The Current Rise In Food Allergies

(Originally posted on bcotoronto.com on Sept 15th, 2011)

I’m sure you’ve noticed that there seem to be more and more food allergies out there these days and there are lots of theories why. The majority of the talk is about food additives and processing, but this is difficult to understand when government organizations like the FDA and Health Canada regulate food companies and mandate they go through rigorous testing and layers of red tape to prove these products are safe. In the eyes of these organizations, “safe” means that the product does not contain anything overtly toxic and will not kill the consumer. Whether or not these tests are enough or even properly administered is a conspiracy theory for another time. I would like to help you see the big picture of how these additives and processed foods do lead to this increased incidence of food allergies.

It is important to make the distinction between the mild allergies I am talking about here and severe food allergies that lead to anaphylaxis, a swelling and blocking of the airways leading to suffocation. The severe allergies to things like nuts and gluten are caused by a different immune system reaction and are a whole different ballgame. The allergies I am discussing now are the reactions to foods that are similar to environmental allergies like ragweed and mold where our eyes and throat get itchy and our nose starts to run.

Now back to the big picture. Let’s break it down in to 4 steps or lessons.

Step 1:

The processing of foods strips it of many of the nutrients we need because those are the elements of food that spoil and cause a product to have a short shelf life. This robs us of those essential nutrients we think we are getting.

Step 2:

Mammalian intestinal systems are lined with a thin layer of cells which transport the basic components of nutrients through to the rich supply of blood vessels ready to whisk away the digested goodies. This is the last line of filtration between undigested particles in the gut and the useable building blocks we need. This filter is maintained through tight bonds between the cells to present a solid wall to the substances in the gut.

Step 3:

When the body does not have enough nutrients it has certain patterns to retain energy and stay as efficient as possible. The tissues that are easily sloughed off and aren’t as important for the essential functions of the body are sacrificed first to provide more energy to the essential organs. Unfortunately this means the intestinal wall is almost always the first thing to be compromised. The cells begin to shrivel and the tight bonds between them stretch and become loose. This produces holes in the previously impenetrable barrier which less digested food particles can now get through. This is not to say a chunk of steak gets into your blood stream but rather a protein that is 4 units long rather than 1 or 2.

Step 4:

This change in size is enough for our immune system to recognise them as foreign and starts to produce antibodies to them which float around the blood stream and are secreted out of the mucus membranes of our intestines, mouth, nose, and eyes and attach to these food particles, marking them for attack by the immune system. This attack causes the mild allergy symptoms we feel: itchy eyes, runny nose, scratchy throat, indigestion, and constipation or diarrhea. The immune system attacks through a chemical process called inflammation that will be discussed next week in some depth.

This increased permeability of the intestinal wall is called “Leaky Gut” and can be the root problem for many different conditions. Proper diet and nutrition are incredibly important to staying healthy and happy. Leaky gut takes a while to heal too because of step 3. The energy saving pattern has to be reversed to heal the gut, meaning everything else that is nutrient starved gets taken care of first and the intestinal wall has to wait its turn.

I hope you have found this topic as intriguing as I do. Comment below or e-mail me at DrRoffey@gmail.com and let us know what you think and what you want to read about on this site.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Ben

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