There has been an increase in the prevalence of food allergies over the past 20 years and it is now becoming an important public health issue.[1-3] Food allergies are defined as an adverse reaction arising from an immune response to a food or foods. It can be described as a pathological reaction of the immune system triggered by the ingestion of a food protein antigen. There is a complex multifactorial interplay of genetic variants, environmental exposures, gene-environment interactions, epigenetic alterations, and alterations in methylation and phase 1 and 2 detoxification.
The most common food allergens include milk, egg, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, wheat,[1,2] and gluten. However, any food is capable of causing an allergy. Symptoms can develop directly at the sites of allergen contact (e.g. mouth, oesophagus, intestine) or can be systemic in nature. Some of the symptoms of food allergies include itching and swelling of the lips or tongue, abdominal discomfort, diarrhoea, nausea, itchy skin, anxiety and irritability.[1,4] Systemic reactions occur when allergens pass the barrier of the mucosa and enter into circulation. It should be noted that food allergy is distinct from food intolerance in that an intolerance to a food or foods does not arise from immune system dysregulation.
The term “detoxification” has become very common place, where it is generally referred to in weight loss programs or as a panacea for numerous nonspecific ailments. So what is detoxification? Detoxification plays a major role in everyday life and is a continuous process. It is a large set of reactions that typically lower the toxicity and increase the water solubility of a wide range of endogenous and exdogenous compounds for excretion.
There are numerous complex enzymatic mechanisms and pathways to detoxify these various compounds, such as the phase 1 (phase I) and phase 2 (phase II) detoxification enzyme systems.[7,8] Phase 1 detoxification involves the oxidation, peroxidation, hydroxylation and reduction of compounds, often by cytochrome P450 enzymes. Whereas in phase 2 detoxification, the by-product of phase 1, or a pre-existing compound, is conjugated (combined or bound) to reduce toxicity and increase solubility.[6,8] This process leads to enhanced excretion in the bile and/or urine.
For safe and efficient detoxification, a compound ideally undergoes a relatively slow phase 1 followed by a more rapid phase 2 detoxification for excretion. This process tends to prevent the accumulation of the phase 1 metabolites, which can become more toxic than the original compound.
Several beneficial reactions occur during phase 2 detoxification, including amino acid conjugation, glucuronidation, glutathione conjugation (glutathionation), methylation and sulfation. Factors influencing detoxification activity include diet, lifestyle, health status, genetic polymorphisms, age, gender, environment and disease.
Nutrition plays a major role in the prevention and management of acute and chronic disease. Although it might sound contradictory to use foods to manage food allergies, foods and food-based nutrients are known to modulate metabolic pathways involved in detoxification processes that may benefit people with food allergies.
Phase 2 detoxification reactions require cofactors, either from foods or supplements. Some of the foods that upregulate detoxification include cruciferous vegetables, broccoli, berries, citrus foods, garlic, onion, turmeric, astaxanthin and green tea. Vitamin and mineral supplements, N-acetylcysteine, glutamine, glycine, taurine, bioflavonoids (quercetin), probiotics. resveratrol (e.g. from grapes and wine), stool bulking agents and fibre, and various herbal medicines for the liver and gallbladder can also be utilised for improving the detoxification process.
Utilising the phase 2 detoxification pathway to reduce the impact of food allergies is a novel approach. Further research is required to investigate the full effects of foods on detoxification and the effect of phase 2 detoxification on food allergies.
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- Hong X, Wang X. Early life precursors, epigenetics, and the development of food allergy. Semin Immunopathol 2012;34(5):655-669. [Abstract]
- Valenta R, et al. Food allergies: the basics. Gastroenterology 2015;148(6):1120-1131. [Abstract]
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