Thursday, October 2, 2014

Food Intolerances, Allergies, and Stress: An Overview

Of all the stimuli that we’re constantly adapting to, whether well or not so well, food is without question the most significant.  Think about it: There’s nothing that we’re exposed to as frequently, as intimately, as long as, or as much as in shear bulk as food.  What’s more, food, namely natural food, is highly complex chemically.  As such, food, like any other potential stressor, can elicit reactions that are “maladaptive” and chronic exposure to a food to which a person is sensitive can cause the same conditions that are caused by chronic stress — rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid imbalances, ulcers, headaches, obesity, hypoglycemia.

It’s no surprise that food sensitivities have been linked to and blamed for causing virtually every symptom in the books.  It’s also no surprise that a diagnosis is so difficult to make, and why there is so much controversy amid its existence.  I think the controversy surrounding the existence of food sensitivities was made famous by the work of the pediatric allergist B.F. Feingold. 

Feingold was sure that hyperactivity in children was caused by sensitivities to contaminants and additives in foods.  His diet for hyperactive children was free of all artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, propellants, nutritional supplements, etc., and though his idea was met with aggressive skepticism, there were/are sound reasons to argue for his theory, the most important of which was that many children benefited from the diet.

But food sensitivities can also exist to things that aren’t deliberately added to foods.  Antibiotics, arsenic, and steroid hormones are things added to the feed of livestock that end up in meat, milk, and eggs.  In addition, plant foods, even the highly hybridized ones, contain chemicals, such as salicylates that can be highly allergenic and irritating.  Other contaminants, such as lead, an industrial waste product, are taken up by grains, vegetables, and shellfish with a relatively high affinity, and evidence for this increased lead exposure can be found in our bones, which contain more lead than ever before.

Monday, September 22, 2014

My Health Challenges: A Glance Back at the Past 10 Years

In college, I made it a routine to take as many credits as possible every semester.  On top of working and volunteering, I was consistently burdened with a schedule fit for two students because, well, I’m Asian and that’s what Asians are supposed to do.  I was never complacent and I never allowed myself to live in the moment to stop to enjoy my achievements and successes.  I was crazy obsessed with productivity and always looking towards the next rung in the academic/professional ladder to climb — often at the expense of a ‘normal’ social life.

It’s not a surprise that, even though I made it a priority to take care of my physical health, by the second semester of my junior year, my health collapsed — unbeknownst to anyone else.  I still managed to achieve all of my goals, pushing through the pain the entire way, and at the same time managing to keep all of my options open for life after college. 

Yet, I knew I had done irreversible damage to myself.  I think I was too ashamed and embarrassed to share what I was going through with anyone else.  This wasn’t supposed to happen to me — after all, I was the person who had it all figured out.  Personality and behavioral changes were the most distressing symptoms I experienced, and continued to experience in graduate school.  Bouts of anxiety began to strike, alongside indigestion, insomnia, and crippling tension headaches.  Worst of all, I was nearly emotionless.  I was well informed on physiology and pathophysiology back then and I’d even hazard to say that I offered sound advice to friends who came to me with nondescript health issues.  But the only person I couldn’t help was myself, and this thought would make me even worse.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Essential Fatty Acids: Should We Be Concerned About Them?

Because people can build up large stores of (essential) nutrients — enough to maintain proper physiological functioning for as long as years — diseases arising from dietary deficiencies should be expected to develop slowly and a long time after a deficient diet was imposed.  But for the same reason, it’s extremely difficult to determine the essentiality of a particular nutrient, especially when the requirement for the nutrient is relatively low, as well as the fact that foods contain an array of nutrients in varying proportions.

However, two scientists, husband and wife, working in the Botany Department of the University of Minnesota, crafted a clever and sophisticated (but not full proof) way to test the idea as to whether certain fatty acids were “essential” or not.

Although the idea that the fat-soluble vitamins were essential to good health were proven beyond a doubt by the mid-1920s, when George and Mildred Burr suggested that certain fatty acids – in particular, linoleic acid – were not only merely fuel and vehicles for absorbing the fat-soluble vitamins, but also essential nutrients in themselves, they came up against skepticism from other scientists.