It is hard to go to a party and not notice how many people have food allergies and sensitivities. Whether your host has gluten-free dinner rolls, dairy-free ice cream, or a peanut-free snack mix, many people are accommodating this drastic rise in food reactions happening right now. And no…it’s not in their heads. Research is showing exponential growth in the amount of people whose immune systems now see food as dangerous. In the last few decades, peanut allergies have risen by over 300% and celiac disease has risen by over 500%.
So what has changed in the last few decades? One of the many factors is our drastic increase of man-made chemicals. Due to our rising population and our feverish consumption of chemical products, data from 2010 shows us that we import or produce over 74 billions pounds of chemicals into the US every single day. That is over 250 pounds of chemicals per person per day! Every year that number increases as our use of chemicals increases.
In the year 2012 alone we saw an over 12,000,000 pound increase use of BPA and a 270,000,000 increase in the herbicide roundup. And that’s only 2 of the over 87,000,000 chemicals that are commonly used.
As a result, we are seeing increasing amounts of chemicals in our air, water, soil, food, urine, and even breast milk.
Chemical exposure increases food allergies and food sensitivites!
How Chemicals Alter Immune Cell Function
The Human Body Has Six Senses
We all know the five human senses, right? These are sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. But we have a sixth sense too. It's called the cellular environmental surveillance system, otherwise known as the immune system. Our immune system is literally a complex network of cells that constantly samples minute particles from our environment to determine if we need to be in a state of alert and alarm, or a state of calm. What research is showing us is that, as these immune cells are sampling an environment that is more laden with chemicals (say after eating a fast food meal, breathing in polluted air, or lathering your body in toxic skincare products), the chemicals are changing the behavior of our environment sampling cells (part of the immune system). One of the changes that takes place is our sensitivity to foods.
How do Chemicals Alter our Immune Systems?
Chemicals alter our immune systems in numerous direct and indirect ways. Here are three of the ways in which they do so:
- By killing beneficial microbes in the body, soil, and air.
- By depleting vitamin D in the body—a nutrient that calms immune activity.
- By changing how the immune system develops and reacts.
Chemicals in Food and Water
If you ate a meal of conventionally produced foods and drank a glass of chlorinated tap water with it, chances are you would have ingested a decent amount of some chemicals called dichlorophenols. When scientists studied the levels of these chemicals in people, they found that subjects with the highest levels had almost twice as many food allergies.
- Common items with dichlorophenols
- Moth Balls
- Air Fresheners
- Chlorinated water
- Deodorizer cakes used in urinals
The average female uses 12 personal care products a day while the average male uses around 6. In each one of those products are numerous chemicals. There are things like phthalates to allow the colors and scents of these products to stay suspended evenly throughout the product. Parabens are added to keep bacteria and molds from growing in them. Triclosan is a “germ killer” added to hand sanitizers, toothpaste, deodorants, and more. (see this link for a list of products with triclosan in them).
Studies have shown that these chemicals are present in most people and that those with higher levels in them have more food allergies and sensitivities. One particular study looking at over 800 children found that those with the highest triclosan levels had a 240% increase in food allergies!
The Germ and Pest Killers
As our immune cells (sixth sense) sample the environment, the first thing they come in contact with most often is microbes. Our immune cells rely on microbes to keep them calm. In fact, we have specific receptors in our intestines that look for proteins from certain species of microbes. When those microbes are present, these receptors send a message to the immune system to maintain a state of calm. When certain microbes are not present, our immune cells are more likely to launch an attack against food particles. In other words…lots of microbes leads to a decrease in allergies. It is no wonder then that many of the chemicals associated with allergies are classified as anti-microbial (ie. parabens), “germ-killing” (ie. triclosan), or pest-killing (pesticides/ie. dichlorophenols). As we shower the earth with pesticides, live an increasingly ‘sanitary’ life, and take medical antibiotics, we are decreasing our microbial friends and contributing to over-reactive immune systems.
Chemicals Can Lower Vitamin D Levels
As mentioned in this previous post, many chemicals in our environment can deactivate vitamin D in the human body. Even conservative medical journals are pointing out that things like BPA turn on a pathway in our genes that degrades vitamin D. Why is this important for allergies? Vitamin D appears to be an incredibly important nutrient to calm the immune cells and reduce the incidence of allergies. If we are exposed to chemicals that lower our vitamin D levels, we are at an increased risk for food allergies.
When examining over 3,000 children and adolescents in the US, researchers found that groups with vitamin D levels below 15ng/mL compared to groups with vitamin D levels above 30 ng/mL had 239% more peanut allergies.
A study in Australia showed that infants with vitamin D levels (25 hydroxycholecalciferol) that were below 20 ng/mL had a 1151% increase in peanut allergy, 379% increase in egg allergy, and 1048% increase risk of having multiple food allergies.
It appears that if we lower our chemical exposures and keep our vitamin D levels above 30ng/ml, we can significantly decrease food allergy rates.
Chemicals Can Cause Your Immune System to Overreact
It is becoming increasingly clear that chemicals in a Mother and Father around the time of conception will alter the sperm, the egg, and the developing embryo in many ways. A developing child exposed to these chemicals may have a more reactive immune system for his or her entire life. But the immune changes caused by chemicals are by no means limited to early life. Both Dr. Claudia Miller and Dr. Stephen Genuis have been speaking for over a decade on a phenomenon entitled Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance or TILT. Getting “TILT-ed” is an ever increasing condition where people have either a one time large-dose exposure to toxic chemicals or a low-dose exposure over a long period of time. This causes their immune systems to become more sensitized to things like foods, chemicals, bacteria, and even our own human tissues (autoimmunity). A perfect example of this was a client of mine that appeared to get food sensitivities almost overnight. Here is an excerpt from my Elimination Diet book that tells his story.
Excerpt from The Elimination Diet (page 70):
“People don’t often realize the impact environmental chemicals can have on their health. That was the case for Jimmy, a 40-year-old man who came to see me with a mysterious illness. Six months before he contacted me, he had come down with terrible muscle aches and pains, problems breathing, and debilitating fatigue. Almost overnight he had also become sensitive to many foods and had unpredictable bowel movements. Although he was extremely tired all the time, he just couldn’t seem to get restful sleep. All his symptoms were sudden and mysterious, and they showed no signs of letting up.
He was proactive in seeking help. He had gotten expensive laboratory work-ups and evaluations that he shared with a handful of physicians, and not one could pinpoint the origin of his problems. Some even suggested that it was all in his head.
Within 20 minutes of our first conversation, I stopped him and asked: “So…when did you remodel your house?” Even though he did not mention remodeling his house, I knew, without a doubt, that he had. Shocked, he said, “A little over six months ago.” Precisely when his symptoms had started.
It turned out Jimmy’s house was an older one, and he had redone the paint, flooring, and numerous other tasks. I asked, “Is there any time in the last six months that you have felt better?” He said that there had been a weeklong period when he had gone camping, and he noticed his symptoms started to clear up then. This confirmed it for me: It was his house. The chemical exposure to the paints, adhesives, flooring, and everything else he had used to remodel were too much for his system to process.
I suggested that he eliminate some of the irritating foods in his diet and add in lots of fresh, antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits, as well as some specific supplements for detoxification and mitochondrial function. At the same time, I recommended some ways he could minimize the effects of the chemicals he may have been exposed to in his house. He got an air purifier that would remove volatile organic compounds and opened his windows frequently. Within a few weeks, he started to turn the corner. Within a few months, he was 70 percent better. The food sensitivities disappeared.”
What Can You Do Now?
1. Eat Organic. If you can't afford a 95-100% organic diet, then look at the EWG's "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen" list and make choices around that. Keep in mind that non organic grains and beans are routinely sprayed with herbicides just before harvesting, called a "pre-harvest desiccant." Luckily, organic grains and beans are relatively inexpensive so it can be easier to make this switch.
2. Use Natural Skin and Make-Up Products. Check your local health food store for paraben and BPA-free natural mineral-based make-up and skin care products. You often don't need anything expensive or fancy. I like to use coconut oil as a body lotion, and rosehip seed oil as a face lotion!
3. Avoid Anti-Bacterial Soaps, Hand Sanitizers, and Toothpastes. Clean Well is a brand that uses Thyme oil as the main ingredient in their hand sanitizer. This is far safer than anything made with Triclosan. Choose a simple, natural liquid soap for the bathrooms, scented with 100% pure essential oils if desired. Dr. Bronner's is an excellent brand.
4. Get a Water Filter. There are a few options for water filtration. You can fill up large water jugs with purified water from your local health food store. You can also buy your own reverse osmosis water filtration system and install it underneath your kitchen sink. Or you could get a countertop drip filtration system; I like Berkey Water filters.
5. Do an Elimination Diet. This will help to calm the immune system and reset the body in order to react less to food, and environmental triggers like dust and pollen. Next Live Program begins July 30th, 2016!
6. Read our Nourishing Meals book. In the book we explain the different factors that are causing this drastic rise in food allergies, sensitivities, and autoimmunity. The new edition is up for pre-order now!
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