New Parma / november-december 2009

“…I believe every doctor should have a thorough knowledge of nature. He should strive to understand – if he wants to do his duty –the relationship between man and food and beverages, and his activities, and the effects that each one of these things has on us.” (HIPPOCRATES)

These words by the Greek doctor who is considered the father of western medicine date back to 400BC, yet they sound extremely modern today. Even in ancient times concepts such as Juvenal’s “MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANO” (50-130 AD), (a healthy mind in a healthy body) were spread. The same concepts are now used in the fields of modern psycho-neuro-immune endocrine medicine and in preventive medicine.

In the following centuries this global vision of man and his interaction with food and the environment was somehow forgotten to favour a mechanistic vision of the human body. This was seen as an engine in need of fuel, that is, food, which was only considered according to its energy supply. Only in 1911 was it discovered that some substances, called vitamins, did not supply energy yet were necessary to keep the body healthy and alive. Only in the 1950s was “food science” established as a branch of medicine. It started from criss-cross studies on populations in the Mediterranean area and Northern Europe, and it came to the discovery that hypercholesterolemia and the cardiovascular diseases related to it are associated to one’s diet.

Lately, the field of food science is receiving an increasing interest on part of the general public, especially as far as the so-called “food allergies” are concerned. Up until recently, they were considered scientifically groundless with the only exception of those caused by enzymatic deficit. The most famous of these is lactose intolerance, due to the deficit of the lactase enzyme. 2% of the whole population suffers from it, yet this type of intolerance is increasing because of the suspension of milk and its derivatives which was supported by many, especially in the field of naturopathy. A drastic suspension of milk and its derivatives often causes subjective advantages. This is due to the fact that nowadays all the confectionery and dairy products, as well as many packaged items (sauces, whole wheat pasta, sausages, etc…) contain lactose. So, the total suspension of milk causes an increase in the enzymatic deficit, thus making the intolerance worse. In fact, the protein fractions of milk and its derivatives contain more than twenty potentially allergenic substances, whereas the sugars contained in it are not usually responsible for immunologic reactions.

Since 2007 an “alternative route” to allergy has been identified. This is characterised by the antibodies present on the white blood cells, and is therefore based on cellular reaction. In fact, since 2004, a new classification of food allergies had? been published by Hugh Sampson – the famous American allergist. Here Sampson defined “immediate food allergies” those depending on the type E immunoglobulins and on histamine, and “delayed food allergies” those linked to the reiterated stimulus of food on intestinal lymphocytes. Moreover, cases of “mixed” allergy exist when both mechanisms occur.

The reactions of immunologic intolerance, therefore, are not immediate but appear with symptoms which emerge after a reiterated intake of the food (or part of it) for 2 or 3 days in a row. The most correct way to define what today are called “food allergies” should be “delayed food allergies”. The symptoms can be the same as immediate allergies or they can differ, with vaguer symptoms involving any organ or system in the body, by means of chronic inflammation. Food can alter our body even if we are not aware of it.

Symptoms such as:

  • headache, migraine;
  • chronic exhaustion;
  • constipation, colitis, irritable bowel, tendency to suffer from candidiasis or mycosis;
  • dysmenorrhoea;
  • palpitation;
  • insomnia and restlessness during sleep;
  • excess weight, cellulite;
  • asthma, cough, eczema, rhinitis, etc.

can all be caused by food intolerance.

Among the various symptoms of food intolerance it is useful to mention – for the new scientific discoveries – the interference of immunoflogosis caused by food on metabolism, on diabetes and obesity: in fact, a relationship has been discovered between food intolerance and weight excess. By controlling the intake of the food we are allergic to, we reduce the amount of free radicals, thus improving insulin sensitivity. In 2007 immune mast cells were identified, too. They are present in the adipose tissue and in case of allergic inflammation they cause insulin resistance. A diet control of the food we are allergic to can thus strongly help improving insulin sensitivity, an active metabolism and weight loss. This can be achieved above all by losing fat body mass in favour of lean body mass.