Last week I introduced the topic of allergies and your immune system. If you recall, I mentioned I had so much information to share about allergies that I decided to make it a two-part post – so here we are!
To recap: last week I covered: a) why I believe this is such an important topic, b) I described what happens to the body during an allergic reaction, c) I explained the difference between “allergy,” “intolerance” and “sensitivity,” and d) listed common symptoms of allergies and intolerances. (To read last week’s post click on the link at the end this post.)
This week I will discuss: a) how to determine if you have an “allergy,” “intolerance” or “sensitivity,” b) the most common allergen foods, c) the “elimination diet” in detail, and d) the long-term effects on the body if intolerances are ignored.
Unfortunately, uncovering a food intolerance or sensitivity is not as easy as you might think. Each person has a unique makeup and while there are common symptoms, it’s important to get to know your own body and recognize the emotions and physical appearances that may indicate you are sensitive to certain foods.
So what’s a person to do if she suspects she has a food intolerance/sensitivity?
The first step is to create a food diary. Before you write anything in the diary pertaining to food, though, I recommend you take a complete inventory of your body from head to toe. Now is the time to be honest. Is your scalp itchy or flaking? Do you have excess acne? Do you suffer from constant ear and/or sinus infections? Are there dry patches (eczema) on your body? Do you experience brain fog? Honestly, no detail is too small. Record everything you notice in your new diary.
Now that you’re aware you may have an intolerance to food, the next step is to track what you eat for a couple of weeks and make note of any immediate symptoms you experience. Did you get an upset stomach or heartburn? Did you experience diarrhea after a meal? Did any part of your body swell or break out in hives or a rash after consuming a certain food item? Again, no detail is too small.
All of this information is necessary to help you communicate with your doctor why you feel you may have an “allergy,” “intolerance” or “sensitivity” to certain foods. Together you and your doctor can discuss which testing method is best for you.
Below are the various tests available to determine if you have an “allergy,” “intolerance” or “sensitivity” to certain foods:
* Elimination diet
* Scratch test
Why so many different tests? For starters, other than detecting an allergy that has an immediate response (IgE) no test has been shown to accurately detect food “allergies,” “intolerances” or “sensitivities.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, “There’s no standard test used to confirm or rule out a food allergy. Your doctor will consider a number of things before making a diagnosis.”
This is another reason I recommend that during the first and second steps of this process you document as much information as possible.
When my oldest son, Henry, was 4 years old his pediatrician recommended I take him to an allergist since he was experiencing so many ear and sinus infections. They tested him for various allergies with a scratch test.
What’s a scratch test?
During a scratch test the doctor or nurse cleans the area of the body where the test will be performed, typically the forearm or the back. Henry had his scratch test done on his back. Next they mark and label your skin with a pen to indicate the potential allergen. Then they place a drop of the potential allergen on each of these spots and prick the outer layer of your skin to let the allergen in. Even though Henry was a toddler at the time he was a real trooper. They gave him multiple pricks on his back, but he didn’t cry once!
After they’re done pricking your skin, you wait for about 30-45 minutes to see if there’s a reaction. Some of Henry’s scratches reacted immediately, some took a little longer. But the results indicated he was allergic to most of his environment! Dust mites, pollen, ragweed, mold, grass and pet dander… the list continued and I was quickly overwhelmed. How in the world can I protect my son from the environment?
I didn’t know what to do at the time except follow their recommendation that Henry take allergy medicine daily. The only problem was he continued to get ear and sinus infections! Which led me to the next test: bloodwork.
Last week I explained how the body develops antibodies to fight offending proteins in food, pollen, etc. A blood test is another method to test if an “allergy,” “intolerance” or “sensitivity” to specific foods exists. You can have this test performed by your regular doctor or an allergist.
I had bloodwork drawn for all three of my boys and only Charlie’s results revealed intolerance to certain foods; Henry’s and George’s didn’t. Yet, they all still had many symptoms that indicated an “intolerance” to something, which led me to the elimination diet.
There’s a lot of information and many recommendations regarding the elimination diet on the internet. The only problem is trying to apply it to your daily life!
Some recommend eliminating a huge list of foods all at once for a few weeks, then slowly adding back one food item at a time into your diet and recording any symptoms that may occur. This can be difficult because -unless you meet with a certified nutritionist – eliminating too many foods at once can leave a person malnourished.
I recommend starting with a few foods at a time, beginning with the top allergen foods, and moving on from there.
Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Mayo Clinic list eight foods that account for an estimated 90 percent of allergic reactions:
* Tree Nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts)
* Fish (such as bass, cod, flounder)
* Shellfish (such as crab, lobster, shrimp)
Before I embarked on the elimination diet for myself and my kids I did some careful planning to ensure I would NOT be missing key nutrients. The two foods I eliminated first were dairy and all grains with gluten (i.e. wheat.)
With the elimination diet you must be diligent with reading labels. To truly eliminate milk products (yes, this includes cheese) you need to be aware there are over 40 ingredients that contain milk protein but may not have milk anywhere in their name. Here’s a link that provides a detailed list of these ingredients: http://www.avoidingmilkprotein.com/ReadingIngredients.htm
In addition to dairy and gluten I also limited our intake of all animal products (beef, chicken, eggs, fish, etc.), but unless you’re already vegetarian or vegan I don’t recommend a complete elimination of all animal products. Start with the ones listed above (eggs, fish and shellfish.)
Many people thrive on a vegetarian and/or vegan diet (we do) but I highly recommend consulting with a certified nutritionist before taking this step to ensure vital minerals and nutrients derived from animal products are adequately replaced.
And wouldn’t you know: after removing dairy, wheat and animal products from our diets for a few weeks, the results were astounding!
George’s headaches and stomach aches stopped, the eczema cleared up for all of them, digestive issues were under control, neither George nor Henry needed an inhaler, and the biggest win for Henry: no more daily sinus medications!
The true test came a few weeks later and we went out to dinner to celebrate my birthday. We went to a well-known seafood restaurant and everyone ate the dinner rolls with butter, fish with yummy (milk-based) sauces on top and a to-die-for butter cake with ice cream and home-made whipped cream! We sure enjoyed that meal… Until the next morning.
I was up half the night feeling ill and the next morning all three boys woke up with stuffed sinuses and swollen eyes. For me it was a clear sign that we had been on the right track with the foods we eliminated and needed to jump back on it.
So while Henry (or anyone) can’t control the environment and the impact its allergens have on his immune system, he can control what food he puts into his body. It’ll be two years this summer since we did the elimination diet, almost two years that he’s been free of allergy medicines and infections – a win-win in my book.
What happens if you eat the foods you’re intolerant to?
Obviously with three adolescent boys we’re on the go quite a bit. Unfortunately, the world we live in doesn’t always support our diet choices and the boys end up eating food that’s not in their best interest. They can usually tolerate small amounts without a huge effect on their bodies, but if they eat the offending foods for an extended period of time, more often than not all the symptoms that went away start to reappear.
Can a food intolerance really have a negative effect on your body?
Most people know that if a child has an allergy to peanuts, you DON’T give him peanuts. The fear is the child will experience anaphylaxis and potentially die. It’s a very real possibility.
Yet, I haven’t noticed the same diligence awarded to children with food intolerances. I’ve heard, “a little can’t hurt,” “come on, one-bite won’t kill him,” and… Well, yes, it’s true: today.
But if you recall from my post last week, even with food intolerances the body is creating antibodies (IgG) to fight a perceived threat. So a little here and there may not hurt, but continuously eating foods that one is intolerant to will keep the body in a constant state of war – and that can eventually lead to a host of other illnesses.
So while I’m not overly concerned about today since my children are still under my care, I am concerned about teaching them good eating habits they can take with them when they leave the house and go out on their own.
So when I hear someone say, “a little won’t hurt,” truth is, it may not. But it certainly doesn’t help establish good eating habits and, in my opinion, our kids need all the support they can get.
What can you do for a child that may be intolerant to certain foods?
* Be supportive, don’t offer them foods they’re not supposed to have.
* Ask what they can eat.
* If possible, keep on hand certain foods you know they can eat.
What I’ve learned over the past few years and through my classes, is that food really is the best medicine available for our bodies. Unfortunately, finding the offending foods can be a time-consuming process and this is where most people give up.
But that’s where I’m hoping my education and certification will be a service to others. I know how it feels to live with pain (emotional and physical). Frankly, I’m doing whatever I can to be happy, and for me, total happiness includes my health.
Is it easy?
NO! If it were, we wouldn’t have the increasing incidences of depression, anxiety, cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc. But with some effort, it’s very realistic to implement changes in your diet.
Are the efforts worth it? For me, absolutely!
However, only you can decide what steps you’re willing to take to feel good emotionally and physically. Just know, you’re not alone. You have a community right here willing to support you, with every step you take.
I pray you’ll find the stamina needed to keep fighting for your whole health -in body and mind.
P.S. If you missed Part 1 of this post, click here to read it now.