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Food allergies may be one of the most prevalent health problems in our country and are certainly the biggest problem that I see in my clinic. But if you're like most of my patients, you're probably thinking, "Not me, I don't have a food allergy."
Most people think they have a pretty good idea about food allergies. They may know someone who has one and think, "My problem isn't like theirs." Or they may just think that food allergies normally result in hives, a rash, or some kind of medical emergency.
In fact, food allergies can be the cause of many chronic health problems.
What Is An Allergy?
An allergy is what results when your immune system is inappropriately activated. Your immune system is designed to attack bacteria, viruses and parasites. It is not intended to attack the food you eat. But this is exactly what happens with some people. This is called a "food allergy" or "food intolerance."
When your immune system is activated, antibodies (also called immunoglobulins) are produced. Antibodies in turn trigger an inflammatory response. Inflammation causes pain and tissue damage, leading to further symptoms. Increased mucous production is another aspect of an immune response.
When a food is broken down and absorbed, it is distributed through your bloodstream to all of your tissues. Therefore an allergic reaction can occur just about anywhere in your body.
We don't really understand why a food allergy can exhibit itself so differently in different people. However, every individual is unique and seems to have a unique weak point where symptoms of a food allergy show up first.
Why Do People Have Food Allergies?
There are many theories about why people develop a food allergy, and there are probably several causes. We know that some food allergies are genetic in origin and are detected in both parents and children.
Regardless of the cause of food allergies, when it comes to food, we are not created equal. If you suffer from health problems that seem mysterious, maybe the answer is closer than you think.
Why Is It So Difficult to Detect Your Own Food Allergy?
The difficulty is in connecting the symptoms with your eating habits. You eat every day, yet your symptoms seem to vary in intensity, or come and go. Often you don't associate the problem with the food because the feedback isn't immediate enough or you're eating the food too often.
Even if you only eat something 2 or 3 times per week, it may be causing you significant problems.
"But my symptoms change in severity", you say. "So it can't be the food." Yes, but food allergies can exhibit themselves immediately after ingestion, an hour later, several hours later, or even the next day.
For example, I'll bet that you eat wheat and dairy, in some form, nearly every day. If that's the case, then how can you be sure that they are not causing you a problem if the symptom doesn't show up within 24 hours?
Which Foods Cause Food Allergies?
There is no simple answer because foods don't correlate with specific symptoms. The same food could cause any one of the problems on the symptoms of a food allergy list. In addition, the same symptom can be caused by a number of different foods.
Some of the more common allergies are:
- Wheat allergy and gluten allergy
- Peanut allergy
- Milk allergy (and lactose intolerance)
- Egg allergy
- Soy allergy
- Shellfish allergy
- Infant allergy (especially milk or wheat).
A further complication is that many people have multiple food allergies, and that any food has the potential be an allergen. That's why it's so important to do ELISA food allergy testing to check for food allergies.
Why It's Important to Identify Your Food Allergies
It may seem obvious that if you have a chronic health concern, you would like to solve it. But even if you're willing to live with the symptoms, you may be doing much more damage to your body than you realize.
For example, medical studies have shown that wheat allergy or gluten allergy is associated with several chronic diseases. They include osteoporosis, hypothyroidism, attention deficit disorder, Lupus, Sjogren's, scleroderma, intestinal cancer, and even infertility.
Studies have also clearly shown that food allergies interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Malabsorption can result in significant health problems. Examples are osteoporosis due to decreased calcium absorption, and iron deficiency anemia due to poor iron absorption.
As you can see, food allergies can cause much more than annoying gastrointestinal symptoms. And in some cases they cause no obvious symptoms until a chronic disease shows up later in life. Therefore it's important to detect and treat food allergies as early as possible.
Dr. Stephen Wangen
Center for Food Allergies
11300 Roosevelt Way NE Suite 100 Seattle, WA 98125 | 206-264-1111
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