Asthma is one of the most common medical conditions in North America. The prevalence of asthma has increased significantly over the past few decades. There are a number of possible reasons for the increase in asthma rates including increased pollution in the atmosphere. However, there is another cause that is often overlooked; food allergies. In this article we will discuss how food allergies can cause or exacerbate asthma.
About 3½ years ago Vincent came into the office with a chronic hacking cough that had been present for over 10 years. It was the kind of cough you could hear outside the building. He had been through a battery of tests and his doctors had concluded that it was due to his asthma. He had been taking inhalers for over 10 years but no matter how much or how often he used them the cough just wouldn’t go away. Asthma typically involves inflammation in the lungs and constricted airways in the bronchioles. The cause is often unknown and unfortunately most conventional treatments involve merely trying to decrease inflammation and dilate the bronchioles with inhalers. Unfortunately, the inhalers which typically contain corticosteroids do not treat the actual cause of the inflammation.
When I first met Vincent we went through an assessment as part of the initial consultation. We found that he had chronic constipation, heartburn, hives, and eczema. This immediately made me suspicious of food allergies.
The naturopathic approach to treating asthma involves identifying the possible causes of inflammation in the body. One of the most common causes of inflammation is food allergies. The type of food allergy that is most likely to be overlooked is called a Type II Delayed Sensitivity Reaction. This type of allergy involves the production of an immunoglobulin called IgG, which attacks the offending food. The symptoms of Type II allergies are usually chronic and present slowly over time, which makes it very hard to determine their presence. The symptoms can be highly variable but typically involve inflammation somewhere in the body.
The best way to identify Type II Delayed Sensitivity Reactions is to run a blood test for IgG. This test identifies how much IgG is produced by your white blood cells when they are exposed to specific foods. For example, if a person is allergic to milk their white blood cells will produce high levels of IgG when they are exposed to milk. However, they will not produce high levels of IgG when they are exposed to other foods if there is no allergy to those foods.
When I explained the potential connection between food allergies and asthma to Vincent he decided to have the IgG test. When the results came back from the lab we learned that Vincent had a number of allergies to various foods. Vincent immediately decided to avoid these foods to see what would happen. I am happy to report 3½ years later Vincent’s cough has not returned.
If you have been diagnosed with asthma but are not happy with your treatment you may want to consult a physician who is trained to identify Type II food allergies. Like Vincent, your asthma may have a hidden cause you have not looked for in the past.
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Dr. Brent Barlow
Dr. Brent Barlow is a naturopathic physician and author of the book series, To Feel Well. The first book in the series is now available. Click Here for more information or to purchase Improve Your Digestive System. He is an expert in the field of integrative and holistic healthcare and has a special interest in treating cardiovascular, hormonal, inflammatory, and digestive system disorders. He is board certified to utilize advanced integrative procedures like intravenous nutrient infusions, prolotherapy, neural therapy, and hormone prescription. Dr. Barlow is a graduate of the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine in Vancouver and practices in Kelowna, British Columbia.