‘Ok Doc, I cut out wheat and dairy, but I still feel awful. Now what?’
Often, the patients I see for an initial visit and consultation are experiencing the following constellation of symptoms: gastrointestinal upset, low energy and decreased mental sharpness coupled with muscle ache, joint pain and irritated skin. Many have already heard about, and adopted, eliminating wheat and cow dairy products (as both are frequently the cause for unwanted reactivity in the body). Sadly, many times this practice has not led to any significant improvement. Inevitably, this leads to three questions:
1. What should I do next?
2. Do I have food and environmental allergies
3. How do you best test for them?
These three questions are particularly relevant, as the prevalence of food sensitivities, allergies and autoimmunity has increased to a level — and in such a short period of time — that cannot be explained by a shift in our collective genome. So, what is the best explanation and what is the best approach.
Continue to refine and focus on the gastrointestinal tract. And get a Lymphocyte Response Assay.
The Lymphocyte Response Assay (LRA) is the latest technology and allows us to push past old methods. Antibody testing, which has been done for many years, only tests a certain level of the immune system. It is adequate to assess for immediate-type hypersensitivity, such as reactions to milk, peanuts or cat dander. However, some of the antibodies being produced and detected are not always harmful and are not the source of concern. LRA testing (as performed by the ELISA / ACT method) on the other hand is a much more sensitive and specific way to view the cells that make up the defense and repair systems of the body. Blood is drawn, divided into many smaller portions and then viewed directly under a microscope within 48 hours. This is a painstakingly precise process, as technicians who have received up to 12 months’ worth of training, carefully watch how the higher levels of the immune system — the T cells — respond when subjected to anywhere from 144 to 504 antigens (small substances in food or the environment that provoke immune cells). Most importantly, this kind of evaluation can provide information about a problematic food or toxin exposure that occurred weeks ago, the effects only being felt now . By examining delayed-type hypersensitivity, relevant clues and causes for disorder can be discovered. For example, consider the patient who is diligently drinking lemon water every morning. The LRA can detect if this seemingly healthy ritual is actually causing her inflammatory bowel disease to flare. Whether it is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Crohn’s Disease or Lupus, the LRA has the potential to shed light on the easily looked-over or never-considered cause for autoimmunity, fatigue or unrest.
For those who cannot access the test directly, arrangements can be made to have your blood drawn and shipped to a place where the test can be performed.
Lastly, seeking out an integrative or functional medicine physician who can take a thorough history and then provide proper direction to approach gastrointestinal health (remember that roughly 70% of the immune system combs the walls of the gastrointestinal tract) is key. When appropriate, adding stomach acid and a digestive enzyme 10 minutes before meals can be revolutionary. Or, follow Elaine Gottschall’s Specific Carbohydrate Diet to truly break the vicious cycle you are caught in.
Dr. Anthony Lyon is a sought after Functional Medicine physician, radio talk show host, author, speaker and acupuncturist. Follow him @AnthonyLyonMD