I was recently asked about the epidemic numbers of people suffering from food allergies, specifically dairy and soy products. This population in the U.S. is so large that in fact the foods themselves have come to be considered generally "bad." While certain natural substances are indeed toxic, these foods are not, in and of themselves, actually the problem. The problem lies, as you will see, in the conditions in which these foods are produced, as well as the condition of most people's digestion in modern society. Below are the many reasons why dairy and soy have become such serious food issues, some of which come from the traditional wisdom of Ayurvedic medicine, and some of which are explained by modern environmental and nutritional science.
The Scoop on Dairy
- Non-organic milk, cheese, and other dairy products are produced on industrial farms where the cattle are fed food full of pesticides, growth hormones, and antibiotics. Because of the lack of sanitary conditions in the overcrowded production facilities, the cattle carry many strains of bacteria. This chemical and bacterial overload filters into their milk so it is not surprising that people don't feel well when they consume these products.
- All commercial dairy products, whether organic or not, have been pasteurized. This heating process is supposed to kill microorganisms, but it also destroys the lactose-digesting enzyme called lactase. Lactase is inherent in milk, and preserved in raw milk, but is absent in all pasteurized milk. Lactase is essential to digest lactose. Some people supplement with lactase enzymes, or consume milk that has had the lactose removed. People who are lactose intolerant are often able to digest raw dairy products just fine.
- Traditional Ayurvedic medicine states that the root cause of all disease is improper digestion. Many foods and eating habits in modern society contribute to poor digestion in much of the population. Lactose is one of the more difficult to digest proteins. It actually requires a strong digestion to efficiently metabolize it. With a less than adequate digestion, the lactose causes many health problems. Ayurveda doesn't call this an allergy per se, but the response to the trigger food is the same.
- In less modernized societies, dairy products are consumed raw, fresh, and slightly warm (due to lack of refrigeration.) Ayurveda teaches that cold milk is poison while warm milk is healing nectar. All dairy today is served cold. The temperature itself makes it harder to digest.
- Many foods in the modern American diet cause an excess of what Ayurveda and Chinese medicine describe as "dampness." Processed foods, cold foods, and heavy, greasy foods all contribute to this "phlegmy" situation. Anyone suffering from water retention, sinus congestion, extra weight, or fatigue may have this condition. For these people, any "damp" foods, such as dairy products, only serves to worsen how they feel.
- The soybeans growing today are not the same soybeans of the olden days (nor of Japan until recently.) Of great concern is the GMO issue (genetically modified organisms), which renders the soybean into a foreign substance our bodies cannot assimilate. Over 90% of all soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified, and even organic soybeans these days are infected with GM soy via cross pollination.
- In the interest of increasing food production on industrial farms, soybeans, like corn, have been hybridized for decades. This older version of genetic manipulation has been applied to many foods since the 1950's and is one of the major reasons why some people can tolerate heirloom varieties of corn, soy, etc but not the modern varieties.
- Soybeans are acid washed in aluminum tanks. This process leaches high amounts of aluminum into the soybeans. This metal contamination can contribute to the body's immune reaction to soy.
- In the U.S., vegetarians and others who include a lot of soy in their diet typically consume much more soy than traditional soy-eating cultures. The amount of processed soy, such as soymilk, tofu, and soy veggie burgers in the typical Western vegetarian diet is much greater and also of a different type than that in Japan, for example. Soy is an integral part of the Japanese diet, but their soy products are mostly fermented. Fermented soy, such as miso, tempeh, and tamari, is more digestible and healthier than unfermented soy. The problems associated in the U.S. with soy are in large part due to the excessive quantity and the highly processed quality of modern soy products.
- Unfermented soybeans are also considered in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine to be a "cold and damp" food. This means that anyone with a sluggish digestion will not be able to properly digest it. Being cold and damp by nature, the soy will create more "phlegmy" symptoms in the body, such as those listed above in connection to dairy.
- Because soybeans are harder to digest than many other foods, someone who already has intestinal inflammation is likely to react negatively to soy. You may notice that people who find themselves "allergic" to one food often are allergic to several foods. This points to systemic inflammation that is easily triggered by altered or chemical-laden foods.
It All Comes Down To Proper Digestion
This explanation of why dairy and soy are difficult for some people illustrates a fundamental concept in Ayurvedic medicine, which is that no natural food in and of itself is "bad" for everybody. The judgment of a food only comes from how it affects an individual. Not everyone has a reaction to dairy or to soy. Many people do fine with them. But if someone's digestive fire is low due to genetics, poor diet, chemical overload, stress, or unhealthy lifestyle habits, they will have a harder time digesting, and may even react with an immune response to, certain food triggers that become known as allergens.
So the question arises, "Do I have to avoid dairy and soy for my whole life if I find that I feel so much better when I don't eat them?" I believe that it's possible to heal your digestion and more easily tolerate trigger foods. Ayurveda teaches that daily intestinal cleansing helps eliminate toxins and congestion, which reduces inflammation. Certain herbs kindle your digestive fire so it is stronger to assimilate difficult protein molecules. There are many recommendations in Ayurveda about how to improve your digestion with diet and lifestyle habits.
Including therapeutic doses of probiotics in your daily regimen (8-12 billion viable cells) and possibly a leaky gut healing protocol both help reduce intestinal inflammation and restore the balance in the intestinal wall where absorption takes place.
I often recommend to my patients that they seek treatment with NAET (Nambudripad Allergy Elimination Technique.) This technique, based on acupuncture and kinesiology, can be very effective at completely eradicating a person's allergy to any food or substance. It "clears" someone's negative reaction to a substance, and they only have to avoid the trigger food for 25 hours following treatment. In conjunction with the above mentioned improvements to digestion, people can live many years allergy-free with infrequent additional NAET sessions.
If you are one of the millions of people who are allergic to dairy and/or soy, I urge you to consider taking a discerning look at the state of your digestion and your diet. Even if you avoid certain trigger foods, there may be other habits or foods that are weakening your digestion in general. Having an allergy is merely a sign that something is out of balance, and when you can correct that you'll be free to eat the foods that are truly healthy for you.