As I spoke about in last week’s article Figuring out Food Allergies and Sensitivities, there are a few types of sensitivities to foods. These can manifest in a variety of ways, including joint pain, eczema, asthma, sinus and digestive problems. Although there are many factors that may contribute to these types of issues, foods can and often do play a role. So once you have figured out the foods to which you are sensitive, what can you do about them? In essence, we have two options: foods to which you will always have a sensitivity (true allergens) and food sensitivities that can be modified and improved over time.
For some food allergies, the only solution is avoidance. Often allergies to things like shellfish, peanuts or tree nuts tend to be persistent throughout life. The reaction to these allergens tends to be fast, and can be severe, resulting in inflammation in the digestive tract, skin or lungs. This can manifest as stomachaches, vomiting, rash or even anaphylaxis. In the case of celiac disease, the reaction isn’t always so immediate or severe but the need for complete lifelong avoidance is the same.
If this is the case for you, the good news is that there are so many healthy and delicious alternatives. Compared to 10 years ago, there are so many readily available foods that are well marked and free of common allergens. Frequenting the natural foods aisle of the grocery store or shopping at a “health food” store can often make this process a bit easier. This is because there are often fewer “hidden” ingredients such as egg albumin, corn syrup, whey protein, or wheat starch in some of the more natural brands. All food products are now required by law to state common allergens contained in them, which also can make things easier. Check back in weeks to come for more specific advice on avoiding common allergens such as gluten and dairy.
For some food reactions, it is possible to eliminate or at least decrease your sensitivity. I often see people with sensitivities to proteins in wheat, dairy, soy, egg, and many less common allergens that can improve over time. Especially in adults, new allergies may appear or old ones may become more severe after significant illness, stress, or hormonal changes such as pregnancy or menopause. Improvement will often be seen using a few basic approaches to decreasing reactivity to foods:
Avoid reactive foods
The first step to healing is to completely remove any allergens or irritants (I usually start with 4-6 weeks). Often, just doing this will decrease or eliminate reactivity. When we give the body a break from the source of irritation, swelling and antibodies will decrease. This will allow the areas of chronic irritation to heal and become less prone to inflammation when they are re-exposed to the allergen.
Heal the digestive tract
Did you know that approximately 80% of the immune cells in your body reside in the large intestine? The digestive system is our body’s first direct contact with much of the outside world, so it makes sense that much of our defense against bacteria, viruses and other invaders including allergens is here. If there is any chronic irritation or dysbiosis in the digestive tract, our ability to properly break down and absorb foods will be compromised. This can lead to further reactivity once food particles enter the bloodstream. If we can correct any imbalance in the flora (either infectious or from a lack of proper bacteria), eliminate swelling, and heal the cells that line the digestive tract this can decrease our overall sensitivity to foods. Beyond just avoiding offending foods, we can also add appropriate probiotics and herbs to heal the digestive cells which can further improve your results. If appropriate, we can also use antiiflammatory herbs and colostrum to decrease the overall tendency towards inflammation.
Improve the function of the liver
The liver is the body’s processing plant. It looks at everything that comes into the bloodstream, decides whether the body needs it or not, and packages it appropriately to be used by the cells or excreted as waste. If it is functioning relatively slowly, things that should become wastes or broken down further may continue circulating in the bloodstream, which can cause increased inflammation. When we boost liver function by eating foods such as beets, leafy greens, and artichokes, we can process wastes more quickly and decrease the probability of inappropriately reacting to particles in the bloodstream.