Food allergies: They’re difficult and complicated, and most people are hesitant to name them since they require a dietary shift away from some of our most commonly eaten foods. The reality is that the standard American diet is heavily based on foods that classify as allergens: wheat (gluten), milk, eggs, soy, corn, tree nuts, shellfish, etc.
Two of the most common offenders? Dairy and gluten (wheat). Dairy intolerance is often attributed to a lack of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose, a complex sugar found in dairy. Gluten sensitivity, also known as celiac sprue, is due to a physical abnormality in the intestinal lining. (It’s important to note that gluten is pervasive, and sneaks its way into many foods that may not be obvious.)
Common symptoms of food allergies include itching, nausea, vomiting, headaches, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, indigestion (gas and bloating), hives, eczema, asthma, fatigue and anaphylaxis. Here are a few steps for figuring out whether these symptoms may be indicative of a food allergy or sensitivity.
1) Keep a food diary, including the food you ingest and the digestive effects.
2) Try an elimination diet, whereby you remove the top suspected allergens for several weeks. If the associated symptoms disappear, one can assume that these foods are culprits. You may slowly reintroduce each food item one at a time to determine if the symptoms return.
Note: Conventional practitioners tend to use blood tests, skin tests and food challenges, but none are 100 percent conclusive in detecting underlying sensitivities. Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine also offer NAET testing, which works differently then conventional testing.
In addition to genetics, food allergies/sensitivities can stem from two main issues: Intestinal dysbiosis, in which the intestinal flora is out of balance; or leaky gut syndrome, in which food particles escape the intestines and enter the blood stream. Though we can’t change genetics, we can address the other issues with some of the following supplements:
- Daily supplementation with probiotics will help to repopulate the gut with healthy flora. Ones to try: New Chapter Probiotic All-Flora, Jarrow Formulas Jarro-Dophilus, Megafood Megaflora
- Fish oil can greatly help to reduce inflammation associated with food allergies. Ones to try: Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega, New Chapter Wholemega
- Digestive enzymes assist in the breakdown/digestion of food. Ones to try: Enzymedica Digest Gold, Integrative Therapeutics Similase, Rainbow Light Advanced Enzyme System
- Leaky Gut Syndrome may be addressed through the use of L-glutamine, gamma Oryzanol, N-Acetyl D-Glucosamine and herbs such as ginger, calendula, marshmallow and cranesbill. Find them all in Renew Life IntestiNew.
Though supplementation can truly help address food sensitivities, there are certain food allergens that may need to be avoided entirely. The good news is that there are now so many replacement foods to choose from—even in restaurants—that you can maintain a healthy diet and stay away from allergens. Thanks to a growing awareness of food intolerances, there are also many resources to assist in finding alternative food choices.
Kate Brainard, is a naturopathic doctor based in San Diego, California. A graduate of Bastyr University’s doctorate program in Naturopathic Medicine, she works for Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy, a holistic pharmacy staffed with expert practitioners. She currently manages the Pharmaca in La Jolla and spends time educating customers on supplements, health and lifestyle choices.