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The human body is our instrument, a complex one, but quite phenomenal. Scientific research has physically proven many natural occurrences, but theory and research still play a big part in the study of allergies.

There is so much that is already known based on our reactions, but because of modern times and new products, materials, and foods, we are seeing a growing number of allergies, some so serious that they could be life threatening.

I had the pleasure of understanding more about these medical issues through Dr. Atul N. Shah, MD, FACAAI, FAAAAI, a board certified allergist and the best-selling author of the children’s book, “Allergies, and Awesome You”. He is the medical director of and the founder of the educational website, which has great resources for anyone interested in reducing allergy symptoms.

Personally, I am so thankful that Dr. Shah passes on his scientific knowledge to his patients with honesty and genuine concern. With his advice and help, I have made positive changes in my home and life that allow me to feel healthier and take precautions. Enjoy the interview!

One Green Planet (OGP): Are there any specific food combinations that should be avoided? Are there examples of foods that, when combined, are more likely to cause an allergic reaction than each one separately? Ayurveda books talk about this topic in detail, but how can we be more aware in modern times? There are so many preservatives and new ingredients being used in the food industry.

Dr. Atul N. Shah (Dr. A.S.): As far as the true food allergy is concerned, the information available on combining foods and effect on allergic reactions is limited.

The true food allergy implies the reactions related to high amount of food specific Immunoglobulin E (IgE) present in the food allergic individuals. For example, the peanut allergic person will have high IgE specific to peanut and that is responsible for life threatening allergic reactions.

We do know that certain foods have higher chance of being additional allergic triggers with some existing food allergies. Some include: eggs and chicken, milk and beef, peanuts and treenuts. There are other associations like pollen allergic individuals reacting to fresh fruits, dustmite allergic individuals reacting to shellfish, latex allergy with fruits like banana and mango.

Our food habits have evolved but our genetic makeup has not. We, as allergists, are seeing more and more patients with allergies to many more new foods and exotic combinations. We still do not fully understand what role many food additives, coloring agents, preservatives and flavoring agents play in increasing food allergy prevalence.

OGP: How common are allergies to fish and other types of meat? What kind of symptoms may occur?

Dr. A.S.: The true IgE related food allergy can be life threatening. The symptoms can be mild to severe and range from itchy skin, hives, lip-tongue swelling, coughing, vomiting, cramps, throat closing, wheezing, breathing difficulty, loss of consciousness to shock and death.

While only eight foods (milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy) are estimated to account for 90% of all food-allergic reactions, a person can be allergic to virtually any food.

An estimated 2.5 to 3.0% of Americans (nearly 7-8 million people), report allergy to seafood, including fish and shellfish. Salmon, tuna, and halibut are the most common kinds of fish to which people are allergic. Shrimp, crab and lobster are common among shellfish allergies.

Many people believe that their seafood allergy is the same as iodine allergy and avoid radio contrast for CT scan or other procedures. This is not true and evidence suggests that people with “iodine reactions” can still eat seafood and those with seafood allergy can get radio contrast with no additional risk.

Allergies to meats such as beef, chicken, mutton, or pork are also known but not as common. If an individual is diagnosed with an allergy to one type of meat, he or she may not need to avoid other types of meat. There is recent association of tick bite and developing red meat allergy. An allergic person to milk should also avoid beef is not generally advised. However, one study with oral food challenges to these foods showed that almost 8% of the milk-allergic children also reacted to beef.

OGP: Acne is a common cosmetic issue for people of all ages. Can acne actually be caused by or related to a food allergy?

Dr. A.S.: The studies have shown a link between acne and foods like milk and sugar, not necessarily from IgE related food allergy. Some of the food intolerance and food sensitivities are associated with higher prevalence of acne.

OGP: Please explain the difference between being Lactose intolerant and having dairy allergies. Also, what are the symptoms of these conditions?

Dr. A.S.: Food intolerance implies inability to tolerate food, and it differs from a food allergy, as the immune system is not involved when a person is intolerant to a food.

Lactose intolerance occurs when an individual’s small intestine does not produce enough of the lactase enzyme required for the digestion of lactose. Therefore, affected individuals are not able to digest lactose, a type of sugar found in dairy products. The symptoms of lactose intolerance typically occur within 30 minutes to few hours after ingesting dairy products, usually as bloating, gas, feeling of indigestion, heart burn, cramps, diarrhea etc. Larger the amount of dairy are more likely to cause increased symptoms.

The true milk allergy is from the presence of higher IgE against various milk proteins and can cause mild to severe allergic symptoms, including the anaphylaxis.

OGP: Both city dwellers and suburbanites can potentially ingest a lot of toxic pollutants. What is the best way to clear your system of environmental allergens such as smoke, smog, dust, and pollen?

Dr. A.S.: It is more of inhalation rather than ingestion of pollutants that triggers nasal, sinus and respiratory symptoms. The best defense is to avoid them to the extent possible. You can wear a mask or new products like invisible nose mask pit ( to significantly reduce the exposure in the environment with high Pollution.

If the exposure could not be prevented, use simple saline wash or rinsing of the nose and sinuses to remove these allergens and irritants. Did you know that indoor air quality in most US homes is worse than outdoor air? Controlling the indoor environment can be very helpful.

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