Nutrition and Diet
Attempting to consume a healthy diet is difficult enough for anyone nowadays while most food is contaminated with pesticides, herbicides, bovine growth hormone (BGH), artificial colors and flavors, preservatives, or aspartame.
For chemically sensitive people with food allergies and severe food intolerances, eating can be a veritable land mine, as even pure, organically grown foods may not be safe. In general, the issue of food intolerances is poorly understood, even by those who treat MCS. For example, even people who advocate for a yeast-free diet disagree as to exactly what foods are to be avoided.
There is much disagreement regarding MCS and the testing and treatment of food allergies. Allergy testing is expensive and often yields conflicting results. One woman reported spending money on three different types of food allergy testing, all of which provided contradicting reports. In the end, she relied on her own judgment, eliminating those foods that seemed to make her feel the worst, but retaining as many foods as possible to sustain decent nutrition. Some people would disagree with her and urge her to eliminate all foods that tested bad regardless of the test used. The problem with this approach, however, is that it would have left almost nothing for her to eat. At one point, this woman had a list of only twelve foods that did not give her a twelve-hour negative reaction. She later discovered that her petrochemical heating system was causing her to become intolerant of chemicals and foods. By moving to a safer living environment, she gained back her tolerance for most foods.
This chapter will help you to eliminate some of the most toxic types of foods, and will familiarize you with some of the popular diets that have been tried for MCS, including the rotary diversified, macrobiotic, anticandida, and gluten-free diets. It is not, however, an exhaustive resource for any of these topics, and further reading is suggested in Appendix C. Being informed about how food is produced or transported will make you a safer consumer. Not many people, for example, know that the same trucks that transport toxic liquids may later be filled with food products, making for dangerously contaminated food (Lawson 1994).
The importance of diet for people with MCS was evidenced by the fact that ninety people in Phase II of my research responded to the question “If you have improved, to what do you attribute the improvement?” by listing vitamin and mineral supplements. Other nutrition-related items to which respondents attributed their improvement included:
Ø General strict diet
Ø Organic food
Ø Anticandida diet
Ø Rotation diets
Ø Macrobiotic food
Ø Amino acids
Ø Bottled water
Ø Dechlorinated water
Ø Enzyme treatment
Ø Yeast treatment
Ø Antifungal medications
Ø Tap water
Ø Natural products
Ø Non-fat diet
Ø Eating slowly
Ø Elimination diets
Many people with MCS report that taking food supplements is beneficial. In Phase I of my research, 35 percent of respondents reported great benefit, 26 percent moderate benefit, 23 percent mild benefit, 8 percent no benefit, and 8 percent reported adverse reactions to food supplements. I suggest learning as much as possible about basic and specialty nutrients in order to be your own nutritionist. (See Appendix C for further reading.)
Toxins in Foods
In our industrialized culture, food unfortunately has become a storable, commercial commodity that often reaches the table bearing no resemblance to its original form. In fact, often there is little or no nutritional value in packaged foods. Try going into a convenience store and finding one product that is actually good for you. You may luck out and find a piece of fruit, but other than that the foods are processed, bleached, preserved, and colored, and contain only a small percentage of the nutrients they have in their natural state. A friend once came to a potluck party at my house, held up his packaged food contribution, and laughingly bragged that it did not contain one natural ingredient. How does one go about eating even a reasonably decent diet when food has degenerated into a money-making commodity?
Eliminate as Many Chemicals as Possible
For anyone with sensitivities, carefully reading food labels must become a way of life. Ingredients are listed on labels in the order that they exist in the food from the largest to the smallest amounts. For example, if the first ingredient is sugar, then the product contains more sugar than any other ingredient. You must read all of the ingredients listed. Be aware: Labels can be misleading. If the label says “organic whole wheat flour, enriched wheat flour,” then the product contains some organic whole wheat flour, but it also contains nonorganic, non whole wheat flour. When wheat flour is processed, the wheat germ (the inner part containing the vitamin E) and the bran (the outer layer containing the roughage) are removed and sold to health food stores, and you get the leftover starchy part of the grain. To make matters worse, the grain is bleached white and the product is depleted of B vitamins to the point that only a fraction remains. As a partial remedy, manufacturers often will “enrich” their products with two to three of the seventeen or so vitamins depleted.
You want to buy foods that are in as natural a state as possible, with as few added ingredients as possible. If you have sensitivities to foods, you particularly need simple foods that are not stacked with many ingredients so that when you test yourself, you will know which ingredient causes your reaction. If you eat a packaged food with thirty ingredients and get a reaction, you will have no idea to what ingredient you are reacting. On the other hand, if you eat a meal of natural cauliflower and have a reaction, it will be clear that you are sensitive to the cauliflower. It is important to note, too, that although ingredients are required to be listed on packages, pre-prepared added ingredients do not have to be broken down on labels. For example, yogurt could be listed as an ingredient in a cookie, but the food label does not have to list the fact that the yogurt itself has gelatin in it. Therefore, it is possible to consume items we are unaware of despite conscientious care. In fact, with the advent of genetically engineered foods, the difficulty of knowing to which allergens you are being exposed has become even greater.
Ingredients to be avoided in a natural diet include:
Ø Artificial colors (derived from coal tar dyes; suspected and, in some cases, confirmed as carcinogens)
Ø Artificial flavors
Ø Preservatives (added to increase shelf life)
Ø Monosodium glutamate (MSG) (added as a flavoring agent; common in Chinese foods and hidden in a large number of other foods)
Ø Artificial additives and other conditioning agents, such as “dough conditioner” in bread
Ø Genetically modified foods and ingredients to the extent possible
Ø Irradiated or microwaved food
Ruth Winter’s book A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives (2004) reviews more than 8,000 food additives, and examines the state of current food safety regulations. Interestingly, since the book’s first edition in 1972, thirty-five popular food additives have been removed from the market because of their ability to cause cancer. Clearly, it is prudent to avoid as many artificial additives as possible. This is especially true given the constant efforts to weaken regulations that limit food carcinogens, and the lack of adequate testing for most products. Even if additives are tested, they are not tested in combination. Furthermore, regulatory bodies do not take into consideration that some populations eat certain foods in greater quantities. For example, when calculating the danger of pesticides in fruits, the fact that babies and young children eat many times the amount of fruit that adults do in comparison to their body weight is not considered. Also, food additives and other environmental toxins are most often tested exclusively for carcinogenicity. However, neurotoxicity (nervous system poisoning) and hormone disruption may be even greater concerns and may occur at much faster rates than do the carcinogenic effects (which may take twenty years to appear in humans). The following sections review additives that are best avoided.
In general, the use of sweeteners should be kept at a minimum, especially if you have sensitive reactions to yeast. I suggest particularly avoiding aspartame, which breaks down into formaldehyde both in the body and during storage. A twelve-year-old girl did the research to prove that the longer Diet Coke is stored and the higher the storage temperature, the quicker aspartame turns into formaldehyde (Cohen 1997). Research supports the contention that aspartame is a neurotoxin, yet it is allowed to remain in food products because “diet food” is a multimillion dollar industry. Further, the aspartic acid in aspartame can cause MSG-type reactions for people sensitive to MSG.
Preservatives give food a longer shelf life and prevent mold, spoilage, and the degeneration of fat that results in rancidity. Preservatives include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), potassium sorbate, “food grade” waxes, and others. (See Appendix C for further reading.)
Although some food colorings, such as turmeric and annatto, are natural, most are made from coal tar dyes, which have been shown to cause tumors in animals. Some colorings have been removed from the Federal Drug Administration’s list of “allowed additives” because of the harm that they have caused in animal testing.
Food colors are added to butter, candies, cereals, and canned items. Even dog food has food coloring added to it. (I can only assume this is the result of marketing on the part of the chemical companies and that the color of food does not increase my dogs’ culinary enjoyment.)
Flavorings and Flavor Enhancers
Winter (2004) says that of 5,000 food additives, two-thirds are artificial flavorings used to replace the natural flavors lost in processing. Flavor enhancers, such as MSG, are of great concern because they excite the nervous system and because we don’t know enough about their neurological effects. Some people say that MSG causes reactions in sensitive people due to the free glutamic acid found in processed food (The Truth in Labeling Campaign, Darien, Illinois). Proteins containing bound glutamic acid or unprocessed food that contains natural glutamic acid do not cause the same reaction. It is extremely difficult to avoid MSG, as it is always present in gelatin, textured protein, hydrolyzed protein, and yeast. It is often present in malt extracts and flavorings, barley malt, carrageenan (used as a thickening agent), whey protein, flavors, soy sauce, soy protein, and all fermented foods. Amino acids and hydrolyzed ingredients in soaps, shampoos and conditioners, and cosmetics may also trigger MSG reactions. MSG is made through protein hydrolysis. When the product is 99 percent free glutamate it is called monosodium glutamate. If the free glutamate level is lower than 99 percent, no mention need be made that MSG is present, and it can be called something else, such as sodium saxienate, calcium casientate, autolyzed yeast, textured protein, hydrolyzed protein, and others. (See Appendix C for further reading.)
Irradiation consists of exposing foods to ionizing radiation to kill molds and bacteria, and to slow down ripening. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved irradiation in 1996 for fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, teas, spices, and some meats. Although food does not become radioactive, it is said to become “radiomimetic,” meaning that it behaves as if it were radioactive. There are outstanding questions about irradiation given that its approval was based on theoretical calculations rather than actual testing. Questions about the safety of irradiating food are still being raised. Such questions include: What effect does irradiation have on the nutritional value of the food; are there molecular changes as a result of the process; and what health risks may be present? Although irradiated foods are labeled with a logo that looks like a flower in a circle, when they are added to processed foods as ingredients, they are not labeled. Gary Gibbs (l993) cites an Indian study that found that children fed irradiated food showed polyploidy, an abnormal white blood cell condition associated with senility and leukemia.
There are environmental concerns about irradiation as well. These include the increased transport and storage of radioactive material used in food irradiation facilities and the location of the facilities. Concerned about the public’s awareness of and negative response to irradiation, food irradiation technology firms have coined a new phrase for the process: “Electronic Pasteurization.” Much as sugar is now called “pure cane juice crystals,” irradiation has a new deceptive euphemism as well.
Microwaves use a magnetron tube, which emits an electron beam that bombards the food with radiation. This oscillating, alternating current is absorbed by the food molecules and heats up food through friction. Foods with high water content heat more quickly. The friction causes damage to cells, particularly to the cell walls, which control cell function and determine what gets in and out of the cells. Although the official “word” on microwaves from government agencies and manufacturers is that microwaves are safe, there is reason to think otherwise. A number of sources cite the Russian research that led to the banning of microwave ovens in Russia in l976. The Russian research showed that ingestion of microwaved food was associated with stomach and intestinal cancers, excretory problems, immune system weakening, cancer cells in the blood serum, and decreased nutritional value of the foods (Science and Technology 2003).
The Swiss food scientist Dr. Hans Ulrich Hertel co-published with Dr. Bernard H. Blanc in 1991 a well-controlled study of the effects of microwaved food consumption. Hertel and Blanc found that both the food and the blood of those eating it had been altered in the groups that had eaten irradiated food. Hemoglobin, cholesterol, and lymphocytes were affected in the blood. For their efforts, the authors were sued by a trade organization with a resulting gag order that prohibited them from publishing further results. Although this was overturned five years later, Blanc distanced from the work out of fear for his life. Hertel is now retired, but has continued to fight the microwave industry (Science and Technology 2003; Wayne and Newell 2004).
Pesticides probably represent one of the most insidious and harmful ingredients in our food and are discussed at greater length in chapter four, “Making Your Home Safe.” One study cited in the Nutrition Action Healthletter (1997) showed that strawberries had more pesticides and more endocrine disrupters than any other fresh food. Also high in pesticides were United States cherries, apples, Mexican cantaloupes, Chilean grapes, blackberries, pears, raspberries, and other fruits. Fresh foods that were the least contaminated included cauliflower, sweet potatoes, onions, corn, peas, carrots, and avocados. When buying organic food, you can use this information to best spend your dollars. For example, if your funds are limited, buy organic strawberries and other fruits, and buy commercial vegetables from the less contaminated group.
Another study cited in the Nutrition Action Healthletter found that washing produce with water and dishwashing liquid and peeling the skins and outer leaves eliminated pesticide residues from about half of the contaminated produce. Other options are to purchase vegetable washes or to soak produce with crushed tablets of hydrochloric (HCL) acid in the water. (I have tested the HCL on pears that actually smelled of pesticide and it works.) Some foods, however, are grown with systemic pesticides that are taken up through the roots into the plant and cannot be washed off. Also used on crops are growth regulators, chemical fertilizers, and municipal sludge containing heavy minerals and human waste. It is best to eat organically grown and organically processed food whenever possible. The problems, of course, are cost and availability. Another consideration regarding organic foods is that many health food stores stock organic produce, but they spray pesticides inside their facility; pesticides migrate, negating the benefit of stocking organic foods in the first place. I would not buy organic produce from any store that sprayed the very chemicals that organic growers work so hard to do without.
Most farmland is blanketed with herbicides each spring even if pesticides are not used. Corn, for example, is grown on land that is first treated with herbicides, including 2,4-D, atrazine, paraquat, or other toxic substances that kill weeds. As if this is not enough, some farmers apply a “preemerge” (what I call the “Don’t even think about growing here”) chemical to prevent certain weeds such as redroot from germinating. One farmer I know mixes his own poisons, combining five different herbicides, one of which is 2-4D. He then provides his young son with a cotton painter’s mask and takes him along to spread the mixture with his own truck.
Another dairy farmer hires a local company to spray his fields. One year I phoned to find out what they were using. They had mixed together twelve different preparations including chlorpyriphos, 2,4-D, paraquat, and others and blanketed his mile-long farm.
Indirect Contamination Through Animal Products
In addition to direct additives in your foods, there are a host of indirect chemicals that reach you as a result of eating meat or animal products. Cows graze on land that has been treated with the herbicide 2,4-D (used to kill thistles). This chemical builds up in their milk and then is passed on to you. Similarly, animals often are fed steroids (for growth), antibiotics, in some cases bovine growth hormone, and are sometimes tranquilized when taken to market. Some of these drugs are used illegally (Lawson 1994). All of them are passed on to you. (See Appendix B for further reading.)
My own bias is that eating animal foods is neither healthy, nor environmentally sound. In the present world economy, rain forests are being cut down to provide grazing land to produce more beef. Beef cattle eat many, many pounds of grain to produce one pound of (often contaminated) meat. More people could be fed, fewer forests cut down, fewer chemicals consumed, and less violence done to animals if the grain went directly to people. However, people differ in their views of animals. In addition, they often hold romanticized views of dairy farming (thought to be less violent than beef farming). The truth is that beef cows used as breeders have longer lives than those used for milk. The average dairy cow lives three to four years, after which she is slaughtered for meat because her milk production has dropped below an artificially high standard that can only be achieved through pushing the cow’s system to produce more than natural production. Sometimes this is done with heavy graining, other times with bovine growth hormone.
Genetically Modified Foods and Ingredients
A relatively new threat to food safety is the creation and production of genetically modified (GM) staple foods and lesser ingredients in packaged foods. There is no understanding of the long or short-term effects on health of eating foods with genetic modifications. With these unknowns it is not surprising that some countries will not import or allow the use of genetically modified seed. Even with famine in Africa, countries would not accept U.S. food and seed donations that were GM. The U.S. tried to force GM foods on Africa even though there were surpluses of non-GM grain available for purchase in neighboring African countries. Monetary donations would have allowed the countries in famine to purchase foods that they desired. But the U.S. pressured them instead to accept donations of GM grain. In fact USAid budgeted one hundred million dollars for the purpose of bringing bio-technology to “developing” countries (“U.S. on warpath,” 2003). This is because GM foods are the source of huge financial revenues and an opportunity for agribusiness to control the food source to a greater extent than ever before. GM foods have become the subject of extreme controversy and court battles. In the UK, protesters against GM foods gather and tear out GM seedlings in resistance. The European Union has restricted the approval of any new GM foods, angering U.S. exporters in the process. It is known that GM crops can contaminate non-GM crops within a radius of a mile or more. These crops thus pose a threat to the continuation of the availability of non-GM seed. This may be exactly the goal of these companies as they aggressively pursue their program of harassing non-GM farmers. The well-known case of Percy Schmeiser of Canada is a rather heart-breaking example of the lack of protection for farmers who refuse to use GM crops. When Monsanto discovered that Schmeiser’s oilseed rape contained the presence of GM DNA, they sued him, winning not only his income for the year, but his seeds that he had been saving for 20 years. Schmeiser fought back, spending/losing over $500,000 in the process, only to have the court decision upheld by the Canadian Supreme Court! He was held responsible for wind contamination by unwanted GM material, but the company held that he had stolen their copyrighted seed. Arguments against the approval of GM foods include: 1) GM foods will remove consumer choice, 2) Health risks are unknown, 3) Farmers will be destroyed through dependency on large corporations, lower yields, complete corporate control, higher costs, and loss of organic agriculture due to contamination, 4) The environment will degrade through increased use of herbicides and pesticides, and 5) there is evidence that the crops actually give reduced yields and will not feed the poor anyway (“Keep Britain GM-free,” 2003).
Fats are another food ingredient of which to be aware. Many of the fats in health food snacks are hydrogenated, which means hydrogen is bubbled through the food molecules during processing. This process alters molecules so much from their original form that they react entirely differently in the body. Furthermore, these fats can clog cell walls and prevent the cell wall (or “keyboard” of the cell) from carrying out important metabolic functions, such as manufacturing energy and allowing nutrients in or out of the cell. Therefore, you will want to avoid any ingredient that says “hydrogenated,” “partially hydrogenated,” or “fractionated.” These are all descriptors for trans fats.
Food Storage and Preparation
In addition to commercial degradation of food, storage and preparation pose further risks of contamination. For example, storage in plastic exposes food to pthalates, which are hormone disruptors. It is best to minimize the purchase and use of plastic containers and use cellulose bags instead. (See Appendix B for product sources.) This can be difficult because even health food stores provide customers with plastic bags in which to collect and store food that is to be purchased. You might want to bring your own cellulose bags when you shop. Note: Most yogurt manufacturers that store their product in plastic containers, are not even responsible enough to use recyclable plastic. In my mind, these companies—regardless of how they attempt to represent themselves—are no more deserving of our money than are the conglomerates that monopolize the grocery store chains.
Aluminum exposure is another toxic consideration. Aluminum foil and cooking utensils made of aluminum are a high risk for contaminating food. The development of Alzheimer’s disease has been linked with aluminum buildup in the brain. Aluminum foil, conventional baking powder, and many over-the-counter drugs also contain aluminum.
Cooking pans probably should be made of cast iron or stainless steel. Non stick surfaces may contaminate food with chemicals such as PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) from Teflon. The Environmental Working Group reviews the EPA’s hazard report on PFOA and expresses serious concern about its health risks on its website (http://www.ewg.org). Even stainless steel may be a problem in the U.S., as the disposal of low-level radioactive waste is unregulated and may find its way into new metals. In the UK low-level radioactive waste is categorized as BRC (below regulatory concern) and is openly allowed in cookware and other metal.
Learn to Be Self-Sufficient
Of course the best answer to avoiding chemical food contamination is to grow your own food. A patch of clean ground that has not been exposed to chemicals is a valuable treasure. If you can grow organic tomatoes, you can dry some in a food dehydrator and use them all year. With just a couple of pots on a porch, you can grow a large number of tomatoes that will taste much better than those plastic-tasting ones in the grocery store. You can grow sprouts year-round in your kitchen. It also is relatively easy to grow lettuce, mustard, chives, carrots, beans, and other important foods. (See Appendix B for product sources.) I highly suggest learning how to grow your own food. It is fun, it gets you outside, and it provides gentle exercise.
Between growing your own food and buying food from a reputable health food store, you can eat at least a partially organic diet. It is fairly easy to find organically grown staples, such as rice, barley, wheat, nuts, and seeds, at the health food store. Be careful, however, with regard to packaged ingredients; many packaged “health food” items are no healthier than items in the regular grocery store, despite their inflated costs. Proprietors have a difficult time (and sometimes a lack of commitment to) finding companies that truly attempt to provide pure products. In fact, many companies merely change the names of problematic items rather than eliminate them.
Dietary Treatments for MCS
You will find claims that a host of diets either prevent or cure disease, and some specifically have been suggested for people with MCS (e.g., the macrobiotic diet). As with any other MCS intervention, no one diet is effective or safe for everyone. The following are some of the more popular diets that people with MCS have tried.
The Rotary Diversified Diet
The rotation diet has you eat one food at a time, and consume that food or any food from the same family only once every four days. The rationale behind food rotation is that because it takes three to four days to clear a food from your system, you can unmask some of your food reactions and thus avoid foods that have been acting as hidden allergens. Because of the cross-reactivity in food families, you must isolate families of foods together. For example, since both wheat and barley are in the grass family, you would not eat wheat on Monday and barley on Tuesday. Instead, you would eat items from the grass family on Monday, and not ingest any of them again until Friday. Guides are available to help you set up a rotation diet of safe foods. Generally, guides suggest that you start with a few foods that you know are safe, eat them every four days in very simple meals of only one or two food combinations, and then slowly start to eat and test additional foods. You must plan carefully, chart your food plan to be sure you don’t get confused, and be certain that particular food items will be in the house on their “day.”
Of course, there are considerable limitations to this diet. First, it eliminates any spontaneity when it comes to eating out with others. If someone invites you over for a meal on a Thursday and they aren’t serving bananas and bananas alone, you’ll be out of luck. And, you can guess how exciting these meals are to your housemates. However, rotating food families does help some people get a better handle on what foods they are reacting to, and it does introduce some order and discipline into eating. Of the participants in Phase I of my research who had rotated foods, 36 percent reported great benefit, 25 percent moderate benefit, 21 percent mild benefit, 18 percent found no benefit, and 1 percent had adverse reactions.
Sherry Rogers (1986) has said, “only highly sensitive people, highly chemically sensitive people, universal reactors, and those on food injections need to rotate” (p. 282). She says that you have severe food allergies if you cannot control your symptoms through avoidance of some foods and/or if you need injections. Rotating food is especially helpful for people who need injections because it prohibits the body from being constantly overloaded with the same antigens, and from developing new allergies by abusing other foods. Rogers says that a good way to start rotating is to pick four unrelated foods (from different families) that you rarely eat (because you are less likely to be allergic to them) and eat one of them a day until your symptoms clear. You may feel worse before you feel better because you will experience withdrawal from your allergic/addictive foods. Next, she suggests consuming two unrelated, rarely eaten foods per day, and adding one new food a day as long as you still feel okay. This will help you to build up two lists: one of foods that are safe, and one of foods that are not. Unsafe foods can be identified by negative reactions that may be immediate or delayed (even a day later). You can also use your heart pulse to identify unsafe foods. Test your pulse twenty minutes after eating a food to see if it changes. By becoming familiar with your resting pulse (seventy-two to eighty beats per minute is considered normal, but yours may vary), you will be able to identify unsafe foods by identifying which ones cause your pulse to deviate from its normal range. Once you get to the point where you have about sixteen safe foods, Rogers says to eat four different foods each day, being sure to rotate them every four days. (See Appendix C for further reading.)
One complication regarding food rotation is that we do not know enough about cross-reactivity. In personal communication, Susan Killian told me that while doing research on cross reactivity she has found that seemingly unrelated foods may contain the same antigens (protein or carbohydrate substances). Therefore, it’s possible to think that you are rotating your foods, but actually not be doing so. Killian, Fretwell, and McMichael (1997) found cross-reactivity within food families, across families, and even between foods and both fungi and animals. The grass family seems to be particularly cross-reactive. For example:
Barley cross-reacted with potato and tomato (nightshade family) as well as wheat, oat, and corn (all in the grass family). Corn reacted with rice and wheat (same family), and with potato, sugar, and tomato. Grass had fairly strong cross-reactivity with string beans, soy, orange, potato, ragweed, and rice. Wheat reacted with rice, rye, milk, and potato (Killian et al., 1997). If it is the case that seemingly unrelated foods contain the same antigens, then rotating foods may not be effective at all.
The anticandida diet consists of the avoidance of antibiotics, hormones, and steroids; augmentation of the immune system; a low sugar/carbohydrate diet; and sometimes either natural or prescription agents to kill excess yeast. One hypothesis regarding the cause of MCS and of food allergies in particular was that the person’s body had sustained an overgrowth of yeastlike fungi in the candida family. (But most people believe that other factors are involved as well.)
Although candida is present in all bodies, it causes problems when there is an imbalance between it and the normal healthy bacteria present in the mouth, intestinal tract, and vagina. Yeasts manufacture aldehydes, which can block pathways used for detoxification, and can also produce chemicals that mimic autoimmune reactions against the body’s own organs. Aldehydes also displace healthy bacteria in the digestive tract, which aid in digestion and in the production of nutrients. Some people believe that yeasts can grow through the digestive walls causing “leaky gut” syndrome and exposing the blood supply to undigested food particles. Because they are not digested, the body identifies these food particles as foreign, and immune reactions or allergies may develop to the foods. Sherry Rogers (1986) says that although there are more than 200 journal articles supporting the role of yeast in illness, this theory has not received much respect or recognition among physicians or allergists. In fact, although yeast overgrowth is contributed to by antibiotic use, only rarely do physicians advise the use of acidophilus along with prescribed antibiotics. Acidophilus is a useful microorganism found in dairy yogurt. It replenishes the “good” stomach flora that antibiotics kill. Other factors thought to contribute to yeastlike overgrowth include steroids, prescription medications, birth control pills, stress, and a diet particularly rich in sugars and carbohydrates. (See Appendix C for further reading.)
In The Yeast Connection, the late William Crook (1986) said that symptoms caused by yeast include fatigue; depression; headaches; skin problems, such as athlete’s foot, nail fungus, and rashes; gastrointestinal symptoms, such as constipation, bloating, and abdominal pain; reproductive problems, such as menstrual pain; and other problems. Crook saw chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, headaches, depression, and MCS as common yeast-related syndromes that afflict both men and women. Although less commonly, people with asthma, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and autoimmune disorders have also responded to antiyeast therapy. Crook believed that yeast may cause women to experience recurrent burning vulva, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), endometriosis, cystitis, interstitial cystitis, sexual dysfunction, and infertility.
Although there are always new laboratory tests being invented to detect yeast levels, yeast problems have generally been diagnosed by an antiyeast program trial. If a person shows improvement during the trial, then it is thought that yeast played a part in the person’s illness. Because of the mainstream attacks upon practitioners of environmental medicine, some physicians have told me in personal communication that they are now protecting themselves by insisting on a stool test to detect high levels of yeast before prescribing antiyeast medication.
The anticandida diet suggests you avoid the following foods:
Ø processed foods
Ø coffee and tea
Ø fruit juices
Ø fermented condiments, such as mustard, ketchup
Ø dried fruits
A diet heavy in vegetables, meats, eggs, nuts, and seeds is suggested. Crook allowed potatoes, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, and whole grains in lower quantities.
In Who Killed Candida?, Vickie Glassburn (1991) described a comprehensive program for eliminating yeast. (This book is out of print, but you may be able to find it at your local library.) It is called the “3 C Diet”— Choices Conquer Candida—and is recommended to those with candida, immunodeficiency, and MCS. The main objective of this diet is to make long-term lifestyle changes in order to:
1. Regulate the digestive system
2. Strengthen the immune system
3. Cease yeast overgrowth
Throughout her book, Glassburn stresses the importance of a strong immune system, and continually reiterates that many factors contribute to poor immunity. She believes that to be healthy, people must regulate their digestive system by putting their bodies on a strict schedule. She sees fermentation as the reason that some foods do not digest as well as others. Glassburn suggests that foods (e.g., beef) that delay the digestive process begin to ferment internally, causing alcohol-like products to accumulate. It is this process that contributes to symptoms such as fatigue, feelings of disorganization or disorientation, and confusion.
Nine important steps will facilitate regular, rhythmic digestion. According to Glassburn, all nine steps must be followed closely to absorb nutrients most effectively, avoid the slowing of the digestive process, and eliminate symptoms such as allergies, lack of energy, etc. These steps include:
1. Chew food well.
2. Eat two or three meals a day.
3. Avoid consuming liquids with meals.
4. Eliminate eating in the evenings.
5. Keep the number of foods at a minimum with each meal.
6. Learn to combine food properly.
7. Limit refined and concentrated foods.
9. Control stress levels.
Glassburn also strongly believes in the importance of water, air, sunlight, exercise, and rest to build up the immune system. She recommends large quantities of distilled water to rid the body of harmful toxins. Fresh air and sunlight aid in the rejuvenation of the body and produce more white blood cells, thus giving the body the capacity to fight off infection. Regular, sustained exercise, a minimum of one hour per day, without exception, will help to regulate blood sugar levels, reduce blood sugar, eliminate fatigue and depression, as well as bring more oxygen into the body’s system allowing it to fight off illness. (Be careful: Every person must find the appropriate type and level of exercise for him or her, and must avoid exercising immediately before or after a meal (as this may delay the digestive process). Finally, the body must rest at the end of the day to repair itself. A good night’s sleep enables the immune system to regenerate if the body is on a regular regimen. Glassburn warns that daytime napping may be harmful because it can detract from the quality of nighttime sleep.
Differences Between Anticandida Diets
Anticandida diets differ on several points, including their treatment of fruit and complex carbohydrates (grains). Glassburn admits that grains foster yeast growth, but she thinks that they help to heal the immune system, and therefore includes them in her diet. On the other hand, she disallows all animal products. Most anticandida diets prescribe avoidance of dairy products due to the lactose. Fruits receive differential treatment. Those that include fruits define them as natural and healthy foods that are metabolized slightly differently by the body than are processed sugars. Those who restrict fruit consumption point out that it is nonetheless sweet, and, as such, feeds yeast. People disagree on the eating of ferments also. Some believe that yeast and mushrooms need only be avoided if the person is allergic to them. Others believe that they feed the yeast directly. Each person has to determine for her/himself what seems to cause the yeast to flare, and then avoid those foods. Women may have an easier time of determining this, as they can tell fairly quickly what will cause a vaginal yeast problem to flare. Men have to rely on other indicators of yeast flare-up.
The anticandida diet often is paired with substances that help to kill the yeast. Natural remedies include garlic, caprylic acid, homeopathic solutions of candida, grapefruit seed extracts, and antifungal herbs. Other remedies include nystatin, Nizoral, and/or Diflucan. Nystatin is an antibiotic substance that stays in the digestive tract and is not absorbed into the system. Nizoral and Diflucan are absorbed into the bloodstream and may help to kill yeast that has taken hold in organs other than the digestive tract. Nystatin is fairly well-tolerated, although some people report “die-off” reactions as yeast cells burst and release their contents. With Nizoral and Diflucan, you must have your liver enzymes tested regularly, as both are somewhat liver toxic and there is a danger of liver damage if enzymes become elevated.
My concern regarding anticandida treatments is that the body seems to want to override the treatment, and even becomes “addicted” to the antiyeast medication. While on a yeast program, even a tiny amount of sweetener can trigger a flare-up and, for some people, the amount becomes smaller rather than larger with treatment. Given that people don’t even agree as to what constitutes an antiyeast diet, I don’t think we know enough about yeast treatment. Nevertheless, some people have benefited greatly from it.
Alison Johnson (1996–1998) found that 58 percent of 200 people reported either major or enormous help from an anticandida diet, and 25.4 percent, 30.2 percent, and 37.8 percent reported either major or enormous benefit from nystatin, Nizoral, and Diflucan respectively. However, 19.5 percent, 26.7 percent, and 14.3 percent reported harm from nystatin, Nizoral, and Diflucan respectively.
Although considerable attention has been given to the candida issue, candida is no longer a leading hypothesis for the cause of MCS.
Fit for Life Diet
Harvey and Marilyn Diamond, authors of Fit for Life, describe a basic philosophy for diet and a healthy lifestyle called “Natural Hygiene.” Natural Hygiene promotes healthy living by relying on the body’s natural tendency to cleanse itself of waste material. The diet tunes into the body’s digestion cycles to detoxify the system. The Diamonds explain that through this organic cleansing process, the human body achieves a maximum level of wellness.
The primary goal of the Natural Hygiene lifestyle is to detoxify the body completely of increasing amounts of toxic waste material. Toxemia, which is an “abnormal condition associated with the presence of toxic substances in the blood,” leads to poor health, including lack of energy, excess weight, and illness.
Inadequately digested food causes toxins to build up in the body. In Fit for Life, the Diamonds suggest integrating three basic principles into one’s lifestyle. These include:
1. Food with a high-water content
2. Proper food combining
3. Proper food consumption
Because the body is 70 percent water, the Fit for Life diet places great emphasis on consuming foods that are high in water content. In fact, high-water content foods should be 70 percent of one’s food intake; the other 30 percent should consist of grains, breads, meats, dairy, etc. Fruits and vegetables are considered to be high in water content. The water in these foods provides the body with vitamins, minerals and other enzymes that aid in the digestive process and are not available in regular drinking water. It also flushes the system of harmful toxins and transports nutrients within the body.
Proper Food Combination
Proper food combining plays a key role in food digestion. According to Fit for Life principles, the body can digest only one concentrated food at a time (“concentrated” is defined as any food that is not high-water content). Thus, one may feel sluggish and tired after eating a big meal because the body is using a lot of its energy trying to digest several concentrated foods at once. The Diamonds believe that proper detoxification is dependent on the amount of available energy. If the digestive process uses all of the body’s energy trying to break down improperly combined foods, toxins can accumulate. Digestive juices are another consideration of proper food combination. The stomach secretes different digestive juices depending upon the food that has to be broken down. If different foods require different digestive juices, then these juices may neutralize each other causing a delay in the digestive process. This slowing of digestion can cause food to sit in the stomach for up to eight hours and remain in the intestine for approximately twenty to forty hours. The stagnant position of partially digested food causes proteins to putrefy and carbohydrates to ferment. Fermentation can cause harmful toxins to be released within the body.
Proper Food Consumption
Proper food consumption calls for only one protein to be eaten at a time without any carbohydrates. However, two starches may be combined at one meal, provided no protein is consumed at the same time. The Fit for Life diet calls for fruit to be eaten frequently, but with great care. Fruit is cleansing to the body, takes the least amount of energy to break down, and is not digested in the stomach. The Diamonds describe most fruit as being predigested, passing quickly through the stomach to release its nutrients in the small intestine. Therefore, fruit digestion efficiently preserves energy that the body then can use to rid itself of toxins. Moreover, substances found in fruit act as blood thinners, which help to prevent clogged arteries and thus reduce the risk of heart disease. Consuming fruit also allows the digestive tract to rest. However, if other types of food are eaten at the same time as fruit it may be taxing on the digestive system. The Fit for Life diet advocates that fruit be consumed at very specific times. For example, fruit should be consumed only on an empty stomach and at least thirty minutes prior to eating any other type of food; at least two hours after eating a vegetarian meal; and at least four hours must pass after eating a nonvegetarian meal. Additionally, only fruits and fruit juices should be consumed from waking until noon to maximize energy levels.
Three digestive cycles are emphasized in Fit for Life.
1. The “Elimination Cycle” takes place from 4 a.m. until noon. During this cycle only fruits and fruit juices should be consumed.
2. The “Appropriation Cycle” takes place from noon until 8 p.m. Meals are consumed this time. Proper food combining is essential and of utmost importance during this cycle.
3. The “Assimilation Cycle” takes place from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m. Restful sleep allows the body to extract and absorb all nutrients as well as rebuild the body’s immune system.
Like other holistic diets, the Fit for Life system includes aerobic exercise, fresh air, and sunshine as aids in the detoxification process and weight loss. It examines the importance of mental attitudes and how they may affect weight loss.
This healthy lifestyle plan is geared toward people who are interested in losing weight and/or looking for a diet and way of life that maximizes the body’s energy levels and detoxifies the human system. Through proper eating habits, food combining, and exercise programs, the body can digest food properly and gain energy for everyday living.
The Macrobiotic Diet
The macrobiotic diet system has its origins in Japan and is a holistic life philosophy, rather than just a diet. The system espouses balancing the body in regard to yin (feminine passive) and yang (masculine active) energies so that you no longer are eating foods that are extreme in either direction. Sherry Rogers (1991) personally told me that the macrobiotic diet might be a good solution for those who are meant to be alkaline types.
The macrobiotic diet includes whole grains, vegetables, beans, seaweed, seeds, and condiments. It eliminates meat and fowl, but includes some fish. Whole foods are consumed during their natural season. Foods eliminated by this diet include refined sugar; meat; eggs; poultry; dairy; tropical fruits and juices; coffee; dyed tea; refined foods; colored, preserved, sprayed or otherwise treated or irradiated foods; overstimulating spices; alcohol; and sweeteners, such as honey and molasses.
This diet consists of approximately 50 percent whole grains, 20 to 30 percent vegetables, 5 to 10 percent soups, and 5 to 10 percent beans and sea vegetables. Occasional foods include fish, seasonal fruits, nuts, and seeds. Grains can include rice, barley, millet, oats, corn, rye, wheat, and buckwheat, and should be consumed whole, as opposed to the processed form, such as pasta. Vegetables should be locally grown and cooked in a variety of ways. They include cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, bok choy, dandelion, onion, daikon, turnips, carrots, squash, and others. Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, spinach, and beets are not recommended for regular consumption. Beans can include chickpeas, azukis, lentils, tempeh, tofu, and others. Sea vegetables (seaweeds) such as nori (be careful: some nori is dyed), wakame, kombu, dulse, and arame are seen as important sources of trace minerals (I have not seen anyone address the concern about water pollution and its effect on the quality of seaweeds). Soups include vegetables, grains, beans, miso, tamari sauce, and sea salt. Beverages can be natural teas, such as bancha twig, barley, dandelion root, and cereal grains. Fish can be eaten one to three times per week, although beware of eating fish from contaminated waters. Other occasional foods can be roasted seeds, nuts, and some fruits. Condiments include gomasio (roasted sesame seeds and sea salt), seaweed powder, umboshi paste and plums, and others. Food must be chewed very well (fifty times per mouthful). (See Appendix B for product sources.)
Some nondiet lifestyle suggestions of macrobiotic philosophy include outdoor exercise, wearing natural clothing, and cooking with gas rather than electric. (For people with chemical sensitivities, I heartily disagree with the gas recommendation.)
Some people have reported great improvement on this diet, but others have not been so fortunate. I believe it may be problematic to exclude raw food and most fruits, which contain much nutrition and many important enzymes. Some macrobiotic sources do recommend the use of some fruit, but advocate steaming it rather than eating it raw.
The Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet is a low carbohydrate diet that restricts the use of processed and refined carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, cereal, starchy meals, and processed sugars. Instead, the diet emphasizes high protein and fat consumption, which prevents the body from producing high levels of insulin from carbohydrate consumption. In the absence of carbohydrates, the Atkins diet causes the body to burn its own fat for energy, thus cleaning out stored toxins, reducing variations in insulin levels, and reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Dr. Atkins used this diet to treat patients at The Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine in New York. He disputed the claim that most major diseases are linked with fat intake and pointed out how processed carbohydrates contribute to diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other conditions. Studies show that the diet is effective for weight loss and even lowers cholesterol in the short term, but may produce side effects of headaches, muscle weakness and diarrhea more often than conventional low fat weight loss diets (“Study finds” 2004). Health Care Food & Nutrition Focus (“The Atkins diet” 2004) cites Abby Bloch of the Atkins Foundation as saying that there are some health conditions that need particular care when using the Atkins diet. Persons with kidney disease must adjust protein intake and monitor renal function; diabetics must monitor glucose levels, and, if necessary, adjust medications; and persons with gout should be monitored by their doctors. Pregnant women should not attempt the accelerated weight loss phase because the fetus may be affected in unknown ways by ketones. (See Appendix C for further reading.)
Low carb diets in general and low carb foods have become big business. The health food stores now have low carb shelves. When I read the labels of the foods, many do not seem to be very different from the foods on the other shelves. If you want to follow a low carbohydrate diet, I suggest that you carefully follow the research, monitor your health with your physician, and make continual reassessments of dieting strategy.
Gluten Free Diet
Some people have benefited from the use of a gluten free diet, although I am not aware of any research examining this diet for those with sensitivities. Gluten intolerance (Celiac disease) is said to affect over 1% of Americans, primarily Northern Europeans. African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians can be affected as well, but in lesser numbers. The Celiac Foundation says that research suggests that CD is genetic and associated with genes that control the body's immune response to the gluten proteins.
Persons with gluten intolerance experience intestinal harm from antigens in wheat, rye, and barley including damage to the villi (the folds that absorb food or even their complete loss. The damage or loss of the villi obstructs the absorption of nutrients. The Celiac Foundation lists diarrhea, bloating, gas, weakness, abdominal pain, vitamin deficiencies, irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, constipation, weight loss, and even early onset osteoporosis as the symptoms of Celiac disease (http://www.celiac.org). Other symptoms can include depression, bone or joint pain, anemia, and problems with dental enamel. The NIH adds irritability, muscle cramps, failure to thrive in infants, seizures, tingling or numbness in the legs (from nerve damage), and missed menstrual periods (perhaps due to weight loss).
Symptoms may mimic many other problems and may emerge in a previously asymptomatic person after a stressor such as a surgery, pregnancy, or an emotional difficulty. A sometimes associated condition is Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH), an itchy and blistering rash found on elbows, knees and buttocks.
Left untreated, Celiac Disease leaves a person vulnerable to anemia, osteoporosis, vitamin K deficiency, intestinal cancers, and other food intolerances (http://www.celiac.org). A blood test can reveal whether a person has antigliadin (AGA) or endomysium antibodies (EmA). The Celiac Foundation suggests that a positive blood test be followed up with a biopsy.
The only treatment for Celiac Disease is complete abstention from gluten products in order to allow the intestines to heal (although the NIH says that some people with severe damage may not improve). To abstain from gluten one must avoid wheat, rye, and barley and anything containing their ingredients. Some sources say that oats are now thought to be gluten free, while others disagree. Some additional products listed by the Celiac Foundation as potentially containing gluten are brown rice syrup (frequently made from barley), caramel color (infrequently made from barley), dextrin (usually corn, but may be made from wheat), flour or cereal products, malt or malt flavoring (usually from barley-okay if made from corn), malt vinegar, modified food starch (from unspecified or forbidden source), and soy sauce (could contain wheat).
If you decide to try a gluten free diet be sure to educate yourself about some of the details relating to gluten free eating. For example, some foods will be lower protein after having the gluten removed, as gluten is a protein (http://www.vegsoc.org/info/gluten.html).
Legislation Helpful to Those with Food Allergies
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (Public Law No: 108-282) requires that foods be labeled as such when they contain major food allergens. Major food allergens include milk, eggs, fish, Crustacea, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, and soybeans. The bill also requires that the Secretary of Health and Human Services look into the contamination of foods with allergens and seek ways to reduce or eliminate it and to define and permit use of the term "gluten-free" on food labels.
In addition the bill directs the Secretary to work with the Centers for Disease Control to collect and publish information on the prevalence of food allergies, related “adverse events” and the employment of various treatment modes for and the prevention of food allergies. (See Appendix C for web link to this bill.)
No One Diet Is Right for Everyone
You can see that the diets discussed in this chapter fundamentally differ from one another. There is no one diet that seems to be correct for all people. You may want to spend some time learning more about the diets that interest you and then experiment to see which has the most beneficial effect on your unique body.