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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Allergies are More Than Just Sneezing: Scottdale's Dr. Martha Grout discusses the connection between food allergies and "leaky gut"

Mar 02, 2013 07:31AM ● By Martha M. Grout, M.D., M.D.(H)

The body has an innate wisdom by which it distinguishes self from non-self. The infant at first has no idea which body parts belong to itself and which to "other". How does the infant figure it out? It begins in the gut.

Most of our immune system is initially contained within the gut, where it is called the GALT, or gut-associated lymphoid tissue. This GALT has no lymphatic fluids coming into it, so it receives its information solely from the contents of the intestines. This information comes in the form of food antigens and "normal" intestinal flora, the helpful bacteria that produce vitamins and serve as guards against organisms that could make us really ill. The infant’s GALT is poorly developed for several months after birth.

B lymphocytes are produced in the GALT and then migrate throughout the body, eventually returning to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract in the form of secretory IgA-producing-cells which then serve as gatekeepers, telling the body which substances are healthy to absorb and which are not. The fact that the information-carrying B lymphocytes migrate throughout the body before returning to the GI tract from whence they came goes a long way toward explaining why food allergies or sensitivity can manifest in so many different ways in so many different organs of the body.

The period immediately after birth is critical to the development of both food tolerance and food allergy. Genetics also play a part. If the intestinal bacterial population is altered by antibiotics given for an ear infection, for example, then the antibiotic-resistant bacteria are more likely to overgrow, causing inflammation in the gut and leading to loss of the tight junctions between cells, and the development of so-called “leaky gut”.

Susceptibility to food allergy is markedly increased because larger molecules can leak out into the bloodstream. If those larger molecules happen to look like our own body proteins (as is the case with some of the breakdown products of wheat metabolism, which look like thyroid), then voilà—autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and so on may develop. If the food is made from a genetically modified (GM) or bioengineered food source, then the proteins may be even more foreign and create even more of an allergic reaction than non-bioengineered foods.

Genetic susceptibility, environmental exposure and destruction of the normal intestinal flora can all occur very early in life. GM crops form the foundation for infant soy formulas, and GM corn is used in their cereals. The result can be a child that is not only susceptible to food allergy in childhood, but also to many other manifestations of inflammatory disease in later life.

Those who have a spring and fall runny nose with sneezing have a pretty clear idea what they are allergic to—pollens and weeds. When the symptoms occur year-round, the cause is more likely to be a food or substance to which they are constantly exposed. These can all be tested; preferably using preservative-free extracts to avoid sensitization to the preservative found in all commercial antigens. Almost any substance can be an allergen for some people, as long as it has some protein in it. Foods of all kinds (wheat, dairy products, corn, soy, citrus and eggs are the most common): pollens, molds, dust, yeast, skin fungus, animals (dog, cat, horse, bird), chemicals (car exhaust, newsprint, cleaning products) and even hormones may be allergens.

For foods, eliminating the offending items for a period of time allows the gut to repair itself and the B cells to diminish in number. Eventually, the immune system settles down and the food can often be tolerated in small doses periodically, although perhaps never again in large amounts daily.

With non-food substances, we determine the level just below that which causes a reaction (called the neutralizing dose), and give regular low doses at that reduced level so the body can "learn" again how to tolerate the substance(s). This is the process of desensitization. Testing and treatment may be done with shots or with drops under the tongue—both are effective.

Low thyroid function, low adrenal function and autoimmune disease all start in the gut, and are simply downstream results of the original insult, the food sensitivity and leaky gut developed in childhood. Fixable? Yes, as long as behavior is changed.

Martha M. Grout, M.D., M.D.(H), leads a team of experienced practitioners at the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine in Scottsdale, the Southwest’s most diversified integrative medicine center, offering preservative-free allergy testing and allergy shots/drops. For more information, call 480-240-2600 or visit ArizonaAdvancedMedicine.com.

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