Allergies hit home for me. My husband and I both suffered from chronic nasal allergies as children (me all the way into my mid 30s), and both of my sons have had childhood allergies. Currently, I’m treating my 7-year-old for his allergies, and in the course of researching the root causes of his chronic itchy eyes, nasal congestion, and skin rashes, I’ve had some scientific ah-ha moments that have helped to catapult his healing process, along with many of my patients’ healing journeys. I’d like to share them with you in this blog.
Oh, dreaded allergies. They seem to hit at any time. For some, it’s most pronounced during the spring when nature blooms and releases pollens into the air. This is called seasonal allergic rhinitis. But many other people suffer from perennial allergic rhinitis, meaning symptoms can occur all year round.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FOOD ALLERGIES AND FOOD SENSITIVITIES?
When talking about allergies, doctors often make the distinction between “true” allergies and food sensitivities. True allergies are IgE-mediated antibody reactions that trigger an immediate and overt reaction. A classic example of an IgE allergic reaction is when a child eats a peanut and immediately breaks out in hives. These can range from mildly annoying to severe or even life-threatening. IgE allergic reactions are routinely tested at your allergist’s office using a skin-prick test or blood draw.
Food sensitivities, on the other hand, are delayed, hidden, and less overt. They occur through IgG antibody reactions, not IgE. Clinically, more people have chronic health issues associated with hidden IgG food sensitivities rather than classic IgE allergies. IgG food sensitivities will NOT show up on your allergy test at your conventional allergist’s office. IgG food sensitivity tests are specialized tests usually performed by Functional Medicine practitioners such as myself, and other holistic health practitioners. The most common food “allergies” are to wheat, gluten, dairy, yeast, eggs, soy, and peanuts. Corn is also reported to be a common food allergy in the medical literature, but in my practice I have not seen corn to be as problematic as gluten, dairy, and yeast.
I find the distinction between IgE-mediated “true” allergies and IgG food sensitivities to be unnecessary when talking to my patients. I use the term “allergy” to describe the body’s immune reaction to an antigen and the associated stuffy nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, itchy skin, hives, GI upset, headaches, and other “allergic” type symptoms.
While allergies may have many causes or triggers, it’s important to address leaky gut, and with that, the possibility that yeast is underlying the allergies.
WHAT IS LEAKY GUT?
Leaky gut describes hyperpermeability of the walls of the large intestine. Simply put, your large intestine is like a tube, and there’s holes in the lining of that tube that shouldn’t be there. Those holes are tiny perforations caused by damage and inflammation.
WHAT CAUSES LEAKY GUT?
- Dysbiosis – an imbalance of too many bad/unfriendly bacteria and not enough good/beneficial bacteria in our gut. Dysbiosis is often caused by use of antibiotics, ibuprofen, and birth control pills, too much sugary or processed foods, not enough fiber-rich plant foods, and stress.
- This imbalance in your gut microflora is commensurate with a faulty immune system, since 80% of your immune system resides in your gut. This leads to yeast overgrowth. Processed carbs and sugars strongly contribute to yeast overgrowth, because yeast feed on sugars. A small amount of yeast in the gut is normal, but overgrowth of yeast leads to leaky gut. Yeast and the toxic compounds released by yeast, unfriendly microbes, foreign proteins, and environmental toxins can “leak” through those perforations in the gut lining and enter the bloodstream, causing systemic reactions like skin rashes, joint pain, brain fog, and allergic symptoms like itchy eyes, stuffy nose, and sneezing.
- Food allergies/sensitivities can also create inflammation that damages the intestinal wall and cause leaky gut. It becomes a vicious cycle.
WHAT IS YEAST?
Yeast (aka candida albicans) is a single-cell fungus that is a normal resident of our gut, skin, and, for women, vagina. But when yeast overpopulates it becomes problematic, primarily because of the toxins that candida releases and because it contributes to leaky gut. Common symptoms of yeast overgrowth (and leaky gut) are headaches, GI upset, bloating, cravings for carbs or sugar, skin rashes, vaginal discomfort or burning, rectal itching, brain fog, poor focus, fatigue, anxiety, depression, muscle aches, joint pain, frequent sore throat, and halitosis (bad breath).
When I tested for my son’s IgG food allergies 2 years ago, dairy, eggs, gluten, and peanuts topped the list. So we vigilantly abstained from those things. His symptoms improved. But over the past 3 months, his symptoms have kicked up again, perhaps because of the increased pollen and mold in the air from the very wet winter and late spring we’ve experienced here in Los Angeles. Regardless of the environmental triggers, I knew to investigate my son’s gut to figure out why his immune system was hyper-reacting to whatever pollens were in the spring air, and to common foods and even “healthy” foods in his diet. So I tested for his IgG food sensitivities again, this time with a more comprehensive test that checked for 90 foods as well as candida (yeast). I was floored by his results. His IgG antibodies to yeast were through the roof. YEAST?! I would never have suspected yeast overgrowth in my son, let alone any other 7 year old. But then, all the dots of his symptoms started connecting in my head: itchy skin, itchy eyes, itchy throat, carb cravings, sugar cravings, stuffy nose. So I now have him on a low-sugar diet and an anti-fungal protocol, and we are steadily seeing improvements.
So when treating chronic allergies, these are the top 5 things to address:
- Hidden food allergies/sensitivities
- Yeast overgrowth
- Refined carbohydrates and sugars
- Leaky gut
- Gut bacterial balance
The Functional Medicine model of treating yeast overgrowth follows the 4R protocol:
- Remove offending foods and substances (namely refined carbs and sugars)
- Replace nutrients and enzymes needed for proper digestion of foods
- Repair the damage in your gut
- Reinoculate with beneficial strains of bacteria and yeast
IS IT REALLY YEAST OVERGROWTH?
Symptoms of yeast overgrowth are broad and can overlap with other issues such as hormone imbalance, mitochondrial dysfunction, and immune disorders. For example, brain fog, fatigue, and allergies can be associated with yeast overgrowth, adrenal exhaustion, mitochondrial damage, and autoimmune disorders. For a reliable diagnosis of yeast overgrowth, it’s best to test. I offer 3 diagnostic tests that can detect yeast overgrowth:
- Great Plains Lab IgG Food Sensitivity Test + candida: elevated IgG antibodies to candida albicans confirms yeast overgrowth
- Genova Diagnostics Organix Test – this organic acids urine test includes markers like d-arabinitol, which, when elevated, indicates yeast overgrowth
- Genova Diagnostics GI Effects Comprehensive Stool Test – this test can detect live yeast organisms, along with good vs bad bacteria, parasites, and inflammatory markers
I understand the irritation, the fatigue, the nuisance, the drowsiness, and the discomfort of allergies. They’re not life-threatening, but they certainly are life-detracting. But the good news is that you don’t have to suffer for the rest of your life with allergies. There are many science-based steps we can take to help you heal and feel better once and for all. Contact my office to get started with a Functional Medicine consultation with me. 562-789-1588. I can’t wait to partner with you to restore your health.