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 Annual 2013

Annual 2013

 

           
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Food Frenzied

Is Your Diet Killing You?

Do you love pizza, grilled-cheese sandwiches or red wine but then hate the way they make you feel a half-hour after you’ve eaten? If so, you may be suffering from a food intolerance.

Twenty years ago food intolerances were almost unheard of, but now the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network and the National Institutes for Health report that as many as 30 million people in the United States have a food intolerance, which is four to five times the number with food allergies.

Symptoms of food intolerances can include common digestive complaints from abdominal pain, spasms, diarrhea, constipation and flatulence to headaches, skin rashes, eczema and hives. They all result from the body’s inability to deal with certain food ingredients.

Food allergies generally cause an almost immediate allergic reaction after consumption, and allergies are often associated with specific foods, with peanuts and shellfish among the most common offending foods. Food intolerance symptoms, however, may hit 30 minutes or later—or even after a person has digested a meal.

Dana Vollmer, the 24-year-old University of California, Berkeley, swimmer who won three gold medals for the United States in the 2012 Summer Olympic Games (and set a world record in the 100-meter butterfly), was diagnosed several years ago with an egg allergy and a gluten intolerance after experiencing severe stomach pains.

“The doctors weren’t sure what exactly was causing the pain,” Vollmer says. “They thought at first that I might be lactose intolerant or that stress and nerves might be affecting my stomach.”

Then the fatigue hit, leaving Vollmer with barely enough energy to finish a swim meet. Frustrated, and worried that she might not be able to continue swimming, Vollmer consulted with former-Olympic-swimmer-turned-nutritionist Anita Nall-Richesson, who had also suffered from “mystery illnesses” before learning she was sensitive to milk. Nall-Richesson tested Vollmer for food allergies and discovered she was allergic to eggs and also detected Vollmer’s sensitivity to gluten, the protein found in wheat and other grains.

While emergency room visits for food allergies and intolerances reportedly tripled between 1993 and 2006, experts aren’t exactly sure why food allergies and intolerances seem to be on the rise. One theory that makes the rounds to explain the increase is the hygiene hypothesis—that the increasingly pristine environments in which children are raised nowadays have coddled their immune systems and given rise to more immune reactions to food.

“It’s possible that our immune systems are not being challenged with infections as in the past, since our environment is cleaner,” says Patrika Tsai, M.D., a gastroenterologist at UCSF’s Benioff Children’s Hospital.

For those who suspect they might have a food allergy or a food intolerance, the first step is often asking their doctor for a blood test for IgG food allergens to identify hidden food allergies and sensitivities. Once you have identified the triggers, you can begin working with your doctor or nutritionist on how best to modify your diet. Those professionals might eliminate the food altogether from your diet, allow some consumption in moderation or suggest similar foods that do not cause a reaction.

Nori Hudson, a certified nutrition consultant and educator who is also board certified in holistic nutrition, works with many people who suffer from food allergies and intolerances at her Berkeley practice, Radiant Vitality.

“I have clients seeking relief from symptoms including digestive issues, fatigue, joint and muscle pain, headaches, depression and anxiety—which can all be symptoms of food allergies/intolerances,” Hudson says. “With each client, I start by getting a comprehensive health history, a three-day food journal, a symptomatology questionnaire and a summary of the major complaints.”

Hudson then asks her clients if they would be willing to do a two-week elimination diet to see if their symptoms are related to specific foods including “the big eight”: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, (Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds), fish, shellfish, wheat and soy. These eight foods account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions in the United States.

“Often clients are attached to the very foods that are causing their symptoms,” Hudson says. If they are overwhelmed with the possibility of giving up their favorite food, I offer support by suggesting substitutions, menus and recipes.”

Such was the case with Vollmer, who had to give up traditional wheat-based pasta, one of her favorite meals.

“I started training in an era where carbo-loading was common, so it was second nature to enjoy a large bowl of pasta the night before a swim meet,” Vollmer says. After learning that the gluten contained in pasta was the source of her stomach pains, Vollmer discovered other sources of healthy carbs to consume.

“I’ve grown to love quinoa and brown rice,” Vollmer says. “And I’ve also discovered a lot of great-tasting gluten-free foods including a breakfast cereal and a gluten-free pizza crust.”


Fend For Yourself
The Bay Area Allergy Advisory Board, founded in 2007 by allergy expert Mireille Schwartz, promotes education, awareness and advocacy and provides no-cost medical care and medication to Bay Area families with severely food-allergic children. Visit www.allergysf.com.

Looking to travel or dine out and not sure which restaurants can accommodate your food allergies?
Visit www.allergyeats.com for restaurants across the country.

Connect with other local families who have food allergies through the San Francisco Bay Area Food Allergy Support Group at www.sffoodallergy.org.

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