By Dr. Mercola
Food allergies affect an estimated 15 million Americans, including one in 13 children. Statistics indicate something strange is afoot, as food allergies in children rose by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011 alone.
Similarly, in Great Britain one in three people are allergic to something, be it pollen, dust mites, or food.1 Previous research has drawn parallels between the rise in allergies and increased antibiotic and antimicrobial use. One study2 showed exposure to antibiotics early in life increased the risk of eczema in children by 40 percent.
According to one recent study3, 4 common gut bacteria called Clostridia specifically help prevent sensitization to food allergens. In short, by destroying gut bacteria and altering your microbiome, agricultural chemicals like glyphosate can play a significant role in creating food allergies.
Antibiotic Pesticides Can Cause Allergic Reactions
But glyphosate is not the only culprit. Part of what makes glyphosate so harmful is the fact that it has antibiotic action, and antibiotics are also part of other pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides.
Researchers now claim to have identified the first case in which a serious allergic reaction was traced to an antibiotic pesticide.5, 6 In this case, a 10-year old girl suffered a severe allergic reaction to blueberry pie.
The culprit turned out to be a streptomycin-containing pesticide that had been applied to the blueberries. According to lead author Dr. Anne Des Roches, this is “the first report that links an allergic reaction to fruits treated with antibiotic pesticides.”
As noted by allergist Dr. James Sublett:
“This is a very rare allergic reaction. Nevertheless, it’s something allergists need to be aware of and that emergency room personnel may need to know about in order to help determine where anaphylactic reactions may arise.”
He goes on to recommend that anyone at risk of allergies should carry epinephrine, and know how to use it. While that’s certainly good advice for acute reactions, it’s not really an ideal long-term answer.
Truly, anyone suffering from food sensitivities or allergies would be wise to reconsider the kinds of foods they eat, and I don’t mean simply avoiding foods known to cause a reaction. Ultimately, your best bet is to switch to an all-organic diet.
This is particularly important for young children and pregnant women, but I really believe this is the answer for everyone, whether you’re prone to allergies or not.
Agricultural Antibiotics Also Promote Antibiotic-Resistant Disease
Along with its potential for causing food allergies, agricultural antibiotics are also a primary driver of antibiotic resistant disease. It’s important to realize that antibiotics are used:
- In livestock as a growth promoter, and to compensate for unsanitary living conditions
- In pesticides applied to fresh fruits and vegetables. Vegetables can also be contaminated with antibiotics if the farmer uses manure from treated cows as crop fertilizer
I believe these are compelling reasons to eat organically. In the case of meat and other animal products such as eggs and dairy, your best bet is organic grass-fed or pastured varieties, as organic standards forbid antibiotic use for non-medical reasons.
Organic standards7 also do not permit synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Organic products cannot be irradiated, are not allowed to contain preservatives or flavor-enhancing chemicals, nor can they contain traces of heavy metals or other contaminants in excess of tolerances set by the FDA.8
Additionally, the pesticide residue level cannot be higher than five percent of the maximum EPA pesticide tolerance.9 For the complete National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances under the USDA organic label, see this reference.10
It’s worth noting that this is not the first time agricultural chemicals have been linked to allergies.
The US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-200611 concluded that:
“High urine levels of dichlorophenols are associated with the presence of sensitization to foods in a US population. Excessive use of dichlorophenols may contribute to the increasing incidence of food allergies in westernized societies.”
Dichlorophenols are also used to chlorinate water,12 which may also add to the problem.
Factory Farming Is a Primary Source of Antibacterial Resistance
According to a 2013 report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on antibiotic-resistant threats,13 drug-resistant organisms in the American food supply pose “a serious threat” to public health. The report linked 22 percent of antibiotic-resistant illness in humans to contaminated foods, and earlier research14 has suggested you have a 50/50 chance of buying meat tainted with drug-resistant bacteria. Another 2013 paper by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) titled Antibiotic Resistance in Foodborne Pathogens,15 reports that between 1973 and 2011, there were 55 antibiotic-resistant foodborne outbreaks in the US.
More than half of the outbreaks involved dairy products, ground beef, and poultry. More than half of the outbreaks also involved pathogens resistant to five or more antibiotics! The fact of the matter is, when antibiotics are routinely used to raise food animals, the microbes develop resistance to the drug, which makes antibiotics less effective for treating disease in humans. And without effective antibiotics, it will be very difficult to care for premature babies, cancer patients, organ transplants, surgeries, and emergency room medicine, just to name a few.
As noted in the video above, without antibiotics, the rate of post-operative infection can reach as high as 50 percent, and about three out of every 10 affected patients will die as a result… We’re already seeing the effects of antibiotic overuse. Hospital-acquired infections now affect one in 25 patients, and many of these infections are drug resistant. According to CDC statistics,16 two million American adults and children become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 of them die.
Crazy enough, even though certain organisms have already become immune to every single antibiotic we have, including so-called “last resort” drugs, factory farms are still using some of these last resort drugs in their livestock for non-medical purposes! It is truly difficult to understand how a little extra profit can justify the use of drugs that will, in the end, lead to the death of thousands of people, courtesy of drug-resistance!
Antibiotics in Agriculture Must Be Eliminated to Solve This Problem
Use of antibiotics in healthy livestock (including farmed fish) account for about 80 percent of all antibiotic use in the US,17 so in order to halt the growth of antibiotic resistance we really must address this source. According to a 2009 report18 by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on this subject, factory farms used 29 million pounds of antibiotics that year alone.
The FDA recently asked drug companies to voluntarily remove growth-promotion claims from certain antibiotics that are valuable in treating human disease. This would reduce usage by limiting the drug to medical purposes only. But there are so many loopholes that it’s highly unlikely that this voluntary strategy is going to be sufficient. Especially when you consider the rapid increase in antibiotic-resistance we’re now seeing. Just last year, the CDC published a report19 admitting that antibiotics used in livestock plays a significant role in antibiotic resistance and “should be phased out.”
Yet despite all the evidence of grave harm, very little is being done to actually curtail agricultural use of antibiotics. In mid-July, US Congresswoman and microbiologist Louise M. Slaughter20 (NY-D) asked President Obama to issue an executive order requiring all federally purchased meat to be raised without antibiotics. While that would certainly be a start, what about the rest of us?
I believe every American deserves antibiotic-free food, not just the beneficiaries of the federal government. The answer, for the time being, is to take the required steps to seek out organically raised foods on your own and not rely on the government to protect you…
Precautionary Steps to Help Prevent Food Allergies
Since food allergies appear to be closely linked to abnormal gut flora, courtesy of antibiotics (and other chemicals) in food, it would be wise to not only avoid known allergens, but to also avoid foods known to kill beneficial gut bacteria. To promote optimal gut health and beneficial bacteria that may help ward off allergy sensitization, I recommend avoiding the following:
Grains and sugar, as it promotes the growth of pathogenic yeast and other fungi. Grains containing gluten are particularly damaging to your microflora and overall health.21, 22 Genetically engineered foods, as they contain some of the highest amounts of glyphosate. This agricultural herbicide has been found to decimate microbes, and tend to preferentially attack beneficial bacteria. Processed and pasteurized foods, which harm your good bacteria. Conventionally-raised meats and other animal products; CAFO animals are routinely fed low-dose antibiotics and GE livestock feed. Chlorinated tap water, as chlorine kills not only pathogenic bacteria in the water but also beneficial bacteria in your gut. Medical antibiotics (use only if absolutely necessary, and make sure to reseed your gut with fermented foods and/or a good probiotic supplement) NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) damage cell membranes and disrupt energy production by mitochondria. Proton pump inhibitors (drugs that block the production of acid in your stomach, typically prescribed for GERD, such as Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium) Antibacterial soap and any product containing antimicrobials such as triclosan. Stress Pollution
The GAPS diet is perhaps one of the most effective ways to resolve food allergies as it “heals and seals” your gut. Leaky gut is a condition in which large food particles are allowed to bypass the protective lining of your intestinal wall. When these molecules enter your bloodstream, where they do not belong, your body creates an immune response, i.e. an allergic response. The GAPS protocol is designed to restore the integrity of your gut lining, and in order for that to happen, you need:
- The proper building blocks in terms of nutrients
- Beneficial gut microbes
In a nutshell, you need to drive out pathogens and replace them with beneficial bacteria, and you need to provide the appropriate nutrients in order for your gut lining to produce new cells. And that’s what the GAPS Nutritional Protocol does.
Making Healthier Choices Can Reduce Your Allergy Risk
If you are eating any factory farmed and mass-processed meats, you are not only getting antibiotics but also many bacteria that are resistant to them. And if the meat is not cooked properly you can become infected with these antibiotic resistant bugs. The only way to avoid antibiotics in your food is to make sure you’re eating organic produce and organically-raised, grass-fed or pastured meats and animal products.
Along with cultured or fermented foods, eating plenty of whole, unprocessed, unsweetened foods will also optimize your gut microbiome. (You may also want to consider a high-potency probiotic supplement, but realize that there is no substitute for the real food.) To source pure, healthful meats and fresh produce, your best option is to get to know a local farmer who uses non-toxic farming methods. If you live in an urban area, there are increasing numbers of community-supported agriculture programs available that offer access to healthy, locally grown foods even if you live in the heart of the city.
Resources to Find Healthy Food on Any Budget
Being able to find high-quality meat is such an important issue for me personally that I’ve made connections with sources I know provide high-quality organic grass-fed beef and free-range chicken, both of which you can find in my online store. You can eliminate the shipping charges, however, if you find a trusted farmer locally. If you live in the US, the following organizations can also help you locate farm-fresh foods:
Even the underprivileged may be able to obtain fresh, locally-grown produce at their local food pantry, provided the food pantry accepts fresh food donations. Tens of millions of home gardeners throw away food from their gardens while their neighbors go hungry. AmpleHarvest.org addresses the twin problems of hunger and food waste by connecting growers and gardeners with local food pantries. While there’s no guarantee that donated produce will be organic, many gardeners do employ organic principles.
AmpleHarvest.org’s database will tell you where the nearest food pantry accepting fresh foods is. AmpleHarvest.org24 launched in 2009, and today has a database of nearly 7,000 participating food pantries across the nation—one out of every five food pantries has signed up. It’s a fantastic resource that has the potential to change the lives of many who simply cannot afford to buy fresh produce.
Weston Price Foundation23 has local chapters in most states, and many of them are connected with buying clubs in which you can easily purchase organic foods, including grass fed raw dairy products like milk and butter. Local Harvest — This Web site will help you find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies. Farmers’ Markets — A national listing of farmers’ markets. Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals — The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada. Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) — CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms. FoodRoutes — The FoodRoutes “Find Good Food” map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.
Sources and References
- 1 BBC News August 26, 2014
- 2 BBC News August 26, 2014
- 3 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences August 25, 2014 [Epub ahead of print]
- 4 BBC News August 25, 2014
- 5 Medicinenet.com September 3, 2014
- 6 Dumb-out.net September 2014
- 7 Food Marketing Institute, Natural and Organic Foods, Executive Summary
- 8 US Food and Drug Administration, August 2000, Action levels for poisonous or deleterious substances in human food and animal feed
- 9 Environmental Protection Agency, Pesticides: Health and Safety, Pesticides and Food: What the Pesticide Residue Limits are on Food
- 10 US Department of Agriculture, The National list of allowed and prohibited substances
- 11 Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology December 2012, 109(6); 420-425
- 12 Science Daily December 3, 2012
- 13 CDC.gov, Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013
- 14 Clinical Infectious Diseases 2011 May;52(10):1227-30
- 15 Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Antibiotic Resistance in Foodborne Pathogens (PDF)
- 16 CDC Threat Report 2013 Summary
- 17 Food Safety News February 24, 2011
- 18 FDA.gov, 2009 Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food Producing Animals (PDF)
- 19 CDC.gov, Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013
- 20 Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter
- 21 GreenMedInfo “The Dark Side of Wheat”
- 22 Huffington Post November 12, 2013
- 23 Weston A Price Foundation, Local Chapters List
- 24 AmpleHarvest.org
- Your gut microbiome activity plays a role in the development of any number of diseases, including food allergies. Recent research shows a common gut bacteria helps prevent sensitization to food allergens
- By destroying gut bacteria and altering your microbiome, agricultural chemicals like glyphosate and antibiotic pesticides can play a significant role in creating food allergies
- Use of antibiotics in healthy livestock accounts for about 80 percent of all antibiotic use in the US, so to halt the growth of antibiotic resistance we must address this source
- Along with its potential for causing food allergies, agricultural antibiotics are also a primary driver of antibiotic resistant disease, which now kills an estimated 23,000 Americans each year
- I believe these are compelling reasons to eat organically. In the case of meat and other animal products such as eggs and dairy, your best bet is organic grass-fed or pastured varieties