Food Allergy

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Do you remember your Aunt Bessie loved peanuts but always felt sick after she ate them? Of course this statement is illegal in Georgia. And you, too, enjoyed your peanuts until finally “Enough was enough.” Your stomach rumbled, a mild pain induced after you ate peanuts. What could it be? A food allergy or food intolerance?

The food allergy also known as a food-hypersensitivity reaction when a protein in that food enters your gastric system and causes an undesirable immune response. The body’s immune system reacts to a food protein by producing defensive agents. These agents cause the symptoms to occur. For example, in the digestive tract: bloating, nausea, gas or even vomiting can occur. Rashes can be produced in the skin. Mucus can form and inflame the nose, nasal passages and even lungs. At worst, an anaphylactic shock may occur which could result in death.

Allergies usually produce antibodies without any symptoms. Then you may be allergic to a food without really knowing it. But if you exhibit these symptoms, obviously there could be a variety of other health problems associated with these symptoms. Often your physician will attempt to
correctly diagnose and treat your symptoms. If given proper treatment to no avail, then another course of action would be food allergy testing. These tests are not always conclusive, but can give you an indication of possible allergies or intolerances. A blood test is usually required to determine if you are producing antibodies to these antigens (foreign substance in the body causing the formation of antibodies). If you are not producing antibodies and still have the symptoms then you have a food intolerance. Both food allergies and intolerances should be dealt with in the same fashion. At least when you are at a dinner party you now can correctly state “I have a food allergy or food intolerance.” It sounds knowledgeable, even a bit vogue.

REACTION TIMING

Food allergic reactions can occur within one hour after you consumed a food, often within minutes. Yet, frustratingly, the reaction may occur hours after a meal, then you are really stumped. So a delayed reaction is difficult and complicated to identify. If you suspect a specific food or foods causing you these symptoms, then you can do a food challenge. In the morning, as a breakfast (usually best on a non-work day so as to not upset your boss or offend your co-workers) consume a small amount of that food, only a single food which may cause you problems. Hopefully within an hour or two symptoms will appear and you’ve identified at least one culprit. Most people do not have the patience for this, so the alternative is to become a patient (I couldn’t resist, so bad) and have a physician request a food allergy panel of possibly eight or ten various foods. Usually the laboratory cost is around $13 per food plus the office visit.

Foods which most often cause allergies are: wheat, soybeans, nuts, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, chicken, milk and eggs. Obviously if you are allergic to all of these foods, you’ve got a problem. Sometimes people become allergic to foods they eat that most frequently, i.e. their favorite foods.

Some research has shown 91% of adverse reactions (Understanding Nutrition 5th ed., p. 459) are from only four major foods: nuts (43%), eggs (16%), and soy products (9%). The actual research was reported in 1989 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Obviously, once a food allergy has been determined it is best to eliminate that food from the diet, hopefully not indefinitely. Some people do well by waiting six months and then reintroduce the food gradually into the diet, possible once every four or five days and in small amounts. Additionally and most importantly, you need to find alternative foods which replace the nutrients lost from that food which has been eliminated. So a competent nutritionist would be helpful (I happen to know a good nutritionist – just in case you wondered.)

So, first the bad news. Your favorite food may hate you. Ah, the good news, maybe not forever.

– Freddy Kaye, Ph. D. is a clinical nutritionist in private practice and the faculty nutritionist at Tallahassee Memorial Regional Medical Center teaching resident physicians diet therapy.

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