About Lynn

lynn jaffeeLynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of the book, Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health, a clear and concise explanation of Chinese medicine for the lay person. She is co-author of the book, The BodyWise Woman, a personal health manual for physically active women and girls. Read more about Lynn...

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Food Allergy or Sensitivity?

I am breaking up with eggs. Don’t get me wrong; I love eggs—fried, scrambled, huevos, Benedict, or however you want to prepare them. But the sad truth is lately, eggs don’t like me. Over the past several months, I have discovered that eggs are making me sick. About four hours after eating them, I find myself doubled over with intestinal cramping, sweating, nausea, and a need to run to the bathroom. I’ve found first-hand how much of a problem this can be when I’m out on a hike or on the road, standing in line for the restroom at the Kwik Stop.

Acupuncture for food allergiesIt took me awhile to pin down the source of my symptoms, but in the past couple of weeks, it’s become clear that eggs are the offender. And I’m pretty sure that what’s going on it a food sensitivity, not a food allergy, even though they may look similar in some cases. Here’s the difference:

-A food allergy affects several of your body’s systems and organs, most notably your immune system. With an allergy, your body perceives the offending food as an invader, and mounts a full-scale immune reaction to fight it. You may suffer from digestive symptoms, but more dangerous is the immune reaction that that occurs that can lead to anaphylaxis. Symptoms may include breathing issues, throat tightness, hives, swelling, and a drop in blood pressure. Make no mistake, this can be life threatening and should be considered an emergency.

-A food sensitivity can feel like crap (no pun intended), but the symptoms are generally less serious and usually triggered by and limited to your digestive system. Also, in many cases a food sensitivity is dose dependent, meaning you may be able to tolerate small amounts of the offending food without triggering symptoms. Food sensitivities can be caused by a number of factors, including the absence of an enzyme necessary to break the food down (lactose intolerance), Irritable Bowel Syndrome, food additives, an intolerance to naturally occurring toxins or proteins in a food, and celiac disease.

In Chinese medicine, food allergies and sensitivities usually fall under the organ systems of the Spleen and the Lung. Your Spleen works with the Stomach to break down food, sift and sort what’s required to nourish you, and get rid of what’s not needed. Your energy, blood, and vital nutrients are the product of a well-functioning Spleen. The inability of your Spleen to digest effectively is the likely culprit if you are struggling with food sensitivities.

When it comes to allergies of any kind, your Chinese Lung system is always involved. You Lungs are considered the most external of your internal organs. That’s because with every breath you take you’re inhaling the outside world into your body. Your Lung system is also responsible for protecting you from outside invaders, such as colds, flu, and allergens. It’s this protective function of your Lungs that’s affected when you encounter a food allergen. Your immune system is on high alert, and the symptoms that occur involve your Lungs, such as hives (an exterior issue), throat tightness, shortness of breath, and even a drop in blood pressure. And while you may experience some digestive symptoms with a food allergy, your immune system is also activated.

Can Chinese medicine help food sensitivities and allergies? The quick answer is maybe. Acupuncture, Chinese herbs, food therapy, and lifestyle tweaks are an effective way to strengthen your Spleen and improve your digestion, which can alleviate food sensitivities. Dealing with food allergies, depending on the severity, involves strengthening your Lungs, as well as your Spleen, to better protect your body from outside invaders, or perceived threats in the form of an offending food. It’s important to note that strengthening any of your body systems takes a little time and a multi-faceted approach.

My plan? The first order of business is to stay away from eggs for the time being. That this food sensitivity is occurring at all is a sign that my Spleen needs a little help. So I’ll be getting some acupuncture, taking some herbs, and trying to eat foods that are nutritious and easy to digest. Hopefully eggs and I can reconcile at some point in the future.

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