Food allergies occur when an individual’s immune system has a bad chemical reaction to a food that normally does not cause any sort of reaction for the average person. The allergy occurs when the immune system reacts poorly to proteins in foods. Food allergies (which can occur even when an individual is exposed to a very small amount of the allergen) can cause hives, rashes, vomiting, diarrhea, vomiting, and shock. The most common foods that cause allergic reactions are milk, eggs, peanuts, whey, soy, shellfish, and tree nuts.
Causes of Food Allergies
Food allergies are caused when the antibody IgE (immunoglobin C) causes the release of chemicals called histamines. Children who suffer other allergies, asthma, or eczema are also more likely to suffer from food allergies, as are children whose parents have allergies.
Types of Food Allergies
Food allergies vary by the type of reaction. The first is the less common immediate reaction, a severe form of food allergy that involves hives or other acute reactions. For example, shrimp is the most common immediate allergy, and if an epinephrine shot is not around, the reaction may necessitate a trip to the emergency room. The second, more common type of food allergy manifests itself over a period of time, and causes a variety of less severe symptoms. Milk is the most common food allergy that has symptoms that are less serious.
Prevention of Food Allergies
First and foremost, persons who have food allergies should avoid consuming or otherwise coming into contact with known allergens. While this may seem obvious, often reading food packaging may be a more difficult task than it looks. For example, there may be milk proteins in milk solids, whey is often listed as caseinate, and egg is often listed as albumin. Eating out may prove especially difficult, and servers should be consulted when making decisions about what to eat off the menu. Special care should be taken to inform a child’s caretakers, such as their babysitter, teacher, or other school personnel.
Symptoms of Food Allergy
For severe allergies, immediate reactions such as hives or other acute symptoms may result. For less severe, less immediate food allergies, individuals usually have one or a few of the following: increased mucus, asthma, eczema, fatigue, frequent colds, joint pain, headache, sinus infection, digestive issues, impairment of concentration, bloating, fluid retention, and a number of other symptoms.
How Food Allergy is Diagnosed
Allergists or immunologists are able to diagnose when an individual has a food allergy. To do so, they often have a patient perform what is called a controlled food challenge. The patient keeps a diary of what they eat, and records when and if they feel any symptoms. If symptoms stop after a food is eliminated, that food is reintroduced to make sure that an allergic reaction is occurring. Other methods to diagnose food allergies include skin prick allergy tests and blood tests for IgE reactions to food extracts. Allergists and immunologists may also provide good instruction as to how to avoid potential allergens and how to correctly and accurately read food packaging.
Another way to diagnose food allergies is a method that can be done at home. To start, an individual’s diet is cut back to a few simple foods for up to a month, until symptoms of food allergies disappear. Once they have disappeared, the individual may introduce new foods, one at a time, about once per week. When the individual has a reaction to a new food, that food must then be avoided, as it is a potential allergen.
Food Allergies Possible Treatments
The easiest and best treatment is to control what an individual eats. This is especially true for children, who usually do not have control of their own day to day diet. Still, this is a difficult task, especially in social environments where everyone is expected to share the same food that may have the allergen in it. If someone eats an allergen and experiences a severe reaction, emergency services should be contacted. Persons with severe allergies should carry epinephrine, which treats allergic shock, and wear a medical alert bracelet.
Persons with general food sensitivities that are not serious, however, may find conventional medicine to be lacking. Instead, there are a number of alternative treatments that may be used. Acupuncture has been found to treat food allergies effectively in some cases, as has taking traditional Chinese herbs (though some of those may cause allergies themselves). Other supplements, such as bioflavonoids rutin, hesperidin, and quercetin may also be effective at decreasing the effects of food allergies. Ingesting essential fatty acids helps strengthen and restore the immune system. These may be taken through a tablespoon of flaxseed oil.
A number of herbs may help to reduce allergic reactions as well. Garlic helps the body to build immunity and is a natural antiseptic. Echinacea heightens the activity of the immune system and promotes recovery. Ginseng builds stamina in the body and boosts the immune system. Astralagus increases the number of immune cells as well as their activity in the body, similar to Echinacea.
A number of vitamins can be helpful to control symptoms or prevent food allergy reactions, including vitamins C, B, and E:
Vitamin C (3,000 mg), taken throughout the day, reduces the levels of histamines in the blood, thus controlling allergic reactions. Even more can be taken if and when an individual is trying to fight off an allergy. Vitamin C may be most effective when combined with 100-200 mg of bioflavonoid quercetin and 100-200 mg of pycnogenol, as quercetin increases the strength of mast cell membranes, which contain histamines. By strengthening the mast cell membranes, fewer histamines are released, and an allergic reaction is less likely. Other antioxidants, such as Vitamin E, beta carotene, and selenium help stave off reactions as well.
Vitamin B may be taken to detoxify and strengthen a person’s immune system, and additionally is helpful to control withdrawal symptoms when beginning an allergen free diet.
Vitamin E works to strengthen the endocrine system, which in turn strengthens an individual’s immunity and helps them avoid allergic reactions. Vitamin E may be naturally ingested through soybean oil.
Zinc is a mineral which may be taken to help prevent allergies resulting from undigested foods (a result of a deficiency of hydrochloric acid in the stomach). Calcium may also help prevent allergic reactions to food.
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