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Tag: food allergies

Food allergies and multiple sclerosis: study reveals a new link

The evidence is coming in that our diet makes a difference when it comes to MS and other autoimmune diseases.

Food for thought

It’s so gratifying when the research catches up with my theories on Multiple Sclerosis and diet. While I focus on food sensitivities more than food allergies with the dietary therapies I design, the general public and many healthcare providers use the terms interchangeably

Investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that MS patients with food allergies had a higher rate of MS disease activity. 

Like many other medical conditions, the mechanism of multiple sclerosis remains an enigma–a puzzle composed of complex genetic and environmental factors. A key piece to this puzzle is the immune system, which is also responsible for regulating many other physiological (and pathological) phenomena–including allergies. Although previous studies investigating the association between MS and allergies have yielded mixed results, a research team at Brigham and Women’s Hospital sought to uncover the putative link in a new way. Investigating the correlation between allergy and inflammatory disease activity, the team found new evidence connecting food allergies and relapses of multiple sclerosis. The results are published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

“Some multiple sclerosis patients with significant allergies would complain of frequent relapses associated with their allergic episodes,” said Tanuja Chitnis, MD, senior author and a neurologist at the Partners MS Center at the Brigham. “We felt that the most likely mechanism associated with allergy and its influence on MS would be related to inflammatory activity.”

Accordingly, Chitnis and colleagues set out to investigate the association between inflammatory disease activity and allergy history in a subset of patients enrolled in a large study known as the Comprehensive Longitudinal Investigation of Multiple Sclerosis at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (CLIMB). A total of 1,349 study participants completed a self-administered questionnaire outlining food, environmental and/or drug allergies. Disease activity was assessed through evaluating the cumulative number of attacks over disease course, and new gadolinium (Gad)-enhancing lesions, as detected by MRI.

Interestingly, only participants in the food allergy group demonstrated a significantly higher rate of cumulative attacks and increased likelihood of new Gad-lesions compared to participants with no reported food allergies. This effect remained significant even when adjusted for potential confounders such as sex, age at symptom onset, and disease category. No significant effects were observed for the environmental and drug allergy groups after adjusted analyses.

This association between food allergy and MS disease activity highlights an important role for a potential player in immunity and inflammation–the gut. “It is interesting that this association was only found with food allergies and not other types of allergies, which might have been expected had this solely been an immune deviation issue,” said Chitnis. “The presence of food allergies and mechanisms related to food allergies may increase relapse rate and inflammatory activity in MS patients. There may be a common mechanism here, or other mechanisms which may induce MS relapses in a predisposed host.”

Currently, Chitnis and colleagues are working to further uncover these mechanisms of immune dysregulation in allergy and delineate how such dysregulation impacts MS inflammatory activity. Given the correlative nature of this study, the researchers are careful to highlight the limited clinical actionability of their findings. However, Chitnis is optimistic about the potential translational significance of the work and highlights the importance of addressing food allergies in MS patient care.

“There has long been a hypothesis of the gut being related to the immune system, and this really points to a stronger association than previously understood,” Chitnis said. “This research opens up a new way of thinking about the immune mechanisms in MS.”


Funding for this work was provided by Merck Serono and the National MS Society Nancy Davis Center Without Walls.

Paper cited: Fakih, R et al. “Food allergies are associated with increased disease activity in multiple sclerosis,” Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, DOI: 10.1136/jnnp-2018- 319301

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Antibiotic Exposure in Infancy Linked to Food Allergies

A new study shows that children who were given antibiotics in babyhood are almost twice as likely to grow into kids with food allergies. The authors, from South Carolina College of Pharmacy in Columbia, theorize that the early disruption of normal flora and fauna in the digestive tract by antibiotics lead to a loss of oral tolerance levels and development of allergies as the child grows.antibiotics in babies linked to food allergies

I can’t say I was shocked to see this information, though it’s always good to see clinical results in a scientific study like this to convince people.

When we take antibiotics, the drugs kill all the bacteria in our body – the good along with the bad. Good bacteria assist us in normal digestive processes and are necessary for complete digestion and assimilation of nutrients into our bodies. We can replenish good bacteria by taking probiotics, but they are limited and unfortunately cannot precisely recreate the complex biome that should be inside our guts.

In Chinese medicine, it is taught that the digestive system in children is not fully developed until they reach six years of age. The Chinese realize that it takes time to build up the bacteria and other life forms in our guts that help keep us healthy.

The study noticed that many of the study participants where given multiple rounds of antibiotics as babies to treat infected eczema. Eczema can usually be controlled with dietary changes in either the breast-feeding mother or the type of infant formula. Babies battling eczema should be tested for food allergies and food sensitivities before they get to a point of multiple infections and repeated rounds of antibiotics that set them up for more food allergies and sensitivities.

The reason I was not surprised to see the results of this study is that I believe a pre-natal course of inter venous antibiotics administered during the ninth month of my pregnancy to address an infection of listeria resulted in my baby’s 41 food and chemical sensitivities. I know it was a necessary action because listeria likes to take up residence in the placenta and cause stillbirth, but none of my medical caregivers ever mentioned how it might affect my baby’s life once he was born. The entire focus was on getting him born alive, and as a result of the infection and treatment he suffered terribly in constant pain and discomfort for the first six years of his life.

If your baby is suffering, it may be due to what he is eating. There are things we can do to help ease his pain and heal his body even if he is still breastfeeding. Feel free to contact me for a free consultation about what can be done.

How to Decrease Asthma, Allergies

A reporter recently asked me for the top five foods I recommended avoiding feeding to young children to boost their chances of growing up allergy-free.

I found this to be an impossible task.

From all that I’ve learned in my studies over the last decade, I believe that each person’s hypersensitivity profile is unique to themselves. What might cause problems for Joey might be fine for Susie, and vice versa.

Although certain food groups may seem to commonly cause adverse reactions –like dairy, gluten, or soy – it’s too easy to unnecessarily restrict your child’s diet and miss basic nutrients by making random guesses at what allergens are already causing or might someday cause distressing issues in the general population.

After all, most people (70-90%)have normal tolerance thresholds and never or rarely experience abnormal reactions from foods. Only about 7% of the population actually has Celiac Disease and reacts to gluten, for example.

So you see how it might be difficult to make a blanket statement to recommend that everyone avoid all the same foods with the goal of decreasing everyone’s potential for developing allergies.

Lowering Your Overall Toxic Load Will Increase Tolerance

That said, I do believe that by eliminating as many chemical items and known poisons from your child’s overall toxic load as possible you’ll help his/her body develop higher tolerances and experience fewer allergic reactions from anything.

These are the items I would suggest eliminating (or at least minimizing) from a child’s diet in order to lower his/her potential for asthma, allergies, and other aberrant immune reactions:

1. Food Dyes. A recent compilation of studies found a correlation between ADHD and commercial food dyes used in many familiar products. These dyes are in almost every food item marketed to children, and in many other commonly eaten products.

I can see this happen in my own son as his behavior will deteriorate rapidly after eating something artificially colored. The food dyes cause hypersensitivity reactions in him that result in a mediator (i.e. histimine, et al.) release. This is often called an allergic reaction, though the correct term is a “hypersensitivity reaction.” The mediators/histamines/cytokines cause swelling in the brain that manifests in behavioral changes and mental distraction. Removing food dyes can eliminate the need for Ritalin or other behavior-modification drugs.

2. Synthetic Sugars. From Splenda to Aspartame, Sucralose, Fructose, and High Fructose Corn Syrup, these all work to confuse the pancreas and create an off-balance internal environment. They’ve also been shown to contribute to weight gain, not weight loss. Give children real raw cane sugar, pure maple syrup, or honey when possible and avoid all artificial sweeteners.

3. “Natural Flavors”. The term on a label of “natural flavors” may translate to a chemical brew of more than 40 noxious components. See here for a list of the “natural flavors” in one strawberry milkshake. The ingredients in “natural flavors” are considered top secret and not public information.

4. Artificial and “Natural” Fragrances. Again, I’m referring to the labeled term “natural aromas or fragrances” used in many cosmetics, personal care items, soda pops, markers, and other products.

Aromas are physical molecules that travel into our bodies when we inhale. Breathe in deeply to fully appreciate the fresh scent offered by that dryer sheet or air freshener spray, and you’re bringing those synthetic, laboratory-constructed molecules down deep into your lung tissues where they can get trapped and come back to haunt you later.

Many artificial scents and flavors are made from petrochemical derivatives. Artificial fragrances contribute heavily to one’s toxic load, and for asthmatics and other hypersensitive people they can trigger an immune response.

5. Petroleum Products. Our modern society is saturated with petrochemicals that are in every plastic item we touch, almost every water bottle we drink from, and every canned food we eat. Our cosmetics are full of petroleum, as are our skin care lotions, suntan lotions, and perfumes. Our skin is our largest organ, and it did not evolve to handle being smothered by a toxic sludge found far below the surface of the earth.

Everyone’s tolerance threshold for toxins and allergens is different.

Once a person breaches their tolerance threshold and enters toxin overload, you might see a cascade effect where more and more substances cause more and more reactions. These issues may manifest as asthma, IBS, migraines, exzema, fibromyalgia, hives,… and on and on. We’re now learning that many auto-immune responses, perhaps even multiple sclerosis, may be due to hypersensitivity reactions.

Alessio Fasano, professor of pediatrics, medicine and physiology and director of the Mucosal Biology Research Center and the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, wrote in Scientific American’s August, 2009, issue that,

“Indeed, a growing body of evidence suggests that virtually the same trio of factors underpins most, and perhaps all, autoimmune diseases: an environmental substance that is presented to the body, a genetically based tendency of the immune system to overreact to the substance, and an unusually permeable gut.”

Get rid of the chemicals as a start down the right path for avoiding allergies.

While it may be impossible to say what foods everyone should avoid to decrease their risk of developing allergies, it’s much easier for me to say which chemicals and synthetic substances we should avoid to avoid crossing all of our tolerance thresholds, not just in kids.

Are Food Sensitivities the Same as Food Allergies?

The New York Times recent reporting on a medical paper claiming that most food allergies were not real has caused an uproar among those us who understand what it means to live with physical discomfort that is directly related to the foods that we eat. it makes me think that it’s time for a little clarification between food allergies, food intolerances, and food sensitivities.

While there is no doubt that people can be allergic to certain foods, with reproducible responses ranging from a rash to a severe life-threatening reaction, the true incidence of food allergies is only about 8 percent for children and less than 5 percent for adults, said Dr. Marc Riedl, an author of the new paper and an allergist and immunologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Yet about 30 percent of the population believe they have food allergies. And, Dr. Riedl said, about half the patients coming to his clinic because they had been told they had a food allergy did not really have one.

Dr. Riedl does not dismiss the seriousness of some people’s responses to foods. But, he says, “That accounts for a small percentage of what people term ‘food allergies.’ ”

Now, reading this you might actually believe that people don’t have unpleasant reactions to the food they eat nearly as often as they do. I’ll be you probably even know someone who runs to the bathroom all the time, or suffers from migraines, or has acid reflux. You yourself might even steer away from foods that you already know don’t agree with you.

I believe what we have here is a case of word choice. If one-third of the population believes that something that they are eating is contributing to their illness or malaise, but Dr. Riedl says that fewer than 1 in 10 people actually have “food allergies,” than what does he think is making the rest of those people sick?

While Dr. Riedl mentions food intolerance as an alternative to an actual allergy, he doesn’t even suggest that these people might be suffering from food sensitivities, the type that are implicated in Type III and Type IV non-Ige-mediated immune reactions.

Let’s put it in perspective by understanding the terminology of food reactions correctly.

Food Allergy A food allergy is a Type I Hypersensitivity reaction that causes anaphylaxis and is marked by the presence of IgE antibodies. It is immune-mediated, meaning it involves the immune system. Peanuts are a common source of food allergies. IgE antibodies can sometimes be found by doing a scratch test.

Food Intolerance Food intolerances are often due to an enzyme deficiency causing incomplete digestion of certain foods. They are commonly seen with dairy products. A food intolerance does not trigger the immune system but usually causes great discomfort soon after eating those problem foods that lasts until they are expelled.

Food Sensitivity Called Type III Immune Complex Mediated Hypersensitivity and Type IV Cell Mediated/Delayed Hypersensitivity Reactions, food sensitivities happen when our immune systems react to the foods and additives we eat by releasing cell mediators like histimines and cytokines that cause systemic inflammation around the body. Due to the inflammation, various symptoms may arise.

Since food sensitivities don’t create IgE or IgG antibodies, the only way that we can tell exactly which foods or chemical additives are causing the problems is to look at if there has been a release of mediators like histamine, cytokines, proglandins, etc. when the allergen is present.

Each of these food issues can be dose dependent, meaning that you may do fine with only a little bit but start reacting when you have a lot, and food sensitivites in particular can have reactions delayed up to 96 hours after ingestion, so I can understand the confusion in the general public and the media, and the tendency to label every food-related issue as a “food allergy.”

Learn more about what food sensitivies look like and how to accurately determine if a mediator-release occurs when determining food sensitivities here.

As Dr. Reidl noted in his paper (but wasn’t widely reported), food allergies may not be as common as people believe, but that doesn’t mean that your food may not be making you sick.

If you suspect your malaise is connected to what you’re eating, you’re likely right. Just like with food allergies, the trick to feeling better from food sensitivities is to be able to identify the culprits and remove them from your diet. The more you eliminate the guesswork, the more quickly you’ll heal and go on to lead a normal life.

Just don’t say you have “food allergies.”