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Food allergies have doubled in the last 15 years and now affect 4 percent of adults and 8 percent of children aged 2 and under. Considering these allergies claim the lives of 100 to 200 people -- and send another 30,000 to the emergency room each year -- this news of a potential safe treatment is very welcome.
This idea of “desensitizing” people to food allergies using a tiny portion of the allergic protein is actually similar to provocation neutralization (PN), which is taught by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine and can be very effective.
I first studied this technique over 15 years ago and I continue to offer it in my Chicago clinic as it provides quite rapid and dramatic improvement in most of the patients we see with allergies.
The doctor that developed this technique was Dr. Theron Randolph and he passed away 15 years ago. I was fortunate enough to learn directly from him and we actually employ one of his former nurses in our allergy program. The program works well for traditional allergies like trees, grasses, dusts and weeds but is also good for food and environmental allergies.
Provocation refers to "provoking a change" and neutralization refers to "neutralizing the reaction caused by provocation." The success rate for this approach is in the 80 percent to 90 percent range, and patients can receive their treatment at home.
During provocation-neutralization, a small amount of allergen is injected under your skin to produce a small bump called a "wheal" and then monitored for a reaction. If you have a positive reaction, such as fatigue, headache or a growth in the wheal, then the allergen is neutralized with diluted injections, or drops that go in your mouth, of the same allergen.
PN is a long-term solution that will, in most cases, provide a permanent treatment. There are also virtually no side effects with the treatment, unlike with conventional drugs.
A food allergy occurs because your immune system mistakenly recognizes a certain food as dangerous, and then produces a response against it. Symptoms can range from the more mild skin rash, vomiting and diarrhea to the very serious anaphylaxis, which constricts your airways and requires immediate medical attention.
There are many theories about why food allergies are now classified as a public health problem. Among them is the hygiene hypothesis, which contends that growing up in an overly sterile environment can cause our immune systems to overreact when they’re confronted with harmless substances.
Some also blame changes in the way food is processed and genetically engineered foods.
Just eight common foods -- milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (like cashews), fish, shellfish, soy and wheat (gluten) -- account for about 90 percent of all allergy reactions in the United States. However, you can also be allergic or sensitive to food additives like artificial colors or preservatives.
Though most food allergies begin in childhood, before the age of 2, they can occur at any age and involve just about any food. And while sometimes a food allergy is obvious, producing hives or vomiting after eating the suspect foods, other times the symptoms are more subtle.
It’s also possible to be “sensitive” to a food, a condition that may include true allergies, reactions that do not affect your immune system, and reactions for which the cause has yet to be determined. Sensitivities cause a wide range of very individualized symptoms, from a foggy head to unexplained diarrhea that can significantly decrease your quality of life.
One of the easiest and most powerful actions you can take if you believe you are suffering from a food allergy or sensitivity is to do a diet elimination challenge. Simply remove all foods that contain what you believe you are allergic to and see if your symptoms improve over the next few days. You may need to go as long as five days to give it a full trial.
If the symptoms disappear in one day, of course you have your answer. The real clincher, though, is to reintroduce the food or drink (on an empty stomach). If the suspected food is the culprit you will generally be able to feel the symptoms return within an hour.
This can be difficult if you eat a lot of processed foods, as these often contain "hidden" ingredients like corn, milk, soy, wheat, yeast and artificial additives that are often problematic. The most suspect foods will be those eaten daily or more than once a week, as well as foods that you crave or eat at night.
If you’re not sure which food is causing the symptoms, keeping a food diary may help.
In the diary, list your actual dietary habits including time of ingestion, time any symptom is observed, cravings and improvement in symptoms. Make the recordings throughout the day, rather than waiting until the end of the day when it is easier to leave things out, and be sure to record everything you consume -- even vitamins, beverages, chewing gum, etc.
After two weeks you can look for any recurring pattern among frequently eaten foods and symptoms.
In extreme cases where it is difficult to isolate the offending food, you may even need to go on a fast to see if your symptoms resolve.
Remember, you can also be sensitive to food additives like artificial colors, preservatives and flavor enhancers (MSG), so avoiding processed foods can also help.
Addressing allergies takes a multi-faceted approach that involves optimizing your diet and avoiding potential triggers. This includes avoiding sugar, fruit juices, most grains, pasteurized dairy products, and wheat gluten.
For now, provocation-neutralization may help to desensitize you to the allergen, but generally once you’ve identified the foods you are allergic to, you will want to avoid them as much as possible.
To further help your symptoms, make sure you’re getting enough high-quality animal-based omega-3 fats such as krill oil. Adding “good bacteria” to your gut by taking a high-quality probiotic can also be beneficial when dealing with food sensitivities and allergies.