An allergen is anything that causes an allergic reaction. This is a reaction in the body where the immune response is to make antibodies, creating sensitivity to the substance that initiated the response. Continued exposure increases the response and allergic symptoms manifest.
Hypersensitivity, food sensitivity or food intolerance, is a broader term which means any bad reaction attributed to food or food components, including artificial colours, flavours, and preservatives.
Visible signs of food intolerance in children
- Puffy face, especially under eyes
- Dark circles under eyes, also called allergic shiners
- Horizontal wrinkles running from the corners of the eyes
- Cheeks and lips dry and scaly, with the corners of the lips cracked
- The base of the ears where they join the face may be red and cracked
- Eyelashes wet and stuck together at the ends
- Horizontal crease near the end of the nose from the child pushing the runny nose up with the back of the arm – called the ‘allergic salute’
- A musty odour that is similar to fresh hay or bread is detected, especially from the hair. This can show a grain/wheat yeast intolerance.
- Behaviour – rhythmic banging of the head on the pillow at night, or moving the legs.
- Uncontrollable, clumsy, disobedient, hyperactive behaviour – once other obvious factors have first been ruled out.
There have been good results from schools taking all preservatives and additives out of the daily school lunch choices, with parents also doing this at home, so this would be a first step in reducing symptoms.
Next, discuss the child’s diet and plan a healthy diet that rotates foods so the body is not continually exposed to the same foods. Look at what the child’s favourite foods are and analyse the frequency and quantity there is in the diet. Modify to bring about moderation. In light that this food is possibly causing the problem it is important to take steps to reduce or remove the food from the diet in a way that is gentle on the body. A sudden removal of the food could cause severe withdrawal symptoms and if the child gets the food due to the difficulty of this period, for example by a parent who wants to ‘cheer the child up’, it will strengthen the child’s desire for that food, because the food will immediately satisfy the body’s stimulating phase. So gradual changes would be recommended.
Endorphins in relation to food allergens
Food allergens can have an effect on the body similar to addictive drugs. These foods are usually eaten at regular intervals and if missed in the diet for a short time, will make the person feel ‘bad’. This is the first sign of withdrawal symptoms.
An allergen causes stress to the body, and the body responds to this stress by releasing specific hormones, such as adrenaline and endorphins. These chemicals react on the brain in a similar way to opiates, and cause an immediate response such as reducing pain receptors. They can also give people a temporary sense of well being, and even euphoria.
Withdrawal symptoms can last about 4-5 days, with cravings for the food containing the allergen ascending. If the food is reintroduced to the body, the withdrawal phase is replaced by the stimulating phase.
One of the most common food sensitivities is intolerance to lactose. This naturally occurring sugar, made up of glucose and galactose, requires the enzyme lactase to be broken into its separate components in the human digestive tract. This enzyme is present in nursing babies, and tends to diminish as the child grows, and some adults lose the ability to create lactase at all. Undigested lactose passes through the small intestine to the colon, drawing in water. In the colon, natural bacteria cause the lactose to ferment producing acids and gas. This all results in the symptoms of lactose intolerance which may include abdominal pain, bloating, wind and/or diarrhoea.
It is known that a temporary lactose intolerance may occur due to untreated coeliac disease. The lactase enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose is produced at the tips of the villi that line the surface of the small intestine. In those with untreated coeliac disease, the damage to the villi may affect their ability to produce lactase. The good news is that once a gluten free diet is established and the villi recover, lactase production returns to normal in most people with coeliac disease. Once this occurs, the lactose intolerance will usually resolve.
Lactose intolerance can vary in severity and the amount of lactose tolerated will vary widely depending on the level of lactase deficiency, the amount of lactose consumed and whether other foods are eaten at the same time.
However, an individual can be allergic to milk as well. That individual would have the above symptoms, but would most likely also display systemic symptoms, such as nasal congestion, headache, urinary frequency, hives and protein loss through the urine. This individual could even have both food sensitivity and allergy to lactose, however, studies have shown that many cases of suspected allergy to lactose actually are in fact intolerance, not allergy.
Tests for food intolerance
Cytotoxic Food Allergy Test – Cytotoxic food tests involve the response of specially collected white blood cells to the presence of food extracts to which an individual is allergic. A technician observes the unstained cells for changes in shape and appearance of the leukocytes and grades them slight, moderate or severe.
Food Cytotoxic Testing screens for possible sensitivity reactions to 110 or 60 everyday foods, additives, sweeteners and colours.
While the test has its disadvantages, its main use is to uncover a possible food sensitivity that has been missed after dietary manipulation and food challenge.
RAST or radioallergosorbent test – Laboratory technicians add the likely allergen, bonded to a solid polymer, to the patient’s blood. While there may be a large quantity of immunoglobulin E (IgE) — the major antibody that binds to allergens in allergic reactions — in the blood, the type that binds to each allergen is slightly different, and is referred to as allergen-specific IgE.
If the patient is allergic to the allergen being tested for, allergen-specific IgE will attach to the allergen and other IgE (from anything else the patient is allergic to) will float freely in the blood. The blood is then “washed,” leaving the allergen and any of the patient’s attached allergen-specific IgE.
A serum of radioactive anti-IgE, which is derived from people who are known to be allergic to the allergen being tested for, is then added, allowing technicians to determine the concentration of allergen-specific IgE in the patient’s blood.
Chemical challenge – or blood sugar fluctuation test– a stress reaction in the body can be judged by a sudden rise or fall in blood sugar levels, especially if there is no large sugar intake. The potential allergen is ingested and a glucometer is used soon after to record any change. This machine measures the glucose concentration in a small droplet of blood obtained by pricking the finger.
The pulse test – Dr Arthur Coca discovered that pulse rates sometimes went up after a person ate a food that contained an allergen. If the pulse is elevated 16 beats/minute above normal, the food contains an allergen. This test has limitations, as not all food and chemical sensitivities manifest with increased heart rate. Also watch for post meal changes in body temperature and blood pressure. Physiological changes related to food and/or chemical intake are important to observe, but may not all occur together.
Drop in urinary ascorbic acid concentration test – an allergic response is the stimulation of the immune system. The leukocytes or white blood cells – in turn store high concentrations of vitamin C. After an acute food reaction, blood and leukocyte levels of vitamin C may drop off and this is reflected in the urine. The urinary vitamin C levels can be measured with ‘C-Stix’, a chemical reagent stick that is dipped int the urine to cause a colour change indicative of the vitamin C level in the urine which ranges from 0-40mg/dl. Urine is measured in this way before and after the meal to observe any large changes. A sudden drop may indicate an adverse food reaction.
Dr. Robert Buist states that whenever staple foods are withdrawn completely from the diet or their frequency of consumption is reduced severely, there is the possibility that nutritional deficiencies will arise.
If dairy products are reduced or removed from the diet, one needs to look at what this will do to levels of B2 or riboflavin, as dairy is our major source of this vitamin. B2 deficiency is even more likely if B6 is administered, because B6 takes up B2 in the course of biological reactions. Signs and symptoms include; sore, gritty, burning and light sensitive eyes; sore purplish tongue; cracked lips; hair loss; and eczema. These reverse very quickly when supplemented with B2. We must be aware of this possibility, as deficiency signs can be mistaken for allergy symptoms.
Vegetarians need special consideration to their food sources for the essential amino acids, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and calcium, especially if they are intolerant to eggs or/and milk. These people could also develop a sensitivity to legumes, grains, seeds and nuts, so keep these foods well rotated whilst ensuring food combinations have all the essential amino acids.
Alternative food sources of riboflavin must be taken from soybeans, turnip greens, broccoli, mustard greens, asparagus, spinach, watercress, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, squash and some other vegetables. For meat eaters, offal is a god source.
Some of the best alternative sources for calcium are sesame seeds, tahini, almonds, adzuki beans, lima beans, soy beans, mustard greens, watercress, broccoli and cabbage. The best vegetable source of B12 is possibly spirulina.
If there is a doubt of nutritional adequacy in the diet, a broad spectrum multi vitamin and mineral supplement is a good idea.
It is also important to consider fibre content. Ensure adequate fibre is in the diet rotation by adding whole corn, lentils, beans, peas, rice, sprouts, seeds, nuts and a great variety of vegetables. Fibre content has an impact on hormonal levels through a component called pectin. This activates the carbohydrate digesting enzyme in the pancreas alpha-amylase, enhancing digestion.
Rhinitis – a nutritional approach
Rhinitis is a medical term for irritation and inflammation of the mucous membrane inside the nose. Common symptoms of rhinitis are a stuffy nose, runny nose, and post-nasal drip. The most common kind of rhinitis is allergic rhinitis, which is usually triggered by airborne allergens such as pollen and dander. Allergic rhinitis may cause additional symptoms, such as sneezing and nasal itching, coughing, headache, fatigue, malaise, and cognitive impairment. The allergens may also affect the eyes, causing watery, reddened or itchy eyes and puffiness around the eyes. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhinitis)
One prevailing theory is that of antigenic load, whereupon it is hypothesized that an excessive amount of antigenic stimulus overwhelms the immune system, leading to inflammatory responses. For instance, exposure to small amounts of allergens may not typically amount to symptoms, until simultaneous exposure to a number of antigens leads to “spillover” of symptoms. It is thought that in this manner, the immune system can deal adequately with substances that it perceives as allergens when exposed in limited quantities; however, when continually bombarded by allergens, or presented with several different allergens, the immune system is overwhelmed, and as such, symptoms appear. Likewise, repeated chronic immune response to allergens can overwhelm the immune system when we are tired, stressed, or in otherwise less than optimal health. And, it may be possible that sensitivities may contribute to the “load” mentioned here as well.
One of the most direct ways to lighten the antigenic load is by identifying and removing food allergens. A subject unto itself, food allergies and sensitivities play a key role in resolving many physical symptoms in people, including allergic responses. When we look at foods as a culprit, this makes complete sense, as they comprise the largest pool of antigenic challenges to the immune system. (http://next-level-nutrition.com/?p=1934)
To find the food that contains allergens, one would under take the elimination and food challenge test. Do this with a health professional for best results.
The elimination diet involves removing specific foods or ingredients from your diet because you and your doctor think they may be causing allergy symptoms. Common allergy-causing foods include milk, eggs, nuts, wheat, and soy.
1. Stop eating suspicious foods. If a certain food is removed and the allergy symptoms go away while following this diet, that confirms the food may be the cause of the allergy.
While on the diet, ensure other foods with the same nutrients replace the food removed from the diet.
2. Slowly add back in suspicious foods, one at a time.
After eliminating or taking foods out of the diet, gradually reintroduce into your diet the foods were being avoiding. Add them one at a time over time. This process helps link allergy symptoms to specific foods.
3. Last, once again to stop eating the foods (one at a time) that are believed to be causing the allergy symptoms. The list should be smaller this time. The goal is to see if the symptoms clear up for good.
It is key to record everything in a food diary, from foods eaten, feelings, symptoms, anything else that may come up.
Next Level Nutrition; viewed 8 February 2013
< http://next-level-nutrition.com/?p=1934 l> 2000
Wikipedia; viewed 8 February 2013
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhinitis > last modified on 10 December 2012
About.com; viewed 7 February 2013-02-01
Australian Biologics; viewed 7 February 2013
Coeliac Australia; viewed 7 Feb. 2013
Web MD; viewed 8 Feb. 2013