Making Sense of Food Allergies

I think I might be gluten sensitive. But I’ve been eating wheat bread and pastas all my life. Is this possible?” asks a recent client who needed to make sense of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

I don’t know why I suddenly need all these manipulations to keep my back from aching; it didn’t use to be that way. Am I just getting older?” asks another.

Strictly speaking, food allergies and allergic reactions are a person’s immune system overreacting to the proteins in certain food. The allergic person can feel like they are getting a cold, can get a rash or start sneezing, have teary eyes, vomit or get stomach cramps or diarrhea, of for that matter, sometimes they retain water and experience a little swelling—or a lot as in the life threatening anaphylactic response.

Eight kinds of food cause most food allergies:

milk allergy

Cow’s milk Wheat Soy
Eggs Peanuts Tree nuts
Shellfish Fish

But underneath these allergies is another problem—finding it is the key.

As we watch our child, or ourselves, feel horrible and not thrive. The mystery to how we feel is baffling at best.

The most common words are: “I’ve eaten that all my life.

But because food and other allergy symptoms can vary from extreme bloating to skin rashes to dramatic and sudden mood changes, understanding food allergies (or sensitivities as they are sometimes called if they are less severe) can be a challenge.

Searching for the food allergy culprit is challenging…

If you’re over 40 you likely ate a lot of quick, canned and boxed foods as our society transitioned to dual-earner households where both parents worked. Even these routines became quickly replaced by eating out—from pizza to burgers to take-out Chinese, ??? percent of money spent on food is spent on quick and convenient because we choose not to plan and cook at home. Who has time?

The problem with this is that every time we eat, our body—our digestive tract—has to decide what is friend and what is foe. Along the entire length from our mouth to our anus, our gut has to break down and absorb nutrients while keeping out anything that is toxic, infectious, or not yet digested.

Our gut has to welcome or kick out bacteria, yeast, nutrients, toxic waste, water and depending on the needs of our bodies—for up to 72 hours after that bit or drink goes into your mouth.

…Especially because most of us have leaky gut to some degree

When our gut gets overwhelmed by toxic chemicals, medications, anti-foods like sugar and seed oils/hydrogenated oils, it breaks down. All medications, not just antibiotics, disrupt gut health by depleting vitamins and minerals. The drugs need these vitamins and minerals to work; unfortunately that means you can’t use them for other necessary bodily processes.

As our culture has shifted away from traditional foods like locally-grown vegetables and bone meats from pastured or wild animals, including their fats, slow cooked or made into broths, and toward a grain-based highly preserved, colored, and sugared eating style, we have deprived our gut of the very tools it needs to stay healthy.

We have become “microbe-phobic” and laced everything with chemicals and drugs to sanitize, sterilize, and kill—even though our digestive tract is designed to do this for us and will do it if we keep it healthy. We have removed our internal barrier and ability to tell good from bad; starting from birth.

These changes cause the healthy lining of our digestive tract to break down. What should be home to trillions of helpful microbes in some 5800 families, our digestive tract becomes a desert and many of those species long ago left the endangered list and are extinct. Species like Bacteroides fragilis that help your immune system stay in balance by supporting anti-inflammatory functions.

Without these helpful bugs, the harmful pathogens take over. Without these helpful bugs, you will never get enough of certain vitamins and minerals that they make for you.

But years before you feel anything at all, you were eating the very foods that caused this—a lot of those foods on a regular basis. For example, the more cereal grains you eat, specifically those grains from grass family plants, the higher your gluten exposure which, in turn, elevates a protein that pops open the connections between the cells lining your gut. The more sugary foods you eat, the more you foster the unwanted microbes.

So? What does this have to do with my allergies?

General gut inflammation starts our mild. But your protective immune system recognizes that some of the proteins making it out of your gut and into your blood and lymph are not properly digest: especially proteins like gluten from cereal grains and casein from milk. Your body will protect you by attempting to destroy and clear out these foreign proteins. AND your body will set up some of its white cells to remember what these problem proteins look like so that if they come around again in the future it can detect/eject more quickly. Your body can make antibodies to these proteins, but not always.

The worst bit of news is that your immune system changes. What was once surveillance and defense now becomes hyperactive wartime “shoot on sight.” And many delicate organs and joints get caught in this crossfire—this is one theory for autoimmune disease.

Both damaged gut linings and frequent exposure to inflammatory microbes, foods, or other entities are main common denominators for autoimmune attacks on your organs; diagnoses like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, even multiple sclerosis and diabetes.

OMG—my allergy test came back, I’m allergic to 54 foods, pollens, pet dander, more…

food allergy testExactly! Your immune system is on hyperdrive—it is full on red alert war time in your body. Everything, good or bad, is bad.

Most allergy tests produce a lot of false positives—the skin prick test has to be read for both the appearance of the weal and the scanned (not diameter) size of it compared with the non-allergen control site. Few doctors do this rendering the test inaccurate—even for those who use the sophisticated scanning equipment, the tests are only 80 percent accurate.

Blood tests are the opposite. Testing for antibodies tend to miss (give a negative result) for many foods that are problematic.

This has produced some arguments in the allergy world about clinical definitions for food allergies and food sensitivies. Look: if a food upsets you when you eat it, isn’t that what matters?

Allergy tests aside, if you eat a food and it causes some degree of inflammation, steals your energy, causes headaches, makes your joints ache, or whatever that food does in your situation, wouldn’t you want to know what is causing it? Wouldn’t you be willing to shift to a different way of eating?

Multiple food sensitivities and allergies are the big warning sign you have leaky gut

Whether your unique response is a sniffling, runny nose, back pain, drop in blood sugar, elevated pulse, high blood pressure, headaches, hives, rashes, acne, mood swings… or any of the many labels provided by Western medicine and followed with a prescription drug… a good evaluation of you situation will look holistically. About 80 percent of my clients need to heal a leaky gut. And when they do, their symptoms resolve.

With a hyper-immune-reactive gut, you are dealing with inflammation which is immediately followed by an immune or autoimmune reaction to that food. The problem is in sorting out which food is doing this when that food can stay in your body for 72 hours (in a very unhealthy gut with insufficient bowel movements).

Strategies for healing leaky gut

what food am I allergic too?You must, must, must eliminate those foods and other substances that are causing your immune reaction by irritating your gut, and you.

It is vital to eliminate these foods long enough for your body to no longer “remember” and react to them. But which ones? And how long?

The only reliable way to sort this out is to track every morsel and drop that passes through your lips while journaling your moods and physical signs—for at least a week, usually more—and review the results of your journal with someone who is expert in understanding these and healing gut issues.

Keeping a comprehensive Food & Mood log is the best way to understand and control your food sensitivities. If you experience joint pain after that post-workout energy smoothie, that’s not normal. If your nose starts running after eating cheese, you want to know. If your knees ache after that egg omelet—and eggs are very allergenic when they come from commercial birds fed commercial grain feed, even organic—then you know. Let’s not split hairs over antibody or skin prick test results. Let’s see what foods are working for you and what ones aren’t.

Here’s the trick: It is common to feel a symptom 2-3 days after you’ve eaten an offending food.

And… it is a bad idea to eliminate all potentially allergenic foods; you might not have anything left to eat!

This is why you have to work with someone who knows what they are doing. It isn’t good nutrition to remove foods unnecessarily. In my office, based on an accurate and thorough Food & Mood log, we take specific steps while monitoring how you feel.

Key foods to add:

Vegetables—especially cooked to provide gentle fiber to heal your digestive lining. All colors, eat the rainbow of what is really the fourth food group.

Cultured foods—plant your microbiome seeds by reinocculating your gut.

Bone broth—make this your wake-up beverage of choice. Give your body easily-digested proteins, bioavailable minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and anti-oxidants like glutathione along with healthy fats to sooth and heal an inflamed gut.

Healing your leaky gut is urgent!

The good news is that it can heal. The bad news, is you really must heal it if you want to live a high quality, high vitality life. If this vicious cycle continues, your body will continue to produce immune responses that lead to more serious situations and autoimmune problems. But by following a carefully designed autoimmune protocol, designed for you, I’m confident you’ll see quick results and feel much, much better.

And it doesn’t have to take long when we zero in on the problems and get some good nourishment going. This is one problem that can’t be solved by a pill.

Call us. 505-298-8020


Kattan JD Sicherer SH. Optimizing the diagnosis of food allergy. Immunol Allergy Clin North Am. 2015 Feb;35(1):61-76. doi: 10.1016/j.iac.2014.09.009. Epub 2014 Nov 21.
Phyllis Childers RN

About Phyllis Childers RN

Phyllis Childers RN, received her nursing diploma from Research Hospital School of Nursing in Kansas City, Missouri, class of 1969. She shares the Osteopathic philosophy that promotes whole person health and vitality. Her passion for natural healing stems from her own healing journey using whole food nutrition and lifestyle changes. Phyllis completed training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, the world’s largest nutrition school and is a member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. As a holistic health coach, Phyllis helps clients accomplish their health goals through teaching, healthy habit building and support in a way that is empowering and exciting. Phyllis also has advanced training in craniosacral therapy as well as training in the use of essential oils for the prevention and treatment of disease. Holistic health is individual; Phyllis creates doable, step-by-step plans based on each client’s unique needs, preferences and lifestyle utilizing her unique combination of healing tools.