Food allergies or allergylike food sensitivities can rev up the immune system and contribute to chronic inflammation. It is relatively easy and inexpensive to obtain a "food allergy panel" using a simple blood test. Indeed, the health mobiles that occasionally visit supermarkets can perform allergy panel tests for about $30.
It may be easier to assess your likelihood of being allergic to certain foods when you don't already have an obvious reaction after eating a particular food. The reason is that people often become allergic to the foods they eat most often, for biochemical reasons too involved to discuss here. In addition, food allergies often take the form of a food addiction—such as a food you crave or cannot imagine living without. If you avoid a suspect food and all related foods (such as all foods with dairy) for a week, and you are in fact allergic to it, you will feel better. However, you also might not notice any difference in how you feel until you add that food back to your diet, when you suddenly feel worse.
In Going Against the Grain, nutritionist Melissa Diane Smith writes that as many as half of Americans have some degree of gluten intolerance. The gut damage from gluten can predispose people to numerous other food allergies. A damaged, or leaky, gut can allow undigested food proteins to enter the bloodstream, where they trigger an immune response. The most common sources of gluten are wheat, rye, barley, and oats.
Nightshades are another problematic group of foods for many people with rheumatoid arthritis. These foods include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers. Although tobacco is not a food, it is a member of the nightshade family. Before Columbus discovered Native Americans eating tomatoes and peppers, Europeans considered nightshades to be poisonous. Nightshades do contain a variety of mildly toxic compounds and, by some estimates, one of every five arthritics has allergiclike sensitivities to nightshades. Given the prevalence of tomatoes and potatoes (such as ketchup on fries), as well as their inclusion in many processed foods, it is advisable for arthritics to stop eating these foods for several weeks to see if symptoms lessen.
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