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Food allergies can be annoying. They can also be life-threatening.
But what if you’re allergic or sensitive to a common food allergen and don’t even know it?
Is there such a thing as a “silent” food allergy?
New research indicates it’s very possible. But just because an allergy is “silent” doesn’t mean it’s not causing damage…
Do food allergens cause “invisible symptoms”?
Kumi Nagamoto-Combs is Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences at the University of North Dakota.
She is also a neuroscientist with a particular interest in how the brain is affected by food allergies.
Specifically, she is working to find out whether ongoing exposure to allergens causes ongoing brain inflammation that results in behavioral disorders.
Prof. Nagamoto-Combs first became interested in this question after reading a 1949 case report that described behavioral and mood disturbances in patients after they ate certain foods, like milk or eggs.
She was intrigued by the fact that these patients were otherwise tolerant to the foods and had no adverse physical reactions.
Milk allergens cause brain inflammation and behavioral changes
At her lab at the University of North Dakota, Prof. Nagamoto-Combs and her colleagues used mice to test whether food allergens could cause behavioral symptoms in otherwise asymptomatic individuals.
They used mice so that they could “level the playing field” and minimize the wide amount of variation found in human subjects.
They sensitized mice of the same age and genetic background to the milk allergen β-lactoglobulin, or BLG, then continued to feed them milk products for two weeks, to determine that they were truly symptom-free.
Then, they started watching for changes in emotionally driven behavior.
But how can you tell if a mouse is depressed or anxious?
To do this, the researchers watched for deviations from the usual survival-driven behaviors of mice.
For example, mice normally search their environment for food and shelter, while at the same time avoiding danger. “Anxious” mice spent more time hiding than searching for food.
They identified “depressed” mice by briefly holding them by the tail. Most mice will keep fighting to get away when held this way, but the “depressed” mice quickly gave up and became passive.
The BLG-sensitized mice showed anxiety-like behavior just one day after being fed a large amount of the milk allergen, and depression-like behavior was evident after eating small amounts for two weeks.
More importantly, the BLG-sensitized mice showed signs of brain inflammation and nerve damage, suggesting that these brain changes may be responsible for their behavioral changes.
What to do if you suspect a sneaky food allergy
More research is needed on the effects of prolonged brain inflammation in people who appear asymptomatic. But chronic neuroinflammation has been identified as a contributor to neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.
In fact, gluten can cause brain shrinkage. At Easy Health Options we also worked with a former contributor whose only sign of his gluten intolerance was brain fog and moodiness.
If you suspect you could have an asymptomatic food allergy or sensitivity, see your doctor and request allergy testing.
It’s also a good idea to keep a food diary. It takes time and effort because you’ll need to make diary entries daily for some time to be able to identify the culprit.
Begin logging everything you eat and note how you felt that day. If you notice you feel a little off, anxious, depressed or just not your usual self, write that down. If you had a great day, average day or felt exceptional, write that down too.
After a few weeks or months, you may notice a pattern and be able to narrow down the offending food. At that point, eliminate it from your diet and also keep track of how that works for you.
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