According to the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology, approximately 40 million Americans suffer from allergies, with four million workdays lost annually due to hay fever alone.
While the word "allergy", may trigger images of nasal congestion, itchy throat, runny nose and breathing difficulties, we define "allergy" more broadly at my Santa Monica allergy practice to include countless allergens existing in food or water, and chemicals in our environment. Less common but still chronic allergy symptoms can manifest as constipation, gas, bloating, headache and fatigue. These kinds of allergies often go undiagnosed, creating great frustration for allergy sufferers.
Not every allergic reaction is visible or severe. Have you noticed that every time you eat certain foods, you have a slight stomachache or headache? Or you may feel unwell when visiting certain environments. Often, we simply do not connect the dots. You may say "I don't feel sick... exactly," or "I feel off today," without recognizing allergies may be the cause. Your body's allergic reaction depends on degree of exposure, genetics, overall toxic load, general physical health and stress levels.
Why Allergies Make You Sick
Besides the typical cascade of hyper-immune reactions, allergens stress the body's "fight or flight" response, triggering a host of physical and biochemical reactions. These acute and chronic stress responses affect wellbeing and negatively impact the body's natural immunological powers, making healing more difficult. Every time your immune system is challenged, your body struggles to fight. Soon, you feel tired, lethargic and sick, perpetuating this vicious "fight-or-flight" cycle.
What can the allergy sufferer do? My new book, The 7 Day Allergy Makeover, addresses the root causes of your allergies by recognizing and reducing your exposure to obvious and hidden allergens. It is a step-by-step program to teach you how to transform your lifestyle, diet and personal environment to reduce allergy/sensitivity symptoms, restore immune health and increase energy and vitality.
These steps from day one of The 7 Day Allergy Makeover will get you started:
Day 1 -- Clean Up Your Nutrition
The correct diet can dramatically reduce your allergy symptoms. Our day one goal is to eliminate allergy-inducing foods and replace them with healthier choices.
Do you know the seven most common food allergens?
-- Cow's milk products hide in many food products including, yogurt, cheese, sour cream, salad dressings, prepared meals and baked goods. Dairy products also include milk and cheese made from goat, sheep and buffalo. Always read ingredients, and look for byproducts of milk such as lactose, whey, and sodium or calcium caseinate. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology suggests that most children who had a milk allergy as infants did not outgrow the disease before entering elementary school. According to one of the researchers, Dr. Robert Wood, chief of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, that their findings were contrary to previous research that children "outgrow" dairy allergies by the age of three years old. Switch to organic rice, hemp, almond, coconut and soymilk products and cheese products free of lactose, whey and casein. Flickr photo by mojitopt
The American Journal of Gastroenterology found that gluten can create gastrointestinal problems, even when celiac disease is not present. Common symptoms include stomach cramping, constipation, anxiety and insomnia. Switch to gluten-free grains, including amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat and oats. Flickr photo by wEnDaLicious
Sugar sensitivities are extremely common and can lead to brain fog, lethargy, irritability, dizziness, anger, muscle cramps, tiredness, anxiety, restlessness and insomnia. Read labels! If an ingredient name ends in "-ose," it is likely sugar. Switch to whole, unprocessed foods and natural sweeteners such as xylitol or stevia. Flickr photo by JMR_Photography
Foods that are or may contain yeast or mold are varied and include mushrooms, alcohol (a mycotoxin, a metabolic byproduct of fungi), dried fruits, nuts, cheese, wine, beer, bread and even contaminated fresh fruits and vegetables and non-frozen packaged food (crackers, potato and corn chips and rice). Allergy symptoms include headache, itchy skin, bloating, swollen tongue, cold sores and lethargy. Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables well and store properly to minimize mold growth. Flickr photo by little blue hen
According to the Mayo Clinic, alcohol can trigger severe allergic reactions and even anaphylactic shock. Alcohol-related allergic reactions include acid reflux, indigestion, nausea, itchy red skin, joint pains, headaches, anxiety, brain fog, migraines (especially after drinking red wine), insomnia and difficulty losing weight. Flickr photo by DeusXFlorida
Eggs are often considered a hidden allergy that can trigger an array of symptoms. My son Cody had an egg allergy. His throat would swell, he would have trouble breathing, and hives would break out all over his body with even a bite of egg-containing food. A study in the Japanese journal Allergy also found that eggs were the most prevalent food allergy to trigger atopic dermatitis, with almost 84 percent of participants with egg allergies suffering this inflammatory skin condition. Flickr photo by jules:stonesoup
Peanut allergy is perhaps the best-known food allergy due to the rapid acceleration and severity of the symptoms, and possible need for emergency medical care. Even a bite of food cooked with peanut oil could send someone into anaphylactic shock. But peanuts can also create delayed reactions since they're contaminated with molds and mycotoxins. Peanut allergy symptoms include hives, rashes and swelling, itching or tingling around the mouth and throat, abdominal pain, diarrhea, shortness of breath and wheezing. Read all labels carefully and watch out for foods that have been processed in manufacturing plants that package peanuts and other nuts. Flickr photo by EuroMagic
Five Steps to Healthier Habits That Minimize Allergy Symptoms
1. Add Plenty of Fiber to Your Diet -- A minimum of 35 grams per day facilitates the growth of beneficial bacteria in your intestinal tract, increases optimal bowel movements and aids in binding of toxins and other chemicals for elimination. Add vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts (ones you know you are not sensitive to) and seeds to your diet.
2. Cook and Clean Foods Properly -- cooking foods eliminates bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites. Use proper cooking equipment (glass, iron or enamel pots and pans) to avoid ingesting chemicals and metals found in plastics, Teflon, and aluminum and stainless steel (nickel alloy). Always clean raw foods properly, since they can carry mycotoxins, bacteria, fungi and parasites. All fruits that can be peeled should be, as peels often collect mold. Thoroughly cleanse peel-free fruits such as grapes, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, and if you find one moldy berry in the box, the rest of the berries may be contaminated. Better to throw out than be sorry!
3. Eat Whole, Organic, Seasonally Grown, Local Foods -- Buy local and buy organic as often as you can to reduce your intake of pesticides, fungicides, hormones, antibiotics, heavy metals and chemicals. Studies show organic foods contain higher vitamin C, iron, magnesium and phosphorus are significantly lower in pesticide residues and higher in antioxidant activity.
4. Eat the Right Proportions -- Meals should contain balanced protein, vegetables, healthy carbohydrates and fats. An easy way is to divide your plate -- fill half with vegetables, a quarter with protein and the other quarter with low-glycemic, gluten-free carbohydrates. Add some good fat -- olive oil or avocado -- to help your body absorb nutrients that remove toxins and eliminate allergens.
5. Chew Each Bite of Food 20 Times -- Are you an "inhaler"? Improper chewing can cause poor digestion, which can contribute to food allergies. Chew each bite 20 times to release enzymes in your mouth and saliva and facilitate digestion. Take your time and spend at least 20 minutes sitting at a table to enjoy each bite of food rather than eating in your car or standing.
Next Time: Day 2 -- Clean Up Your Water.
For more detailed information, you are welcome to a free chapter from my book, The 7 Day Allergy Makeover.
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Biesiekierski JR, et al. Gluten causes gastrointestinal symptoms in subjects without celiac disease. Am J Gastroenterol. 2011 Mar;106(3):508-14; quiz 515.
Crinnion WJ. Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer. Altern Med Rev. 2010 Apr;15(1):4-12.
Dias A, et al. Persistence of cow's milk allergy beyond two years of age. Allergol Immunopathol (Madr). 2010 Jan-Feb;38(1):8-12.
Ogura Y, et al. [The incidence of food allergy in atopic dermatitis]. Arerugi. 2001 Jul;50(7):621-8.
Wood R, et al. The natural history of IgE-mediated cow's milk allergy. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2007 Nov; 120(5): 1172-1177.
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