Food Allergies in Adults

By Gary Null, PhD. Medically reviewed by Tom Iarocci, MD. May 7th 2016

You may have kissed your last gluten-packed box of ziti goodbye, thinking the source of your food allergy was wheat. In fact, there is a lot of hype about gluten these days, but not every ailment under the sun stems from gluten intolerance or sensitivity.

One in five adults will suffer from a late-in-life allergy, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Surprisingly, only eight foods are responsible for nearly 90 percent of all food allergies, estimates AAFA, so it’s best to rule out the main culprits first.

  • Wheat/gluten
  • Fish/shellfish
  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Tree nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Milk
  • Specific fruits, such as strawberries or pineapple
  • Specific vegetables, such as corn and tomatoes

Try to buy organic, unprocessed fruits that haven’t been treated by pesticides or other toxins. Our data and 50 years of allergy research find that most people are not allergic to fruits or vegetables but to the products or preservatives they’re treated with.

Your Immune System Enters Battle

Depending on the particular food that triggers your reaction, your watchdog immune system will detect invading allergens as dangerous or harmful substances. Your immune system then starts retaliating with an army of warrior antibodies that attack incoming “invaders,” producing acute chemical reactions, such as hives, skin inflammation and breathing problems.

Less sensitive people may be able to tolerate small amounts of a food they’re allergic to, but this is not advised in the case of true food allergies because there is a risk of escalating reactions and anaphylaxis.

There are many kinds of skin and blood tests and elimination diets available today that can narrow your search and pinpoint a specific allergen. And yet, otherwise healthy adults who are quite suddenly “allergic” to a new food or a variety of foods should consider one very common cause of acute physical reactions to food: stress.

Before you start depriving yourself of your favorite entrees or undergoing unpleasant needle-prick allergy tests, try examining your stress level and your body’s physiological reactions to stress.

The Role of Stress in Adult Allergies

Poor digestion, gassiness and bloating, even excessive fatigue and insomnia, are all side effects of stress on the body. Intense reactions to a food or new foods are a direct response to how far out of balance your body is and/or how physiologically out of balance you’ve become.

When you address stress and other underlying causes of your body’s overzealous allergic reactions to food, you can begin to understand why you’re getting chronic yeast infections, for example, or why your tongue swells after eating your favorite shellfish paella at the Spanish restaurant downtown.

First thing to do with a suspected food allergy is to boost your immune system to tackle invading allergens such as air pollution and free radicals, experts say.

Then try to minimize any inflammation or local swelling. You can’t see the effects of inflammation on your liver or kidneys, as you do on your skin, for example, but you can still feel its effects: irritability, dizziness, itchiness of the tongue or mouth, diarrhea, mild nausea and congestion.

Take the Next Steps

  • Work with your doctor to find out if you have true food allergies or sensitivities to certain foods. Otherwise, reach for healthy whole foods, including lean poultry, fatty fish such as salmon, beans and seeds.
  • If you are not officially allergic or even sensitive to wheat or gluten, but you feel better if you avoid it, by all means go with what works, but be sure not to eliminate a food group without cause.
  • Ease your stress levels naturally and boost your own immune system by exercising regularly, avoiding smoking and sidestepping excessive alcohol consumption, which all cause considerable inflammation.
  • Eat foods that actually fight systemic, or “all-over,” inflammation. New research proves how beneficial sunflower seeds and flaxseed oils are for soothing inflammation. Eat more Omega-3 fatty acids, found in soybeans, coconuts and walnut oils.
  • If you suspect a food allergy — or a less intense food intolerance — find out what causes your inflammation so you can make smarter nutrition choices, such as choosing rice over wheat products, corn tortillas over flour, and avoiding all processed food for better health.

For Family Caregivers

  • If someone you love is suffering, try looking beyond the food staples in the pantry to find ways to soothe daily stresses and calm your digestive and your immune systems. Studies show tai chi and yoga are helpful.
  • Low-grade chronic inflammation is an unhealthy byproduct of modern life, so investigate your own lifestyle habits to enhance nutrition, improve sleep hygiene and offset the risks of chronic inflammation and allergy.  

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