What’s Causing Food Allergies?
A new study recently announced that an estimated 1 out of 12 children in the United States has a food allergy.
These numbers are a vast difference from previous estimates, which speculated that anywhere from 2-8 out of 100 children had food allergies. The results of the study were published in Pediatrics, and it turns out that 8% of the children surveyed had a diagnosed food allergy. Nationwide, this number translates into 6 million children.
Dr. Ruchi Gupta, from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, led the study. She and her colleagues designed a study that focused only on the rate and severity of food allergies. Their study included almost 40,000 adults who lived with a child under 18 years old. In the online questionnaire, the adults reported whether or not the child had any signs or symptoms of a food allergy, had ever been diagnosed by a doctor, and had ever had a severe reaction to food. (1)
6 million kids in the US have food allergies, which often goes hand in hand with a leaky gut. If left untreated, this can lead to digestive issues like colitis and even IBS!
The connection between a permeable gut mucosal barrier and food allergies and food intolerances is not so much one of cause and effect. Rather, several studies and researchers point out that an allergic response to food is often happening in conjunction with what some people call a “leaky gut”. (2)
- A leaky gut or a permeable gut mucosal barrier can be so severe that it evolves into conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and colitis.
- It is possible that the gut mucosal barrier can be compromised, and there may be no digestive dysfunction at all.
- Or, a permeable gut may manifest with signs of minimal discomfort like gas, bloating, brain fog, and achy joints.
The Allergy-Adrenal Connection
Whenever you introduce a food to your body that sends your body into an alarm state, such as what happens during an allergic response, histamine and other pro-inflammatory substances are released. Pro-inflammatory substances like histamine produce inflammation. Cortisol, on the other hand, is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Cortisol controls and reduces inflammation.
While cortisol circulating throughout the body will control inflammation, it is not something that you want to continually push your adrenals to excrete. Cortisol is a steroid hormone made by the adrenal glands. It controls inflammation by suppressing the immune system. Cortisol also increases blood sugar and is known as the “stress hormone”.
Because cortisol is so effective at muting the immune response and controlling inflammation, it is often given as a therapy to treat autoimmune inflammation and allergies. During an anaphylactic allergic response, the use of pharmaceutical cortisol is lifesaving. Long-term use for inflammation will tax the immune system and endocrine system.
A pregnant mother can pull adrenal hormones from her baby.
A fairly recent study demonstrated that a pregnant mother who is experiencing adrenal exhaustion will actually draw adrenal hormones from the fetus through the umbilical cord. This is most likely to happen during the third trimester of pregnancy. It may also partially explain postpartum depression. (3)
Of course, as a result of the exhausted mother pulling on her child’s adrenal hormones, the child is born with compromised adrenal function. A child born with adrenals that have already been exhausted has a greater risk of developing one of many disorders, including food allergies.
In adults, adrenal exhaustion is more evident.
When histamine is released in response to a food, the body puts out more cortisol to control the inflammatory response. This loop, especially if it happens often, will fatigue what is known as the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The hypothalamus and pituitary direct hormone production throughout the body. When the HPA axis weakens:
- The adrenals produce less cortisol.
- Inflammation goes unchecked.
- The HPA axis becomes further overwhelmed, and other endocrine glands suffer.
- The immune barriers of the digestive tract, lungs, and brain become compromised. (4)
- A destructive feedback loop sets off larger allergic reactions.
One of the most direct action steps that you can take to support the adrenals and HPA axis while also reducing inflammation is to not eat foods that you have a known sensitivity to. This includes even a mild sensitivity.
- Most of the time, your body will respond to an allergen or food antigen between 30 minutes to three hours after a meal.
- Sometimes this reaction is delayed as long as two to three days.
- Keeping a food diary is a good way to determine what foods your body is reacting to.
- Important: Inflammation can be silent and persist for up to 6 months after the food antigen or allergen was consumed.
The Principle of Acid and Alkaline tells us which foods will cool the body down and which foods are likely to generate an inflammatory response.
- The right balance of acid and alkaline foods restore the body to a state of health.
- Acid-forming foods will create a state of metabolic stress and induce an inflammatory response.
- Acid-forming foods weaken the adrenal glands because of the cortisol release in response to inflammation.
- Acid-forming foods also create permeability in the epithelial lining of the gut, which increases inflammation and autoimmune reactions.
- Stress of any kind has been shown to disrupt the balance of good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. (5)
As you can see, supporting the body with a mostly plant-based diet can be incredibly healing for the entire body. The Principle of 80/20 tells us to eat 80% land and ocean vegetables and 20% grains, animal proteins, and starchy vegetables. It also tells us to stop eating when 80% full.
Fermented foods and beverages are star of the show.
Just as stress can decrease the number of beneficial microbes in the gut, an increase of healthy bacteria has been shown to decrease oxidative and inflammatory stress, without the help of cortisol. Beneficial gut bacteria have also been shown to reduce gut permeability.
Incorporating fermented foods into every meal, as much as possible, is extremely beneficial when working through imbalances in the endocrine system (adrenals and HPA axis) and in the immune system (inflammation and gut permeability). Use the Body Ecology Probiotic Beverages and Body Ecology Vegetable Culture Starter to make fermented foods the star of your next meal!
What To Remember Most About This Article:
Roughly 6 million children in the US have a known food allergy. A permeable gut or leaky gut has been closely linked with both food and environmental allergies. It can also cause other digestive issues like colitis and IBS. When your body has an allergic reaction to food, it releases pro-inflammatory substances as a byproduct. It also releases cortisol to control this inflammation, which can exhaust the adrenals over time.
Adrenal exhaust can cause chronic inflammation, damage to the endocrine glands, and even weaken the immunity of the digestive tract, lungs, and brain. To keep this allergic response in check and protect your health, it’s best not to eat foods that you are sensitive to. Following the Body Ecology Diet by balancing acid and alkaline foods can also nourish the adrenals back to health. Fermented foods and beverages will boost healthy gut bacteria to bring both the endocrine system and immune system back into balance!
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- Gupta, Ruchi S., et al. The Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States. Pediatrics 2011; peds.2011-0204.
- Kharrazian, Datis (2010). Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests Are Normal: A Revolutionary Breakthrough In Understanding Hashimoto’s Disease and Hypothyroidism (Kindle Locations 2731-2732). Morgan James Publishing. Kindle Edition.
- Prenatal exposure to maternal depression, neonatal methylation of human glucocorticoid receptor gene (NR3C1) and infant cortisol stress responses. Epigenetics 2008 Mar-Apr;3(2):97-106.
- Guhad, FA, et al. Salivary IgA as a marker of social stress in rats. Neurosci Lett 1996;216(2):137-140.
- Lakhan, Shaheen. Gut inflammation in chronic fatigue syndrome. Nutrition and Metabolism 2010, 7:79.