Food allergies are answer to medical mystery

Special to the Los Angeles Times

Symptoms of weakness and nausea were afflicting me, sometimes disabling me for hours at a time. So I went to an internist, who ran a series of tests, which turned up nothing.

Finally, at a loss, he ordered a brain scan. I vividly recall the words of the neurologist when the results came in: “There’s nothing wrong with your brain. But you might have a potassium deficiency. If you are feeling low, eat a banana.” How easy! I enjoyed slicing a banana onto my Wheaties and milk for breakfast.

“We’ve done every test I can think of, and there’s nothing organically wrong with you,” said the internist. “I think you are clinically depressed. I’m putting you on an antidepressant.” I had an intuitive sense I’d been misdiagnosed. Had I ever felt depressed? Sure. But the symptoms I had reported to him didn’t feel like depression. I asked him about the side effects of the drug he prescribed. I refused to take it. As I left, he warned me, “You’ll be sorry.”


A couple of months later, I was in the office of a dermatologist for a routine checkup, and I had one of those attacks of nausea and weakness. It was the first time I’d had those dreaded symptoms while with a physician. He checked my vitals. Blood pressure was way down, for one thing. He got a hunch. “I once had a patient with symptoms just like yours,” he said. “Turned out he had food allergies. Why not get checked out for food allergies?”

An endocrinologist ran tests, which indicated I was allergic to several foods. Results came in a flow-chart format, displaying levels of severity associated with my allergies. The most severe: cow’s milk. The next most severe: wheat.

And then, in the “mildly severe” column, were a few foods, including bananas!

I quit eating milk products and wheat. The distressing symptoms disappeared. Interestingly, weeks later, even though I had ordered fish, rice and vegetables (no butter) for dinner at a restaurant, I awoke the next morning with the old, miserable symptoms. Turned out that the raspberry sauce on the fish contained cream.

It’s awful to think how many people might be suffering from food-related allergies but have been misdiagnosed and are on drugs that could be causing harm. Ironically, several of the most frequently consumed foods are also in the potentially villainous food category, including corn, soy, wheat and cow’s milk. And it’s not enough to quit eating the foods in their whole or pure form. Read the labels on prepared foods for ingredients such as corn starch, dry milk, wheat gluten, casein, etc.

Also, I dread to think what would have happened if I’d started taking that antidepressant, which wouldn’t have helped. Then the internist would probably have increased the dosage or switched to another drug. Physicians are fallible, so do your homework. Work with your doctor, but accept part of the responsibility for finding out what might be wrong with you.

Listen to your gut. And if you feel unglued, it could be your food!

Rockey, who grew up in New York City, is a professor of applied behavioral science at the Graziadio Business School at Pepperdine University.

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount an experience related to health or fitness. Submissions should be no more than 500 words. They are subject to editing and condensation and become the property of The Times. Please e-mail We read every essay but can’t respond to every writer.