Food Allergies vs Functional Food Sensitivities
Statistics reveal a disturbing trend in the U.S.: the annual improvement in America’s health has declined 69% from 2000 to 2011 in comparison to the previous decade. There is plenty of evidence to support this trend. There is a growing epidemic of obesity that now affects 27.5% of the population, 8.7% of Americans are diabetic, over 50% of U.S. children suffer some form of chronic illness and approximately 20% are categorized as developmentally disabled. Align those statistics with the estimated 100 tons of food that will be consumed and processed during the average lifetime, and you can quickly understand how food allergies (immediate and delayed) and functional food sensitivities (intolerances) can contribute to the cause and exacerbation of all chronic health disorders.
To take a step beyond the typical concepts and mechanisms of food reactions and the variety of symptoms associated with them, we need to consider how functional food sensitivity reactions may not directly activate or operate through the same immune response mechanisms as do true allergic reactions. To understand these differences we need to not only understand the established antibody-antigen complex and the biochemical- and cell-mediated pathways, but also the influence of therapeutic properties of foods, functional interference factors such as heavy metals, toxic chemicals and latent infections, and the use of nontraditional techniques to detect them.
In general, a true allergic reaction is triggered by a food allergen called an antigen. An antigen is a protein fragment contained in food and the environment. These are predominantly heat- and acid-stable glycoproteins that fail to breakdown during the cooking process or resist digestion by stomach acids and enzymes. These proteins then cross the gastrointestinal and respiratory membrane linings where they enter the bloodstream to provoke an immune response once reaching target organs.
Here is an overview of the two main features of the allergic immune response activated by antigens.
The first feature involves the production of antibody called immunoglobulin. The five major classes of immunoglobulin produced are IgA, IgE, IgM, IgG and IgD. IgE is the antibody predominantly associated with immediate hypersensitivity allergic reactions. IgG is the antibody predominantly more abundant in delayed types of hypersensitivity allergic reactions.
The second feature is the release of inflammatory chemical mediators from mast cells, such as histamines, prostaglandins, leukotrienes and cytokines. Mast cells are present in all body tissues, but are especially prominent in boundary areas of the body such as the nose, throat, lungs and gastrointestinal tract to act as a defensive barrier from pathogens from the outside world.
Allergic reactions are classified into four categories:
Type I– Immediate Hypersensitivity Reaction: An IgE-mediated reaction occurs within one to two hours after ingestion or inhalation of the antigen. The interaction of the released IgE antibody with the mast cell causes the release of a number of inflammatory chemical mediators. Mast cell activation can then lead to increased intestinal permeability that allows other food antigens to enter your system.
Type II – Cytotoxic Reaction: This reaction occurs when IgG or IgM antibodies are activated against food antigens that bind to and attack epithelial cells. This antibody-antigen complex then activates another part of the immune response, the complement cascade, which amplifies the response of this cell-killing membrane attack complex.
Type III – Immune Complex Mediated Reaction: Immune complexes of IgM and IgG immunoglobulins are formed and activate the recruitment of neutrophils and eosinophils to release chemical mediators causing inflammation, tissue destruction and mucosal ulceration. These reactions can take hours, days or weeks to develop.
Type IV – T-Cell Dependent Reaction: This is another type of delayed hypersensitivity that takes two to three days to develop. This is not mediated by immunoglobulin antibodies, but rather is a type of cell-mediated response by T-lymphocytes releasing cytokines that damages mucosal membranes. This type of reaction is believed to be more often associated with gluten-sensitive individuals.
There are some simple methods for attempting to assess reactive foods, such as the Elimination Diet and the Rotation Diet. These can help identify problem foods and reduce reactions in cases with multiple food allergies and sensitivities. However, the general misunderstanding is an assumption that all food reactions are “allergic” reactions due to the food antigen, which may not be the case. Also, mildly reactive foods can go undetected.
More sophisticated methods of analysis are required for identifying true allergic reactions. Conventional skin testing and radioallergosorbent test (RAST) can evaluate the immediate hypersensitivity reactions (IgE). Of the two, the RAST can be more accurate for evaluating immediate hypersensitivity reactions. However, neither is capable of evaluating delayed hypersensitivity reactions (IgG).
More commonly utilized are antibody production assays of IgG and IgM antibodies from blood. The Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) test is the most comprehensive as it evaluates both immediate hypersensitivity and delayed hypersensitivity reactions. The ELISA test is also very expensive, approaching a $500.00 price tag, which can be covered by insurance through a medical physician.
Despite the comprehensiveness of the ELISA test, it still does not provide answers to some important questions. This is not to dismiss the valuable information laboratory testing can provide, but rather to recognize it has limitations. We have to use caution with laboratory test results. Somewhat like politicians, they may not always tell you what they really mean. Test results do provide pieces of information, but often without an understanding of the larger context. Consider important areas of information these types of testing may be missing.
The Why? Question Is Not Addressed
Although conventional allergy laboratory testing can provide valuable information it cannot identify the reason(s) behind why an allergic response to certain foods is occurring, especially to foods generally considered to be less reactive or with multiple food allergies. So the cause of the allergic reaction remains a mystery and the underlying problem is not addressed.
Consider, however, that allergic reactions to foods may also serve as an indicator of organ dysfunction caused by metal, chemical, biological or other functional interferences that are unrelated to the antigens. In other words, various foods also contain specific therapeutic factors that may antagonize or attempt to counteract these interferences by stimulating the cell function of the hosting organ to induce an immune response. Without proper support to enhance normal pathways of function an allergic response may result as the body’s best attempt to manage with what is available.
Some Allergic Reactions May Be Unrelated To Food Antigens.
The following presents several of many clinical examples of how allergic reactions may not be responses to food antigens.
1) A mother brought her eight year old child to my office. She had with her the ELISA test results at this appointment. His test results indicated that he had multiple food allergies, but was also highly sensitive to blueberry. I found that interesting because blueberry is typically not considered a highly reactive fruit. I used my nonconventional testing technique using blueberry as the chemical stressor. This led me back to his liver where I discovered the chemical interference was caused by a vaccine. However, this was not the only issue behind his food allergies. The heavy metal mercury was also causing functional interference that needed to be addressed. What is mistaken as simply an allergic reaction to blueberry antigen was actually a functional interference triggering an allergic immune response. Once the context of the allergic reactions was known he could be correctly treated to reduce the number of reactions and the severity.
2) A three year old was not tested through laboratory testing to confirm an allergic reaction, but his mother explained he would develop a horrible body rash when exposed to coconut oil. Again my nonconventional testing technique led me back to his liver where the chemical interference was the HIB vaccine.
3) A woman in her thirties was unable to conceive. Medical physicians were unable to provide an explanation because there were no hormonal or physiological indications of something wrong and her husband was tested and found to produce adequate viable counts. Her husband, who was a patient of mine, asked if there could be something else they were not finding. So I suggested he make an appointment for her and I would check.
Her health history revealed she had a known food allergy to carrots, which was documented in laboratory testing. As it turned out I found a subclinical infection of bacteria buried in her spleen that was triggered by carrots. This is important information when you understand the principles of Chinese medicine. The spleen plays a greater role than simply as a lymph organ for the blood. From a Chinese medicine perspective is also intimately related to reproductive organs in women. They went back to their medical physician to ask if this was possible. The physician’s response: “Naaaaaaah!”
As it turned out, the couple decided to do the treatment to clear out the latent infection. Soon after the therapy she not only quickly became pregnant, but she no longer had an allergic reaction to carrots. So again we see the allergic reaction to carrots was actually from antibodies produced against the subclinical bacterial infection.
Reactions Can Mimic Symptoms Of An Allergic Response
Another consideration of conventional laboratory testing is when foods known to be reactive to the patient are not indicated on the test results. This can be somewhat discouraging to some patients and causes them to dismiss the validity of the entire test. This is my point: An allergic-type response can be caused by the therapeutic properties of the food rather than the food antigen.
There are many examples of patients having a known reactions to foods such as eggs, walnuts, garlic, tomato, orange and olive oil, to name few, yet the test results were negative for an allergic reaction. Most often this brings us back to the issue of heavy metals and toxic chemicals. These substances can cause functional interferences, yet do not activate the allergic response cascade. A food may produce similar symptoms, such as red eyes, flushing, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, labored breathing, tachycardia, bowel gas, water retention and other symptoms depending on what and where the toxin is, but it is not a true allergic reaction. These substances can alter normal chemistry balance, which is usually already compromised to some degree. In the attempt to eliminate these functional interferences, the body may choose to use alternate quick exits. If not, the toxins go into circulation to cause other responses, without increased immunoglobulin production.
Functional Food Sensitivities Do Not Always Cause A Detectable Response
There is another issue missed by the testing and even the patient: Not all functional food sensitivities produce obvious symptoms. In fact, some foods may appear to be fine, yet can actually contribute to a cycle of imbalance to mask the real problem.
One more example is an individual with a subclinical parasite infection. Having gone undetected for years by conventional medical testing this person would eat corn because it helped his bowels move. His observation had reasonable basis in Chinese medicine since corn is associated with the large intestine and stimulates intestinal function. However, at the same time he was feeding the parasites. This kept him in stuck in his cycle of the debilitating Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Keep in mind that IBS is a syndrome, meaning the cause is unknown in the medical world. Today some medical physicians are gaining some nutritional sense and generally assume it is a lactose intolerance or even genetic. However, we then come full circle again to the question of whether this is a reaction specifically to the lactose or other the components of the food. If it was genetic then why do these often develop later in life?
Quite often parents who were once frustrated with their child’s multiple food allergies and functional sensitivities will tell me how their child eventually “grew out” of their allergies. The observation is true, but there is a reason why this happens. As the child grows they go into deeper compensation, sometimes developing different symptoms.
As you can tell, food allergies and functional food sensitivities are complex issues that have underlying causes. Address the issues properly early and you will have better health for it.
©Copyright 2012 Dr. Stephen C. L’Hommedieu, D.C. All Rights Reserved
Disclaimer: The content of this material is based upon the opinions, research, and clinical practice of Dr. L’Hommedieu who retains copyright as marked. The information contained here is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. L’Hommedieu. Dr. L’Hommedieu always encourages you to make your own health care choices based upon your own research in conjunction with a qualified health care professional.