Are you one of the many Americans suffering with common food allergies? Do you have to carry an epipen with you wherever you go and scrutinize every food label before eating anything? It is estimated that there are 3 million children in this country with common food allergies and 3,000 emergency room visits a year due to symptoms of common food allergies, so you are not alone. Another common food related problem is food intolerances. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, there are between 30 and 50 million people in the U.S. that are lactose intolerant. If you have either of these problems with food there are natural solutions that can be helpful. The first place to start is to understand how common food allergies and intolerances develop.
What Causes Common Food Allergies?
A true common food allergy is the result of the immune system identifying food fragments as something to attack and fight off. A simplified description of what occurs is that proteins in foods not broken down by enzymes, stomach acid or cooking methods are able to pass through the gastrointestinal lining into the bloodstream and can then move on to body organs. The immune system then recognizes them as foreign invaders and attacks them causing a variety of symptoms in a variety of ways. When our bodies don’t recognize food particles in the bloodstream, we become allergic to them. The next time we eat this kind of food, our body immediately goes into a food allergy reaction. Symptoms can include, a tingling or itchy feeling in the mouth, trouble breathing or swallowing, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, hives, loss of consciousness or stomach pain. Anaphylactic reactions can also cause death even if they just start out with milder symptoms.
There are 8 foods that are considered to be responsible for 90% of food allergy reactions. In the U.S. the FDA requires food manufacturers to label products that contain these 8 top foods that are considered the most common food allergies. They are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.
What Causes Food Intolerances?
Whereas common food allergies can be dangerous and potentially life threatening, food intolerances are not usually. They may be unpleasant and even painful, but not something one can potentially die from. Food intolerances are a condition existing in the digestive system. Lactose intolerance is one of most familiar of food intolerances. This is an inability to digest the sugar that is in milk and other dairy due to not having enough of the enzyme lactase. Symptoms of food intolerances can include gas, stomach pain and cramping, bloating, diarrhea and being nauseous and generally occur within 30 minutes to 2 hours of eating a food not tolerated. Those with food intolerances can sometimes eat small amounts of the foods that they are intolerant of whereas those with true common food allergies cannot eat those foods at all.
Bluegreen Algae –
By boosting your immune system, you can reduce allergic reactions to food. Since many food allergies are caused by poor digestion linked to the immune system, improving the diet with nutrition can help with common food allergies. Two studies show that “the inclusion of blue-green algae in the diet contributes to a reduction of anaphylactic and immune-type allergic reactions in animals” (Edible Microalgae, Jeffrey J. Bruno, Ph.D.).
Probiotics, the “friendly bacteria” that live in our intestines, do the majority of the work of digesting our food once it has passed through the stomach. Acidophilus and bifidus are among the most important of these friendly bacteria, and provide a barrier between the intestines and the bloodstream, as well as help us to fully digest our food. These microbes in the intestines not only help with digestion, they produce vitamins such as B6 and B12, help with absorbing minerals like iron, magnesium and calcium, and fight off the bad bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella. As Venket Rao, PhD, emeritus professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto says, a regular supply of probiotics can help the good guys outnumber the bad (http://ow.ly/qwD29). The benefit from probiotics extends to your immune system by it producing its own type of antibiotic and producing more cytokines connected to the immune system.
The food most people are familiar with that contains probiotics is yogurt and/or kefir. This isn’t very helpful if you have milk allergies or milk intolerance though. Since fermentation of foods is caused by microbes, eating foods such as sour pickles, sauerkraut and miso can be another source of live microbes or probiotics. Mary Ellen Sanders, PhD warns that once these foods have been pasteurized they don’t have live microbes. Look for products labeled as raw fermented or make them yourself. Supplements such as acidophilus and bifidus are another natural solution for those who can’t tolerate milk products or have milk allergies. There are other foods these days that claim to have probiotics added to them. Just be sure to read the labels and make sure they have live active cultures.
Enzymes are very important because they are key to healthy and complete digestion. Eating enzymes with and between meals can support digestion and help with food allergy symptoms. When taken with food, enzymes help ensure proper digestion and prevent food particles from entering the bloodstream. When taken separate from food, the enzymes are able to pass through the intestinal barrier (just like the food particles) to digest the food particles in the bloodstream. This prevents the immune system from thinking that food is an invader, thus preventing the immune response that causes food allergy symptoms.
Lactose-Free Products –
For those who have a lactose intolerance, look for products labeled lactose-free or lactose-reduced. Those allergic to milk will not be helped by these products as they still contain the milk protein that causes their allergic reaction. Eating dairy products along with other foods may also help the lactose intolerant as this helps slow down digestion and makes it easier for the body to absorb the lactose.
A prebiotic is any source of food for probiotics. For the most part, prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrate fibers called oligosaccharides. You can’t digest oligosaccharides but your friendly bacteria can. Since you can’t digest these fibers, they remain in your gut and feed the friendly bacteria living there. Foods that are good sources of these fibers include bananas, asparagus, artichokes, oats, garlic, onions, legumes and barley. Eating a diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables can also help supply prebiotics to feed your good bacteria and help them stay healthy.
If you have problems with common food allergies or food intolerances, don’t despair there is help for you with some of these natural solutions. If you have an allergy to a food that produces life threatening symptoms, you of course need to avoid those foods and be sure to always check labels or ask what ingredients are used to make dishes and always have an epipen with you. One lesson I learned recently was to ask what type of oil was used in preparing dishes when my grandson who has a peanut allergy is with me as many restaurants have started using peanut oil. For milder reactions and intolerances still be sure to read those food labels, get creative with combining foods you can eat safely and support your immune system and digestive system so they work at their best and do their best for you.
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Edible Microalgae, Jeffrey J. Bruno, Ph.D.