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NAC, Spirulina, and Antioxidants block the induction of tolerance

Following exhaustive research on food allergies, I’ve accumulated significant findings as to what induces allergies/intolerances and how to get rid of them.  Much to my chagrin, a study was published recently detailing how NAC and other antioxidants may block your body’s ability to generate tolerance.  NADPH oxidase inhibitors are problematic too, one of which is spirulina.  As part of my experimentation to induce food tolerance I stopped taking these.  I also stopped taking SAMe, CoQ10, and other antioxidants just in case.

I still think, however, that these are highly useful tools to be utilized in the right situation.  For example, take a quick look at the numerous medical uses for NAC.  For my own purposes, I can vouch for NAC being very useful for OCD. Spirulina, likewise, has a bunch of very important uses like excreting heavy metals and fluoride from the body.

MCT oil

During my research, I was surprised to come across a study demonstrating how MCT oil – a panacea for the paleo community –   creates food allergies, first by blocking antigen absorption and second by stimulating Th2 responses. Blocking the induction of tolerance is one thing, but creating a new allergy is another.  Th2 cells produce various messengers or cytokines which aid in the development of allergic inflammation.   A Th2 response is tied to inflammatory conditions like asthma and atopic dermatitis.

Other kinds of saturated fat don’t have the same effect because  MCT oil is absorbed differently by the body.  Long chain fatty acids, which include MUFA’s, PUFA’s, DHA, and saturated fat, actually help induce tolerance through “chylomicron formation.” (Note: Lauric acid in coconut oil isn’t a long chain fatty acid.)

Herbs may also increase a Th2 response

I’d like to caution readers that Rhodiola (R), olive leaf extract (R)fulvic, humic acid(R)honokiol (R)Boswellia, garlic (R) and cinnamon (via a metabolite sodium benzoate by converting Th1 to Th2) may also increase a Th2 response, so theoretically these may create a food allergy, too.

Potential benefits of  a Th2 response

I don’t like to label things as “good” or “bad” because the reality is always more complex and nuanced.  For example, a Th2 cell response helps expel parasites from our gut, so ingesting MCT oil might be a good idea if you have a parasitic infection.  Also, Th1 and Th17 cells may convert to Th2 cells, decreasing the Th1 and Th17 response.  As you can see, there’s a balance at play.

What should you do?

MCT oil

Concerning MCT oil, I think it should be cut out unless you are using it to get into ketosis.   If you’re going to ingest MCT oil in order to induce ketosis, I would suggest that you not take it with other food.

Herbs

With regard to the herbs, one must realize that there’s likely more we don’t know about all of these substances than what we do know and the body is an extremely complex system. It’s also hard to predict what will actually happen when people take them. I’m assuming I’ll come across many more substances that stimulate a Th2 response as I do more research, but it’s important to realize that these herbs also have many other compensating factors that decrease allergic sensitization and may only stimulate a Th2 response if the body needs it, unlike MCT oil.  In addition, these herbs have been safely used for millennia, whereas MCT oil is a novel product.

Note that a Th2 response may be a requirement to induce food allergies, but likely isn’t sufficient and requires other factors (like blocking antigen absorption, etc..) in order to create the allergy. For example, Tregs (which is increased by some of these herbs)  have a regulatory role and can suppress Th1 and Th2 cells.  Cinnamon is an example of a herb that increases Tregs.  Dendritic cells can also decide whether to activate Th cells.  A popular cytokine called TNF-alpha might also have to be present for a Th2 response to occur, and most of the listed herbs decrease it.

I haven’t seen any animal studies directly tying these herbs/phytochemicals with increased allergic sensitization, as the MCT oil study does.  I’ve actually had pretty good results overall from the listed herbs.  My autoimmune issue is more tied to a Th1 and Th17 response, so my experience might not be applicable to Th2 dominant people.  I’ve come to this conclusion based on my symptoms  I have and how I react to various supplements.  There’s also some research that links Th1 abnormalities with food intolerances.

Since I haven’t seen any studies directly tying these herbs to allergic sensitization, I think people -especially individuals (like asthmatics) sensitive to a Th2 response – should just be aware that this possible drawback exists and take caution.  Interestingly, a few years ago my mother, who has asthma, went on a supplement binge and got into MCT and coconut oil and all of her symptoms flared up.  This is probably because many of the herbs and the MCT oil she was taking increase the Th2 response.

If I were to see even an animal study directly tying any of these herbs to allergic sensitization-like the MCT oil study, I would probably give them up or use them sparingly.

The bottom line

  • Many of the substances and supplements I explore and discuss here have a purpose, but knowing which ones are suited for the individual and how to use them is critical.
  • I’d give up the MCT oil unless it’s  used for ketosis and also separated from food consumption.
  • I’d keep the herbs, but be extra cautious if you’re someone who is more prone to a Th2 response – ie if you have asthma or IgE-related food allergies (gluten and casein sensitivities are food intolerances, not IgE-related allergies).
  • My guess is the effects from single herbs aren’t strong enough to create a food allergy, but stacking multiple herbs that increase a Th2 response and that don’t also increase compensatory Treg cells may be problematic.  

What to know before reading the study:

  • “Allergic sensitization” = creation of a food allergy.
  • An antigen (antibody generators) is anything that stimulates an immune response (e.g. inflammation). This is the thing we are allergic or sensitive to.
  • Intestinal absorption of small amounts of dietary antigen may protect against food allergies by promoting oral tolerance.
  • Anaphylaxis is a severe, whole-body allergic reaction to a chemical that has become an allergen.

Study Synopsis

MCT suppressed antigen absorption into blood…MCT-sensitized mice experienced IgG-dependent anaphylaxis upon systemic challenge and IgE-dependent anaphylaxis upon oral challenge. MCT feeding…promoted Th2 cytokine responses in splenocytes. Moreover, oral challenges of sensitized mice with antigen in MCT significantly aggravated anaphylaxis compared to challenges with LCT……Dietary MCT promote allergic sensitization and anaphylaxis by affecting antigen absorption and availability and by stimulating Th2 responses.

Th1, Th2, Th17, Tregs in pictures

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36 COMMENTS

  • Tony

    I have consumed Bulletproof Brain Octane for about 2 years now, and have not experienced any issues at all.

  • Erin Thomas

    Are you sure you don’t have some type of coconut allergy? I became very ill after eating coconut once at a restaurant. I wasn’t sure what caused me to turn purple and feel like my heart was going to explode at the time, but I soon realized that it was the coconut. Had allergy testing done that proved it. I was told to stay away from soy and coconut. I did some research and found that coconuts became a GMO food in Indonesia starting in 2009. Before that time I never had a coconut allergy. I am also allergic to Brazil nuts which have been crossed with a gene from soy. Frankenfood is what is killing us.

  • Dane Findley

    Wouldn’t a simple ALCAT blood test for food sensitivities tell me if I’m allergic to coconut, and solve the mystery of whether MCT oil is a good choice for me personally? (or am I missing something?)

  • Adam

    So is brain octane an issue? Caprylic acid is technically a mct. Should I just give it up?

  • Roel Van de Paar

    Please be very careful with MCT Oil. I had high cholesterol and high blood pressure. I took MCT oil only a few times at ~normal dose and it seemed to do my heart pretty bad. I eventually ended up with CABG (open heart surgery) for blocked arteries. My point; if you have blocked arteries, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure, MCT Oil may be a risk.

  • Hunter

    Oh, oh sweet Cthulhu! Thank you for linking these studies and information about these biological systems. This finally explains adequetly (after having exhausted every possibility and being seemingly left with ‘you are getting older/too sensitive to everything’ when I had only two good alergues previoisly (I have developed internal and external hives from eating most foods over the past few years and eat a severely restricted… you guessed it Ketogenic diet with 50% calories from MCT, I had ruled out the (highly noticble by the fruity smell) plastic compounds from MCT oil in plastic containers that seemed to be giving me severe intestinal discomfort , and have been using Glass container ones…. but I doubled my daily dose to help me into deeper ketosis today… and ate it following a heavy meal and suddenly more atopic rash + a few hives).

    This may well explain why I spontaneously developed so many internal/external rash based allergies to even brand new foods!

    This is VERY exciting and may open up some more variety in my diet. It also explains certain things I would notice with MCT oil (in plastic, any 8 carbon (including C8 fatty) organic acids break down the plasticizers and cause free flow of the food grade plastics even at room temperature over time (and inmedeatly in say… a hot shipping container/car/anywhere in Phoenix AZ) supplementation.

    Extrodinarly enlightening. And explains why I may crave it after certain circumstances ( I occasionally get exposure from my backcountry hiking choices regarding water) when I usually find it rather disgusting and unpalatable (and coconut oil makes me hover at vomiting vs just nauseous, from smell alone).

    I know the C10 is directly helpful to my siezures but it kind of seems like the MCTs in goats milk products may provide enough based on my cross-analysis of the data in these
    studies. This so looks like the missing link. (I couldn’t have deteriorated into rapid aging that quickly/suddenly with allergen accumulation when I eat so fucking clean, so I thought increased sensitivity (was always sensitive to environmental pollunemts and have always been allergic or intolerant to most food additives/metallic compounds like aluminium, nickle, titanium), now that I know how TOLERANCE works and MCT was blocking it straight up at
    the higher dosages. I also now know what to do to increase my tolerance to (some) substances thanks to this!

    So very seriously, from the depths of my logic, analytical reasoning, and survival mechanisms, I appreciate your comprehensive post, and all the information/data within!!

  • Jean-Philippe LECLERE

    I don’t understand why boswellia is known to be a good remedy for asthma and is TH2 response enhancer. Can you explain?

  • Jana Ball

    Thanks for the quick reply. I am just doing 1/2 tsp of black seed oil per day to start.

  • Jana

    Well crap, I just bought a big bottle of MCT. So, Joe, I am dealing with asthma and TH2 dominance, and have been taking NAC, according to the study you cited, I should stop? Also, what about Black Seed Oil, yea or nay for TH2 dominant people? Thanks in advance.

    1. Nattha Wannissorn, PhD

      Just don’t go overboard. Black seed oil is okay.

  • Bronwyn

    99% of coconut is preserved with sulfites. Many with sulfite sensitivity can’t tolerate the sulfites in eggs either. Sulfite sensitivity causes a very wide range of symptoms and vary greatly from person to person, not just asthma as many an MD will claim.

  • RG1

    The answer may not be “AVOID THIS” but “IT DEPENDS”. Towards the end of the study;

    “On the other hand, the Th2-biasing properties of MCT could be exploited to treat or prevent “Th1/Th17 diseases”, such as Crohn’s disease and diabetes. Interestingly, most of the effects of MCT could be mimicked by adding an inhibitor of chylomicron formation to LCT, which suggests that postprandial chylomicron formation plays an important role in immune responses to dietary antigens. This intriguing observation suggests that subtle genetic defects in the production, secretion, transport and clearance of chylomicrons may be a risk factor for food allergy development.”

  • Roz

    I am so thankful you all posted

  • Julie

    Hi Irina,
    So sorry to hear you have been so I’ll. I am going back to basics with a forty day grape fast detox, then predominantly raw vegan. A huge change for me, but the unhealthy way I was eating was killing me. Check out Dr Robert Morse ND about detox and rebuilding your body.
    God Bless

  • Vaughn

    Great article. Could the allergy problems come from pesticides? I am allergic to non-organic fruits, especially apples, cherries, avocado and coconuts etc. I get a reaction to non-organic fruits that gives me watery, itchy eyes. Also, I get an itchy throat and the apples & cherries give me a little rash around my mouth. Plus, I’ll start sneezing and my nasal passage gets clogged. it’s like having hay fever. HOWEVER, I do not have this allergy to ORGANIC fruits. Also, if I cook these fruits (pie etc), I do not have the allergic reaction. I also get an allergic reaction to non-organic MCT oil. I recently tried Whole Food 365 MCT oil and got an allergic reaction. I don’t get the reaction when I take organic MCT. What are you thoughts on this?

  • Dennis Giammetta

    Joe,

    Thank for the article! Since coconut allergies tend to be quite rare, I’ve been trying to find a connection other than such a possibility of having one toward coconut that explains my last reaction to the ingestion coconut meat. I have a true allergy toward eggs and recently had the same allergic reaction I used to get from consuming them as I did after eating the coconut. This article is refreshing and I will have to stay away from too much coconut as of now. Great research!

    Best,
    Dennis G

  • Julie

    Thanks for your article, I was going postal until I read it. Just tested positive for allergies to 48 out of 108 foods, basically what I eat on a daily basis.I would never have connected it to the mct oil. I stopped it immediately, but will the allergies go away?

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      Dk, I consume Caprylic oil still, as I don’t have an IgE problem with food.

    2. Irina.

      Julie,
      I have had a severe reaction about a couple of days since I started taking MCT, ever since figured out I am allergic to most foods I love. I have NEVER had any allergies to anything. Then I found this article and it made perfect sence, as the MCT (which was completely new to my diet) triggered an allergic response to other foods (coconut, almond, all fruits, strawberries, nightshade veg). Also any products including fruit juices were giving me the same allergic response. I have been in hives, pain and swelling, itching, chest pain, and abdominal pain for the past three and a half weeks since. I am on complete elimination diet right now, which means I don’t know right now what I can or cannot eat, so I am partially fasting, partially eating green salads, broccoli, and rice. I miss fat, because right now I feel like I am always sleepy. I am going to get tested. But considering its been almost a month and allergies are not gone, I am kind of wondering they they may or may not go away. So I may have to avoid most of my favorite foods, at least for a while. Unless there is a way to reverse the Th2 elevated response.

      1. Ac

        I have experienced the same sort of reaction to other types of food that I never had any issues with. The worst part of all, the MCT is a key ingredient for WP Thyroid, which prides itself of being a hypoallergenic medicine. I did not do anything else differently in the past couple of months to get this type of reaction. I hope drug manufacturers stop jumping on the hot food trend and really study their patients especially when it comes to autoimmune disorders.

      2. Ac

        Also, I was going to ask what was your outcome? Did you get tested? Are you able to eat the same foods you love again?

  • Ole

    Does this apply to brain octane (caprylic acid)

  • Leon Wurfel

    hi – is there anything that you’ve read to say that the different MCTs may be lower or higher risk in causing new allergies?

  • Jean

    MCT / Coconut oil made me worse when I used it. I did intermittent fasting with ~20ml of MCT oil or 35ml of coconut oil (~20ml MCT) every morning for six months. It eventually gave me allergic rhinitis, histamine intolerance, brain fog, etc. Elevated Th2 levels ain’t no joke. I’m glad that I stopped using medium-chain triglycerides shortly after this article was released. Intermittent fasting without fats are easy and no one needs them to be able to fast. I did it for about a year without any symptoms before I started using these fats. I just wanted to get into ketosis faster. Big mistake. Never thanked you for writing this article.

    1. Joe

      Thx

    2. IntestinalIQ

      Ah! Very interesting. I think I’ve experienced exactly the same thing from coconut oil/MCT oil in my morning tea. I didn’t connect it until your comment. Thanks!

    3. Kelly

      Jean — coconut oil is extremely high in salicylates. That could be an additional explanation for your reactions, especially the allergic rhinitis.

  • Judd Crane
    1. Joe

      Thx

  • Judd Crane

    How are you handling mito enhancers without NAC?

    1. Joe

      Very well. I don’t overdo them and only take them as needed. Also, my diet keeps improving in that I keep figuring out ways to have less inflammation from food, which is also good for the mitochondria.

      At this stage, I don’t get inflammation from food as long as I keep to a very strict diet, which isn’t easy. Even bananas give me a very slight amount of inflammation. See this: https://www.selfhacked.com/blog/the-cause-of-brain-fog/#The_safest_foods_for_people_sensitive_toeverything

  • DoomSword

    interesting article

    do you have any ideas on cow’s milk allergy?

    my 10 month baby has developed this shortly after birth. The treatment suggested by a top allergiologist is basically, avoiding feeding him any dairy whatsoever, beef and only drinking/eating hypo-allergic milk and cream formulas. As the baby is still breastfeeding, the dairy and beef ban applied to the mother as well. However, instead of improving, over the last 6 months it seems to be getting even a little worse.

    I realize that at such a young age there may be no room for anything more than we already do, but I’m asking in case you’ve stumbled on something during your research.

    Thanks

    1. Selfhacked

      Yes, there’s quite a bit of research on it

      1. DoomSword

        thanks, I’ll check the web then, care to give me some pointers at what to look for in particular?

  • Steve

    Whats your take on sunflower oil then?

  • PC

    Thanks for this post. I’ve certainly had problems taking garlic, cinnamon and olive leaf extract. OLE was the worst.

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