Identifying The Most Common Causes of Adverse Food Reactions By Walter J. Crinnion ND

Dr. Theron Randolph, often referred to as “the father of environmental medicine” published his first article on foods causing migraines in 1935 . He went on to publish another 396 articles and several books as well as founding the American Academy of Environmental Medicine. Through his work, and his lay publications, we are now aware of the role that adverse food reactions play in overall health. Following the principles he set forth, we are now able to easily identify one’s offender foods by having individuals do a simple elimination with re-challenge. While many have complicated his fairly simple protocols over time, they remain the gold standard for determining if a food is causing unwanted symptoms. By the fourth day of elimination the unpleasant symptoms from a food reaction will be cleared and “unmasked”so that one could clearly spot them upon reintroduction of that food into the diet.
I have no way of knowing how prevalent adverse food reactions were in Dr. Randolph’s Chicago practice in the middle of the 20th century, but by the beginning of the 21st century it appears to be rather difficult to find someone who is not having adverse reactions to one or more foods. I believe that much of the rise in asthma, allergies and adverse food reactions can be attributed to the rise in the number of circulating toxicants in humans. The Centers for Disease Control has been monitoring the levels of toxicants in humans , the majority of the compounds they have identified have also been found to imbalance the immune system resulting in increased allergic reactivity . But, as with most health problems there are other factors besides immune imbalance that contribute to adverse food reactions. Over the last three decades of working with the most wonderful clients, I have found that I must look at 5 different potential underlying “causes” in order to help free my patients of these adverse reactions. The five are: poor digestion, low secretory IgA (typically referred to as leaky gut), dysbiosis, adrenal fatigue and environmental toxicant burden.
Poor digestion has been noted as a major player in the development of adverse food reactions for decades. James Brenneman MD, wrote about them in his 1978 book: Basics of Food Allergy, saying that incomplete breakdown of food proteins led to the absorption of antigenic food peptides in the blood which the immune system would then produce antibodies against. It is well documented that the absorption of milk protein into the blood stream (called bovine serum albumin) is a causative factor in both dairy and beef allergy . However, adverse reactions to dairy can also occur due to a lack of the enzyme (lactase) necessary to break down milk sugar (lactose).
The CDC, in their national reports (2), has documented over 100 toxicants to be present ubiquitously in the population. To date, I have not found any of those ubiquitous toxicants that are not documented mitochondrial toxicants. This means that all of us have reduced mitochondrial function and lower ATP production just from the compounds that we unwittingly eat, breath, and apply to our skin. It is therefore not a wonder why the vast majority of our patients, friends, family and coworkers complain of fatigue. But, reduced ATP production will also severely hamper ones ability to digest by reducing HCL and digestive enzyme output (all of which require a tremendous amount of energy to produce).
Adverse reactions to foods because of enzyme deficiency are classified as food intolerance. Historically, this has only included lactose, gluten, fructose, legumes and vegetables because humans simply do not make enzymes to break those down. But, with the current diminished state of digestive ability, food reactions secondary to low (rather than completely absent) enzyme levels are also fitting into this category.
When it comes to patients who have primarily gastrointestinal complaints from adverse food reactions frequently caused by glutendairylegumes, fruits and vegetables, I usually began by giving digestive support. Often this was all I needed to do to care for their problem. But, I also gave it to everyone who had any type of adverse food intolerance reaction unless it became clear that they didn’t need it. Once I established through elimination/challenge, which foods caused which symptoms, it was then easy to begin having them re-challenge the food with the appropriate enzymes to see if their reactions diminished partially or entirely. While a small number of individuals appeared to gain no benefit from this approach, the vast majority did. For some, it was a very simple answer to their issues.
After using this digestive-support approach, I would then utilize testing to identify those with low Secretory IgA, intestinal yeast overgrowth and adrenal insufficiency. Based on the results of those tests I would then treat accordingly. Not surprisingly, those with the greatest relief from digestive support often also showed the worst dysbiosis, since their sterilizing ability of the stomach and small intestine was obviously diminished. And, finally, I would address their current toxicant burden to relieve the stress on the immune system.
By approaching adverse food reactions in this way, I was able to help many patients go back to “normal healthy eating” without having to continue to avoid all of their favorite foods.

About the author:

Dr. Walter Crinnion is a practicing physician, author, and Chief Science Officer for Enzyme Science.
Dr. Crinnion has taught at Bastyr University, in Seattle, Washington, the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, and the University of Bridgeport School of Naturopathic Medicine in Connecticut. He has served on the board of directors of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and was the recipient of their first award for in-office research in 1999 and was awarded it a second time in 2002.
Walter Crinnion has been a guest on ABC’s The View three times with Barbara Walters in 2001, talking about toxic compounds in our everyday environments and how to protect ourselves. Dr. Crinnion was also asked by the Huffington Post to be a blogger on their site, providing all of their readers with current and accurate information about health and the environment. He served as the editor of the environmental medicine section of the journal, Alternative Medicine Review, and has been asked to review articles for the New England Journal of Medicine, Pharmaceutical Biology, Science of the Total Environment and the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. Dr. Crinnion has also authored over 25 articles that have been published in peer-reviewed journals (available on PubMed).


[1]Sheldon JM, Randolph TG.Allergy in migraine-like headaches.Amer J Med Sci. 1935;190:232.
[1] (accessed 2/28/14)
[1]Crinnion WJ. Do environmental toxicants contribute to allergy and asthma? Altern Med Rev. 2012;17(1):6-18. PubMed PMID: 22502619.
[1]Martelli A, De Chiara A, Corvo M, Restani P, Fiocchi A. Beef allergy inchildren with cow’s milk allergy; cow’s milk allergy in children with beef allergy. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2002;89(6 Suppl 1):38-43. PubMed PMID: 12487203.

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