTron has been offering carbohydrate breath testing since 1962, and many researchers have used our breath tests and breath analyzers during their research of sugar intolerances (easily over 100 published studies),” Hamilton explained. “We do not conduct studies directly, as that is out of our scope, but we help researchers by providing the products and means to test the conditions during their research with a breath test, which they use in conjunction with other research methods, which is why QuinTron is referred to by many as the gold standard in breath hydrogen/methane testing and [has] received two awards in 2017 by Global Health & Pharma for ‘Best Hydrogen/ Methane Breath Testing Solutions’ and ‘Best Medical Device Manufacturer – Midwest USA.’”
Testing laboratories, such as Cyrex Laboratories, are concerned about the scientific reasoning behind the immune system’s reaction to certain foods—precisely, they want to see the theories being supported by physical evidence.
“We are interested in laboratory confirmation of immune dysregulation,” said Dr. Larson. “Loss of immune tolerance is indicated by elevated antibodies (like IgG and IgA) being produced by your body to attack a protein in the food you are reacting to. The lab tests measure this reaction and quantify the severity. We also look for reasons why the immune system decided to lose tolerance to that food. Common reasons are dysbiosis of the gut microbiome (imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut), hyperpermeability of the intestinal barrier (leaky gut) and pathogenic infection. There are lab tests that measure all these different parts.”
Fortunately, as times have progressed, so has the technology available to laboratories.
“The research has evolved as laboratory science has evolved and become more sophisticated,” continued Dr. Larson. “Labs like Cyrex Laboratories have developed new standards of precision and specificity by utilizing proprietary antigen optimization and purification methods. This process ensures that the food antigen is pure and un-adulterated, and the protein concentration of each antigen is optimized.”
Healthy Take Aways:
• According to Food Allergy Research & Education, it is estimated that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies.
• Approximately 30 percent of children are allergic to more than one food.
• Up to one in three people (33 percent) has some level of sugar mal-absorption, with the most common intolerance being to fructose.
For More Information:
Cyrex Laboratories, www.joincyrex.com
Klaire Labs, www.klaire.com
QuinTron Instrument Company, Inc., www.breathtests.com
Serena Goldstein, ND, www.drserenagoldstein.com