One of the most complex and sophisticated defense forces ever assembled is living inside your body right now.
No, it’s not an alien invasion or a secret government plot. It’s your God-given immune system.
Your body’s immune system is a powerful and well-organized system of defensive cells that recognize dangerous invaders entering your body and work together to neutralize and eliminate them.
The Big Gun
The primary weapon in this defense force is a neurotransmitter produced in your hypothalamus called “histamine.” If that word sounds new but sort of familiar, you’ve probably heard the word “antihistamine” in an ad for cold and allergy medicines. An antihistamine is a chemical people use to suppress their bodies’ natural defense against allergens.
Wait…if your body has a built-in defense system to fight off toxins, why would I want to shut it down?
Well, sometimes when your body is doing the job God created it to do, it can be…well, socially awkward. Nobody likes to wipe and blow their nose around other people, and they like it even less when someone else is doing it near them. So they take a chemical that doesn’t solve the problem but instead masks the symptoms as if everything is just fine when it’s not. On the contrary, your runny nose, watering eyes and skin rashes, while unpleasant, are actually the evidence that your immune system is doing its job to combat the enemy cells.
You probably know someone who is allergic to cats (maybe you). When they get around cats, they sneeze, their eyes water, their face swells up, and sometimes they have difficulty breathing. They might even develop a rash. That’s histamine fighting off the toxins and that’s what most people think of when you talk about allergies, but it’s really only one small example.
The Other Faces of Allergy
Not all allergies are as obvious as the cat or dust allergies, where the symptoms are literally all over your face. Allergies can take many forms and manifest in a variety of ways. Other forms of allergic reactions can include:
- swelling and heat
- headaches or dizziness
- brain fog
- joint pain
- stiffness or fibromyalgia
- intestinal bloating
In each case, your body has identified an unwelcome guest and has taken action to remove it, but it often comes with some discomfort.
The problem is that none of these symptoms looks like a stereotypical allergic reaction, so we go to the doctor and he prescribes a chemical that deals with the symptoms but doesn’t remove the cause.
One Particularly Sneaky Case
I recently had a patient come in with pain and stiffness in his joints and muscles so severe he couldn’t lift his arm. I worked on that shoulder for almost ten minutes, trying to get the muscles to unlock. He writhed in pain. To get his mind off it, we talked about other health problems he was experiencing. (I know, right? Sounds sadistic.) He talked about frequent headaches, confusion, moments of deep brain fog, overwhelming sleepiness and difficulty in the restroom. As he explained his seemingly unrelated issues, I began to wonder if a histamine reaction to something was the real culprit:
- His headaches and brain fog could be tied to swelling in his cranium caused by a flood of histamines being released into his blood stream and passing through the blood/brain barrier.
- The difficulty in the restroom could be traced directly back to his gall bladder, which works in partnership with the liver to secrete bile and other digestive fluids and is sensitive to histamine.
But what did they have in common?
The symptoms all tended to follow his favorite dinners, especially when they included pasta. We needed to run a complete dietary history to be sure, but pasta looked like an easy culprit (eventually, we also identified nightshades like tomato and green pepper, which were causing reactions in his system).
Most pasta is made from durum wheat which has a high gluten content. According to writers at BodyEcology.com:
“…conventional pastas feed pathogenic yeast and bacteria in your intestines. They disturb the growth of good microflora, and can lower your immunity. Candida, a systemic fungal infection, especially thrives on the natural complex sugars in pasta that can ferment in your gut and encourage candida overgrowth.”
In other words, pasta was overwhelming his gut bacteria (which we talk about extensively here as the central command of your immune system). His gut was recognizing the pasta’s gluten cells as a toxic invader and triggering the release of histamine to contain and eliminate it from the body. But instead of binding to mast cells in the mucous membranes of his nasal cavity and giving him a runny nose, his body was responding with joint and muscle pain, clouding his thoughts with brain fog, making him feel sleepy, and irritating his gall bladder.
In short, his body was manifesting an allergic reaction that didn’t feel like a traditional allergic reaction, so he didn’t know to treat it like an allergic reaction.
But what about his shoulder? Could it be connected?
If you ever get a chance to study kinesiology and look at their charts, it’s fascinating. It’s similar to accupressure and accupuncture. You would be shocked at the seemingly unrelated connections in your body. In this case, the right shoulder and upper arm are directly connected by the nervous sytem to the left side of your abdomen, particularly the stomach. But that’s for another time. His shoulder pain was directly linked to inflammation in his stomach, gall bladder, and intestines.
Food Allergies Are Increasing
Over the last twenty years, there has been a significant increase in awareness of peanut allergies. In fact, most elementary schools have banned peanut products from their campuses to prevent a student with a peanut allergy from coming in contact with peanuts. And for good reason: allergic reactions to peanuts can range from sneezing to asphyxiation, where the child’s windpipe swells shut, cutting off air from the lungs.
The same is true with milk and dairy products, eggs, soy, and even wheat. A growing population is having allergic reactions to many different types of foods from different categories.
There are numerous explanations for the sudden spike in peanut allergy cases, ranging from how peanuts are grown and packaged to changes in infant formula and vaccine dosages, but that’s a discussion for another time. The important consideration here is that peanut allergies are real, dangerous, and increasingly common, but at the same time, they manifest very differently from allergies like cat dander or dust.
How To Respond
Too often in America, we feel the discomfort of the symptoms and take medicine to minimize them, instead of taking action to remove the root cause. For example, if you’re having an allergic reaction to a cat, you can either take antihistamines or physically distance yourself from the cat. One choice uses chemicals to suppress your body’s natural defense system and one removes the source of the problem.
Which seems like a better choice for the long-term health of your body?
One of the ways that I help my patients identify and deal with food allergies is through a trial elimination diet. We work together over a 28-day period to temporarily remove specific foods from their diet and systematically put them back. This has a number of benefits:
- It allows us to identify which foods cause your body to react. Everyone’s body is different and responds to different foods in different ways. But while there is no “one-size-fits-all” diet for everyone, there are some patterns we see with foods like dairy and grain products that are pretty common.
- It gives your digestive system a chance to recover from the battle. Inside your intestines is a community of billions of cells (called “gut flora”) that not only absorb the nutrients from the food you’ve eaten, but also eliminate waste and destroy allergens. (Yes, your gut flora is the biggest weapon in your immune defense!) If you’ve been eating foods for years that have been attacking your gut cells, removing those foods will give your body a chance to heal and rebuild your immune system.
- Most patients experience a huge boost of energy. When your body feels like it is under attack, it fights, and that takes energy away from other bodily functions. Removing the battle allows your body to allocate energy to other places.
Allergies are a complex and easily misunderstood medical issue. As a result, you may be treating your discomfort with expensive and equally-toxic chemicals when the better answer is to simply remove certain foods from your diet.
Here at Fundamental Health, we are “wellness coaches,” and our whole purpose is to help you “Move Right, Eat Right, Think Right, and Live Right.” If you’re in the Naples, Florida area, I invite you to visit my office behind the YMCA on Pine Ridge Road or join me for one of our upcoming “Fundamental Food” events where we dig into issues like this in more detail.
I hope this article got you thinking more about the food you’re eating and how it may be contributing to pain you’re feeling. But even if it doesn’t apply to you directly, I bet you know someone who could benefit from it, so I hope you’ll take a few seconds to share it with a friend or post them on Facebook.