Brain Mind Center

Food Allergy and the Brain

Some old knowledge is very valuable, but is forgotten. Dr. Walter Alvarez, a well-known physician of the Mayo clinic and popular medical writer for several decades, provided a personal perspective on food-mind interactions, many years ago, in his introduction to the text, "Allergy of the Nervous System": "For years I knew I was highly sensitive to chicken, I suffered from what I called "dumb Monday," when I was too dull to do much constructive work like writing. Finally, I discovered that bad Mondays were due to the Alvarez family's habit of having chicken for Sunday dinner... My most remarkable personal experience with brain dulling due to food allergy came many years ago when... I ate a whole broiled chicken. Next day I had severe diarrhea and with this I became so dulled I could not read with comfort. And that night I had a hallucination of sight, such as I had never had before and haven't had since."

Alvarez and other astute physicians knew about food allergy and its mental effects for many years.  Food allergy was implicated in depression, anxiety, hyperactivity in children, epilepsy, migraine, Meniere's syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, and Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Unfortunately, this wisdom, shared by many prominent physicians for many years, has somehow been lost to subsequent generations of physicians and needs to be renewed.

Immune activity produces mental-emotional symptoms. Anaphylaxis victims are said to have "panic attacks" if they end up in the psychiatry department. Children with food allergy may have nightmares, tantrums and fail to learn at school because of attention deficits. Some of these children grow into troubled adults with "learning disability". Others remain hyper, moody, and volatile. Delayed pattern food allergy patients are sometimes described as "depressed" or "neurotic". Migraine sufferers may have neurological symptoms that suggest a stroke or a seizure. The occasional patient will have food-triggered epilepsy. Changes in sensation, motor control, balance and vision accompany food allergy and may suggest the diagnosis of serious neurological diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis or Alzheimer's disease.

Our food allergy model postulates that foods immunize us against a large number of protein antigens. This continuously changing immunity produces dysfunction and disease. Brain dysfunction is expressed as disordered thinking, feeling, behaving and remembering. Food allergy illness patterns involve typical clusters of digestive, respiratory, skin and behavioral disturbances. The illness patterns occasionally involve inhalant allergies, defined in the usual way by skin and blood tests, but more often operates independently through other, more complex immune mechanisms.

Food-provoked symptoms are not "psychological" as many physicians have claimed. Adverse immune reactions to foods or "food allergies" have a physiological basis and can be explained by insightful medical biology. Dr. Aas, a Norwegian allergist and researcher, remarked at the Marabou symposium on "Food Sensitivity" : "In my institute I am the only experimental monkey that we have and from several passive transfer experiments on myself, with occasional rather severe reactions, I am the first to admit that allergic reactions are accompanied with intellectual and emotional disturbances. If you have not experienced that, I ask you to be a volunteer in my laboratory."

Dr. Joseph Egger, who published excellent studies showing the effect of foods in children who developed migraine headaches, epilepsy, and hyperactivity, stated: "Taken together, the available research suggests that particular types of adverse food reactions sometimes correlate with neurological and psychiatric symptoms. The diversity of foods involved...is suggestive of allergy, and the adverse effects may correlate with immunological abnormalities."

The concept of allergy as reacting defensively to foreign materials can be extended to the nervous system which also reacts with defensive procedures. Both immune and nervous systems interact when things go wrong at the level of molecules and cells. The molecular-cellular mechanisms are monitored (but not controlled) at the level of consciousness. The experience of symptoms is the monitor image in consciousness of problems at the molecular-cellular level. In technical terms, we can speak of information and noise in the system of person and environment. Information noise is the disorder and chaos in experience that confuses or interferes with a successful relationship with our environment, the achievement of our goals with associated peace of mind. Molecular noise is the disorder or chaos created by substances flowing through our body-brain. Information noise is equivalent to molecular noise. At the level of equivalence we cannot tell the difference between a molecular problem and a personal problem. As noise increases, the system becomes more unstable or hypersensitive. This instability is expressed as emotional disturbances associated with physical symptoms.

Listen to the Connection Food Allergy and the Brain

 


Further reading: Neuroscience Notes, Intelligence and Learning, Language & Thinking

Persona Digital

Persona Digital Books is the publisher of The Human Brain, Neuroscience Notes, Intelligence & Learning and related books. Three books are available as print editions for mail delivery. All books are available as eBooks for download (PDF files).