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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Elimination Diets - Are They Healing or Compounding the Problem?

This is not scientific, it is just a theory that I am mulling over. There are millions of people using different elimination diet practices all over America, and I am sure in other parts of the world as well (though only in the parts of the world where individuals are fortunate enough to actually choose which foods they want to eat and which they don't). It's all a buzz, especially in the last couple of years on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, discussion forums, magazines and on websites contributed to by professionals (Mercola, WebMD, etc). Elimination diets are not a revolutionary concept, but in terms of the foods being added to the growing list, well, let's just say that list is getting rather lengthy. What will we be left with to eat with so many possible culprits? I am not speaking to the risks and benefits or even the effectiveness of the diet regimens for different individuals. That is a very difficult task to determine since there are so many millions of people engaging in some form of elimination diets. And some are doing so for specific health complications while others' reasons are more nebulous.           
 It all just makes me wonder. Instead of using elimination diets to "treat" possible intolerances and suspected allergies (please see posting on Allergies, Adverse Reactions, Sensitivity and Intolerances—What Does It All Mean?), why are we not looking at ways to bolster our bodies' ability to metabolize those foods? In fact, regarding one such villified substance--gluten--researchers at Stanford University are conducting animal tests using the specific enzyme Barley Endoprotease EP-B2 and are having some success in finding improvements in gluten metabolism (J. Gass, et al, 2006 Another enzyme that is being looked at is propyl endopeptidase (PEP). C. Khosla el al have extensively researched enzymes and their roles in gluten metabolism. One study found that when combined with the effects of EP-B2, PEP had significant impact on metabolization of gluten, though alone, neither enzyme completely inhibited the gastrointestinal cell destruction triggered by gluten.  (Please see Chaintan Khosla for a list of his publications.) 
To me, and I realize others see it differently, an intolerance (especially to *normal* food sources that have been consumed by many cultures for thousands of years) doesn't say that the food itself is "bad" or a culprit. To me it says that it is our bodies that are ill and need the healing/fixing and that there is nothing inherently allergenic or intolerance-inducing about the actual food--its ourdeficiency that's the problem. We want to have outside culprit to condemn because accusing our body of falling short sounds mean or guilt-inflicting, or politically incorrect or what have you. But consider, we don't say that diabetes is a sign that glucose is bad, allergenic, intolerance-inducing or toxic. A person with diabetes either has a difficult time metabolizing glucose or has a difficult time releasing insulin or a combination of both issues. We recognize that it is the person's body that has damage or disease and that it is the individual's body that needs help, rather than "eliminating" glucose.  Or perhaps there are some people out there advocating for elimination of glucose in their diet in order to "treat" diabetes? Hmm, well, stranger suggestions have been made, but as a person who cares very much about people's well-being, I do hope no one jumps on that theoretical band-wagon. 
I wonder if all of these elimination diets (some are quite extensive and I would even call 'severe') are actually compounding the problem rather than helping it--that in the future we will be passing along a true genetic intolerance to our offspring, because our bodies not only had an initial possible intolerance, but now have no reason to produce the enzymes and hormones that allow for metabolism of those foods. Some enzymes are extremely specific to only one or two substances. If those enzymes are not employed for their purpose, then they no longer have a purpose and the body doesn't need to produce them any longer. It can create an enzyme deficiency. It is quite possible to pass this enzyme deficiency along to offspring.   
Not only the possible genetic impact, but when a normal whole food group is eliminated (in the name of minimizing exposure to a possible offending substance), so are the remaining nutrients that are in those foods. Proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, etc. One has to be very very savvy at these diets to know that "if I am taking out these foods, I need to replace them with foods that have high density of X vitamins, minerals, amino acids." Much like those who opt for vegan and vegetarian diets, one has to be very calculating and self-educated to know adequate pairing of food groups to ensure a variety of balanced, nutrient-dense foods are being eaten. This adequate pairing is not impossible, but many people don't know where to start. Sometimes they don't even know they need to start.            
Curious what will come about in the next decades following the quite adventurous advent of elimination diets.

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