Over the years many people have come to me wandering if they have an allergy or intolerance to food(s) that may be causing their symptoms. Symptoms that is often many and varied, such as headaches, rashes, runny nose, skin complaints, bloating and other digestive complaints, and fatigue to mention just a few.
Allergies and intolerances can give the same symptoms but it can be important to understand the difference between the two. So just what is the difference? In a basic sense an allergen is an immunological reaction, and intolerance, is usually something the body has difficulty digesting and assimilating and therefore is unable to use correctly so become like a toxin to the body, often fermenting and causing toxic reactions in the body.
An immunological reaction is one where the immune system becomes involved. Let me explain this a bit further. The purpose of the immune system is to guard the body against viruses, germs, undigested proteins and other substances, which are likely to be harmful or toxic to the body. These substances are collectively known as antigens.
The first phase of an immune response happens when antigens enter the body through the mouth, nose or skin. When this happens, inflammation occurs in the body and the immune system is stimulated to produce more white blood cells. The task of these extra white cells is to eliminate the offending antigen. If this is successful, the inflammation subsides. The second phase of the immune response takes place when the white cells are unable to destroy the antigen.
The immune system then commences the formation of antibodies, called immunoglobulins, which are tailor-made to combat the antigen and destroy it. Once antibodies have been created to fight a specific antigen, they remain in the body ready for any future invasion by that antigen. Normally, the white blood cells and the antibodies destroy the antigen, the body makes a speedy recovery and we don’t even know anything has happened.
Sometimes however, this doesn’t happen and the result is an allergic reaction, which the immune system can’t deal with, resulting in chemicals such as histamine being released, causing the irritation we often then do notice.
In the case of an immunological response or allergic reaction we can see the effects showing in the blood, (in live blood analysis) by way of specific white blood cells that are normally in low numbers, elevated in numbers, and you can even see the histamine granules in them.
Intolerances on the other hand are not seen in the blood by way of white cells, but can often cause an increase in stickiness of the blood. The next question often asked is, well what are the allergens or intolerances? But before answering that question, as a naturopath I can’t help but ask why first, because if we don’t know why then more and more allergens or intolerances are likely to develop, leaving the person with less and less that they can come into contact with or eat.
The typical causes are such things as a breakdown in the immune system, due to such things as stress, and fatigue, constant assault of the immune system, (many people crave what they are allergic to, so have a lot of it) a sluggish liver due to excess toxins in the body or a faulty digestive system (we require a combination of healthy bacteria plus secretions in a healthy bowel to form the immunoglobulins/antibody complexes).
Did you know that approx 80% of our immune system is in the gut? So proper analysis of the situation is important in addressing either situation. Once we know this information and appropriate corrections have been made, knowing the offending substance can be helpful so it can be avoided. In the case of an allergen one needs to avoid the allergen altogether, but in the case of intolerance, often once the cause has been addressed and the person has a break from that substance for say 3 weeks and doesn’t have it more than once in every 72hrs. Usually it causes no further trouble.
So now we need to find out what the offending substance(s) are. You can go to a specialist and have immunological studies done, skin prick tests, allergy testing using a hair sample, or best of all and by far the cheapest is to pulse test yourself.
The test is based on measurement of the resting pulse rate. This is the rate at which the heart beats after a person has been sitting still, comfortably relaxed for three to five minutes. The pulse testing requires a few days of preparation. This requires elimination of any possible reactive substance from the diet for three days.
If you suspect something in particular you can just eliminate this one thing from your diet for the three days, if however you have no idea which could be a problem food for you then I suggest a short water or rice protein powder fast. Bear in mind that a symptom brought about by an allergen may not leave in this time frame as that can actually take up to three months.
Before and during the three days check your resting pulse rate immediately after awakening in the mornings for one entire minute, and record the reading. Check your pulse at various other times throughout the day if fasting, and half an hour and an hour after eating if you have only eliminated some foods, making sure it is a resting pulse and record your answers. There shouldn’t be much of a variation in these readings.
Now begins the challenge time. On the fourth and subsequent few days, take your resting pulse upon waking and then eat a modest quantity of a single food you have eliminated and check the resting pulse one half and one hour after eating. If any food raises the pulse by 12 beats per minute you have a reactive substance (some foods can cause the pulse to double). If no reaction you can try another food each hour. If you get a reaction don’t try another food till the pulse goes back to normal.
You may find that initially you get a reaction to almost everything you test. This means that one of the other situations mentioned earlier could be present (liver, gut, immune), and could be making you more sensitive than you should be.
In this case or if you want to challenge without other problems getting in the way, then may I suggest that you do a full liver and gut detox and repair and immune system rest by firstly cleansing the colon via colon hydrotherapy and fast on a low reactive rice protein powder with added help for the liver etc. thus removing other interferences and showing a truer picture of the offending substances i.e. Only true allergens will be likely to cause disturbances of the pulse.
published in the ‘Here & Now Magazine April 2003′