Saturday, May 7, 2011

Wheat, Allergies, and Asthma

When one starts reading about the Paleo/Primal diets, one reads a lot of anecdotes about people's experiences on this diet.  Many people are able to achieve remarkable improvements in their health simply by ceasing to eat toxic foods.  Beyond remarkable, some of them seem downright miraculous.

One of the consistent threads is that people with allergies see their allergies and asthma improve after ceasing to eat wheat.  All the major paleo/primal blogs and sites have "success story" sections, the first one I started reading, at Mark's Daily Apple, is here.

The other day I posted about Dr. Davis' call for stories about people eliminating wheat from their diets.  One of the comments is about asthma improving from wheat elimination:

"My GP was amazed when I told him that I no longer needed steroids on my repeat prescription; he asked what I’d done to manage this 'because no-one comes off steroids for asthma'."

This story is extreme, but not atypical.

Allergies have been a thread in my family for three generations, at least.  My father had allergies growing up, coupled with eczema so severe that his fingerprints were wiped off his fingers from the damage.  My turn came and I suffered from horrible hay fever, eczema, and asthma that necessitated a few trips to the emergency room.  Both my father and I saw allergists, and suffered through the injections thought to assist in clearing up the allergies.  Both of us saw our allergies improve as we grew up.  I've not had an asthma attack for years, and even my hay fever is largely gone.  I no longer take anti-histamines, unless I'm going to be cleaning a dusty room.

My older daughter seems to have inherited the family affliction.  She has severe allergies, has had some pretty severe asthma attacks, and suffered from childhood eczema, including diaper rash.

She's also seeing an allergist; in fact, the same practice that I saw when I was a kid.  (An excellent practice, by the way, they believe in absolutely the minimal amount of medication required to control the condition, and unlike most try to avoid heavy steroid use.  He also had a number of other excellent suggestions which significantly improved my daughter's life.*)

So part of my promise to my daughter was that if she complied with our new family diet and stopped eating wheat, she'd likely be able to go off her allergy medicine.

She's battled us on this, and cheats regularly.  But we no longer keep wheat in the house, and she's finally stated to notice the difference.  She had several of the symptoms of celiac, and finally admitted to me that "whole wheat bread makes me feel worse than white bread does", although she then said, "So can I still eat white bread?"  Sigh; kids.

I also saw the same allergist, and had the opportunity to discuss my wheat issues.  The first conversation I had with him was interesting, as he was extremely skeptical of some of my claims.  "Celiac is very rare", he said.  I explained that it was very common, in fact.  On the next visit he'd clearly done some reading, as he related in suprise how common wheat issues actually are.  Being able to quote research off the top of your head is very helpful in convincing doctors that you are a well-educated patient.

So the point of this story is that my daughter just had her spring check-up with the allergist.  Apparently this is a very difficult allergy season, as it's been quite wet, and then suddenly warmed up, so everything is blooming at the same time.  The cars are covered in yellow pollen.  The allergist, as related by my wife, was quite suprised to discover that my daughter is doing just fine.  So fine, in fact, that the regular battery of allergy shots we had been discussing are likely not necessary, and that she probably will be able to come off her medicine, which she'd been taking erratically any way.  He's also suprised by how rapid her improvement has been, as he's been seeing her for several years, and the symptoms were pretty consistent.

Does this prove that mostly ceasing to eat wheat resolved my daughter's allergies?  No.  Although it's pretty suggestive.  Given the family history and my extremely severe history of wheat problems, the allergist pretty quickly came on board that we've got a problem, for instance.  I'm visiting him soon to finish up my penicillin challenge.

The key point, though, is that if you have some of the health issues that are regularly associated with wheat poisoning, there is absolutely no downside, aside from the possibility of withdrawal symptoms, of doing a wheat-free trial.  Perform your own experiment.

The power of a hypothesis is in its predictive ability.  The subject in this case was my unwilling daughter, and the experiment was to see if removing wheat from her diet would improve her allergies.  Wheat was removed, and allergies improved.  Not a confirmation, as a hypothesis can't be "proven", but clearly not a refutation.

* P.S. I wanted to elaborate a bit here.

Our allergists' policy is that your room should be totally clean of allergic triggers, as when your body's immune system has no time to rest, it's more likely to over-react.  This is what we did for my daughter, and it helped her a lot.

My theory is that removing the dietary trigger should help even more.  Wheat is, of course, a known cause of auto-immune problems.

This would seem pretty elementary, but I guess if you don't recognize wheat as an auto-immune trigger in the first place, it's a tough conclusion to come to.

P.P.S: This is a late update. It's official. As of last spring's visit to the allergist, my daughter is done. No more appointments with the allergist; no more drugs; no need for shots as her symptoms are now so minor. Her nut allergies are bascially non-existant now. She even snacks on pistachios, althoug some of the other nuts still irritate her throat and she avoids them. His official judgement was that we use something like Claritin if she has any more symptoms like hay fever.

 P.P.P.S. August 2014. She hasn't seen an allergist in several years at this point. She used to be extremely allergic to cats. As she had a couple of friends have cats, this was a regular issue. She now visits her voice coach's house weekly: they have a cat, she never has a reaction to it. She takes no medication for allergies. She cheats and eats wheat, I don't know how often. But she assures me that she doesn't eat it regularly. She's had what seem to be a couple of minor allergic reactions. But it's a night-and-day difference from prior to adopting the Paleo diet.

P.P.P.P.S.

January, 2016: She's pretty much gone into complete rebellion over the gluten-free diet.  Her allergies are much less than they were when she was younger, but they're back.  I mentioned before that I took medication before cleaning a dusty room: well, we did a bunch of cleaning of some old dusty stuff from storage.  I had no reaction whatsoever, she went to bed with a pretty robust allergic reaction.