Expert Advice on Common Diseases
Expert Advice-Treatment of Food Allergy in Traditional Chinese Medicine(TCM):
Chinese Medicine - An
Approach To Food Allergy
Every time we see a new doctor and fill out
a patient history, there is always a question about allergies, especially
drug allergies. Since drug allergies can be life threatening, there
is a lot of attention paid to them. Some food allergies can also
produce a severe reaction, called anaphylactic shock, or even cause death,
but this is a rare occurrence. Food allergies can produce a wide
variety of symptoms, some acutely uncomfortable, others subtle and hard
to pin down. With seasonal allergies, like hay fever, or a reaction
to a specific thing, like bee stings or animal fur, we are usually aware
of what the problem is. We say, “Oh, the ragweed must be in bloom,”
or “Get that cat away from me.” But with food allergies, people often
don’t know what is causing their discomfort. They go along for years
with headaches, fatigue, breathing problems or some other symptom, and
are not aware that food allergies could be the source of their problem.
One reason that food allergies can be very
hard to diagnose is because the symptoms are not just one thing, like hives
or sneezing, but can be a systemic reaction. A person could have
gastrointestinal tract symptoms, a respiratory system disorder, or even
cardiovascular involvement. Another difficulty with detecting food
allergies is that there can be a lag time -- sometimes it takes several
days or even several weeks for a reaction to develop.
People with food allergies quite often find
that they have developed an allergic reaction to multiple foods.
At this point, life becomes difficult. It is very hard to eliminate
all the foods they have a bad reaction to: they can’t eat with friends,
go out to restaurants, or go to a party. Sometimes they have to bring
their own food along to family occasions like Christmas and Thanksgiving
dinners. It’s not much fun. And besides that, a very restricted
diet can have harmful long-term health consequences. I have seen
people suffering from malnutrition because they are frightened of eating,
and only eat very limited varieties of foods. They do not get enough
nutrients, and develop many other health problems, even becoming disabled.
One woman I saw only ate four kinds of food. At 5’6” tall, she weighed
78 pounds, was malnourished, and was pretty much unable to work.
Chinese medicine can be very effective in
treating this problem. It focuses on diagnosing and treating the
underlying imbalance that produces the symptoms of food allergy.
It can reduce the body’s negative reaction to foods, support the functioning
of the internal organs, and improve the immune system.
First, let’s describe the symptoms of food
allergy. The most common symptoms are fatigue, hives, eczema, abdominal
pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, nasal congestion, cough, asthma, and
swelling of the lips, eyes, face, tongue, and/or throat. Severe or life-threatening
manifestations include difficulty breathing, decreased blood pressure,
increased heart rate, dizziness, mental confusion, slurred speech, anxiety
attack, and cardiovascular collapse.
Most Common Problem Foods:
Shellfish, dairy products, wheat, corn, sugar,
certain nuts such as peanuts, strawberries, and food additives such as
dyes, preservatives, MSG, sulfites, etc.
The TCM Approach
Of course, the easy and simple and solution
for a food allergy is to avoid the food you’re allergic to. But with
multiple food allergies, it is almost impossible to eliminate whole categories
of foods from the diet. The answer is to rebuild the body’s capacity
to respond normally to food. Chinese medicine sees the body as interacting
organ systems, and also as a system of energy pathways, or meridians, that
connect all parts of the body. Deficiencies or disharmonies in the
organs or meridians can be the basis of multiple food allergies.
The two organ systems most involved with food allergies are the Lung and
the Spleen. In addition to breathing, the Lungs are responsible for
circulating defensive Chi at the level of the skin. Therefore, any
allergic reactions involving the lungs or skin (hives, eczema, nasal congestion,
cough, asthma) indicate that the Lung organ system or meridian needs support.
The Spleen, with its partner the Stomach, is responsible for digestion,
and for transforming food into Chi and blood. The Spleen meridian
has an outlet in the face and mouth. Symptoms such as nausea, vomiting,
diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, and swelling of the lips, tongue, and
throat indicate a Spleen imbalance.
A Chinese medicine practitioner will select
acupuncture points and herbal formulas that support the functioning of
the organs, dispersing unhealthy excess patterns and nourishing deficiencies.
If a person has been suffering with food allergies for a long time, it
may take several months of treatment to reverse the imbalances, but there
is a good chance that a healthy response to food will be restored.