I’ve trained hundreds of elite athletes ranging from Olympic medalists to up and coming development athletes. Invariably, elite athletes will come across a range of experts throughout their careers, some of whom bring excellent advice and wisdom, and others who lack the education and knowledge to provide sound training advice.
Nutrition and supplementation is undoubtedly one of the biggest sources of misinformation for an athlete. This industry for the most part remains unregulated. Furthermore, many certifications and diplomas in nutrition are very easy to obtain and do not provide the student with the same underlying education in physiology, biochemistry and statistics that is often mandatory in more formal university curricula. This fundamental lack of training can not only lead to recommendations that are largely ineffective and useless for performance but in certain circumstances can also pose a health risk.
The industry that surrounds food allergies and sensitivities is a prime example of this. The reality is that so many individuals in our society are run down and tired, and generally feel crappy. Instead of looking for 99% solutions like changing lifestyle, learning to cope with everyday stressors, increasing physical activity, reducing caffeinated beverages, taking a meditation class, and cutting out evening computer work, which as been shown to disrupt deep sleep patterns, many seek out 1% solutions or worse yet magic bullet solutions to solve their problems.
Enter the pop culture nutritionist to administer a bunch of bogus tests and prescribe an endless list of supplements and misguided nutrition advice. After returning from a pop culture nutritionist, I don’t need to have a meeting with an athlete to know the likely recommendations. Cut out wheat and dairy, go on a cleanse, introduce a live greens product, drink water that has gone through filtration processes only understood by PhD’s in chemistry, eat only organic produce, eliminate all forms of processed grains and sugar… the list goes on and on.
Now I’m definitely not taking a knock at good nutritionists who provide some or all of the above mentioned advice when these changes are clearly needed for bettering an individual’s health but I find it strange that almost everyone ends up with the same issues and recommendations. The reality is there are many other sources for an individual’s fatigue or health issues some of which include food sensitivities. There are also situations where some of the seemingly universal recommendations made by the pop culture nutritionist can be dangerous.
With the seasonal allergy season upon us, I thought I would talk about Oral Allergy Syndrome and a related condition called Pollen Food Allergy Syndrome, which is an allergic reaction that occurs upon ingestion of certain vegetables, fruits, nuts, and common ingredients in nutritional supplements in individuals who are sensitized and allergic to environmental sources of pollen (Nowak-Wegrzyn, 2011). These food and ingredients are often a part of the family for common environmental allergens. For example, an individual with a ragweed allergy may have a reaction to melon or zucchini, and those with a birch pollen allergy may react to soybeans or celery.
The more mild symptoms of pollen food allergy syndrome are often benign and resolve quickly. These include an itchy mouth and throat, burning lips, and other symptoms associated with the environmental allergy such as a runny nose. However, under the right environmental conditions such as the start of allergy season, if these food are ingested and the triggering proteins make their way to the gut and intestines in tact, more serious reactions can occur such as vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension, and in rare cases, anaphylaxis.
Now in most cases, the symptoms are mild because the the offending proteins in the ingested food are broken down as soon as they hit the stomach. The cooking process also breaks down these proteins and can reduce the chance of an adverse reaction. However, supplements that contain grass or pollen ingredients can pose a significant risk to those with pollen food allergy syndrome as the allergen that is encapsulated in the vitamin pill or supplement can enter intact into the intestinal system. Examples of these ingredients include wheat grass, spirulina, and bee pollen. This can definitely pose a significant risk to sufferers of pollen food allergy syndrome, and can end up leading to the opposite of what was intended with symptoms such as low energy and stomach upset. Additionally, while there is not a large amount of scientific information on the chronic effects of pollen food allergy syndrome, it appears that certain chronic conditions associated with other food allergies, such as eczema, may exist (Ballmer-Weber, 2006).
In closing, pollen food allergy syndrome is a significant issue for many individuals, and in my experience, is often overlooked by the pop culture nutritionist. I mean who would have thought melon or zucchini might not be good for everyone. If you suspect you have pollen food allergy syndrome, it is best to stop eating the offending food and to consult with your physician.
To the rest of you who are searching for a magic answer to your issues, remember this: food allergies and sensitivities are definitely a real issue but include way more possibilities than wheat, dairy, gluten, and the clean water pouring out of your taps. Finally, pay attention to how you feel after eating a particular food or taking a supplement. If the food is right for you, you will feel energized and focused. If a particular food leaves you feeling bloated, spacey, fatigued, or with any other odd symptom, chances are this food doesn’t work for you so cut it out of your diet!
Ballmer-Weber (2006). Cutaneous Symptoms After Ingestion of Pollen Associated Foodstuffs. Hautarzt.
Nowak-Wegrzyn (2011). Clinical Manifestations of Oral Allergy Syndrome. Up to Date.