How many times have we seen the commercials for allergy medications? During season changes, every commercial break, it’s so common we don’t even notice. Allergy medications take up a huge section at the pharmacy. In the U.S. it’s very normal to have allergy symptoms, especially in Houston. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, the environmental allergies start presenting symptoms and there you go, off to your local pharmacy trying to buy some relief from your stuffy nose, sneezing, itchy watery eyes. I bet you never considered that there were other options to help you with your allergies. But there are.
First, let’s take a look at the typical approach to allergies. Most medications available fall under the category of anti-histaminics. They are designed to decrease the production of histamine, a trigger for allergies and the culprit of many allergy symptoms. Yet, as good as some of these medications are at relieving allergy symptoms, they do nothing to prevent the onset.
Let me introduce you to the concept of functional medicine. Functional medicine is the concept of addressing the underlying causes of conditions rather than chasing symptoms. The premise is that supporting the function of the body inherently promotes alleviation of symptoms. Allergies are no exception.
One of the most common connections is food allergies / sensitivities. This is a commonly talked about subject in functional medicine, not just because it is related to seasonal allergies, but because it is the initiator of many common symptoms. The beauty of functional medicine when it comes to allergies is that many of the approaches used to help control symptoms are also part of the prevention process. A great example is quercetin. Quercetin is a long time proven anti-histaminic while at the same time an anti-inflammatory. So not only do you benefit from decreased histamine release, but you also promote the healing process in the gastrointestinal tract by reducing the level of inflammation.
The best thing you can do for yourself is food allergy or food sensitivity testing. But to start, you can try eliminating gluten’s, wheat’s, eggs and dairy. These are more than likely the causes of your dysfunctional gut or allergy symptoms. If you eliminate these, you will see an obvious decrease in histamine, and therefore an obvious decrease in symptoms.
You really shouldn’t have to suffer. Functional medicine is really the way to go if you want to eliminate allergies and the highly inconvenient symptoms that go along with them. When turning to functional medicine, you will find non- medicated, safer, healthier solutions that will also help heal your gastrointestinal functions, and in turn balancing out your immune system in general.
I have worked with several patients recently that have started developing rashes on the skin. Many of them have been to several doctors only to find that they don’t ever get a true solution to their problem. If you suffer from such a rash, you understand how frustrating they can be. Most traditional treatments come back to the use of steroid creams. As the story often goes in my clinic, patients are not interested in taking steroid creams. They realize that while they may provide symptomatic relief, they are not addressing the cause of the rash or other forms of skin irritation.
So why are rashes becoming so much more prevalent? There is a good chance that it is related to our environmental exposures, mostly our diet. Our diet has become a source of chronic exposure to highly allergenic substances. This is due to many reasons. I am still astonished as I continue to research all the ways our food supply is being adulterated. This manipulation of food has created substances that trigger our immune systems to become highly responsive against what we eat. So what does this have to do with your skin and development of a rash?
Skin and intestinal proteins are similar
It all goes back to the gastrointestinal tract. As the immune system becomes more reactive against the foods we ingest, particular proteins are isolated . The similarities between the proteins found in the gut and those known to exist in the skin make them both targets of the immune system. The result often ends up being a rash. At times this can progress to named conditions, the most common of which are psoriasis and eczema. However, these are far from the only conditions that manifest. While the link between the proteins of the skin and gut may be similar enough to predispose you to rashes and other skin reactions, it also provides the answer on how to control these problems.
That answer is food. Food should be a source of nourishment to our body. However, even the best foods can become toxic to use when isolated by the immune system. By eliminating the most problematic foods, you are likely to find solutions to your skin irritation. Let’s consider the role of histamine. Most rash and irritations of the skin are often accompanied by itching. This itching is not just a routine annoyance, it is a clue. When the immune cells in your gut are triggered, look out, because you are going to see an increase in histamine. Once it finds its way into your circulation, now there is a route to other areas of the body. From here, you begin to notice itching.
So let me not just leave you with the problem with your skin. I also want to offer you a solution. To address your rash and skin irritation, you must at a minimum do 2 things. These include fix the damage that has occurred to your gastrointestinal tract from exposure to insulting foods, as well as elimination of these foods. Repair of the gut requires specific nutrients such as glutamine in the right amounts. When it comes to eliminating foods that may be the source of your skin irritation, there is no better place to start than the Paleo Diet. The Paleo Diet offers foods that have a very low allergenicity profile, but that also are soothing to the gut. In some cases, using testing to find your problem foods may be the ideal solution. From personal observation, I have seen these two tools be highly effective against even the longest standing of skin conditions.
A reaction can happen any time
As the flight attendant pushes the cart through the plane passing out pretzels and peanuts, she pulls her cart next to a couple, and asks the lady if she would like any nuts. To which she replies yes. Then she asks the woman’s husband if he would like any, and he politely declines, because he knows he has a bad reaction to nuts. And so the flight continues on and she eats her nuts and he enjoys his drink. After a little while, the couple shares a kiss in passing. Shortly after that, his lips swell up, his throat tightens and it becomes very hard to breathe. The flight attendant notices and quickly concludes that the man is going in to anaphylactic shock. After a little while the man begins to stabilize. Obviously the only cause of this is because of the kiss that was shared between them.
This example may seem extreme, but real events very similar to this have happened on major airlines. In this particular example, the outcome is more dramatic than usual. However, food reactions such as this are common. However, these results often come from accidental exposure when an ingredient was added to a dish that the unsuspected individual consumed. At times, this can lead to events as severe as a full blown allergic attack, but often times it is not this presentation at all.
An allergy or a sensitivity?
There are many types of responses to food. What we commonly think of as food allergies is really more often a sensitivity. Most individuals will know after an initial exposure that they are allergic to a food. They begin to have reactions that are noticeable and most importantly, they occur within a short period of time. However, this is a smaller segment of the food reactions.
Common food allergies as we think about them are not food allergies at all. Rather, they are sensitivities. Sensitivities have delayed effects that can be difficult to pinpoint without testing. Let me give you an example. When someone has a reaction to gluten, rarely do they immediately start breaking out in hives or any of the other common allergy symptoms. Instead, the reactions are delayed. The present more slowly, some even taking up to 72 hours to manifest. Symptoms are usually not as acute. This can make pinning down a food that you may be reacting to very difficult. It also makes their contribution to chronic ailments harder to detect.
Common foods that cause reactions
The big 5 common food allergies are wheat, peanuts, soy, milk, and eggs. These foods are notorious for causing both acute reactions, and delayed reactions. For our purpose let’s discuss the ones you are likely to have problems correlating, the delayed reactions. When you consume these foods, your immune system sees them as foreign substances, much like it would be a virus or bacteria. The food continues to be consumed and the immune system response continues to mount.
Just like an infection, as the inflammation increases the symptoms begin to present themselves. You can experience a wide range of reactions including achiness, loose bowels, swelling, fatigue or headaches. Either way, the cause of your symptoms can be hard to pinpoint.
How to change
The first and most important thing to do is to remove the foods you react to from your diet. If you do not, and you continue to consume them, you will continue to be in a state of inflammation and could possibly lead to chronic disease or illness. If you want to be free of symptoms then you should start by changing your diet, by getting rid of the foods you are having the reactions with. You aren’t always going to have an immediate strong reaction like in the case of the peanuts, most of the time you will have a subtle reaction that may seem un related.
Yes they are.
We all know that when allergy season comes around a lot of people around us, including ourselves sometimes, all of the sudden are sick or have colds presenting signs of allergies. Symptons like but not limited to, sneezing, coufhing, runny nose, itchy eyes, pressure on your face or head. What makes it worse is that whatever triggers allergy symtoms is rarely obvious. Most people automatically say they are reacting to pollen. And for some this may be true. But there are other things taht trigger allergy attacks, and they are less obvious. This may be your body crying out for attention.
Allergies are often what happens to you when your system is not functioning properly.These symptoms often are associated with poor intestinal health, disfuctioning immune system, and most common, food sensitivities. Quite often these symptoms are found together and in relation to each other.Everytime you have a sinus headache or a runny nose, it’s your body begging for attention.
In order to start to tackle your problem with allergies, you have to know what triggers it. And I am referring you what is triggering it inside your body not the outdoors trigger. When you think of allergies, you have to think of the immune system. It is obvious that your immune system is being over stimulated. An outdoor allergen may be causing your initial reaction, but it is likely there are other allergens you are responding to.
Common food allergies are often a prime suspect when it comes to immune system dysfunction. The main culprits are often grains. For example, you could have a corn allergy, wheat allergy or even a dairy allergy. The reactions against these foods are often confused for traditional allergy symptoms. Symptoms such as itchy skin, congestion and post-nasal drip are known to be food allergy related. Thus, the common food allergies should not be ignored. What makes consumption of these foods even trickier is that your reaction may not be allergic. Rather, it may be intolerance or the more common sensitivity. Therefore, you have to start with eliminating your problem food. Testing for your problem food can be a real asset when it comes to trying to eliminate your triggers.
Identifying your food triggers is only part of the consideration you should make. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that once you have done this that you are in the clear. I have seen patients initially get better after eliminating foods, only to relapse because they didn’t take care of the secondary effects of the problem foods. This often means supporting the gastrointestinal tract. From a functional medicine view point, everything begins and ends in the gastrointestinal tract. When it comes to allergies, much of the conversation can be steered to histamine. Histamine, the chemical mostly responsible for allergy symptoms, is produced in excess when there is gastrointestinal dysfunction. As more histamine is circulated in the system, your symptoms have a tendency to become worse. While histamine can be controlled symptomatically with natural products, sometimes even better than the prescriptions, the core of the problems remains. Taking care of the gut means giving it the support it needs. The best support comes in the form of the right nutrients and a diet that eliminates allergenic foods while supplying high levels of nourishment.
Missing key nutrients
Finally, when allergy symptoms are presented it means your immune system is missing the nutrients it need to keep a proper balance. There is a vast amount of evidence showing that certain nutrients are needed to regulate the immune system. This is very important when trying to prevent the hypersensitivity that is known to be associated with allergies. Nutrients like Vitamin D, antioxidants and omega 3’s. The cooperation of these nutrients is critical when guiding the immune system’s functions. A better functioning immune system is better equipped to respond against certain stimulations.
Everyone agrees allergies are annoying.However, I hope now it is clearer that allergies aren’t just something that is present when seasons change.If you have allergy problems it may be time to take a closer look at your body’s functions. It’s an indication that your systems are in need of support and they they are missing nutrients like the ones mentioned previously.Your immune system depends on it.It is possible to eliminate or reduce your allergy symptoms when you have a plan.
Ahh, wheat! How we do enjoy it. We put it in everything. Flour helps us make our soups and broths thicker. It allows us to bake cookies, cakes, and pizza’s. And who really wants to eat a burger and a slice of cheese if we didn’t have two slices of bread to put it between? It’s hard to imagine going to a ball game and asking for a hot dog without a bun? Things just would not be the same without wheat. Or would they?
For some reason, there seems to be an attraction to wheat that we can’t explain. There is a strong attraction to wheat that you can really feel physically especially when you stop consuming it. I am not surprised because this grain has begun to permeate our food supply. It’s almost impossible to find a package food that does not have wheat in it! It is obviously very popuplar, but at what cost?.
Wheat allergies do not just present themselves in the gut
As many are aware, an allergy to wheat is relatively common. More prevalent than previously given credit for, allergies to wheat can create a multitude of symptoms. Conventional thought has suggested that a reaction to wheat meant gastrointestinal distress. However, as we better know now, gastrointestinal dysfunction does not make up the largest percentage of reactions against wheat. Instead, areas such as the nervous system are more dramatically impacted. Likewise, the skin can also be affected leading to notably rashes. This does not mean that the gut does not have a role. It just means that if you are only looking to the gut for an answer to your ails concerning wheat allergies, you may be overlooking the problem.
Allergy or sensitivity?
Moreover, the definition is not completely accurate. What most of us consider as wheat allergies are actually wheat sensitivities. Therefore, if you are looking for an allergy by traditional standards, when in reality it is a sensitivity that is causing the problem, you are likely to miss the primary cause. Add to this that wheat as we know it has changed greatly over the years. We no longer eat the strains of wheat talked about in the Bible. Instead, if you are consuming wheat in the form we know it today, you are consuming a hybridized form. This hybrid form produces a greater quantity of the allergenic proteins, thus making it more reactive.
If you were told that you have an allergy or a sensitivity or something like that to wheat, would you be able to stop eating it? You wouldn’t really have a choice if you wanted to feel better. If you gave it a try, you could be amazed at how much better you would feel. Especially if you ae routinely consuming wheat. I have seen countless patients that remove grains from their daily diet and feel so much better just after a month. Yo don’t want to dismiss a wheat allergy. You could be opening the door to reactions against other things you re eating. Also when consumption of wheat stops you may be removing unexplained symptoms that were connected to your wheat allergy. You can’t go wrong with a grain free diet based in whole foods. You could also follow the Paleo Diet, this is exactly the diet you need to be eating to get rid of those allergies and unexplained symptoms.
Paleo Diet Low Carb?
It has been a while now since the low carb craze hit the United States. Yet, here we are many years later still talking about it. There must have been something to the ideas of Dr. Atkins. Indeed there was. He knew that an abundance of carbohydrates was not ideal for normal human function and that decreasing their intake could lead to weight loss. As weight loss is always a hot topic, the low-fat-fad grew. A few other popularly named diets even followed, all with same basic premise of cutting back the carbs in the diet. Included in this category is the Paleo Diet. However, I am here to proclaim this as a fallacy by those that do not eat Paleo.
Why Do We Need Carbohydrates
The Paleo Diet cannot be low carbohydrate. The whole premise that we should eat low carbohydrates goes completely against the way that our body functions. There are two very simple reasons that we should be eating carbohydrates. Foremost, our body’s primary energy source is carbohydrate and second, most of the diet should come from plants, which are denser in carbohydrate.
We Need Balance
We have to eat carbohydrates. Even those individuals that subscribe to the low carbohydrate diets know this. The key, as is often understated, is that the body needs balance. Too many carbohydrates are a problem, but so are too little. As is typical of human behavior, we go to the extremes, leaving rational thought behind. However, let’s take a simple look at the need for carbohydrates. Your body burns glucose for energy. If glucose is not available, protein and fat are used for energy, the latter being preferential. However, their use is precipitated by the conversion to glucose. The need for glucose is extremely high in the brain as it is the only macronutrient that allows proper function.
Moreover, when glucose is absent in sufficient quantities, the hormone cortisol is produced to maintain adequate blood levels. Cortisol is produced at the expense of other hormones. Add to this that many of us are already suffering from low cortisol levels due to chronic stress. Bottom line is that as this scenario plays out, hypoglycemia / low blood sugar functional can set in with accompanying hormone dysfunction. Do you have the mid afternoon lull in energy, get irritable when you don’t eat and get headaches or brain fog sometimes? You may already be headed down this path and don’t even realize it.
Plants Are Carbohydrates
Apart from any of this, most of your diet as a Paleo eater should be plants. Plants are carbohydrates. Granted, not all plants are the same. Nuts are higher in fat and protein, and beans / legumes have a reasonable amount of incomplete protein. That aside, the rest of the plants that you should be eating are carbohydrates. The carbohydrates differ in quantity and composition, but nonetheless, they are carbohydrates. Yams and butternut squash are higher in carbohydrates than say broccoli and asparagus. However, the makeup of both is a carbohydrate. When you consume a balanced diet of both carbohydrate dense and sparse plants, your total carbohydrate consumption is likely to look far more balanced than if you were to consume a diet higher in grains. Grains are of course carbohydrate laden.
So as you can see, the Paleo Diet cannot be a low carbohydrate diet by its nature when implemented correctly in a balanced fashion. Can you eat low carbohydrate on the Paleo Diet? Sure you can. I would even argue that there are times that “low carb” is the best approach. But this is not the premise of the Paleo Diet. The Paleo Diet is about eating real foods as you would find them in nature, including those that have more carbohydrates such as starchy vegetables and fruits. For Paleo success, the answer is not no / low carb, it is balanced carbs.
Our Food is Hurting Us.
You are exposed to it every day and don’t even realize that it is harming you. Three times each day at least, and often times more, you are coming into contact with substances that are negatively affecting your health. Sometimes they are obvious, other times they are hidden. They have the potential to cause reactions, whether as simple as annoying congestion or as serious as a chronic ailment. What are we exposed to every day that has the potential to have this great of an impact on our body? It is our food, the very thing that we have to consume to maintain life.
We have reached a tipping point with food. Once only viewed as a necessity to sustain life, now our view about what is classified as food is different. Consideration has to be given to not only the beneficial role that foods can have, but also to the damaging effects that food may present. We have even come up with catchy terms like “junk food” because we know certain foods should not be routinely consumed. You honestly have probably given little thought to why a food might be called such.
Food Can Make us Better Or Sicker
Food is a very powerful substance. It has the ability to help regenerate health, while also having the ability to weaken our bodies to the point of allowing disease promotion. Yet, most of us don’t realize why this is. In short, it has to do with the interaction of our bodies and the food we were intended to consume. There is synergy between whole, unadulterated foods that are raised and grown in an environment that is minimally affected by man and our bodies. This food matches the way in which our bodies function, literally down to the level of our DNA. In contrast, more modern foods don’t mesh with our bodies. Rather they work against us placing undue strain on our biochemical systems. Herein is the link for why we are seeing an increase in food allergies.
Allergies Are Not A Normal Reaction
Allergies are not a normal reaction from our body. They are triggered by interaction with substances that stimulate the immune system to be over-reactive. In the case of food allergies, you are eating something that is not consistent with your body. This list of foods that are damaging to the body and the immune system is long and continues to grow. But you don’t need a list of foods to avoid. Like I tell my patients, you just need to know where to shop and what to avoid.
Inherently, the more unrefined, non-genetically modified foods you eat, the less likely your food is damaging your health. Food allergies are a manifestation of the ill effects of unrecognizable foods. You know, the ones that make up most of the typical grocery store. These foods promote deterioration of our guts and find their way into our system to trigger reactions. What we think of as the typically allergic reaction is often multiple reactions but they all stem from intake of the wrong foods.
Just as eating the wrong foods can make your symptoms worse, eating the right foods can help alleviate your symptoms. When you are eating a Paleo style diet, you are eliminating the major triggers for the immune system. Remember, allergies to food are not inherent. They exist because we consume food that is “junked” up, which we fondly call “junk food”. Getting back to the basics of food selection is a must for reduction of the common food allergies.
Common Food allergies
Food allergies are common. In fact, they are much more common than the average person would anticipate. If you think you are reacting to foods, how do you know which ones? After all, you could be reacting to one of the big food allergens. Such reactions include a wheat allergy (gluten allergy), milk allergy, egg allergy, and / or a corn allergy. These are the common food allergies. In most cases, one of these reactions will be a contributor to the overall state of dysfunction originating from foods, but there are likely others as well. The question becomes, how do you figure out which foods are causing problems.
The Elimination Diet
This is a question I often get from patients. They want to know how to figure out which foods to avoid. Many options exist for figuring out food allergies. The traditional approach was known as an elimination diet. This diet works well in some cases, but depending on the number of reactions and the state of health of the gastrointestinal tract, it can be difficult to tell which foods are actually problematic.
Food Allergy Testing
Beyond the elimination diet, food allergies are often assessed with lab tests. I am going to let you in on something here that most of the doctors that deal with allergies don’t pay attention to. That is that food allergies are often delayed. This means that the reaction they cause does not happen immediately, but rather takes time to manifest. A true allergy happens quickly. If you are waiting to see an immediate response to determine a food allergy, most of the time you will miss it. When looking for common food allergies, it actually is more efficacious to look for delay reactions, better defined as sensitivities. Food sensitivities make up the greater portion of reactions against food.
Which Test Should I Take?
Herein is the next question that my patients will often ask. They want to know what food allergy test they should run to figure out the best way to identify their problem foods. The best food allergy tests are actually going to look for delay reactions and sensitivities. Within this grouping, there are 3 types of reactions that can take place. Let’s just call them type 2, 3, and 4. (Type 1 reactions are related to true food allergies and are more immediate). Here is the big difference when you are selecting a lab to perform delayed sensitivities to food. Most of these labs only look at the type 2 reaction. What if your reaction is type 4? If you were only looking for a type 2, you may think that eating a particular food is okay, when in reality it could still be causing a reaction. For example, if your test shows that you are not reactive to gluten, but in reality you are, you may continue to have the classic gluten allergy / sensitivity symptoms.
Which Foods Should I Test For?
When it comes to food allergies, and food sensitivities, I let my patients know that there is no compromise for testing all of the foods that they come into contact with. Moreover, I let them know that testing all of the possible reactions for delayed sensitivities, types 2, 3, and 4, is the best option. An added benefit we get from doing this is that we are also able to look at other aspects of the environment that may be a problem, a real consideration here in Houston and South East Texas.
If you are going to take the time to figure out what you are reactive to, make sure you do it right. Not only does this save time, but it also saves a lot of frustration. Nothing could be more aggravating than trying to eliminate foods you are reactive to, only to later learn that the most problematic ones are still a part of your diet.
Reduce Inflammation with the Paleo Diet
Most of us know that inflammation is bad, but few actually realize what inflammation is. Simply, inflammation is the breakdown of the cellular structures in the body. It is the damaging and dying off of our bodily tissues. If this sounds meaningful, it is. While not all inflammation is bad due to its need in normal function of the immune system, prolonged and overbearing amounts of inflammation are problematic.
The Consequences of Inflammation
The consequences of inflammation can be numerous. The most generic way to think about inflammation is that it is aging at a faster pace. I don’t know anyone that wants to age faster than they already do, but that is exactly what happens when you are inflamed. Inflammation promotes damage to the telomeres, the tips of our genetic structures known as chromosomes, that influence our biological versus chronological age. The more inflamed one is, the weaker the stimulus for healing. Aging, and health as a whole, is about building your bodily structures up, repairing and replacing them faster than they are being broken down. Yet, when inflammation is present, cellular structures become inefficient and healing is impaired. If this continues for a prolonged period of time, degeneration becomes pronounced and chronic diseases manifest. Therefore, it is important to keep inflammation to a minimum so that healing can occur and aging progresses slowly.
Standard American Diet Contributes to Inflammation
If you are not familiar with the acronym SAD, it stands for the Standard American Diet. To say that the foods that most people eat is SAD, is an understatement. Food is life. It gives our body most of the things that it needs to function properly. Standard American Diet food in many instances can hardly be called food. Rather, it is a refined amalgamation of food constituents and chemical ingredients. Couple this with an abundance of grains and dairy and you have the perfect mix for an inflammatory storm to occur in the body. Foods that are not as they are found in nature create distress in the body. They are difficult to metabolize and as a result they increase inflammation and promote such problems as abnormal glucose management. In short, if you are eating the Standard American Diet, you are expediting the development of chronic disease by increasing your overall level of inflammation.
Inflammation is Present, Where Do You Start?
So now that you realize you have created an inflammatory environment for yourself, you need a place to start to turn things around. If your lifestyle, particularly your diet, created inflammation, then it can also reduce your inflammation if you make the right selections. Making the right selection to reduce inflammation begins with the Paleo Diet. As previously noted, foods that are refined and denatured contribute to inflammation. In contrast, the Paleo Diet, a diet of real, unrefined, unadulterated foods as would be found in nature and not tampered with by modern man, offer a much different effect on the body. Foods of the Paleo Diet provide key ingredients such as anti-inflammatory fats and antioxidants that limit inflammation at its core. Given the vital nature of food and the necessity to consume it routinely, eating a Paleo Diet is the only real place to start when it comes to controlling inflammation.
Paleo Diet Helps Heal the Damage Associated with Inflammation
The Paleo Diet is one of the best ways to reduce and control inflammation. Yet, what if your inflammation has been present for a long period of time and you have begun to suffer damage associated with this inflammation. This varies from person to person. It may be joint aches and pains, or it may be the onset of chronic disease, for example diabetes. Food is an amazing substance, and due to the inherent healing qualities that food found on the Paleo Diet possesses, it has the ability to not just shut down the inflammatory process, but to also aids in healing some of the damage that might have developed. Based on the observation in my clinic, I would even go as far as to suggest that some chronic conditions can be completely turned around with a lifestyle overhaul centered on modifying dietary habits to match those of the Paleo Diet.