Feb 10, 2014

The Story Behind My Food Allergy Test

I had a hiccup with this blog post over the weekend, and you may be seeing it for a second time around. I apologize if I've inconvenienced anyone. 

I’m beginning a three week food allergy test this morning that I’m really excited about, so today’s post is a little different than what you’re used to reading on my blog. It’s a bit odd I guess, but I awoke at 4 AM this morning filled with hope and an overwhelming desire to share this story 
with all of you.

It’s important to me that you know this post is based on my opinions. My opinions come from things I’ve researched and learned, but also on my own experiences and my life.  I’m not an expert, and I’m not recommending any course of action for you other than to read. I’m simply sharing my story. 


Well, about fifteen years ago I became sick with a fairly common autoimmune illness that’s been getting progressively worse in spite of traditional drug treatment, and new scientific research is giving me hope that I might be able to improve my condition. 

I found out it’s estimated over twenty million Americans are now suffering from autoimmune diseases.  Autoimmune disease is an umbrella term for many illnesses, including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, type I diabetes, celiac disease, and a very long list of others.

Something alarming is going on here, and I think it’s worth writing about it.

I was about 45 years old when I got sick with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. That’s a not uncommon condition for middle-aged women in which the autoimmune system destroys our thyroid. My doctor said it was no big deal and I just needed to take a little pill every day to replace what my thyroid used to do. But it turns out it really was a big deal, because my thyroid disease was the tip of an ice berg of an autoimmune disease that would effect my whole life, not just my thyroid, over the next 15 years. 

The purpose of a healthy immune system is to protect the body from illness by attacking invaders, like cold and flu bugs. It sends out fighter cells to rid us of those invaders. The “fight” between the immune system cells and invader cells causes inflammation in our tissues, and that inflammation is what causes achy muscles and joints when you have the cold or flu. With a healthy immune system, the inflammation is temporary and a good thing. 

 The traditional theory explained to me by my doctor about autoimmune disease is that the immune system for some unknown reason becomes over protective and mistakes the body’s own cells for invaders. So, in my case, my immune system destroyed my healthy thyroid because it mistook it for invading cells.  That was the beginning of a 15 year long “fight” going on in my body between my overactive immune system cells attacking make-believe invader cells. The battle causes a constant inflammation that makes me feel like I have the flu everyday and that has damaged my joints and tissues. 

The traditional way to treat autoimmune diseases is to suppress the immune system to decrease the inflammation. The problem with this is that by suppressing the immune system to not attack healthy cells, it may also no longer adequately protect us against bad cells, like cancer. Which is why in the ads for the immune system suppressants, you hear all those warnings about the possibility of increased infections and other illnesses. I can’t afford that drug anyway, so I just take Ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation and pain. I take lots and lots of it. Every single day. 

You may have noticed in your own dealings with the medical community that the traditional way to approach illness in our country is to treat the symptoms. For instance, I had thyroid disease, so it was treated with synthetic thyroid hormone and Ibuprofen. No one ever talked about trying to cure it. There was some “unknown reason” women’s immune systems went whacky, but finding out why or trying to cure it wasn’t ever an option given to me. Treatment with drugs was.

In the past ten years or so, there is a new kind of doctor in the medical community, called a functional doctor. These doctors don’t just treat disease symptoms; they also look for causes and cures. They’ve been studying autoimmune diseases from a new angle, and there is now scientific evidence that immune systems haven’t been going whacky and making mistakes attacking our own healthy bodies for unknown reasons. Our immune systems have been doing exactly what they’re designed to do, trying to keep us healthy by attacking real honest to goodness unhealthy invaders that no one had discovered yet.

But what kind of unhealthy invaders could be attacking over twenty million immune systems?

Research is showing that for many of us, our immune systems are attacking the FOOD we’re eating. Surprising and scary, right? I know what good nutrition is and have always fed my family a balanced diet of what I thought were healthy whole grains, vegetables, fruit, protein and fats, but our immune systems don’t seem to recognize much of our typical American food from the corner grocery store as food anymore. Not everyone is affected, of course, but twenty million Americans is certainly cause for concern. 

Food is not always the only culprit in some autoimmune disease. Stress seems to be a trigger that pushes some immune systems beyond their limits and into rejection. I had been a very healthy woman until I suddenly got autoimmune disease. But at that time I was also a full time senior in college beginning an extremely stressful internship while keeping house and raising two little girls. I loved all of it, but it might have been a bit too much for my body.  

The test I’m starting today is a three week long food allergy test. It’s a pretty simple test with no trips to an allergist or needle pricks. I’m just removing gluten, corn, soy, and dairy (common problem foods) from my diet for three weeks, and then I’ll reintroduce each food one at a time and see if my body has any negative reaction to each one. The theory on which the test is based is that my digestive system has been damaged by the food I eat, and my immune system is overwhelmed by that damage, as well as by some of the food itself. First, my digestive system will begin to heal and become stronger, and then the test will help me identify which foods I'm sensitive to and can stop eating permanently to hopefully reduce the inflammation and damage in my tissues and joints from my immune system rejecting them. 

I’m now hopeful that armed with this new scientific evidence I can treat my disease through a healthy diet. I will always have to take synthetic thyroid hormone because my thyroid gland is damaged beyond repair, but I'm hoping to reduce my other symptoms so I can stop taking Ibuprofen to manage my pain. Research is showing that people in early stages of autoimmune disease may be able to heal the tissue damage to their bodies, though, and even be cured.

It’s too late for me, but not for everyone. And that’s why I’m writing this blog post and telling my story. 

So many young children today suffer from allergies that were rare when I was a child. Could it be the first signs of their young immune systems rejecting the food they’re eating? Are we gambling with our children’s future health by continuing to trust that the people who provide our food know what’s best for our bodies and have our best interests at heart? 

It’s not easy to purchase healthy food in our country because our government doesn’t ban from grocery store shelves genetically modified foods and additives that science has proven to be unhealthy, nor does it require labels. In the United States you have to work hard at eating healthy, and you have to be vigilant. 

 Americans typically spend a smaller percentage of the family income on food than is spent in many other countries where genetically modified food and harmful additives are banned. Healthy food often simply takes more effort and costs more to produce. Can Americans give up their cable TV or a vacation or a smartphone to spend the money on healthy organic non-GMO food for their families? 

 Should they?  

 Is it worth it?

I can only answer for myself. If I’d only known when they were little, I’d have gladly taken the time, gone without, and spent the money on healthy food for the chance to protect 
my young daughters from a possibility of future autoimmune disease. 

My own girls, all grown up.

  Thank you so much for reading my story. I hope you find it helpful when choosing a healthy diet for your own family.

And to my daughters: I wish I’d known, and I love you!

{Note: For the science, rather than my opinion, behind what’s been happening to our food over the past fifty years and how our bodies aren’t coping with it, I recommend The Immune System Recovery Plan by Susan Blum, M.D., M.P.H. and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.}     


  1. This post really hits home for me Laurel. I just had an EGD and colonoscopy this morning to rule out autoimmune celiac disease. I've suffered my whole life with colon issues, dry eyes, and Raynaud's, and now I'm dealing with sudden hearing loss, osteopenia, and osteoarthritis. I hoped this would be the answer to my all of my problems, but after looking at my GI tract, the doc thinks it's more likely IBS. He took 4 biopsies and I'll get the results in a few weeks. My father has RA and several of his aunts had Lupus, so autoimmune disease runs in our family, too. I've been doing much of the same research as you and find it alarming how much the foods we eat can affect our lives. I'm anxious to hear the results of your food allergy trial. I hope you find some relief, and your daughters too.

  2. Laurel ~
    I hope you find the culprit... there is so much we just don't know about our bodies, and what we put in them!
    Hugs ~

  3. your points are wonderful, and so right on. My 33 year old daughter could barely walk and was diagnosed with RA. She had to wait a month to see a specialist, so someone recommended seeing a N.D. The N.D. saw her right away and ran test, but took her off all grains and GMO'd foods. She fully recovered very quickly (and cancelled that specialist apptmt.) She was perfectly fine within a month and now, a year later, she is in her 5th month of pregnancy and feeling fine. Our whole family has gone off grains, sugars, NO artifical sweetners, and Organic as much as possible. I hope changing your diet works as well for you as it did for her.

  4. Hi Laurel. This is a great post with information bringing awareness to an ongoing problem for so many. I discovered 7 months ago I have a intolerance to gluten. I can eat corn based and dairy, but wheat, barley, rye and malt are my enemy. Since I have removed those gluten culprits, I feel 100% better. It has helped in so many areas of my life removing the allergens that caused me so much distress. I was also tested for Celiac which I do not have, but my doctor told, me I was still sensitive to wheat and the others even though not diagnosed with Celiac. He said that is common so I am grateful for that. Changing our diets really helps not only for autoimmune diseases but all around general health.

    Wishing you great success in your food testing process and to feel better real soon. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Your story hit home. Leaving out all the sordid detail, my other half and I have learned over the last 3 years, how much our own immune systems can "fix" or cure our ills if that immune system is healthy/strong and if we provide our bodies with proper nutrition - fruits, veggies, fish...and staying clear of any and all GMO products.
    It became very clear to us that doctors treat symptoms and very seldom treat - or look for - root causes. Not their fault, that is how they are trained. We attended a brief session with a "functional" doctor and are both believers even more than before. As it is said - "body, heal thyself" but we have to give it the proper platform to do that. Thanks so much for your post; it is right on!
    By the way, rather than a Synthroid product - look at Armour which is a more natural thyroid med. I've switched to that and feel better and believe my body "accepts" this better than the synthetic version. Just my opinion.

  6. Laurel, I had no clue that you deal with an illness every day! I'm so sorry to hear that. I am very interested in this subject myself as I had an unknown allergy for 5 years that resulted in hives all over my body (contact dermatitis). It's mostly gone now and I really have no clue what I did that changed it because I changed so many different things in my life. It's pretty overwhelming with all the gmo crap in America. 'Food Inc.' is such a sobering documentary! You should check it out. Anyway, I really do need to find some way to feed our family a more organic and gmo free diet. I wish you luck with your allergy testing! ~ Jamie

  7. Laurel, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for this, I have often wondered about diet. I eat a very healthy diet but I eat pasta often and yogurt and dark chocolate. I am anxious to see what happens. You know I have MS and even though I go to NY to one of the best doctors I have often thought diet may play a part. I figure no one can even tell me why I have this in the first place, they don't have all the answers. Keep me posted!!!


  8. This post spoke directly to me Laurel. I too had thyroid issues and some autoimmune problems starting. I have a problem with dairy that has been getting worse and worse. At this point I can only enjoy dairy products with a lactaid pill or two. I had also been having intestinal issues in the past year or year and a half. I have all these issues that no one in my family ever had. I grew up in South America and came here when I was 21 years old. Indeed it seems like the US food supply has issues. I have been reading that many foods that its' declared organic isn't really organic at all so there we go. Thank you so much for the post with very important info. You have beautiful daughters. I have a son and a daughter and I too know that I fed both of them things that I wished I hadn't. My daughter has an issue with peanuts and the son so far he is fine. Wishing you better and healthier days ahead.

  9. Good luck with your allergy tests.

    I think that we are in for many more health issues with the next generation. I didn't know anyone with food allergies when I was a child, but now it seems like so many kids are allergic to so many different things.

    I like the idea of a doctor who looks for a cure rather than just treats a problem. Give them a pill seems to be the answer to everything.

    I look forward to reading more about your path toward finding what is triggering your problems.

  10. EXCELLENT post! I hope you find answers that will help soon, Laurel. I started purchasing more organic fruits & veggies... and am always looking for information on eating better.
    And thank you for entering my little giveaway... best of luck to you!

  11. What an excellent post. I wish you well and please keep us posted on how it's going. :)

  12. I wish you the very best in trying to eat healthier! It's so difficult, but so doable.

  13. I hope you find the answers you are looking for Laurel. So sorry you have had to deal with feeling bad for such a long time. That must take a huge toll on your body and your well-being. ... Food is really complicated! From a very early age we are conditioned to associate food with emotional comfort instead of the essential fuel that our bodies needs to thrive. Sometimes I do think we need a complete overhaul and a reprograming!

  14. So many questions Laurel, and as a physician, I can only say that there is no cure or perfect treatment for any of the autoimmune diseases you mentioned above. True, we try to manage it, but 'controlling' it is a whole other matter. Gene therapy is the future for this I think, since it all begins there but I too believe somewhat that the environment, including the food we eat, affect this matter a whole lot too. It's best to just follow what you think is right FOR YOU and what MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD doing, as long as it's within reason. Waiting for proper research on certain things takes a while, hence, we're left to try things out on our own and I can't blame people for doing so. We live our lives at risk from all sorts of things, it's daring to DO what we think is best that's hard sometimes. Good luck dear, btw, you have very lovely daughters!

  15. My daughter has been tested for years now as well - they think she may have Hashimoto's - God Forbid - she's only 31 - terrifying stuff. I found this post fascinating ( in a terrifying way ) and can't imagine the poison that gets into our systems on a daily basis..............thanks so much for sharing - and hoping your tests bring some relief.
    Your daughters are beautiful!

  16. Years ago I found out I was allergic to corn which is difficult to avoid since it is found in almost everything. I have had type 2 diabetes since 1998, and it gradually became worse with blood sugars fluctuating wildly. I kept telling my doctors the insulin was a problem. Finally back in the fall my cardiologist saw the light and has changed his practice to a wellness approach and decreasing all medications. I am now completely grain-free, low carb, and high proteins (fish, nuts, seeds). I attempt to eat as close to raw as possible and as local as possible. I am off three medications and have reduced my insulin from 60 units to 5 units and will stop taking it altogether next week. I have not had an allergic reaction in several months. I do believe our food is the culprit of many of the health problems in our population. Love the post!

  17. so sorry you are dealing with this, laurel. hope they find some answers for you. thanks for sharing the info--you just might help someone else struggling with similar symptoms. great post:)


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