By Dr. Mercola
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.
I'm Not Nuts: Living With Food Allergies is a documentary that sheds some light on this rising issue through interviews with families that are directly affected.
While it's widely accepted that a bee sting can cause anaphylaxis, a type of severe allergic reaction that can be deadly, stings cause about 40 US deaths a year compared to 100 deaths from food. In fact, food is the most common trigger for anaphylaxis.1
When Food Turns Deadly
As Dr. Ben Song of the Allergy & Immunology Associates of Ann Arbor explained in the film, there may be a generational gap that's causing the seriousness of food allergies to often be downplayed as, quite simply, deadly food allergies were a rarity just 40 or 50 years ago.
Yet today an estimated one out of every 13 children has a food allergy,2 and the incidence is increasing. From 1997 to 2007, food allergies increased 18 percent among children under 18 years,3 and according to UK data, hospitalizations for food allergy increased by 500 percent from 1990 to 2006.4 In the US, about 90,000 people visit the emergency room due to food allergies every year.5
Often, the allergy is to a very commonly eaten food. In the US, the following eight foods account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions, though, as Dr. Song explained, other foods, such as sesame seeds and legumes, are becoming more frequent allergens as well.
Peanuts Tree nuts Fish Shellfish Soy Wheat Milk Eggs
Identifying Symptoms Is Difficult, Especially in Young Children
Sometimes a food allergy occurs the first time a new food is eaten. Other times you can develop an allergy literally overnight to a food you've eaten your entire life. In the featured film, one woman described the swelling and tightness in her throat that suddenly appeared after she ate a tuna sandwich – a food she'd long enjoyed.
Another parent watched her 1-year-old daughter scratch her hands almost to the point of bleeding after giving her a piece of birthday cake, only to later find out she had an egg allergy.
Many 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.
When you're allergic to a substance, your immune system mistakenly believes it is dangerous and produces immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies in an attempt to neutralize it. Chemicals such as histamine released into your bloodstream during this process can lead to a battery of symptoms any time you eat the food (although symptoms may not appear until hours later). These 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
Making matters even more difficult, food allergies can actually result in all sorts of reactions, from headache, to sneezing, to rashes, to swollen joints. Or they may result in psoriasis, or cause eczema to flare up.
What's Causing So Many Food Allergies?
There is no complete answer for why certain people have allergies, although both genetic and environmental factors likely play a role. Though not discussed in the film, low levels of vitamin D have been associated with an increased risk of food allergies,6 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. Leading GMO expert Jeffrey Smith explained:
"Levels of one known soy allergen, trypsin inhibitor, were up to seven times higher in cooked GM soy compared to cooked non-GM soy. Another study discovered a unique, unexpected protein in GM soy, likely to trigger allergies. In addition, of eight human subjects who had a skin-prick (allergy-type) reaction to GM soy, one did not also react to non-GM soy, suggesting that GM soy is uniquely dangerous.
…Documents made public from a lawsuit revealed that FDA scientists were uniformly concerned that GM foods might create hard-to-detect allergies, toxins, new diseases, and nutritional problems. Their urgent requests for required long-term feeding studies fell on deaf ears. The FDA doesn't require a single safety test."
So we've got various foreign substances being added to our food supply, any number of which have the potential to trigger allergic reactions. At the same time, 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).
Gut Flora May Play a Major Role in Food Allergies
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. The beneficial bacteria in your gut make sure the cells that line your entire digestive tract are healthy, well-fed, and protected from chemical or microbial attacks. But as your gut lining deteriorates, the junctions between the cells open up, causing your gut to become porous, or "leaky." According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, who discovered GAPS:
"It becomes like a sieve, and foods don't get the chance to be digested properly before they are absorbed. They're absorbed in this maldigested or partially broken down form. When the immune system and the bloodstream finds them and looks at them, it doesn't recognize them as food. It says, 'You're not food. I don't recognize you,' and it reacts to them. It creates immune complexes, which attack these partially digested proteins. As a result, we'll get all sorts of symptoms in your body."
The answer to resolving food allergies, as well as virtually all autoimmune disorders, 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.
Provocation Neutralization Treatment for Allergies
I highly recommend the GAPS "heal and seal" approach outlined here for resolving food allergies, but another option to consider is provocation neutralization (PN) allergy testing and treatment, which 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. I offered this effective treatment for many years in my office.
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 that go in your mouth of the same allergen.
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, which should include optimizing your diet, intestinal health and vitamin D levels while avoiding potential triggers.
Avoidance Is Key if You're Living With a Food Allergy
Avoidance of the allergic foods will be key to preventing potentially deadly reactions. As explained in the documentary, simple hand washing can be crucial to this, especially among children who can easily get food allergens on their hands through direct contact with other kids. Label reading is another necessary precaution that anyone with a food allergy must take.
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, which took effect in January 2006, requires that food manufacturers list any of the top eight food allergens used in their products on the label. However, general terms like "natural flavors" and "spices" can contain hidden allergens, like sesame, forcing those with severe food allergies to devote countless hours calling food manufacturers to find out what's really in their products.
Eating in restaurants can also be nearly impossible, unless you go to the restaurant ahead of time and ask the manager if an allergen-free meal can be safely created. 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.
Support Groups for Those Living With Food Allergies
If you or your child has a food allergy, sharing your experiences and advice with others in the same situation can be invaluable. The Food Allergy Research & Education Web site has a tool to help you find a support group in your area.7 Other support groups mentioned in the film include Circle of Food Allergic Families (COFAF),8 a parent-run support group to support families as they face the daily challenges of managing food allergies.