Allergy to Foods (Hidden)

Allergy to Foods (Hidden): Overview

An allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to something in the environment that is usually harmless.  In the case of food allergies, the immune system sees certain chemicals found in foods as 'enemies' and launches an immune response.

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Food allergy and sensitivity is an important, complex, and often overlooked cause of symptoms and disease.  Chasing down the culprits may require the services of a doctor.

The incidence and severity of food allergies has increased dramatically during the last 15 years.  Some physicians claim that food allergies are the leading cause of most undiagnosed symptoms.  Others maintain that at least 60% of the American population suffers from symptoms associated with food reactions.

Theories on why the incidence has increased include:

  • Increased stresses on the immune system (such as greater chemical pollution in the air, water, and food).
  • Earlier weaning and earlier introduction of solid foods to infants.
  • Genetic manipulation of plants resulting in food components which cross-react with normal tissues.

Causes and Development

Repeated exposure, improper digestion and compromised integrity of the intestinal barrier are all factors in the development and maintenance of food allergy.

IgE binding to allergens and mast cell releasing histamine
When enough IgE antibodies (yellow) bind to allergens (purple), mast cells (center) release histamine (red) and other chemicals

It has been well documented that partially-digested or undigested dietary protein can cross the intestinal barrier intact and be absorbed into the blood stream.  The immune system must decide how to deal with this non-self protein.  Is it friend or foe?  If viewed as an enemy (something that shouldn't be on the inside of the GI tract), an allergic response can occur.  This reaction can be localized, systemic, or at specific distant sites.  During an allergic reaction, mast cells release histamine (which causes inflammation) and other chemicals that activate the immune system response.

Signs and Symptoms

Most food reactions are delayed up to several days and are thus more difficult to identify.  To further complicate matters, delayed food reactions can be cyclic or fixed in nature.

  • Cyclic types account for 80+% of food allergies.  A sensitivity may slowly develop by repetitive eating of a food.  Avoidance for months may result in tolerance again unless eaten too frequently.  Such foods may be tolerated every one to four days.
  • Fixed allergies are sensitivities that occur whenever a food is eaten regardless of the time span between contacts.

Diagnosis and Tests

Man's back with food patches stuck on with tape for allergy test
A man having a food patch allergy test. Usually 25 to 150 allergens are tested for and patches must be left on for 48 hours.

Only a handful of foods are responsible for 90% of allergies, so it is not normally necessary to conduct exhaustive testing.  The foods responsible for most allergies are:

  • Milk (mainly in children)
  • Eggs (mainly in children)
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Wheat
  • Soy
  • Fruits (mainly in adults)

There are two ways to find out which foods are causing allergy symptoms:

  • Experimentation. This means going on an elimination diet (fasting, or consuming foods which have a low allergic rate such as rice, lamb, cabbage) for 4-7 days until symptoms clear, then reintroducing foods one at a time may point to the culprit.  An elimination diet can be accurate, but difficult at the same time.
  • Food allergy testing. The types of allergy testing available include:

    • Skin test, also known as a scratch/prick/puncture/injection test
    • Food patch test
    • Blood test.  Recent improvements in laboratory techniques have made blood testing more reliable.  These tests commonly test for between a few and 200 foods and, though slightly more expensive, can be a valuable and time-saving approach.

Good Laboratories for this kind of testing include:

Treatment and Prevention

If you suspect sensitivity to a particular food, you can strictly eliminate it for a period of time and see how you feel, or if any symptoms resolve.  Avoidance should include any hidden sources.  The most common food allergens are dairy, eggs, gluten grains (wheat, oats, rye), corn, beans (especially soy), coffee, citrus, and nuts.  Since many food sensitivities can be due to poor digestion, hydrochloric acid and pancreatic trials are appropriate.

Signs, symptoms & indicators of Allergy to Foods (Hidden):

Lab Values - Common


Symptoms - Abdomen

Moderate/severe/significant epigastric pain

The first part of the body to react to food is often the gastrointestinal tract.  Sometimes mast cells are involved in allergic reactions and release chemicals such as histamine.  If the affected mast cells are in the gastrointestinal tract, a person may suffer vomiting, abdominal pain or diarrhea.

Symptoms - Allergy

(High) cigarette smoke sensitivity

Smoke can aggravate underlying allergies.

Symptoms - Bowel Movements

Symptoms - Cardiovascular

Symptoms - Food - Preferences

Craving specific foods

We may actually be allergic to the very foods we most crave.  By eliminating these foods from our diet for 10-14 days, the cravings may disappear as the withdrawal symptoms cease.

Symptoms - Gas-Int - General

Garlic/onion intolerance

Onion or garlic allergy is often called an 'intolerance' rather than an allergy.  Symptoms may manifest immediately, or be delayed for up to a day.

Symptoms - General

Symptoms - Head - Eyes/Ocular

Symptoms - Head - Mouth/Oral

Symptoms - Head - Nose

Symptoms - Metabolic

Symptoms - Mind - General

Symptoms - Nervous

(Mild/severe) facial burning/tingling

Tingling in the face has been known to be caused by food allergies.  For example, several recent cases include this and other symptoms as an allergy to barley after consuming only a small amount of beer.

Symptoms - Respiratory

Regular/frequent sore throats

The ear, nose, and throat are common target organs for food allergens.  Congestion or inflammation of the nose (rhinitis), sinuses (sinusitis), and throat (pharyngitis) may be due to airborne irritants and allergens, but food allergy may be the undiagnosed cause of these common problems.

Pain/burning behind breastbone

Wheat has been known to be a cause of esophagitis, as have other hidden food allergens.

Symptoms - Skin - Conditions

Symptoms - Sleep

Conditions that suggest Allergy to Foods (Hidden):


Semen Allergy

There was found to be a greater prevalence of self-reported food allergy among women with systemic human seminal plasma hypersensitivity.  This supports the hypothesis that exposure and sensitization to semimal fluid could result from cross-reactivity with food proteins that are a part of the average daily American diet.  In other words, semen allergies could be connected to food allergies because of similar protein composition.

Environmental Illness / MCS

People with multiple chemical sensitivities often have multiple food allergies as well.  While reactions to chemicals in the environment are generally quicker and more easily identified, food allergies are usually delayed, making it harder to pinpoint the offending food.  People with MCS are often unaware of hidden food allergies which could be contributing to their overall allergic load.

Dental / Oral

Canker Sores (Aphthous Ulcers)

Foods including wheat, oranges, tomatoes, chocolate, nuts, eggplant, tea and cola were dietary allergens that have been found to trigger ulcer initiation.  A study by Dr. Pelin Gürdal conducted in a dental university in Turkey concluded from previous studies [Oral Surg. 1984:57, pp.504-507] and his own that as many as 50% of RAS patients will improve when offending foods are identified and eliminated.  Without laboratory testing or patient insights, identifying these foods for individual sufferers can be challenging.  Food allergies continue to be a controversial cause of canker sores, and further research is necessary to resolve the issue.

Bruxism (Clenching/Grinding Teeth)

Hidden food allergies may contribute to the chronic clenching of teeth.


Picky-Eater Tendency

Food allergies are sometimes addictive in nature, requiring continued consumption of the allergenic food in order to prevent the appearance of withdrawal symptoms.  However, eating the same foods over and over increases the likelihood of eventually becoming allergic to them.


IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

The presence of food allergy is concealed in a variety of diagnoses including irritable bowel syndrome.


Weakened Immune System

Food allergies divert some of the immune system's resources away from preventing and dealing with illness.  Thus, continuous consumption of a food which is causing symptoms weakens your immune system.  A weakened immune system enables infections and cancerous growths to develop and take hold.  Many patients report that they suffer from more than one symptom or illness when reintroducing a known food allergen into their diet after a period of abstinence.



The ear, nose, and throat are common target organs for food allergens.  Food allergy may be the undiagnosed cause of sinusitis in some people.



Meniere's Disease

Several studies demonstrate a strong link between food allergies and Meniere's Disease.


Muscle Pains (Myalgia)

Muscle pain can be due to food allergies.  Such pains will disappear after elimination of the offending foods from the diet.

Nervous System

Tourette's Syndrome

It is thought that food allergies can trigger the tics in TS.  Sherry A Rogers, MD, a specialist in environmental medicine, reports that all of the TS cases she has seen have a least one nutrient deficiency, and usually several.  She notes that all of these patients have hidden mold, dust, chemical and food sensitivities. [Health Counselor, Vol.7, No.4]



Asthma is one of the three manifestations of a pattern of allergy that is called atopy – a genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases.  The other two are eczema and hay fever.  Asthma due to allergy can come from both airborne and food sources.  Patients with delayed pattern food allergy have the most severe and persistent inflammatory form of chronic asthma.

While airborne problems are more obvious to asthmatic sufferers, food problems may be a well-hidden source of lung disease.  Many studies of food allergy involve patients with food-induced asthma.  Eczema and asthma are often associated in atopic patients with food allergy.

In a group of 320 children with atopic dermatitis, 55% had asthma.  Food challenges triggered respiratory symptoms in 59% (rhinitis, laryngeal edema, wheezing, and dyspnea).  Asthma is frequently treated only as an airborne allergy problem or as a problem unrelated to allergic processes and the possible role of food allergy is neglected.  It is overlooked because the usual skin tests are often negative and the history is often not helpful as symptoms appear gradually, hours or days after ingestion of the food.  Milk, wheat, egg, yeast, preservatives, colorings, coffee and cheese are the main foods implicated.

Food allergens may be found in the bloodstream within circulating immune complexes that trigger the release of immune mediators into the bloodstream.  These chemicals cause a variety of symptoms, including constriction of the bronchial smooth muscle in the lungs; this is the first event during an asthmatic attack.  Airflow is reduced in the narrowed tubes.  Air has a harder time leaving the lungs than entering, with the result of prolonged noisy exhalation.  This inflammatory, obstructive phase is the most important mechanism of chronic asthmatic bronchitis.


Hives (Urticaria)

Foods and drugs are common causes of hives.  A reaction that occurs immediately after ingestion of certain foods, producing hives and difficulty breathing is termed anaphalactic and is potentially dangerous.  Delayed reactions are less serious but more difficult to pinpoint.  Some patients get hives occasionally only when they ingest a specific food or food additive.  Others develop hives as a chronic problem that can continue for years.  Most studies of chronic hives suggest that only a low percentage are due to food allergy; this is usually because diet revision attempts were inadequate for revealing the hidden food causes.


Psoriasis patients have benefited from gluten-free and elimination diets: Food allergies can trigger flare-ups of psoriasis.

Symptoms - Liver / Gall Bladder

Gallbladder attacks

A 1968 study revealed that 100% of a group of gallbladder patients were free from symptoms while they were on a basic elimination diet (beef, rye, soybean, rice, cherry, peach, apricot, beet, and spinach).  Foods inducing symptoms in decreasing order of their occurrence were: egg, pork, onion, fowl, milk, coffee, citrus, corn, beans and nuts.  Adding eggs to the diet, for example, caused gallbladder attacks in 93% of these patients.  At a minimum, an egg-free trial period of several months could be worthwhile.

Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain the association of food allergy and gallstones.  Dr. Breneman, who conducted this study, believes the ingestion of allergy-causing substances causes swelling of the bile ducts, resulting in the impairment of bile flow from the gallbladder.  This reduced flow leads to an increase in stone formation. [Ann Allergy 26: pp.83-7, 1968)]

Tumors, Benign

Risk factors for Allergy to Foods (Hidden):



Excess Protein Consumption

High-protein diets may trigger food allergies.  Food allergies often arise when protein is poorly digested and/or particular protein-containing foods are consumed too frequently.


Environment / Toxicity

Family History


Symptoms - Food - Intake

Symptoms - Head - Ears

Symptoms - Head - Nose

History of sinusitis

The ear, nose, and throat are common target organs for food allergens.  Food allergy may be the undiagnosed cause of sinusitis in some people.

Symptoms - Reproductive - General

Symptoms - Respiratory

Past pain/burning behind breastbone

Wheat has been known to be a cause of esophagitis, as have other hidden food allergens.

Symptoms - Skin - Conditions

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Allergy to Foods (Hidden) suggests the following may be present:


Tendency Toward Allergic Reactions

Food allergies are more common in children than adults, and most common in people with an inherited tendency to develop allergic conditions such as asthma.


Allergy to Foods (Hidden) could instead be:



An allergy is a negative sensitivity to a substance which causes a physical reaction.  Classical responses include creation of blood antibodies, histamine release, swelling, itching, runny nose, and others.  However, various substances can cause negative reactions that are not commonly associated with allergies.  In the case of cerebral (brain) allergies (which affect the nervous system), reactions include brain inflammation, irritability, fear, depression, aggression, extreme mood swings in a single day, hyperactivity, and psychosis.  These symptoms can be mistaken for schizophrenia.

A study of "schizophrenics" by Dr. William Philpott showed allergic responses as follows: Wheat (64%), mature corn (51%), pasteurized whole cow's milk (50%), tobacco (75% with 10% becoming grossly psychotic with delusions, hallucinations and particularly paranoia), and hydrocarbons (30% with weakness being common and some participants reacting with delusions or suicidal inclinations).  92% of the patients showed allergic responses with an average of ten items per person causing reactions.

Recommendations for Allergy to Foods (Hidden):


Laboratory Testing

Oxygen/Oxidative Therapies

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Weak or unproven link: may be a sign or symptom of; may suggest; may increase risk of; is very occasionally misdiagnosed as
Weak or unproven link:
may be a sign or symptom of; may suggest; may increase risk of; is very occasionally misdiagnosed as
Strong or generally accepted link: is often a sign or symptom of; often suggests; often increases risk of
Strong or generally accepted link:
is often a sign or symptom of; often suggests; often increases risk of
Definite or direct link: strongly suggests
Definite or direct link:
strongly suggests
Strong counter-indication: often contraindicates
Strong counter-indication:
often contraindicates
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Very useful: is highly recommended for
Very useful:
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