Natural Remedies for Food Allergies

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By The Mother Earth Living staff
Try these natural remedies for food allergies.

Learn about these natural remedies for food allergies, these herbal combinations may be the key to solving digestive problems.

Natural Remedies for Food Allergies

A stressed immune system can become hypersensitive to
allergens.

I didn’t know what food allergies were really
like until I met Rebecca. She came into the clinic one afternoon
several years ago, bringing with her a bag of digestive enzyme
supplements and a list of foods she could not eat. I looked over
the list and could see that it didn’t leave her much to enjoy in
her diet. “Little enjoyment from my food is better than what
happens when I let down my guard and eat a food I can’t handle,”
she said rather grimly. I could see how she could feel that
way — years of digestive pain, low energy, and diarrhea would put
anyone in a bad mood.

Over the years, I have worked with many patients suffering from
food allergies, and each patient seems to have worked out a
different, simple diet that creates the least amount of problems
for them. Some eat only lightly steamed vegetables and grains;
some, mostly fish and potatoes; and others, cooked fruit. Each
person tends to have a set of different intolerances, but certain
foods seem to be nearly universal allergens: eggs, commercial
meats, commercial dairy products, and many processed foods.
Peanuts, a common allergen in the news these days, are not really
nuts, but legumes. Legumes are also notorious because of all the
proteins and potentially toxic compounds, such as protease
inhibitors, that they contain — especially if they are not cooked
well.

Understanding Food Allergies

Two types of common tests for determining your sensitivity to
various foods are available at your doctor’s office. While not
foolproof, these tests can offer some valuable evidence of a food
allergy. The two tests are the skin prick test and a blood test
such as the radioallergosorbent test. The skin prick test is the
cheapest and is widely available. In this test, a doctor places
drops of the food substance being tested on the skin, then makes a
small pin prick at the site, allowing a little of the substance to
enter the skin and interact with the immune system. A small bump or
“wheal” develops at the site if one is allergic. Blood tests may be
more accurate, but they require a blood draw and are often more
expensive. By eliminating the foods to which you react from your
diet for ten days or two weeks, you can better determine if those
foods actually contribute to your symptoms.

With food allergies, a stressed and overstimulated immune system
can become hypersensitive to allergens — a condition that’s more
difficult to change than pure digestive enzyme insufficiency. This
is why I always start by trying to increase the body’s own
production of digestive substances and add enzyme supplements if
needed. If this support isn’t enough to improve digestive
efficiency and reduce symptoms, we can work on immune support
next.

Sometimes the immune system mistakes a harmless food component
such as casein, a protein from milk, and develops protective
chemicals called antibodies (in this case IgA and IgG) to the
substance. You might be surprised to learn that the gut contains
about 40 to 60 percent of the body’s immune tissue. The next time
that food is eaten, a massive chemical reaction can take place in
the body, ostensibly to protect against a dangerous invader. In
this case, however, the body’s reaction to a harmless substance is
way too severe and can even be life-threatening. Lesser reactions
can take place, producing symptoms in the digestive tract such as
gas, bloating, pain, and cramps. These reactions can be accompanied
by a feeling of malaise or “spaciness.”

Rebecca’s Food Allergy Case

Rebecca came in because she wanted to try and reduce some of the
symptoms she felt, such as dizziness, fatigue, and digestive pain
after eating — even on a strict diet. I checked her pulse, and it was
slow and “damp,” and her tongue was very puffy and pale, with a
fairly thick white coating. My impressions based on these signs
were that she had weak digestive qi (vital energy), with some
internal coldness in her digestion. This can translate into low
digestive enzyme levels, low bile output from the liver, and
perhaps low hydrochloric acid levels in the stomach.

To start Rebecca’s program, I thought first of the classic
combination of red ginseng (Panax ginseng) and ginger (Zingiber
officinale
). These two herbs, when taken together, are very
effective for warming up the digestive “fire” and modulating immune
function for reducing the symptoms of food allergies. The two herbs
can be brewed as a tea, or the liquid tinctures may be blended
together (40 percent red ginseng and 60 percent ginger). For
convenience, I recommended the ready-made Chinese formula called
Liu Jun Zi. This contains other digestive-stimulating herbs — Chinese
licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis), poria (Poria cocos), atractylodes
(Atractylodes macrocephala), citrus peel (Citrus reticulata),
Chinese amomum (Amomum villosum), saussurea (Saussurea spp.), and
pinellia (Pinellia ternata).

I like this formula because the tablets (100 to a bottle) are
not coated with dye or sugar and can be chewed and swallowed. They
produce a nice, warm feeling in the stomach and help reduce
food-allergy symptoms successfully in many cases when taken 4 at a
time before big meals, twice daily. Science has confirmed IgG and
IgA reductions in laboratory studies for some of the herbs.

Rebecca’s program consisted of four basic parts that should
benefit many people with food allergies.

1. Warming and stimulating herbs to promote digestive enzyme
production (ginseng and ginger or Liu Jun Zi).

2. Bitter herbs to stimulate hydrochloric acid production from
the stomach (to improve protein digestion). Bitter herbs such as
gentian (Gentiana lutea) are known to also modulate immune function
and help restore overall vitality. Artichoke leaf (Cynara
scolymus
), another bitter herb, can increase bile flow for better
fat digestion. I always encourage patients to try to activate the
production of their own enzymes with herbs rather than depend on
enzyme supplements, which can promote atrophy of enzyme-producing
mechanisms. Bitter herbs (or bitter tonics, as they are sometimes
called) should be used 10 to 15 minutes before meals, preferably in
liquid form (2 to 4 droppersful in a little water).

3. Natural enzyme-containing herbs such as hawthorn (Crataegus
spp.
). In China, hawthorn fruit is boiled down and made into candy
wafers called “haw flakes,” which are chewed before meals. These
are available in places that sell Chinese foods and herbs.

4. Release of tension over the abdominal area with
“self-massage.” I asked Rebecca to massage a little warming oil
into her belly each evening for ten minutes or so using clockwise
movements, going as deep as was comfortable. Releasing this area
regularly can really help reduce symptoms of pain and cramping.

Success Using Natural Herbal Remedies

Additionally, Rebecca was interested in receiving regular
acupuncture treatments, which also help strengthen the digestive
area. After a month of treatments and herbs, she was able to reduce
her enzyme supplements by about half and still avoid any major
problems. Two months later she used enzymes only occasionally, and
her energy had increased. Her tongue had improved to the point
where her coating was nearly normal. When I see positive changes in
the tongue, especially for digestive problems, I feel more certain
that positive changes are happening. Rebecca continued to improve
and discontinued the acupuncture after four months. She had to be
careful, but she was able to digest a wider variety of foods with
less pain and more normal bowel movements. She reported a 50
percent improvement of symptoms over four months, which she thought
was great based on the years of chronic problems. For food
allergies, keeping the energy flowering in the abdominal area and
helping to activate the body’s own enzyme production with herbs can
be key elements in a successful program.


Christopher Hobbs’s case studies are gleaned from his thirty
years of studying and practicing herbalism. Hobbs, a
fourth-generation botanist and herbalist, is an Herbs for Health
editorial adviser and licensed acupuncturist. He is the coauthor of 
Vitamins for Dummies (IDG, 1999) and many other books.

“Case studies” is not intended to replace the advice of your
health-care provider.

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