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Jan 23rd 2024

The Biochemistry of Food Cravings, Part I -- Food Allergies and Food Addictions

. . . understanding the science puts you in control!

Most people attribute food cravings and binges to emotional eating. But although strong emotions can certainly be a factor in uncontrolled or compulsive eating, cravings have a biochemical basis. The more you know about what's happening to your biochemistry when you experience an "uncontrollable" craving, the more freedom you have to get back into the driver's seat. This week, we'll look at the connection between food allergies and food addiction.

Is there a particular food you eat just about every day, and, when it comes right down to it, you wouldn't give up without a fight? Sorry, but you're probably addicted to it.

You may wake up in the morning with a headache or feeling grouchy "until you've had a good breakfast" of cereal with milk and sugar, or bagel or croissant and coffee, or eggs, toast and orange juice. What are the most common food allergens? Wheat (and especially the gluten in wheat, also found in barley and rye), oats, corn, soy, milk and other dairy, sugar, caffeine, eggs, and citrus! Tomatoes and chocolate complete the list of the most common food allergens (how about that daily late afternoon candy bar?) but it's possible to develop an allergy-addiction to just about any food.

How does an allergy become an addiction? Not all do, but where there's a powerful addiction, allergy is usually at its core. Like smoking your first cigarette, your first exposure to a food allergen may be unpleasant as your body struggles to reject it. But the stress of the allergic reaction promotes the release of powerful "feel good" painkillers -- the body's natural opiates. These chemicals are from the same family as morphine and heroin. Repeated exposures lead to a phenomenon called "adaptation" in which the allergy symptoms get suppressed, but the effects of the feel-good chemicals promote a feeling of energy and well-being. However, if you skip breakfast, or the candy vending machine is out of order, you're apt to snap at your spouse or co-worker, or just feel kind of depressed or anxious. These are classic withdrawal symptoms, which keep you going back for more of the addictive food and the feel-good chemicals.

As with all addictions, there is a progressive aspect to the disease. One day you're driving home with a loaf of particularly tasty whole-grain bread and it's gone before you reach your front door. Or you're under stress, and one candy bar just doesn't do it for you; you get a whole bag of chocolate kisses which is consumed in short order. At the same time, despite the absence of overt allergy symptoms, adaptation is a chronic source of stress, causing inflammation, systemic acidity, adrenal depletion, water retention and loss of nutrients -- and cumulative damage to your body and your health. The last stage in an allergy-addiction is "exhaustion." At this stage your capacity to adapt is gone, you experience the cravings and unpleasant allergy symptoms simultaneously, and the ongoing stress has probably led to at least one chronic disease. (Allergic reactions are one of the most frequent, though mostly unrecognized, causes of chronic disease in the US.)

Regaining Control

Our old friend buffered vitamin C is without peer in knocking out cravings and eliminating withdrawal symptoms. In fact, if buffered vitamin C eliminates a craving, it's an indication that it was in fact caused by an allergic withdrawal. The powdered form is best for dealing with allergies. Just mix 1-2 teaspoons in water, allow the fizz to subside and drink. If that doesn't do the trick, try more vitamin C and also several tablets of Cell Repair Formula (quercitin and other anti-inflammatories).

Ultimately, you'll need to identify and eliminate your food allergens -- there may be quite a few. Although the ELISA-ACT test is useful, no lab test for food allergies is 100% accurate. If you can do it, a home test is best: Fast for 6 days on water and vitamin C. Then introduce foods one at a time, recording how you feel. You're most likely allergic to any food that makes you feel tired, irritable or hot/flushed, or experience itchy eyes, runny nose, swollen fingers, puffy eyes, boated stomach, or skin eruptions (including canker sores). If you do encounter an allergic reaction, don't introduce any more foods for a few days to clear your system.

Except for caffeine (which should be withdrawn gradually), with most food allergens, it's easiest to go "cold turkey." You'll experience cravings for 4-5 days, but then it'll be over. Vitamin C is a great help, and glutamine usually eliminates cravings for sugar and starch caused by drops in blood sugar (common in allergen-withdrawal) within a day, if taken as directed on the label. Other amino acids can be helpful as well. In her book, The Diet Cure, Julia Ross describes amino acid therapy for food cravings in detail.

Keep in mind that most problem foods are not allergens in the classic sense of "fixed" allergies that you will have for the rest of your life. More than 95% are intolerances or sensitivities. If you remove them from your diet for 3 months while building up your adrenal glands and your immune and digestive systems, you may be able to eat them again in moderation. 

Also bear in mind that processed foods are loaded with the common allergens, so become a careful label reader or, better, skip the processed foods altogether.




Information contained in NewsClips articles should not be construed as personal medical advice or instruction. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.