By Dr. Mercola
Food allergies – once a rarity just 40 or 50 years ago – are on the rise. An estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies (including one in every 13 children).1
Peanuts are one of the most common allergenic foods with life-threatening reactions. About one in 50 children are affected (primarily in high-income countries).2 Research shows that peanut allergies among children have tripled from 1997 to 2008.3
For children and their parents, a peanut allergy can be terrifying, leading to constant anxiety about a reaction to even trace amounts of peanuts. Many people think food allergies cause a bit of stomach upset or a skin rash, not realizing that for a growing number of the population, food allergies can be deadly.
So the news that a potential treatment for peanut allergy was deemed a huge success is exciting, to put it mildly – even though it's not quite ready for mainstream use just yet.
Peanut Allergy Treatment Described as Life-Changing
The new study was based on findings from past research, which suggested that exposing children with peanut allergy to very low trace amounts of peanuts may de-sensitize their immune systems, boosting their tolerance to peanuts.
The study involved allergic children aged 7 to 16 years who were given very small doses of peanut protein powder (beginning with a dose equivalent to about one 70th of a peanut). The dose was gradually increased until, six months later, up to 91 percent of the children could tolerate the equivalent of five peanuts in one sitting with no reaction.4
The treatment appears promising, although it's not something that should be tried without proper medical supervision. The children in the study were exposed to peanuts only in a hospital setting, where they could receive prompt medical treatment if a reaction occurred.
It's also not known whether long-term side effects, such as inflammation of the esophagus, could occur due to the repeated peanut exposure (even if a full allergic reaction didn't occur).
Nonetheless, the therapy could one day prove to be a solution for those with severe food allergies. Previous attempts to desensitize people to food allergies often triggered potentially life-threatening reactions. The use of just the protein within the foods appears to offer better results.
In 2009, researchers also found that most children exposed to very low doses of peanut protein powder (in this case starting with one-thousandth of a peanut) become reaction-free after a few years of exposures.
Provocation Neutralization Treatment Is Often Successful for Allergies
The 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 (AAEM) and can be very effective. I was a member of the AAEM and administered this treatment in my office when I was practicing.
PN offers many allergy sufferers permanent relief without adverse side effects. The success rate for this approach is about 80 to 90 percent, and you can receive the treatment at home.
The provocation refers to "provoking a change" and neutralization refers to "neutralizing the reaction caused by provocation." During provocation neutralization, a small amount of allergen is injected under your skin to produce a small bump called a "wheal" on the top layers of your skin, and then it is monitored for a reaction.
If you have a positive reaction, such as fatigue, headache, or a growth in the size of the wheal, then the allergen is neutralized with diluted injections or with drops of the same allergen that go in your mouth.
If you want to see some actual videos of provocation neutralization being done, see Dr. Doris Rapp's website, www.DorisRappMD.com. It is important to remember that the PN program is in addition to, not a replacement for, a comprehensive allergy recovery program.
A comprehensive allergy program needs to address optimizing your diet, intestinal health, and vitamin D levels while avoiding potential triggers. However, PN is a long-term solution that will, in most cases, provide a permanent treatment with virtually no side effects.
Why Are Food Allergies on the Rise?
There is no complete answer for why so many people are developing allergies, although both genetic and environmental factors likely play a role. Low levels of vitamin D, for instance, have been associated with an increased risk of food allergies,5 while some theorize that food additives, genetic modification, hormones, and herbicides added to foods may be triggering some cases.
Genetic engineering, for instance, can increase existing allergens, or produce new, unknown allergens. Both appear to have happened in genetically modified (GM) soy, which is found in the majority of processed foods.
So we've got various foreign substances being added to our food supply, any number of which have the potential to trigger allergic reactions. In addition, more children are being born and raised with severely damaged gut flora, which is largely the product of poor diet and antibiotics overuse, leading to Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS).
Your Gut Connection
Abnormalities in your immune system—such as allergies and autoimmune diseases—are a common outcome of GAPS, as about 85 percent of your immune system is located in your gut. When your gut flora is abnormal, your gut lining begins to deteriorate, since it is actively maintained by your gut flora.
Leaky gut is a condition that occurs due to the development of gaps between the cells (enterocytes) that make up the membrane lining your intestinal wall. These tiny gaps allow substances such as undigested food, bacteria and metabolic wastes that should be confined to your digestive tract to escape into your bloodstream -- hence the term leaky gut syndrome.
Once the integrity of your intestinal lining is compromised, and there is a steady flow of toxic substances "leaking out" into your bloodstream, your body experiences significant increases in inflammation.
Besides being associated with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's and ulcerative colitis, or celiac disease, leaky gut can also be a contributing factor to allergies.
For some, the answer to resolving food allergies is to "heal and seal" your intestines, which the GAPS nutritional program is designed to do. If you have severe food allergies, the GAPS Introduction Diet, which uses fermented foods and other natural strategies to restore balance to your gut flora, may help heal your food allergy completely.
Identifying a Food Allergy
The first step to living with a food allergy is determining whether you have one. In some cases, a reaction to a food may be obvious, but oftentimes parents will understandably confuse frequent crying due to allergies with signs of hunger in their babies, leading them to feed more of the allergenic food, such as milk. This causes a vicious cycle of more symptoms and more crying until the real culprit is uncovered. Food allergies can actually result in all sorts of reactions, from headache, sneezing, rashes, to swollen joints. Or they may result in psoriasis, or cause eczema to flare up. Other symptoms may include:
Tingling or itching in your mouth Hives Itching Eczema Swelling anywhere in your body, especially your lips, face, tongue and throat Wheezing and trouble breathing Abdominal pain Diarrhea Nausea and vomiting Fainting and dizziness Anaphylaxis (tightening of airways, swelling in your throat, difficulty breathing) Nasal congestion
One of the best things you can do if you believe you are suffering from a food allergy 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 several days. You may need to avoid the suspected food for a few weeks in order to evaluate whether it had an effect or not. To confirm the results, you'll want 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 allergy symptoms return within a short period of time.
Are You Living with a Food Allergy?
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Avoidance of the allergic foods will be key to preventing potentially deadly reactions. The solution is to drastically reduce your family's reliance on processed food and restaurants, instead choosing whole foods in as close to their natural state as possible, which you prepare at home. This will dramatically reduce the risk of exposure to hidden allergens, while providing superior nutrition at the same time.
You will still need to carefully read labels when you do use processed foods, and be diligent when it comes to eating at a restaurant, school, or a friend's home. You may need to bring your own food from home or ask the restaurant manager ahead of time if an allergen-free meal can be safely created.
Finally, for those who are very allergic, hand washing can be crucial, especially among children who can easily get food allergens on their hands through direct contact with other kids, and then transfer those allergens into their mouth. For more information, view the documentary I'm Not Nuts: Living With Food Allergies above. It sheds some light on this rising issue of food allergies through interviews with families that are directly affected.