Monday, January 26, 2015

In The World of Wellness: Food Allergies 101

Wellness is a term widely used that has multiple meanings around health and positive life style changes leading to well-being. Here we will use the term "wellness" in those ways and also as a means of defining a life free from disease as well as a way to explore alternative medicines, what they offer, and what this could mean for you.

Every month I'll do a post on a health and wellness related topic. This will give you a chance to explore other options, become informed, and make the best overall decision for your own well-being.

In the World of Wellness: To eat, or not to eat, that is the question

If a zombie apocalypse were to happen I would most certainly die. Not right away and not for the reasons that would be the most obvious. In the end, the thing that would get me would be food.

We all know the End of the World scenarios always lead to minimal food supply. There would be food available...kind of. Pre-packaged, canned varieties of all kinds that hadn't yet expired. But there would be no fresh fruit, no veggies, no grass fed beef.

Thus, my death.


Because of my food allergies.

Because of my doggone, stupid, can't-eat-anything-and-it's-not-even-a-zombie-apocalypse food allergies.

As of three days ago, I am subsiding on a very scaled down food diet. As of three days ago, I am allergic to 24 foods. As of three days, some of my very favorite foods hate me.

In 2009, I had my first ever food allergy test. I knew something was wrong with me, prompting the doctor visit. My hair (including eyebrows and eyelashes) was falling out. My hands hurt in an arthritis kind of way, but in a whole different kind of way, too. My stomach was never happy.

A single test showed that - at the time - I was allergic to 27 foods. It was one of the most challenging things I ever had to go through, mostly because at that time I was in a lot of denial about it and I didn't handle the news well. It took me years, truly, to grasp what that all meant. It complexly changed how I ate, too.

First, I went through a version of all five stages of DABDA. You know - denial and depression (eating a gluten filled chocolate chip cookie and crying), anger (yelling at the cookie), bargaining ("If I eat one cookie, then a giant spinach salad, the gluten will get cancelled out, right? RIGHT?!"), and finally acceptance. Once I got through those I healed my gut, I healed myself, and at the end of it all, I overcame most of the food allergies.

That's right - and that's the good news, my friends. Some food allergies can be conquered. Others, like gluten or a severe peanut allergy, cannot. Why? Because there are food allergies and there are food intolerance's, two totally different things. Two very perplexing things that can still be hard to differentiate depending on symptoms.

This time around the ones I expected to come back (and have been avoiding anyway) did, like gluten, wheat, and coffee, but then a bunch of new, incredibly annoying ones also popped up. Like bananas, coconut, and spinach. Sad, right? So sad. However, this time I'm dealing with it just fine. Once you've survived your first food allergy battle, everything thereafter is a little bit easier.

So...What do you need to know about food allergies? 

First, don't let my massive amount of food allergies scare you off. I am an unusual case. Why my intestines are weak and pathetic beats me. I'm sure much of it has to do with what you're going to read below. I've just always suffered from allergies, my whole doggone life, in one form or another. If anything, let me be a weird, food allergy survivor beacon of light for you. If I can get through this many food allergies and still have a wonderful life and travel and be able to eat in foreign countries without getting sick, so can you.

Why do we have food allergies? 

We know what happens when we develop an allergy to a food, but unfortunately, there is no one answer here, rather thoughts on various reasons they occur, such as genetics (if your parents are allergic to something, you have a 60% chance of being allergic to it too). Two leading thoughts that tend to be steadfast in the allergy world are length of breast feeding and age of child before starchy food introduction, all things that happen when a child is very young. By the time we're adults it's far too late for us to kick this at the root cause. Kinda sucks, doesn't it?

Here's the deal - Breast feeding, prior to the manufacturing of baby formula, was typically done for the first two years of a child's life. This was critical in the development of the child from a nutrient and growth perspective. However, the nutrients that get passed to the child depend on the health of the mom. If the mom is living off of Big Mac's, she's not going to be passing along anything beneficial to the kids. Sad, but true. Now, if the mom is very healthy herself and breast feeds, but only for say 9 months, that can also be a problem. The length of breast feeding is key.

The second thing is when you, as a child, are first given starchy foods like cereals or crackers. This comes from the idea that until a child is one year of age they haven't developed the enzymes needed to digest those foods. By eating them, they can actually damage the intestines leading to all kinds of leaky gut/food allergy problems as they get older. From then on, the immune system malfunctions when it reacts to food being digested.

What does all of this mean? Moms have to be basically perfect - in what they eat and in how long they breast feed. And mom and dads have to never, ever give starchy foods to kids prior to that one year age mark. No pressure, Every Parent In The World. Just be perfect. That's all.

Piece of gluten free cake, right? Pfft.

That's hard to hear, hard to do, and hard in general. But it also might be the two critical things to focus on to help avoid food allergies.

Why do food allergies change and/or come back?

Simply put, no one knows. I've been told multiple things...environmental factors, certain food particles getting stuck in your intestines making your immune system think the food is a virus it needs to fight off, and that it's due to lack of variety in what you eat. The bottom line here is if you're susceptible to food allergies, there's a good chance they'll change and morph over the course of your life. Some of them, anyway. That's why testing is important.

Now, let's say you suspect you have food allergies and have no time machine to transport you back to when you were first born to try and tell your mom and dad this critical information. What do you do now?

First, Get Tested.

Food allergies reflect in a variety of symptoms. Runny nose, stomach discomfort, gas, headaches, puffy eyes, anaphylaxis, fatigue, name it, it's on the list. That's why food allergies also get so ignored. They either get misdiagnosed as some other condition or we get used to the milder symptoms and assume they're just "normal" for us. They're not. Your body is an incredible machine. It is sending you messages every single moment. We're just not all that good at interpreting them until something is really wrong with us. Why? Because if you continually eat a food you're allergic to, your body remains inflamed. Inflammation leads to dis-ease in the body which leads to diseases of all kinds.

The best (possibly also scariest, at first) thing you can do is get tested. I highly recommend doing allergy tests once every 5 years, or sooner if you notice something going on in your body that seems off. While these are not 100% covered by insurance, they are a critical step on the wellness path of life. The goal here is to avoid inflammation of the body. The only way to do that is to become knowledgeable of how your body reacts to food.

Second, Avoid the Foods. 

Your doctor will give you an exact timeline, but you want to avoid all the foods you have a reaction to for two to four months. This allows your immune system to calm the heck down and stabilize, thus reducing the inflammation.

Seriously, do not cheat in this phase. I know, it's really tempting. I'm right there with you. I have 7 bottles of coconut water at my house that I'm trying to pretend don't exist.

Your doctor will also put you on some kind of plan to rebuild your intestines/fix your leaky gut, as it's called. This could include a medication to fix the yeast overgrowth in your body (if they suspect this) and taking something specific to intestine health such as Intestamine or G.I. Benefits.

Finally, Try One New Food a Week and Watch VERY CLOSELY for Symptoms.

This is going to be critical to understanding what you can and cannot eat going forward. Pay incredibly close attention to your body. Suddenly feel tired? Feel unhappy for no reason? Those are signs that you need to cross that food item off your list for good. If you have no reaction - nada - you can go ahead and eat that food again like normal - woo hoo!

You'll be okay. You're not alone. There's something like 90 million people with food allergies. We have options, thankfully. We'll all be fine as long as the zombie apocalypse (or any other apocalypse) doesn't happen.

If you're a parent and you need a fun, helpful, hilarious support group, check out this site. A laugh a day keeps the food allergy away. Or something like that... Food Allergy Fun

On a similar but different subject, I want to share this article I came across on how new studies show that depression is actually an allergic reaction to inflammation in the body. Whoa, what?! Did you catch that? This means, more than ever, it is critical to understand your body and the foods you're putting in it. If you suffer from depression, you may want to get an extensive food allergy panel done and then work on the three steps above.

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