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Allergic Reactions to Food

The fundamentals of the McDougall Program are simple yet often difficult to implement. Learn about the 12-Day McDougall Program - a life-saving medical program that empowers participants with the knowledge and practical steps needed to live a vibrant, long life. For questions on whether a change in diet can help your ailment, learn more about our consultations.
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Gastrointestinal: canker sores in mouth (aphthous stomatitis), vomiting colic, stomach cramps, abdominal distention, intestinal obstruction/bloody stools, colitis , malabsorption of foods, loss of appetite, growth retardation, diarrhea, constipation, painful defecation, irritation of tongue, lips, and mouth.

Respiratory: nasal stuffiness, runny nose, chronic cough, hoarseness, otitis media (middle ear trouble), sinusitis, asthma (bronchitis), pulmonary infiltrates, tonsil and adenoid enlargement.

Skin: rashes, atopic dermatitis, eczema, seborrhea, hives, hair loss, dermatitis herpetiformis (a gluten sensitivity).

Behavioral: irritability, restlessness, hyperactivity, lethargy, fatigue, “allergic tension-fatigue syndrome”, muscle pain, mental depression, enuresis (bed-wetting).

Blood: abnormal blood clotting, iron deficiency anemia, low levels of serum proteins, thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), eosinophilia (allergy-related white blood cells).

Miscellaneous: arrhythmias (of heart), arthritis, eye inflammation (conjunctivitis), headaches (generalized), migraine headaches, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS, crib death).

Immune Complex Diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus, periarteritis nodosa, polymyositis, scleroderma vasculitis, Henoch- Schonlein purpura, arteritis, milk induced gross intestinal bleeding in infants, occult intestinal bleeding gastroenteropathy, pulmonary hemosiderosis, orthostatic albuminuria nephrosis (nephrotic syndrome), glomerulonephritis (see kidney disease), nephrotic syndrome.

Allergies to gluten (gluten is found in high concentrations in wheat, barley, and rye): schizophrenia (a mental disorder, benefited in a few cases by avoiding gluten and dairy proteins), celiac disease (a bowel disorder), dermatitis herpetiformis (a skin disorder).

  • The McDougall Program

    Dietiary and Lifestyle Implications:

    Allergies are responses to the harmful interaction of our immune systems with agents from the world around us. You can take two broad approaches to improve your condition. First, you can try to find and eliminate the substance that is causing the reaction. Second, you can make your immune system stronger and therefore more resistant to the harmful substance that is at fault.

    Why some people are allergic and others are not is still a grand puzzle. Most scientists think that susceptibility to allergens may be due to an inherited predisposition. However, considerable evidence indicates that introducing certain foods (including cow’s milk) too soon into an infant’s diet, at the time when its intestinal tract and immune systems are still immature, may provoke responses in its tissues that will lead to symptoms of allergy later in life. Similarly, respiratory allergies and skin problems may be started at that tender age, when the infant’s immune responses are unable to cope properly with the alien allergens.

    The ultimate and best test for identifying the substance suspected of causing an allergy is to eliminate the substance (whether it is a food, or a pollen, or a chemical compound), and then to note if the symptoms disappear and the patient’s health is improved. Confirmation of the diagnosis is made by adding the offending substance back to the patient’s diet or environment and observing if the illness returns. Don’t overlook the obvious truth that elimination of the villainous allergen is also the ultimate-and only-treatment for “curing” the allergy.

    Although countless substances can cause allergies, the foods he eats should be the first suspects that an allergic person should investigate. This is true for two reasons. First, whatever we eat is 100 percent within our control. Therefore, once the cause of a food allergy is identified, you can decide to remove that item from your diet. Second, suspecting your food is a good bet: foods represent one of our most frequent, intimate, and diversified contacts with our environment. Molecule for molecule, we interact with the components in our foods more than with air or water, and, obviously, the complexity of the substances we contact through our foods is many times greater than is that of compounds found in air or water.

    Even allergic problems that on first impression seem to be due to agents other than those present in foods (pollens, for instance) can often be helped by a change in diet. The immune system has a limited capacity to handle allergens from many sources. If your immune system is overwhelmed and you can lighten its burden in any way (for example, by eliminating all dairy products), then you will be helped to tolerate the pollen grains swirling about you from the tree outside your bedroom window.

    Eliminate entirely, or reduce significantly, the allergens in your environment, whether in air, or drinks, or foods. Most people will resolve their food allergies by simply adopting a starch-based diet as taught in the McDougall Program, for the simple reason that five of the leading causes of food allergies are eliminated immediately when this change is made: Gone are the dairy products, eggs, chocolate, nuts, shellfish, and fish. If your problems persist, then the next suspects to eliminate are wheat, corn, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and strawberries–the most frequent causes of allergy among the foods in the vegetable kingdom.

  • Recommendations

    In general, if you cannot identify a definite organic cause for your health problem, then suspect that it might be due to an allergy, especially to one caused by something you’re eating. Then search for the culprit. A dietary approach to managing food allergies is the safest and most sensible step you can take for testing and for treatment. Take symptom-controlling drugs only as a last resort.

    The next step in identifying a food that might be the cause of your allergy is to follow an elimination diet. This diet allows you to eat the foods that are least likely to cause your allergic reaction. When you begin this diet, allow about one week in order to completely clear the body of foods that were eaten before starting the diet. By the end of this week, if their trouble was indeed due to their foods, most people will be relieved of symptoms. During the elimination period, all foods should be thoroughly cooked, because cooking alters the proteins in them, making them less likely to provoke allergic responses.

    Foods to eat on an elimination diet:

    Starches (all cooked), including:

    • brown rice
    • sweet potatoes
    • winter squash
    • taro (or poi)
    • tapioca rice flour
    • puffed rice


    Most Green, Yellow, or Orange Vegetables (all cooked), including:

    • beets
    • beet greens
    • chard
    • summer squash
    • artichokes
    • celery
    • string beans
    • asparagus
    • spinach
    • lettuce


    Fruits (all cooked), Most non-citrus including:

    • peaches
    • cranberries
    • apricots
    • papaya
    • plums
    • prunes
    • cherries



    Salt only is allowed (if not restricted for other health reasons). (This means no salad dressings, mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, as well as other condiments.)



    After a week on this kind of fare, your food allergies should have ended and you should be feeling well. If this is the case, then you should begin to add other foods to the diet, but only one at a time, to determine if any of them causes your allergic reactions. For testing purposes, each “new” food should be eaten in large amounts three times a day for two days.

    If the food does not cause a reaction, you can conclude that it is nonallergenic. Most reactions occur within a few hours, but some do not show up for several days. Each food must be tested individually; do not introduce two new foods at once. When you do have an allergic reaction to a specific food, you must wait four to seven days before testing the next item. This interval gives you the time you need to clear your system of that allergy-causing food.

  • References

    Bahna, S. Allergies to milk. Grune & Stratton, NY, 1980

    Editorial–Food allergy. Lancet 1:249, 1979

    Heiner, D. Respiratory diseases and food allergy. Ann Allergy 53:657, 1984

    Lindahl, O. Vegan regimen with reduced medication in the treatment of bronchial asthma. J Asthma 22:45, 1985

    Boyles, J. Food allergy. Diagnosis and treatment. Otolaryngol Clin North Am 18:775, 1985

    Cant, A. Food allergy in childhood (review). Hum Nutr Appl Nutr 39:277, 1985

    Jenkins, H. Food allergy: the major cause of infantile colitis. Arch Dis Child 59:326, 1984

    Wright, A. Food allergy or intolerance in severe recurrent aphthous ulceration of the mouth. Br Med J 292:1237, 1986

    Settipane, G. The restaurant syndromes (review). N Engl Reg Allergy Proc 8:39, 1987

    Barton, M. Controversial techniques in allergy treatment. J Nat Med Assn 75:831, 1983

    Sethi, T. How reliable are commerical allergy tests? Lancet 1:92, 1987

    VanArsdel, P. Diagnostic tests for patients with suspected allergic disease. Utility and limitations. Ann Intern Med 110:304, 1989

    Saarinen, U. Prolonged breast-feeding as prophalaxis for atopic disease. Lancet 2:163, 1979