Sunday, October 29, 2006

OT: Allergies and Food

Just picked up the November copy of Sauce Magazine, a local foodie publication that tends to have interesting articles on area restaurants, chefs and all things food. This issue has an article by Jill Baughman that discusses the controversy over the role of food with regard to seasonal allergies. If you live in the Midwest, and especially St. Louis, you know the region is notorious for having hordes of people who suffer from seasonal allergies and sinus infections. I used to be one of those people. But I changed my diet (eliminated dairy, gluten and animal proteins) and have since eliminated my use of medication to control seasonal allergies and sinus infections, as well as cleared my skin of troublesome acne.

Let me share are few quotes from Dr. H. James Wedner, chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the Washington University School of Medicine:
"There are a lot of old wives' tales about foods or drinks that stop respiratory allergy symptoms, but none of them help. Many of the remedies people propound as benefiting allergies have not been tested well. There is no degree of scientific certainty that they actually work."

"Take medicine. We give patients pills to feel better. I hate to tell you that; I'd love to tell you that patients could drink wine, eat a good meal and be cured. That may make them feel better, but it is in no way a proven treatment."
Dr. Ray Slavin, co-director of the Comprehensive Sinus Center at St. Louis University agrees with Dr. Wedner:
"There is no evidence at all that eliminating or including certain foods in your diet prevents allergies."
With all due respect to these highly educated and accomplished health care professionals, I must strongly disagree. We live in the most cancer-ridden, heart disease-ridden, diabetes-ridden, allergy and asthma-ridden, obese culture on this earth. How we eat has everything to do with this! And no amount of pills, genetic engineering or medicines will solve the problem. They may mask and decrease some of the symptoms, but they will not solve the problem. It is a travesty that our scientific and medical communities continue to focus on reductionist approaches to major health problems and refuse to acknowledge that BEHAVIOR and the biology and chemistry of the food we eat contributes mightily to our health, or lack there of.

It is chemistry, not just caloires. Food is not just energy; it interacts with our biology in more ways than we can likely imagine.

For many of us, the various proteins we ingest wreak havoc on our immune systems. Whether it is casein (in dairy) or gluten or some other mysterious protein, these stimuli affect our immune system and susequently our respiratory systems, our digestive systems, our nervous systems, our skin, or our sinuses. The expression of the problem is extremely complex and varies with the individual. The expression of our body's reaction to the food we eat may take years to develop, and thus weeks, months or years to be detected if we remove these stimuli from our diets.

We are, and are affected by, what we eat. It is so beautifully simple, yet so complex. There are so many levels, so many interactions--our science and our scientists cower in the face of doing the long-term epidemiological work that might help explain these phenomena. Instead, they head for the Petri dish and the single cells and genes they can easily manipulate; this is where the grant dollars, respect and the Nobel Prizes are. Additionally, the powerful food industries spend billions of dollars and fight tooth and nail to deny the disease consumption of their products may cause, just like the tobacco industry. Our physicians, on the backs of the powerful pharmaceutical giants, push pharmacological methods as the preferred and only fix and help us deny that our behavior and choices might be the real culprit for our lack of health.

I just met a client who, at the age of 41, rebuked the advice of his physician to go on statins, and changed his diet. His LDL decreased from 170 to 90 now. He's lost 40 lbs. He runs, he rides, he competes in triathlons. He's bucked his familial trend--"it runs in our family--we all take cholesterol meds."

Like me, this guy read T. Colin Campbell's The China Study. It is the best science published thus far to back up the theory that dietary habits are the foundation of many diseases that exist now--including allergies. It is too bad Dr. Wedner and Dr. Slavin will never encourage their patients to give dietary behavior modification a try. I need to send them both a copy of Dr. Campbell's work.


TrainJoe said...

Do you have an explanation for why in the past these foods have not caused allergies and sinus illnesses? We have been eating the same foods for a long time but only recently have these health problems increased. I would contribute this to a more sedintary lifestyle rather than the food we eat.

TrainJoe said...

Do you think that it is the actual food we eat or the amount we tend to eat of it (excessive)

The Iron Maven said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Iron Maven said...

That's a good question. I think it varies with the individual. Some people are very sensitive to certain foods, while others are more tolerant and have no idea the food they eat might be causing their issues--because the symptoms are subtle.

Ryan said...

Quite frankly, your anecdote about your client who didn't take statin drugs to lower his cholesterol is worlds away from the issue of allergies.
Every doctor perscribing patients statin drugs do so in addition to encouraging healthy diet and exercise. Its good that the client was motivated enough to make the lifestyle adjustments necessary to correct his LDL levels without meds, and by the way, all that exercise will have also raised his HDL which is the best way to remove LDL deposited in arteries.
This is much different than allergies. LDL levels are genetic and a reflection on lifestyle, as in what you put in your mouth. Allergies, on the other hand are you immune system reacting to things in the environment.Its like a vaccine, only in reverse. Your immune system is primed to an antigen.If it encounters that antigen it engages and inflammatory mediators are released into your tissues and you show symptoms of allergy.
So lets connect this with your statement about casein and glutin affecting your immune system. If you are allergic to casein or gluten or whatever then ONLY the antigens present on those substances will get an allergic response. Its possible that another substance will have a similar antigen on it. It is not possible to not be allergic to casein and to have severe allergies to ragweed because of the casein.
a final point. When doctors say no evidence, they are speaking of double blind studies or other forms of concrete evidence. The china study was done by analizing surveys. Surveys are incredibly low on the evidence ladder. Look it up.

The Iron Maven said...

Let's must be a medical student or an undergrad jonesin' to be a medical student.

Let's give you a few years to get into the real world of patient care and see that the science of medicine/biology/physiology is not as black and white (re: objective and simple) as you perceive it to be now.

And you'll also develop an appreciation for the role epidemiology plays in the study of health and disease.

In the meantime, check out Dr. Joel Fuhrman at and check a classically trained MD's view on the subject of food and allergies. He can provide you with some additional peer reviewed reference material if you wish.

Ryan said...

I understand that treating disease is not text book, and I understand the relevance of proper diet in the maintenance of health. I have done research on the effects of phytoestrogens of various sources and their affects on prostate cancer cells in culture, and yes if in the proper concentration they do slow growth in vitro.

Medications prescribed by doctors are just like the chemicals thought to be beneficial to health. You put them in your body and they act on biological systems to up or down regulate processes that harm or benifit the individual. The difference is that medications have been proven in clinical trials to treat the conditions they are marketed for whereas various foods are not. Is it important to eat well and exercise? Absolutely. That is how you stay healthy, but once a disease process has begun you have to pick the tools you use to treat the condition based off of what works.
What I think your reaction to the doctors remarks is a misunderstanding of the context. I would contend that Dr. Furhman has a unique practice because his patients are all those that are very proactive in their health (they follow strict dietary recommendations) and have the money to purchase whole and high quality foods. His approach to health care is preventative, whereas most of today's doctors are reactionary. Yes, doctors need to encourage prevention, but is someone comes to a doctor with cancer, or other serious disorder Dr. Furhman uses diet to try and prevent, prescribing more vegetables and less grains will not slow the growth of the cancer. If someone has diabetes, ischemic heart disease, symptomatic athlerosclerosis etc diet and exercise help but they can never match the benefit of medical intervention and treatment.
The same is true of allergies. Once you have them, there is only one way to stop them. Block the chemical mediators that cause the inflammation of hypersensitivity reactions or in the case of severe allergy, try to desensitize yourself with multiple injections of antigen. There is also new treatment available with humanized mouse antibody to IgE (antibody that mediates hypersensitivity reactions). no soy bean could ever acheive such specific results as that.