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Wed, Aug 27, 2014

Dr. Kestner: Certain foods may make allergy symptoms worse

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Now that the entire world seems to be thickly coated in a layer of yellow pollen, allergy symptoms are affecting thousands of Middle Tennesseans.

As I walked into a store recently, a lady was exiting and sneezed several times in a row.

“God bless you.” I said.

“Thank you,” she responded. “It’s that darn pollen. … It’s driving me crazy.” I asked her if she had been suffering from allergies all her life. “No, just the last few years. It is worse now than ever.”

I wished her well and went on my way. I wondered what had caused her increase in allergy symptoms during the past few years. It wasn’t simply the pollen. The abundant pollen is just the trigger that causes her immediate symptoms. The fact that many others were walking around in the exact same cloud of pollen without symptoms indicates that her body has something going wrong that causes her to react to the pollen. The fact that her symptoms have only been present during the past few years indicates that something has changed in her body to make her susceptible to the very uncomfortable allergic reaction.

Allergies are a sign that your immune system has become dysfunctional. Your body is launching an attack against substances that are innocuous. Pollen is not dangerous to your health, yet your body is reacting as if it were.

In the case of allergic reaction to pollen, the pollen particles trigger an inflammatory response that causes the body to release immune system chemicals that are usually reserved to defend against enemy invaders to the body.

The solution most people reach for is a pharmaceutical product that is intended to inhibit that inflammatory response, such as Benadryl, Claritin, Zyrtec or some other popular remedy. If the conditions are severe, a doctor may prescribe a steroid, which is a very powerful inhibitor of the immune system response.

Although these products can be very helpful in alleviating the acute symptoms of the allergy, questions remain as to why the allergies occur and what can be done to eliminate them.

It has long been known that for some people, certain foods can make a difference in allergy symptoms. Although there is debate about whether the negative response to certain foods should be referred to as food allergies, or simply food sensitivities, the fact remains that some people are more likely to develop symptoms if they eat certain foods.

It would be great if I could provide a list of suspect foods that is universally applicable to all allergy sufferers. Unfortunately, such a list does not exist. Due to the infinitely broad spectrum of variation in the health status, genetic background, environmental exposure and medical histories of the millions of people affected, there is no way to accurately predict which foods should be avoided. In other words, the foods that may affect you might be completely tolerable to others.

There are some foods that qualify as usual suspects, however. Some foods are more likely to be problematic.

Interestingly, allergy sufferers may often crave the very foods that may be linked to allergy symptoms.

For example, “carb lovers” and “sugarholics” may have fewer allergy symptoms if they resist the strong desire to over-consume these types of foods. A carbohydrate-restricted diet has been shown to be very helpful for many allergy patients. It is sometimes even possible to completely eliminate allergies altogether by sticking to a sensible low-carbohydrate eating plan. Other potential benefits include weight loss, increased energy, fewer aches and pains and lower blood pressure.

Dairy products can be culprits for allergy symptoms. Some people are sensitive to casein and lactose in dairy products. Dairy tends to thicken the mucus secretions in many people, and that can lead to more bothersome allergy symptoms, sinusitis, nagging morning cough and frequent nasal congestion. In some cases, taking digestive enzymes can help alleviate allergy symptoms related to dairy.

For some people, the gluten proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and other grains can be a problem. A gluten-free diet could bring relief from troublesome allergic symptoms.

Next week: The role liver health plays in frequent symptoms including allergies.
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Dr. Kestner
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Dr. Mark Kestner, Living Well, Voices
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