Food allergies and mental wellness

Vomiting is awful. I can’t even look at a grilled cheese sandwich without turning a little green because I got the stomach flu right after eating one once. Once is all it took. They used to be my favorite food. I think everyone has a story like that.  We all know intellectually that the food was not responsible for our illness but try convincing your body of that. Even the smell can set off real vomiting. Its hard to argue with that.

Allergies and food intolerance’s also set off real bodily symptoms but the illness is not a random illness, the symptoms are actually set off by what we eat. Because of that the physical and emotional situations we can find ourselves in can be even more complicated than just a simple aversion to grilled cheese.

For example, my difficulties with oils are a little vague. I’m not sure why I become sick after eating certain fats and not others. It could be that vegetable fats are processed and have chemicals that I’m sensitive to, it could be that my stomach lining has trouble processing the molecule chains inside of the fats, or it could be that even though the oils don’t smell bad they are rancid and my body is reacting to the fact that they are spoiled. Because I don’t know and I don’t have any way to test my hypothesis, I have a little trouble making myself eat oils. Even ones I know are safe that I have eaten before. Such as peanut oil.

My dad bought me a bottle right after we figured out what was wrong with me and I was happy initially to have something else to cook with, but over time I worried that it would go bad and I wouldn’t know. This led me to wonder every time I used it if I would get sick.  I finally finished the bottle but I didn’t buy a new one, even though I never got sick.

I also used to take cod liver oil. Its an amazing super food. High in all kinds of vitamins that people usually don’t get in the winter. But again I was paranoid that it had gone rancid and I would get sick. I took it for months and it had all kinds of positive effects but when the new bottle smelled funny I stopped taking it and I haven’t tried any since.

I know how unreasonable my fear is, but I also know how sick I get and no one else does. Vomiting, gas, diarrhea and constipation are the least of it. Even the zits and joint pain I can tolerate. Its the depression, and anxiety topped with the utter certainty I’m going slowly mad that I can’t bare to experience again.

When I was thinking about this post I typed ‘allergies and paranoia’ into a Google search.  This article in the LA times came up:

The general implication is that people are paranoid and they have no right to be. The thing is according to Thomas O’Bryan DC, CCN, DACBN if you have a problem like gluten sensitivity and you don’t know it and you eat gluten, your mortality rate goes up 70%. Yes, that’s right 70%.

Your chance of being killed by a car while walking in the United States is 1 in 47,273. That led to 4,280 pedestrians being killed in 2010. There were also 70,000 people who didn’t die but were hit by cars. I’m sure that would make the statistic for the danger of being hit by a car higher than 1 in 47,273. But because of this danger we don’t let our kids play in the street and we warn people to look both ways before crossing.

Your chance of of having celiac is 1 in 100. Nobody warns you about that. Thing is your don’t die from having celiac, you die from compilations of having celiac. Much like people die of complications of having AIDS. And the quality of life of a person who has celiac and dose not treat it with a gluten free diet is severely compromised.  My grandmother was always skinny and had many health problems throughout her life. It was only later in life when she suddenly lost weight (50 pounds or so) and couldn’t get out of bed that she was finally diagnosed with celiac. I often wonder how much easier her life would have been if gluten had not been such a staple in her diet.  Would she have had more energy and not had to spend so much time in bed? Would she have had the dizzy spells or been so unsteady on her feet? Would she have had the unbearably painful varicose veins and leg cramps that led to four or five surgeries? Would she now have a knee that is so crippled she had to have it replaced? Its hard to say.

For every person who has classic signs of celiac in a biopsy there are five who show no intestinal problems but still have the inflammation. The inflammation is what kills you and causes things like Alzheimer’s and cancer. With a one in one hundred chance of having celiec I can’t help but wonder if eating gluten is worth the risk. Is this piece of pizza worth the chance of having Alzheimer’s when I’m 55? Is this doughnut worth getting cancer sometime in my 40s? Sure its only a chance but your chance goes up exponentially if your white and have a relative that has a diagnosis.

The LA Times article implies that its not rational to stop eating food because of the possibility that they might hurt you. How sure do you need to be? It’s rational to protect yourself from foods that you know will harm you. Is it really irrational to limit your diet slightly when there is a possibility of death or ill health if you don’t?

I will leave you with one more story.

Back when colonists were settling the Pacific Northwest there was a mysterious illness spreading among the cows. The cows would act crazed and run around in circles and eventually die. The cows milk would taste sour and anyone who drank it would become very sick and eventually die. Well one person sought advice from a native woman who said that what the cows suffered from was not an illness at all but poison. There is an indigenous plant that causes all of those problems and the solution was to pull it out of your pastures and make sure your cow didn’t eat it.

The local doctor heard about this and told everyone not to believe the crazy native person, everyone knows that plants can’t kill you. In order to prove that he was right he tore up a great hunk of the plant and ate it. Three days later he was dead. No one disbelieved the woman after that.

I think that a little paranoia about what we put in our bodies is understandable and necessary while remembering not to go overboard. I also think we should be careful about who we trust to tell us that our food is safe. Just because someone is a doctor doesn’t mean they can’t make mistakes.

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2 Responses to Food allergies and mental wellness

  1. Kieran says:

    I think it’s weird that people will tell you to suck it up and eat it if it comes from the depths of the industrial food machine, but warn you that it’s poisonous when it isn’t if you happen to find it growing wild nearby …

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