By Dr. Alan Shair
One of the biggest changes in American schools in the past decade has nothing to do with reading and writing, and everything to do with lunch. With the dramatic rise of food allergies in children – as well as adults – schools and other public places are enforcing “nut-free” policies. Meanwhile, grocery store shelves are filling with more and more allergy friendly foods: dairy-free, wheat-free, gluten-free, sugar-free…the list goes on.
Those above the age of 30 can easily recall a time when allergies were milder and much less common; it’s no wonder that many are shaking their heads at what has become what some call an “allergic world”. How is it possible that such a change could occur in the span of only two or three decades?
The answer to this question isn’t simple, but it begins with the stomach – more specifically, stomach acid. Due to GERD, heartburn and other acid-related conditions, the increased use of stomach acid blocking therapies like PPIs and H2 blockers (which decrease acid in the stomach) also inhibit optimum protein digestion. If the stomach doesn’t break down protein adequately for the intestine, the digestive enzymes don’t work as well, and large blocks of protein are left undigested, or not fully digested. Thus the body has a negative reaction: allergies.
A study done in 2005 was conducted in which over 150 people were given PPIs or H2 blockers for a period of three months, after which, the scientists measured their responses to 19 different foods. What they found was a 10-fold increase in food allergies, while the control group (those who did not take antacids) showed no significant changes. The interesting thing about the results is that in the first group, many of the participants’ allergies were new onset. This means that their allergic reaction was not the reactivation of an old, latent response; these people developed new allergies as the result of taking PPIs or H2 blockers for only three months. Those who had existing allergic tendencies generally felt that their allergies were exacerbated or were more intense as the result of the drugs, while others suffered from allergic reactions long after they stopped taking the acid blockers.
What this demonstrates is that allergies are not only the result of genetics, nor are they necessarily permanent. Changes in diet, lifestyle and environment can affect a person’s tendency toward allergies, and may even reverse them. Practitioners of Functional Medicine make a thorough investigation of the many factors contributing to an individual’s allergies, including past history and triggers, and work with patients to create a plan of intervention that deal with the root cause of allergies, instead of treating the effects of those allergies, such as sneezing or dry skin. By taking the whole person into account, it is possible, with the appropriate food plan, to not only reverse allergic reactions, but also to lower the risk of potential allergies in the future.