In some cases allergens serve to exacerbate the condition, in other cases the allergen itself is the root cause of the problem. The bottom line is that the identification of and elimination of these allergens is paramount to the maintenance of one’s health.
Allergies have been associated with anxiety, aphthous stomatitis, asthma, atopic dermatitis, ADHD, autoimmune diseases, chronic candidiasis, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, dermatitis herpetiformis, epilepsy, gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, multiple sclerosis, otitis media, peptic ulcers, rheumatoid arthritis, rosacea, sinusitis and probably countless others.
Here are a few of the listed health problems that have an association with allergens:
1. “Canker Sore” (aphthous stomatitis): It goes without saying that our mouth (lips, gums, cheeks) is exposed to food allergens (e.g. gluten). What might not seem as obvious is that it is also the first site of contact for inhaled allergens. The appearance of the cells of an ulcer, the antibodies found in the blood and the associated atopy all suggest an allergic association. According to Murray and Pizzorno frequent allergens not related to food include: Benzoic acid; Cinnamaldehyde; Nickel; Parabens; Dichromate and Sorbic acid.
2. Asthma: There are many studies demonstrating the important role that food allergies play in asthma. The reactions could be immediate or delayed. Allergens shown to have an immediate response include: egg, fish, shellfish, nuts, and peanuts. More delayed responses have been seen with milk, chocolate, wheat, citrus, and food colorings. When there is a strong family history of allergies, elimination of common allergens for the first two years of life is suggested. Airborne allergens like pollen, dander, and dust mites may play a significant role in asthma as well.
3. Eczema (atopic dermatitis): Studies have shown breastfeeding to offer significant prophylaxis against eczema and allergies in general. There may need to be some avoidance of common allergens by the mother in higher risk cases. “Leaky gut” is thought to be responsible for the development of food allergies. Increased permeability of the gut increases probability of food allergies. It is important to determine which are the offending foods and eliminate them for upwards of a year. The initial offending foods may create an environment in the gut that leads to development of allergies that were not originally an issue.
4. ADHD: We have all heard that “you are what you eat”, apparently our behavior may also be influenced by what eat. One study showed immediate EEG wave changes (i.e. electrical activity in brain) with ingestion of previously identified sensitizing foods. Both food allergies and ADHD have been found to be associated with sleep disturbances including sleep apnea and snoring. Perhaps the quality of sleep in turn contributes to the degree of attention deficit in some people. Improved sleep with diet modifications has been demonstrated.
5. Autoimmune Diseases: The association between autoimmune diseases, intestinal permeability and food allergy is undeniable. There are more overt issues with gluten in Celiac’s disease but there are also those who harbor subclinical allergies to wheat and other foods that may play a role. An elimination and detox diet may be used to decrease antigen load and to work on repair of the gut.
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6. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS): The association between chronic fatigue and food allergies goes back as far as 1930. Symptoms of CFS can include fatigue, muscle and joint aches, drowsiness, difficulty in concentration, nervousness, and depression. Between “55% and 85% of individuals with CFS have allergies.”
7. Gluten Allergies: Dermatitis herpetiformis are lesions that are associated with allergies to gluten. Sometimes however simply removing gluten is not enough. A chronic history and damage to the gut with consequent increased permeability of the gut may result in the development of other food allergies.
There are different theories explaining the relationship between allergens and disease states. More often than not things are multi-factorial. Perhaps it simply relates to the inflammatory load that is placed on our bodies and that we need to decrease the load put on our bodies and rest our organ systems. These issues can be quite convoluted and it is this author’s opinion that patients do best when they work with a healthcare provider that is trained in natural forms of medicine, diet modifications and detoxification. Naturopathic physicians are ideal healthcare team members to help facilitate your path back to health.