When you are exposed to an allergic food, your immune system produces an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). As a result, your body releases histamine among other chemicals that cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction. The allergic response can be triggered by even the smallest exposure to the allergen, depending on the severity of the food allergy. Immediate reactions to foods are almost always IgE-mediated. Allergenic foods can also trigger a non-IgE mediated immune response, or both. Typically when both IgE-mediated and non-IgE-mediated reactions occur, the gastrointestinal tract (GI) is involved.
A person can be allergic to any food; however, there are eight common allergens:
- Cow’s milk
- Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts etc.)
It is important to distinguish between a true food allergy and other negative reactions to foods that are not food allergies. Some examples are food intolerances (e.g., lactose intolerance caused by a missing enzyme that helps break down a sugar found in milk), Celiac’s disease, and food poisoning. Although these are all abnormal responses to foods, and symptoms can be similar, the mechanisms are different from the immunological reaction that occurs in food allergy.
Food Allergy Epidemic
Food allergy is a growing public health concern that can affect any age. It is estimated that as many as 15 million people have food allergies in the United States.1 Of them, nearly 6 million, or 8%, of children have food allergies with young children being most affected.2,3 According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies have increased 18% from 1997 to 2007.3
You are at a greater risk of having a food allergy if you have a parent with any type of allergic disease (eczema, asthma, allergic rhinitis (comprising the Atopic Triad), eosinophilicgastrointestinal diseases, food allergies, or environmental allergies). Likewise, if you have a food allergy, you are more likely to have other allergic diseases.
Further, a study published in the Annals of Allergy (1994) examined the role of food allergy in serous otitis media and found a 78% association between food allergy and recurring serous otitis media. This carries significance in the pediatric population prone to ear infections.4
Childhood allergies to cow’s milk, egg, wheat and soy generally resolve in childhood, however, they appear to be resolving more slowly than in previous decades, with many children still allergic beyond 5 years of age. Peanut and tree nut allergies also tend to develop in childhood and the prevalence appears to have tripled between 1997 and 2008.5
Researchers are unsure why food allergies and other allergic conditions are on the rise. One hypothesis called the hygiene hypothesis suggests an overly sanitary environment does not allow children’s immune systems the opportunities to fight off germs. A maturing immune system must be educated so it will function properly. When this doesn’t happen, a derailed immune system tends to overreact to harmless substances, such as pollen and food.
- The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN). Food Allergy Facts and Statistics in the U.S. Retrieved from http://www.foodallergy.org/page/facts-and-stats
- Ruchi S. Gupta, Elizabeth E. Springston, Manoj R. Warrier, Bridget Smith, Rajesh Kumar, Jacqueline Pongracic, Jane L. Holl. The Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States. Pediatrics, 2011; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-0204
- Branum AM, Lukacs SL. Food Allergy Among U.S. Children: Trends in Prevalence and Hospitalizations. NCHS Data Brief. No. 10. October 2008. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Nsouli TM, Nsouli SM, Linde RE, O’Mara F, Scanlon RT, Bellanti JA.Role of food allergy in serous otitis media. Ann Allergy. 1994 Sep;73(3):215-9.
- Sicherer SH, Muñoz-Furlong A, Godbold JH, Sampson HA. US prevalence of self-reported peanut, tree nut, and sesame allergy: 11-year follow-up. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, May 12, 2010 DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2010.03.029
An allergic reaction to food can vary in its onset of symptoms and severity.
Some immediate reactions can be life-threatening (i.e., anaphylaxis) and are medical emergencies. Delayed reactions to food are often also less severe, but nevertheless cause significant problems. This can make it difficult to associate symptoms with a particular food, and often times, individuals are not aware their symptoms are due to food allergy.
The table below summarizes possible allergic reactions that can be caused by food.6
|Affected Part of the Body||Immediate Symptoms||Delayed Symptoms|
|Skin||Hives/Urticaria/Nettle-type rashItchingRednessSwelling/Edema||Same as Immediate SymptomsEczema rash (a.k.a. Atopic Dermatitis)|
|HEENT*||Face and Lips:
turning blue, swellingEyes: itching, watery, blood shotNose: runny, itching, congestion,
swelling of lips, tongue and/or
throat, itching in the mouthDizzinessFaintness
|Eyes: itching, watery, bloodshot,
swelling around eyesNose: runny, itching, congestion,
|Chest||Shortness of breathTightness of chestWheezingCoughRapid heartbeat (possibly slow
heart beat if in anaphylaxis)Low blood pressureLoss of consciousness
|CoughShortness of breathWheezing|
|Digestive||NauseaVomitingStomach painRefluxDiarrhea||Same as ImmediateConstipationBlood in stoolGas & bloating|
|Other||Sense of impending doom||In children: irritability, refusal to eat,
weight loss, failure to thrive
*HEENT: head, eyes, ears, nose, throat
There is no single gold standard for diagnosing a food allergy. Diagnosis may rely on skin and blood tests, but alone these test are not enough. A thorough medical history and physical exam, diet diaries and elimination diets are more reliable ways to diagnose a true food allergy.
If you suspect a food allergy, it is important to seek the advice of a healthcare professional. One in 3 people suspect they have a food allergy; however, only about 1 in 28 people actually do. Self-diagnosing a food allergy can lead to unnecessary food avoidance, resulting in poor nutrition that affects your quality of life.6
6. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States: Summary for Patients, Families and Caregivers. NIH Publication no. 11-7699. May 2011.
Standard conventional treatment for food allergy is primarily by dietary avoidance. Once the allergic food is identified it must be removed from the diet. This can be a painstaking process for those allergic to foods commonly used in preparation of other foods, such as baked goods (dairy), mayonnaise (eggs) and many processed foods.
If an allergenic food has been consumed, over the counter medications can be used for temporary relief of symptoms. For example, antihistamines can be useful if hives, runny nose, sneezing, swelling or gastrointestinal symptoms are experienced. However, antihistamines will only prevent the body’s release of histamine during an allergic reaction from affecting the tissues. Antihistamines do not stop the reaction, but they do prevent the reaction from triggering symptoms. In other cases, bronchodilators can be helpful if the person experiences asthma symptoms.
People with severe food allergies that have the potential to cause an anaphylactic reaction are typically prescribed autoinjectable epinephrine (e.g., EpiPen).
Alternative treatments for food allergies are available. Homeopathy provides effective yet gentle treatment for children and adults with food allergies, without harmful side effects. Homeopathic medicines are made from natural substances and are prepared so that they are entirely non-toxic. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, regulates the manufacture and sale of homeopathic medicines. Homeopathy improves health by gently promoting the body’s innate capacity to heal and restore balance.
Benefits of homeopathic treatment for food allergies:
- Homeopathy can work rapidly, providing relief from allergic symptoms, sometimes within only a few hours.
- Homeopathy strengthens your body, making you less affected by the allergy-causing foods.
- Homeopathy can prevent you from developing new food allergies.
- Homeopathy helps your body heal itself. When taken over time, homeopathic remedies help you heal on a very deep level, and in the process can eliminate your allergies once and for all.
- Homeopathic treatment involves a complete analysis of your allergy symptoms and you as a whole person. Therefore, properly prescribed homeopathic remedies can also eliminate many other health concerns.
Rotation diet: A treatment approach that consists of avoiding certain foods on a temporary basis. Rotation diets may help to lessen exposure to allergic foods, thus decreasing symptoms experienced from food allergies. Rotation diets should not be used by people with severe food reactions.
- Digestive enzymes before a meal to help to break down complex proteins and speed up digestion, especially if eating the allergic food
- Proteolytic Enzymes help to break down proteins and may be helpful in people with food allergies. An example is bromelain (Note: Those with allergies to pineapple should avoid thissupplement)
- Omega 3’s have important anti-inflammatory properties. A good fish oil supplement with the proper amounts of essential fatty acids DHA and (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), can help to alleviate symptoms associated with food allergies
- Probiotics improves the balance of gut flora (bacteria), resulting in better digestion and functioning of the immune system. Studies also demonstrate that probiotics are helpful in related atopic dermatitis, particularly in infants and young children.7
- Quercetin is a flavonoid that has marked anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, to your diet. Quercetin is also known for its ability to stabilize mast cells and help control allergies.
- Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioca) has a long history as a medicinal plant. It helps to inhibit certain inflammatory and allergy markers.
Cybele Pascal’s The Whole Foods Allergy Cookbook provides easy-to-follow recipes for food allergic families using nutritious whole foods. All recipes are free of the top eight allergens: dairy, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish or shellfish and also refined sugar.
“Dr. Kwan’s knowledge and ability to relate to each of her patients far exceeds that of any expectation. Prior to our initial visit, my infant daughter suffered from several food related allergies. Through her vast expertise, personal experiences and passion for natural medicine, Dr. Kwan devised a plan to not only relieve the symptoms but also eliminate a majority of the food allergies. Our family is forever grateful for her compassionate care.”
“Before seeing Dr. Kwan, any type of food could make me sick with no warning. There was no rhyme or reason and no pattern so I couldn’t even avoid what would bother me. Since I never knew what would make me sick I avoided going out to restaurants with friends and never tried new things. With the help of Dr. Kwan’s homeopathy, I no longer fear food. Dr. Kwan’s detailed intakes of my symptoms lead her to prescribe the correct remedy. I am happy to say that now I can eat whatever I want and no longer fear the side effects of eating. Thank you Dr. Kwan; I will forever be grateful to you.”