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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Food Allergies: How Diet Could Be Effecting Your Symptoms

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Do you suffer from migraine headaches, confusion, hay fever, airborne allergies, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome or sinusitis? All of these problems are common with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). But, did you know that each of these symptoms could be caused or made worse by food allergies or sensitivities?

Many people have food sensitivities or food allergies, and CFS patients often have food reactions as part of the symptoms of the disease. Classic food allergies are rare, but food sensitivities are very common. Similar to the malfunction of the immune system in CFS, food sensitivities are also caused by an over-production of cytokines. Cytokines help to kill foreign invaders, such as viruses. However, cytokines can also be produced when reactive foods are mistaken by the immune system for foreign invaders, resulting in severe fatigue.

Food reactions can cause many symptoms that are similar to those experienced by people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.(1) These symptoms include joint pain, chronic pain, cognitive disorders, digestive disorders, acne, depression and anxiety. To determine whether these symptoms are a part of a larger disease, like CFS, or due to reactive foods, a medical blood test or an elimination diet can be performed. There are many physicians that specialize in food allergies and sensitivities, and they feel that doing a combination of both most often provides the most accurate test results.

Once you have consulted with your physician and you both agree that you may have food sensitivities, you can determine your reactive foods. The seven most common foods that people have reactions to include wheat, milk, sugar, soy, peanuts, corn and eggs.(2) These foods are common ingredients in many prepared and processed foods. Eating convenience foods on a routine basis constantly exposes the immune to system to these potential allergens. For example, even if you did not eat whole corn today, you may have consumed corn products found in high fructose corn syrup, corn oil, catsup, margarine, salad dressings, candy, bread and sodas. To properly perform an elimination diet, you must be able to read food labels and identify potential sources for the reactive food.

You may suspect that you have sensitivities to one or more of these foods. To begin the diet, you eliminate all potentially reactive foods for 7-10 days and then reintroduce each food back into your diet.(3) You should not take antihistamines during the test and re-introduction period because allergic symptoms may be masked and erroneous results may occur. When the sensitive food is re-introduced back into your diet, symptoms may occur within a few hours up to the following morning. However, some people experience delayed food reactions, which may not occur for up to 3 days after consuming the reactive food. To detect all potential food reactions, it is important to slowly introduce the suspected foods at a rate of not more than 1-2 foods per day.

The second method of determining if you have food sensitivities is a blood test. Blood is drawn and is tested by a laboratory to determine reactivity against any number of foods, food additives, food chemicals, food colorings, and molds. The test can accurately determine if you have immediate or delayed reactions to a particular food. However, testing can be expensive and may not be covered by insurance. Conventional scratch testing, typically performed to test the appearance of inhaled allergens, is not usually recommended for determining food allergies because the test often provides false negative results.

Once your food sensitivities have been determined, you must continually check food labels for hidden sources of the sensitive food. Sensitive foods may be contained in numerous ingredients labeled differently from the allergic food.

To help you identify these hidden foods, you may need to consult a food reference guide that includes foods that contain commonly reactive foodstuffs.

In conclusion, food sensitivities may cause symptoms similar to those experienced with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. To determine if you have a food allergy, you can perform an elimination diet and have your blood tested by a laboratory. The two tests performed together provide an excellent confirmation of each individual test’s results. However, you can perform an elimination test, and determine with a high level of accuracy the foods that you have sensitivities to. Once you have determined your ‘sensitive foods,’ you must constantly be aware of any foods that may contain reactive foodstuffs. If you continue to closely monitor consumption of any sensitive foods, you may experience a decrease in the symptoms commonly associated with CFS.


1. Helwig, D. 2001. Elimination Diet. Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Gale Group. www.findarticles.com/cf_dis/g2603/0003/2603000339/p1/article.jhtml.

2. Haas, E.M. 2002. The Purification Process: Healing for Modern Times. www.elsonhaas.com/articles/article_20.html.

3. Haas, E.M. 2000. The False Fat Diet. Ballentine Books. New York.

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