The research is clear: Food allergies are on the rise in the United States and around the globe. According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), as many as 15 million Americans have food allergies. A National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief reported an 18% increase in food allergy among U.S. children between 1997 and 2007. The paper states that these findings are similar to those reported in other countries. In the United Kingdom, nearly half of the population is thought to have at least one food intolerance.

What is causing this dramatic increase in food allergies and sensitivities? Are millions of human beings truly “allergic” to real, whole foods that Mother Nature provided for our nourishment such as nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, etc.? Or is the root cause of food allergies and sensitivities an overgrowth of harmful intestinal flora that damages the gut wall and impairs healthy digestion?

Healthy gut flora maintains the integrity of the gut wall by protecting and nourishing the intestinal cells. A well-functioning intestinal lining protects the internal body systems by allowing only properly digested nutrients to pass through. But when beneficial gut microbes are greatly diminished due to the affects of antibiotics, chronic stress, chronic infections, medications (NSAIDS, birth control pills, antacids, etc.), alcohol and poor diet, the intestinal barrier degenerates resulting in a “leaky gut.”

Of all of the top factors linked to the development of allergies, gut problems rank highest on the list. A healthy gut is absolutely critical for preventing and reversing food allergies. The gut is the seat of the immune system, containing 70-80 percent of the immune cells in the body. The intestinal wall is your front line of defense working to protect you from pathogens that may enter your body from the environment.

Next month I’ll discuss a major gut problem affecting those with food allergies – leaky gut syndrome – in more detail so check back in a few weeks. Until then, make every bite count!