When it comes to the topic of food allergies, many of us think of young children and peanut allergies. After all, the sometimes-fatal reactions of those with peanut allergies are responsible for warnings on food, in restaurants, and other establishments where one may come in contact with peanuts or peanut residue. You should know, though, that food allergies go well beyond peanuts, young children, and physical reactions.
How many times have we all heard the old adage, “You are what you eat”? Plenty! Americans, especially, hear this constantly, along with staggering statistics about how obese and unhealthy we are; how the children of today are expected to be the first to be outlived by their parents’ generation!
In addition to health risks such as heart disease, diabetes, and a host of obesity-related illnesses and complications, have you ever made a connection between foods and mental illness? Not alcohol or other drugs, but foods. More specifically, food allergies may be responsible for a significant number of mental health related issues!
There are actually four different types of food allergies (IgE or Type 1, IgG or Type 3, IgM, and IgA) that can have an effect on your digestive system and, in turn, your mental healthfulness. Type 1 (IgE) allergies are the type of food allergies that get the most attention. Occurring in roughly 2-5% of the population, mainly children, these are the allergies that present in frightening suddenness.
Hives, stomach cramps, swelling, wheezing, and even anaphylaxis can all occur with Type 1 food allergies. In fact, in the U.S. alone, approximately 30,000 people with have food-induced anaphylaxis in a given year, approximately 150 of those resulting in death. The deaths are usually of adolescents and young adults.
Because food allergies are not completely understood, and certainly not always identified before they cause a severe or even fatal reaction, this past June, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) announced new grants of over $5 million to be devoted to further study. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is planning to contribute another $2 million, spread over two years, to the same research.
Type 3 (IgG) allergies can show reactive effects up to several days later, so often the connection between an ailment and the food(s) eaten isn’t even made by the sufferer or perhaps even any medical practitioners with whom they consult. Shockingly, 45-60% of the population suffers from Type 3 food allergies, many of them never being aware of it.
These Type 3 delayed food reactions have been linked to over 100 different allergic symptoms and 150 different medical diseases. The mental health issues associated with delayed food allergies include: ADHD, anxiety, autism, chronic fatigue (which can go beyond just physical feelings and affect mental health, as well), depression, dizziness (often associated with anxiety), hyperactivity, lethargy, PMS, tension, weight gain and weight loss (both of which tend to have an effect on self-esteem).
So how exactly do these food allergies and reactions contribute to the mental health issues named above? Quite simply, studies have already shown a connection between stress, inflammation, and disease. If you ever eat as a result of feeling stress, your chances of developing inflammation and food allergies is increased. This then leads to the effects on mental and physical health.
The most common food allergies include: tree nuts, peanuts, cow’s milk, hen’s eggs, soybeans, fish, shellfish, and wheat. For most of us, many of these are foods we eat frequently. And with a statistic like up to 60% of Americans have delayed food allergies, it is cause for concern.
Food Allergy and Food Sensitivity Testing
IgE Food Allergy Test
- Skin test. A skin prick test can determine your reaction to particular foods. In this test, small amounts of suspected foods are placed on the skin of your forearm or back. Your skin is then pricked with a needle, to allow a tiny amount of the substance beneath your skin surface. If you’re allergic to a particular substance being tested, you develop a raised bump or reaction.
- Blood test or BloodSpot A blood test can measure your immune system’s response to particular foods by assessing the amount of allergy-type antibodies in your bloodstream, known as immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. A blood sample is then sent to a medical laboratory, where different foods can be tested.
IgG Food Allergy Test
- ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test analyzes IgG Food Antibody Profile measures levels of IgG antibodies for commonly offending foods. It clearly identifies those foods that may be causing health problems so you can avoid them.
They can cost up to several hundred dollars but the investment in your health is well worth it, even if insurance does not cover them.
Other things you can do at home, to decrease your food reactions, are: exercise, take appropriate supplements, and avoid foods you think or know are problematic for you. If you find that eliminating certain food from your diet increases your wellness, it’s entirely possible you were suffering from delayed food allergies!
Some of the most common supplements food allergy sufferers use includes those that increase intestinal barrier health, and iFlora probiotics. It is always a good idea to check with your healthcare practitioner before adding supplements to your diet, especially if you are on any other medications, prescribed or otherwise. There can be interactions and other effects that will end up just adding to your problems. Better safe than sorry, as they say.
Valerie Balandra ARNP, BC is a board certified psychiatric nurse practitioner and holistic health practitioner. Her Integrative Psychiatry practice and website offers lab testing to find the root cause of each individual’s physical and psychological symptoms. For more information on food allergy testing, visit our Food Allergy Test page.