Food Allergies are a PROTEIN problem...

 

In a previous article, I explained the  differences between a food allergy and a food sensitivity or intolerance. Food allergies involve an immunological reaction against a specific antigenic food whereas a food sensitivity or intolerance could be ANY type of reaction to a food, immunological or otherwise. So in effect, if you have an allergy to a food, you by default have a sensitivity to that food as well. The important distinction here is that you can have a sensitivity or intolerance to some foods WITHOUT being allergic to them. Why is this important?


Autoimmune disorders are inflammatory disorders by definition, triggered by an immunological "attack" against your own tissues. People with Autoimmune diseases related to food issues always have the allergic component to their diagnosis and this plays a critical part in determining which foods are the issues and how to remove these the diet.


The delayed onset food allergy  we're discussing involves specific parts of the immune system reacting against very specific components in the allergenic foods. The main immune system components involved in this process are called T Cells, B Cells and other parts of what is called the cell mediated immune system. These are cells in the body with very specific receptors on their cell surfaces, designed to bind to and hold on to specific parts of foods. These cell surface receptors are comprised of various amino acids in specific sequences. Amino Acids are simply the basic building blocks for all proteins in the body and in the food sources of proteins in our diet. An example of this is shown in the diagram below

 

The amino acids in this receptor and the sequences they are found in, are designed to bind to very specific amino acid sequences in the antigens and proteins they come into contact with. The take away message in this explanation is that amino acids can only recognize and bind to other amino acid chains. Remember I said Amino Acids are the building blocks of all basic proteins? Why is this important?


This means that immune system cells with these protein/amino acid based receptors can ONLY bind to other protein/amino acids. This means... that food allergies involve PROTEINS in our diet specifically.


Simple sugar molecules are essentially long chains of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules. These elements are completely different compounds from the amino acids found in proteins. An amino acid based receptor on an immune cell CANNOT bind to a simple sugar molecule as amino acid receptors can't connect with these elements. Fat molecules are comprised of long chains of these same elements as sugar molecules so the immune cell receptors can't bind to these elements either. Put simply, the cell mediated immune system can't attack simple sugar and fat molecules. We can only be  allergic to PROTEINS in the diet.


Imagine a tennis ball completely wrapped in Velcro with the hooks facing outward. If you take that ball and throw it around the room, it won't stick to the walls, the coffee table, windows, door or other smooth surfaces. It will just bounce off these surfaces until it finds something the hooks will grab onto. If you wallpaper one wall in the room with Velcro, the ball will obviously stick to this wall. Immune cells do the same thing in the body. They will come in contact with many different tissue types but can only recognize and stick to amino acid (protein) based structures that match the amino acid receptor.


This plays a huge part in the success of people trying to identify their food allergy issues with elimination diets. Imagine a patient allergic to dairy and they are trying to do a dairy elimination diet to help their symptom picture. Very often these people associate a dairy elimination with lactose intolerance (which is a food intolerance, NOT an allergy) and they assume if they eliminate Lactose from their diet they are "Dairy free" If these patients are allergic to dairy, they have an issue with the PROTEIN from dairy in the diet. When they eliminate Lactose from their diet, they are eliminating milk sugar and NOT dairy protein. The allergic symptoms will remain on a lactose (milk sugar) free diet.

 

Remember we can't be allergic to sugar, so in all likelihood the Lactose removal from the diet will have little or no impact on the allergic symptoms of the Autoimmune condition. Lactaid milk is considered by many to be dairy free, because it has no lactose in it. A quick read of the label will show you that it still has dairy PROTEIN in it. You could be allergic to milk, avoid milk and drink Lactaid instead, and still show signs of your allergy.


In order to identify your possible food association with your autoimmune disease, you need to consider specific PROTEIN eliminations from your diet, otherwise you are unlikely to have success with dietary management of your autoimmune for food allergy issues.

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Dr. Scott Woodworth
Naturopathic Doctor

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