Eliminating certain foods can improve medical conditions – or not

It must be so easy being a naturopath writing a column in a newspaper. You are under no constrictions to source any material or provide useful medical advice. If only responses could be so easy.

Important note, I am not a physician so do not confuse my writing with medical advice. That is with two important caveats: if you have a question about your health, see a MD and remember naturopaths are not MDs. Should you really trust anyone who sells what they recommend and promotes homoeopathy?

Question: I have been using a nasal steroid for the past 10 years at least to control congestion and allergies. Are there any alternatives?

Natruopathic Answer: Elimination diet and nasal sprays made of Grapefruit Seed Extract or Licorice Root (which she sells).

Real answer: Those won’t help. There is some, but limited evidence that some food allergies may impact the sinuses. Allergic rhinitis and sinusitis are mostly caused by airborne allergens and dust mites, the focus should be there. Emphasis should be placed on making the areas you spend the most time, especially your bedroom, as allergen free as possible. Contact your local Lung  Association for recommendations and assistance.

It is also important for you and all your family members to get an annual flu shot.

Question: My 11-year-old son takes a steroid inhaler for asthma. I have tried reducing dairy to see if it decreases his dependence. How strict do you need to be?

Natruopathic Answer: Very strict initially, and possibly forever. Buy a fish oil supplement (preferably from her).  Avoid steroid use if possible.

Real answer: Dairy products do not increase mucus levels. Again primary focus should be on air quality and airborne allergen avoidance. Steroid use can often be decreased through the use of other products such as SingulairTM. The potential side effects of under-treated asthma are are greater than the potential side effects of most treatments.

One of the most interesting paragraphs in the article is a real word salad.

Lactose-free products contain the protein, which is the suspected culprit in affected individuals. The immune system can detect a virus which is microscopic, so if he is reacting to dairy protein, even a little each day will cause inflammation of the airways.

I really don’t understand what she is trying to say here, but it seems that an unnamed protein in lactose-free products causes asthma. This is exactly the opposite of everything else in the article, so I assume this unnamed protein is actually in lactose-containing products. Then she jumps to some virus and equates this with dairy protein, and that makes no sense whatsoever.

If you do suffer from chronic sinusitis, you should consult a physician and consider the following potential causes.

  • Nasal polyps. These tissue growths may block the nasal passages or sinuses.
  • Allergic reactions. Allergic triggers include fungal infection of the sinuses.
  • Deviated nasal septum. A crooked septum — the wall between the nostrils — may restrict or block sinus passages.
  • Trauma to the face. A fractured or broken facial bone may cause obstruction of the sinus passages.
  • Other medical conditions. The complications of cystic fibrosis, gastroesophageal reflux, or HIV and other immune system-related diseases may result in nasal blockageRespiratory tract infections.
  • Infections in your respiratory tract — most commonly, colds — can inflame and thicken your sinus membranes, block mucus drainage and create conditions ripe for growth of bacteria. These infections can be viral, bacterial or fungal in nature.
  • Allergies such as hay fever. Inflammation that occurs with allergies may block your sinuses.
  • Immune system cells. With certain health conditions, immune cells called eosinophils can cause sinus inflammation.

So a little more detail with a few sources.

Food allergies and food intolerance are two very different things.

A true food allergy causes an immune system reaction that affects numerous organs in the body. It can cause a range of symptoms. In some cases, an allergic food reaction can be severe or life-threatening. In contrast, food intolerance symptoms are generally less serious and are limited to digestive problems.

If you have a food allergy, even a tiny amount of the offending food can cause an immediate, severe reaction. Digestive signs and symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, cramping and diarrhea. Other signs and symptoms can include a tingling mouth, hives, and swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat. A life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis can cause breathing trouble and dangerously low blood pressure. If you have a food allergy, you’ll need to avoid the offending food entirely.

Food intolerance symptoms generally come on gradually and don’t involve an immune system reaction. If you have a food intolerance, you may be able to eat small amounts of the offending food without trouble. You may also be able to take steps that help prevent a reaction. For example, if you have lactose intolerance, you may be able to drink lactose-free milk or take lactase enzyme pills that aid digestion (such as Lactaid).

For further details on food allergies, Scott Gavura has an article at Science Based Medicine describing some of the myths about food allergies, and two of the most important things are that they are present in about 5% of the population and can be deadly due to the risk of anaphylaxis. He also points out that the tests used by most naturopaths, IgG blood tests, cannot diagnose allergies. Allergies are best tested under controlled conditions using skin or challenge tests.

Remember, food allergy responses mostly follow very quickly after ingesting the allergen, while intolerance tends develop a more gradual build up of symptoms. A valid diagnosis of a food intolerance without gastrointestinal symptoms is highly unlikely.

Milk consumption is not related to mucus buildup, at least according to Canadian Family Physician and Nutrition Today.  In a quick search of the literature, I found very little on Grapefruit Seed Extract in human health other than its potential use as an antioxidant, an area that is still undergoing considerable research. Currently, its primary use seems to be as a preservative for fresh fruit. The naturopath also recommends Licorice Root, again without any research to back up her assertions. She doesn’t mention that licorice root has been associated with hypertension and postoperative pulmonary oedema

Omega-3 fatty acids appear to be a valuable component to a healthy diet, but that can be accomplished by eating more fish rather than buying supplements from your naturopath. Particular to this article, however, a review article from 2009 suggests that Omega oils are “unlikely to play an important role as a strategy for the primary prevention of sensitization or allergic disease“, and one from 2011, found conflicting results. 

There is some indication that extended inhaled steroid use can increase the risk of respiratory infections, but that risk must be weighed against the risks associated with chronic sinusitis.

  • Asthma flare-ups. Chronic sinusitis can trigger an asthma attack.
  • Meningitis. This infection causes inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord.
  • Vision problems. If infection spreads to your eye socket, it can cause reduced vision or even blindness that can be permanent.
  • Aneurysms or blood clots. Infection can cause problems in the veins surrounding the sinuses, interfering with blood supply to your brain and putting you at risk of a stroke.

It is easy to write a fact free article, and it takes hours to research and source an evaluation or rebuttal.

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