I would like you to meet Harriet Louise Kloss and Daniel Francis Barnett, my great-grandparents. Hattie emigrated to the U.S. from Germany at age three. Nothing is known about her mother (she may have died in Germany), her father was married four times, and Hattie herself was in service as a domestic in Connecticut for many years. She was the mother of six children, and died of a heart attack at age 55. Only two of her children lived past age 70, and heart disease was a major contributor to the deaths of most of them (one died in WWII).
Daniel was the 10th of 12 children of Irish immigrants. He grew up on a tobacco farm, his mother died when he was three years old, he eventually lost his own farm and his family as a result of his alcoholism, and he died of heart disease. Of his 11 siblings, every one died as a result of heart disease, with the exception of one who died in infancy and one who drowned.
What do you suppose I have inherited from these colorful people? Hattie's German determination? It's possible. Daniel's Irish propensity for the bottle? I hope not. Heart disease? Pretty likely, although I won't know until I'm a little older. Or possibly, could I have inherited food allergies from them?
Current research suggests that many food allergies are inherited. When one parent has food allergies, there is a 50% likelihood that his/her child will also have food allergies. When two parents have food allergies, that likelihood jumps to 100%. My mother has a tremendous number of food allergies, which were not diagnosed until she was in her sixties. Over the years, she suffered quite a bit from the physical effects of these. Hattie and Daniel were her grandparents.
What allergies might they have had? Could their heart disease have been mediated or even prevented if those hypothetical food allergies had been diagnosed? Of course, food allergies have only been on the radar of the medical profession in recent years, but it is likely that old-fashioned ailments like "wasting" or "dropsy" or "shimmies" might in fact be describing symptoms of food sensitivities.
Apparently, today's allergists and researchers are honing in on the connection between food allergy and heart disease (among other chronic ailments). Here is a concise explanation of that connection from Dr. Len Lopez, a nutrition and fitness expert:
"Heart disease is the number-one killer in America. The true cause of heart disease is inflammation. Inflammation also triggers an increase in cholesterol. Unfortunately, just lowering the cholesterol is like closing the barn door after the cows have gotten out. You need to be addressing the cause, which is inflammation. The greatest source of inflammation for most Americans comes from their diet. Improperly digested food irritates and inflames the body. This causes the adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, which is needed to reduce the inflammation. This constant demand on the adrenal glands can easily overwork them and cause adrenal exhaustion and fatigue, which is a primary contributor to so many health problems." (full article here)
It's this kind of result that I try to keep in mind when I start craving those foods I'm sensitive to. I miss cheesy pizza so much, but when I look at the big picture -- pizza or a heart attack -- it's a little easier to pass on the ooey gooey pie.
Do food allergies run in your family? When you look back through your family tree, do you find mysterious illnesses that might actually be physical manifestations of food sensitivities? Let's hear from you!