Food Allergies

November 17, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Last Friday came and went without any major calamity occurring in my life. I mention this because Friday’s date was November 13th. Or, for those who tend to be superstitious – Friday the 13th. This is a date that has become synonymous with bad luck. The modern association of Friday with the number 13 appears to trace back to a book published in 1907 entitled Friday the Thirteenth. It’s a tale about a villainous businessman who tries to destroy the stock market on that specific date. A popular silent film version of the novel ensued in 1916. Later, the unrelated Friday the 13th horror film series reawakened this fear inducing urban myth. This may be laughable to some of you, but others actually alter their lives in anticipation of this date – they postpone business meetings, family gatherings, travel, etc. However, myths are not the exclusive territory of scary films and novelists. Quite a few superstitions have made their way into the field of nutrition as well.

There is a common belief among many common folk and nutritionists alike that soy milk is a better alternative than cow’s milk. The thought process is that dairy is highly allergenic, loaded with “harmful” saturated fat and a variety of unwanted byproducts (growth hormones, pesticides, etc.). There is a kernel of truth to many of these concerns. But it’s not necessarily accurate to say that soy milk is, across-the-board, a good alternative to cow’s milk. In fact, a new study suggests that even conventional dairy products can have superior health effects as compared to soy.

A trial published in the November 4th edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the effects of conventional milk versus soy milk on markers of inflammation and oxidative stress in a group of overweight men and women. Part of the damaging effects of obesity is that a greater degree of physiological damage is incurred due to the effects of higher levels of inflammation and pro-oxidant activity. This is postulated as being one of the many reasons why obesity is associated with a greater risk of chronic health conditions and increased mortality rates.

  • Twenty overweight and obese participants were given a dairy-rich or soy milk enriched diet on two separate 28 days trials.
  • A 28 day “washout” period was used as a buffer between the cow’s milk and soy milk testing periods.
  • Markers relating to inflammation and oxidative stress were measured on days 0, 7 and 28 of each leg of the trial.

There were significant improvements in inflammation readings, evidenced by a 15% reduction in tumor necrosis factor-alpha, a 13% decline in interlukin-6 and a 10% drop in monocyte chemoattractant protein-1. Measures of oxidative stress were also much improved: a 22% reduction in malondialdehyde and a 12% decline in serum 8-isoprostane-F(2alpha) levels. There was also a notable 20% increase in adiponectin concentrations, which tend to support healthier blood sugar levels and cardiovascular health. These improvements were evident by the 7 day mark in the dairy leg of the study. There was a trend of increased benefits as the trial period progressed (peaking at day 28). No discernible improvements were documented during the soy-diet phase of the study. (1)

Another recent trial conducted at Baylor University also tested the effects of soy milk in a group of postmenopausal women. 31 female volunteers were asked to drink either 3 servings of vanilla soy milk or low fat cow’s milk over a 4 week period. Serum levels relating to inflammation and oxidative stress were measured pre and post study. The authors noted that both groups demonstrated good compliance with the respective dietary programs. However, the “study failed to show a significant effect of soy milk consumption on markers of inflammation and oxidative stress in this postmenopausal female population”. (2)

Regardless of the nutritional merits of cow’s milk vs. soy milk, the fact remains that some people simply cannot tolerate conventional dairy products. Soy milk is an affordable, convenient and popular alternative to conventional milk. But one question that has largely gone unaddressed is whether soy can adequately replace different forms of dairy such as kefir and yogurt. It’s well known that cow’s milk is a reliable medium to deliver the healthy bacteria found in such cultured foods. Two new experiments indicate that soy milk can also be a reasonable alternative to cow’s in delivering probiotics into the human digestive system. The first trial, via the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, shows that fermented soy and dairy are both capable of positively balancing immune activity in human intestinal cells. A separate Chinese study determined that bovine and soy milk “could serve as vehicles for delivery of probiotc L. casei Zhang“, a strain of bacteria that may help support cholesterol metabolism and proper immune function. (3,4)

Common Food Allergies and Severity Ratings
Source: J. Nutr. 134:1213S-1219S, May 2004 (link)

But there’s yet another wrinkle or two to this story. Certain individuals, especially children, can be allergic or sensitive to both dairy and soy. Some research suggests that cultured or fermented versions of these food groups may be better tolerated by those with mild sensitivities. There are also anecdotal reports that suggest that grass-fed, organic, raw cow or goat’s milk is not as reactive as the homogenized and pasteurized dairy products typically sold in conventional markets. However, this is primarily the domain of personal accounts because, sadly, there has been little scientific study on this subject matter. (5,6,7,8,9)

In my opinion, there is a better alternative for those who can’t tolerate or otherwise wish to avoid dairy and soy milk. An Italian study from 2005 examined whether almond milk could be a nutritious and safe option for infants with “cow-milk allergy/intolerance”. 52 infants were given formulas with a base of either almond milk, soy milk or a “protein hydrolysate-based formula” (a predigested form of milk protein that is considered “hypo-allergenic”). There was no difference in growth among the infants receiving the 3 formulas. However 23% of the soy formula group and 15% of the protein hydrolysate infants developed signs of “secondary sensitization”. The babies receiving the almond milk formula were free of any allergic symptoms. (10)

Almond milk is widely available in health food stores and select supermarkets. It can also be ordered online. However, I would urge you to carefully inspect the nutritional labels before buying any of these products. The ingredient lists and sugar content can vary widely among different brands. It’s not uncommon for an unsweetened almond milk to be sugar-free while a sweetened variety may contain as much as 20 grams of sugar per serving. If you have the time or the inclination, I think the best and most economical way to get almond milk is to make it yourself. It’s very easy to do and this will allow you to use organic almonds (which contain fewer pesticides) and to include only what you choose to add. (11)

Start by soaking a serving of almonds overnight in purified water. Drain the nuts and place about 1 part of the raw, organic almonds and 4 parts of purified water into a blender. Blend until the consistency is milk-like and well incorporated. Then, strain the mixture using a cheese cloth or a fine mesh sieve to remove all of the particulate matter. That’s pretty much it! You can certainly add a dash of salt substitute (rich in potassium), stevia and/or vanilla extract if you’d like. If you want to make chocolate milk, simply add some pure, organic cocoa powder while blending. Since the homemade almond milk has no preservatives, you’ll want to refrigerate it and use it within 5 days or so. You may also need to stir it a bit prior to each use – after all, this isn’t homogenized like most conventional milk.

In our home, we rarely drink dairy or soy milk. I generally end up using organic coconut milk as a replacement for milk or cream. That works out well for me personally, but I can see where almond milk would be a more suitable alternative in many circumstances and I’m very much in favor of its use. I hope that some of you will try out my very basic almond milk recipe. These days, we’re all trying to saving a dollar or two wherever possible. Making food, instead instead of buying it ready made, is one of the best ways to save money and better control what does and doesn’t get into our bodies.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Diet and Weight Loss, Food and Drink, Nutrition

11 Comments & Updates to “Food Allergies”

  1. Oct Says:

    Great article. I am somewhat lactose intolerant now and remember mom telling me that she had to feed me goat’s milk as an infant because I was allergic to cow’s milk.

  2. Julia Says:

    Your article was very useful.Thank you.

  3. JP Says:

    Thanks, Oct!

    Mom’s are often wiser than scientists, eh? 🙂 Dr. Mom. That has a nice ring to it!

    Be well!


  4. JP Says:

    Thanks, Julia!

    Be well!


  5. Dr. Bill Rawls Says:

    Mmm homemade almond milk! With cocoa! I will pass this one along to my wife, she will love it. We try to do homemade whenever possible, hummus, yogurt, etc. Look forward to trying your recipe.

  6. JP Says:

    Thanks, Bill! The possibilities are endless with almond milk. Add some cinnamon or pumpkin spice for the holidays. Blend in some berries to make a nutritious and refreshing smoothie. You can even use it to make chai tea or a latte!

    I hope you and your wife enjoy it! 🙂

    Be well!


  7. meital Says:

    Thanks this was intersting. As always, I recommend buying organic almond milk and organic everything realy…
    Lmond milk is also known to reduce cholesterol levels..
    To our health!

  8. JP Says:

    Thanks, Meitel!

    Be well!


  9. JP Says:

    Update: Avoiding food allergens improves asthma symptoms …

    Glob Adv Health Med. 2015 Jan;4(1):62-6.

    Food-specific IgG Antibody-guided Elimination Diets Followed by Resolution of Asthma Symptoms and Reduction in Pharmacological Interventions in Two Patients: A Case Report.

    Asthma is one of the most common causes of office visits in the primary care and emergency care settings. Individuals are often able to maintain symptomatic control with long-term pharmacological therapy. Exacerbations of asthma commonly occur due to exposure to triggers such as viruses, pollutants, and allergens. While it is widely accepted that exposure to immunoglobulin E food allergens can exacerbate asthma symptoms, there is little evidence examining delayed immunoglobulin G-mediated reactions to food. Here we present two clinical cases of individuals who experienced a reduction in asthma symptoms, decreased dependence on pharmacological therapies, and increased quality of life by eliminating foods that demonstrated reactivity to immunoglobulin G levels identified through serum testing.

    Be well!


  10. JP Says:

    Updated 08/23/15:

    Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2015 Jul 15.

    Sun exposure inversely related to food sensitization during infancy.

    BACKGROUND: Autumn and winter birth (AWB) has been reported to be a risk factor for the development of food allergies. However, the association between seasonal factors and allergic sensitization during early infancy remains unclear.

    METHODS: We collected data from 732 patients regarding the total and specific immunoglobulin E (tIgE, sIgE) levels in infants younger than 6 months old from November 2001 to October 2012 from the institutional clinical database system. We then analyzed the relationship between the birth month and the value of each parameter. Furthermore, we identified any correlations between the number of sensitized patients and the monthly climatological parameters.

    RESULTS: The number of tIgE samples obtained from AWB patients (n = 482) was 2.1 times higher than that from patients born in the spring and summer (SSB, n = 225). The number of sIgE samples to egg white, cow’s milk, and wheat, the sensitized ratio and the median sIgE titer were also all higher in AWB. The number of sensitized AWB patients to these allergens was 2.75, 3.05, and 3.97 times higher, respectively. A periodic change in the number of sensitized patients was observed annually (highest in October-November and lowest in May). Among the climatological parameters examined, the average solar radiation during the 3-month period after birth showed the strongest negative correlation with the number of sensitized patients (egg white: r = -0.976, cow’s milk: r = -0.969, wheat: r = -0.975).

    CONCLUSIONS: The amount of solar radiation immediately after birth had a strong negative correlation with allergen sensitization before 6 months of age.

    Be well!


  11. JP Says:

    Updated 08/20/16:

    Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol. 2016 Aug 17;12:41.

    Antibiotic prescription and food allergy in young children.

    BACKGROUND: To assess the relationship between any systemic antibiotic prescription within the first year of life and the presence of an ICD-9-CM diagnosis code for food allergy (FA).

    METHODS: This was a matched case-control study conducted using South Carolina Medicaid administrative data. FA cases born between 2007 and 2009 were matched to controls without FA on birth month/year, sex, race/ethnicity. Conditional logistic regression was used to model the adjusted odds ratio (aOR) of FA diagnosis. All models were adjusted for presence of asthma, wheeze, or atopic dermatitis.

    RESULTS: A total of 1504 cases and 5995 controls were identified. Receipt of an antibiotic prescription within the initial 12 months of life was associated with FA diagnosis in unadjusted and adjusted models (aOR 1.21; 95 % CI 1.06-1.39). Compared to children with no antibiotic prescriptions, a linear increase in the aOR was seen with increasing antibiotic prescriptions. Children receiving five or more (aOR 1.64; 95 % CI 1.31-2.05) antibiotic prescriptions were significantly associated with FA diagnosis. The strongest association was noted among recipients of cephalosporin and sulfonamide antibiotics in both unadjusted and adjusted models.

    CONCLUSIONS: Receipt of antibiotic prescription in the first year of life is associated with FA diagnosis code in young children after controlling for common covariates. Multiple antibiotic prescriptions are more strongly associated with increases in the odds of FA diagnosis.

    Be well!


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