Seven foods are reported to make up 90% of food allergies — peanuts, eggs, soy, wheat, shellfish, tree nuts and cow's dairy. The three suspects of dairy are the milk proteins, casein and whey and the milk sugar, lactose. While many would convict lactose, lactose intolerance is not a food allergy. A person with a dairy allergy is reacting to the milk proteins, casein and/or whey. However, more often than not, casein is the criminal.
Food Allergies, Sensitivities & Intolerances
True food allergies are rare, however, there are two other food induced reactions which are quite common, food sensitivities and food intolerances. While the differences between food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances may be confusing, the terms are often used interchangeably and often experts don't even agree with the terminology. To understand the differences between the three one only needs to look to the immune system:
Food allergies are characterized by an immediate, sometimes severe reaction by the immune system. Food allergies trigger IgE antibodies which cause the release of cytokines and histamines, which trigger the inflammatory response. Less than 5% of the U.S. population exhibits a food allergy. The primary target organs of food allergies are the skin, which results in hives and swelling and the respiratory system, which results in difficulty breathing.
Food sensitivities are delayed reactions, mediated by the T cells of the immune system, which trigger IgG antibodies. These antibodies do not cause the release of histamine, however, they do release other chemicals which results in inflammation. Symptoms of food sensitivities appear hours or days later after ingesting the suspect food. Food sensitivities make up the majority of all food related reactions and affect about 30% of the U.S. population. Food sensitivities result in wide-ranging symptoms affecting multiple systems in the body; respiratory, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, dermal, reproductive, cardiovascular and central nervous systems.
Food intolerances do not involve the immune system, and occur when a person lacks the necessary enzyme needed to digest or absorb a certain substance. This may be due to an inherited condition like fructose intolerance or related to just simply lacking the necessary digestive enzymes like lactase, which results in lactose intolerance. Food intolerances result in predominantly gastrointestinal issues and do not result in multi-system symptoms.
My Casein Confession
My friends, I have a confession to make. It appears I am not cool with casein. Specifically the casein found in cow's dairy. I have used heavy cream in my coffee, eating delicious sharp and stinky cheese, enjoying sour cream with my salsa and yogurt in my protein shakes without problems for years. Or so I thought. A little over a week ago, I had a bad (and when I say bad what I really mean is I was sidelined for 6+ days bad) episode with casein.
Last week, Wednesday, I made Greek style yogurt and after dinner enjoyed a small bowl smothered in cranberry sauce. Thursday morning I woke up and knew I was “off”. My head was heavy, I felt very foggy. My eyes, oh my eyes, they were sticky and watery with pressure looming from behind. I felt terribly depressed, had a terrible headache, my neck and shoulders were tense as was my upper mid-back. I was also exhausted. (It's important to note, this state of being was all too familiar to me, as it is similar to how I felt when I was at my worst with adrenal fatigue.)
My first thought was perhaps I pushed myself a little too hard in my workout the previous day, as sometimes, when I do, I get this kind of reaction. (Those darn adrenals are still not up to par.)
I made my usual cup of coffee with a generous portion of heavy cream and started my day. I forced myself to walk on my treadmill for 45 minutes and was exhausted. I would have probably laid in bed the rest of the day, but I had a 10 month old baby (not mine) to take care of and we had prior plans to visit my senior friend in the nursing home.
I don't recall what I ate for lunch, but after eating, we headed out the door. On the car ride to the nursing home, my stomach started to bother me. Not nausea, but cramping, in the upper right hand side, just under my ribs. It was about eighteen hours since I had the yogurt and about eight hours since I had my coffee with cream. As the afternoon wore on, I still felt horrible and the intensity of the stomach cramping was increasing.
By dinner time I was hungry and felt okay to eat. The stomach issue was not nausea and I wasn't having any, ummm bathroom issues. I nibbled on about an ounce of cheese while I was making dinner, raw, organic grass-fed swiss cheese. It was delicious. Dinner was protein and veggies followed by some 90% dark chocolate. Before I even finished my chocolate, the pain in my abdomen intensified. I crawled in bed with my tablet computer Googled, pain upper right quadrant rib cage…..GALLBLADDER.
I was having a self-diagnosed gallbladder attack.
Interestingly enough, I have done some studying surrounding food allergies and as recently as a few weeks earlier was reading some pretty compelling information about food allergies being the cause of gallbladder issues. I also stumbled on some research about gallbladder issues and its relation to neck and back pain.
Lightbulb goes on, as I am rolling around writhing in pain in my bed, IT'S THE CASEIN, Greek style yogurt is all casein. Nothing I can do but ride it out and avoid casein at all costs, at least for a while. The story doesn't end here though my friends, this reaction lasts several more days. Friday morning I wake up and the abdominal pain is gone, head still hurts and eyes are still bothersome, but compared to the day earlier, I feel better. I tell myself I can have cream in my coffee, its organic, non-pasteurized, from grass-fed cows, and it's primarily milk fat, not a lot of casein in cream. (That's called rationalization.)
I call and schedule a chiropractor appointment as my neck and back are a mess. I also have plans to meet my aunt for lunch in the afternoon and need to do a little shopping.
First stop is the chiro for an adjustment. I tell her of my gallbladder episode and she seems to agree with my conclusion of casein. As she examines my spine she notes that those who have gallbladder problems typically have issues with their T7, T8 and T9. Sure enough, this has never been a problem area for me, but it was that day. She also noted, this was the most out of alignment she has ever seen my spine, even though I had been adjusted less than a week earlier.
Next up lunch with my aunt. I was very careful with my lunch selection having a grilled pork chop with wilted spinach and broccoli. We were at the Cheesecake Factory, and my aunt wanted cheesecake badly. I talked her out of it by suggesting a bowl of fresh strawberries and asked for a bowl of unsweetened whipped cream. We shared this dessert and yes I had more cream.
Back home by dinnertime, I was not feeling well, mostly just tired, very tired. I made dinner for the family and crawled in bed by 7pm, asleep by 7:30pm. It is now Saturday morning and I wake up with the same eye issues, still foggy headed and tired. I have my coffee only this time I put in coconut milk, I barely finish it and decide to go back to bed for a nap.
Two and half hours later I arise from the dead. Saturday and Sunday are our usual routine of grocery shopping, laundry, church, errands, etc. I am very careful with my food choices avoiding dairy completely, my symptoms are lessening and my energy levels slowly begin to return. The main lingering symptom is this issue with my eyes, they still really bothered me.
Monday morning rolls around, it has now been almost five days since I had a heavy dose of casein and the symptoms are still lingering. I decide to send my functional medicine doctor a quick text to get his take on things. We have an afternoon text chat and he too is in an agreement with the casein sensitivity. He is pretty confident it could take several more days to clear my system. I question him about my beloved heavy cream and he says to steer clear of ALL cow's dairy. So what do I do? I have one last cup of coffee with a dose of cream to bid farewell. A dumb move, that I knew was dumb, but what can I say, I am human.
Meanwhile my crazy watery sticky eyes are driving me batty, so I run up to CVS to get some eye drops. While checking out, I spot the blood pressure machine and decide to check my blood pressure. Are you ready for this, wait for it, here it is, my blood pressure was 90/40! That's like half dead, exactly how I felt. I can't believe it, so I check again, 98/42.
Another text conversation with my functional medicine doc and he is certain my adrenals are not pumping out the necessary catecholamines to combat the allergic reaction I am having. Which is proof my adrenals are still not functioning up to par, in fact this stress on them may have set me back. He immediately recommends I restart my adrenal extract for support. I started the adrenal extract on Tuesday and by Thursday I was feeling like a normal person again.
So what's the lesson in all of this? Well for a very long time I refused to believe that I could be sensitive to any foods, always claiming nothing bothered me. I've long had issues with my eyes but always attributed it to seasonal allergies, lack of sleep. But you see even a little can be too much when it comes to the inflammation it causes inside the body. It's almost too simple to believe, when you think just giving up one simple food could be the difference between being healthy and energetic or unhealthy and exhausted. To tell you the truth, I am kind of pissed this happened, as now I cannot claim ignorance anymore.