The Hidden, or Masking Effect Explained

Frequency is the pointer

To start with, there are two very useful clues which point the way to what we are looking for. In order for an allergy or genetic incompatibility to hide or mask, the victim must eat the food with a certain minimum frequency.

By experience I find this to be about twice a week, though the exact interval varies from person to person. If you ate the culprit food only occasionally, you would have your attack only once in a while and the chances are it wouldn’t take you long to work out what was happening.

This is precisely the reason allergies to strawberries or shellfish are so notorious: most of us eat these foods only a few times a year. The body doesn’t get the chance to develop a hidden allergy, so there is never any doubt about the severity of the reaction. The real troublemakers are foods eaten frequently, often daily. It is as if the body learns to cope with the problem, and we sometimes speak of becoming ‘adapted’ to an allergen. ‘Maladapted’ is the opposite and denotes the periods when it makes you unavoidably ill.


Thus the food or drink appears to give a ‘lift,’ but you must understand that this is only because it is causing a ‘down’ in the first place. You may know someone who always feels better for a cup of tea or a cookie; it is possible to see such people visibly perk up. That’s addiction at work, and, I need hardly point out, it is very common! The mechanism is in no way different from the addiction of a junkie to heroin or of an alcoholic to liquor. Neither, in certain cases, are the consequences any less drastic – it’s just a socially more acceptable addiction, that’s all.

Patients would say to me at the office, ‘Doctor, I’ll give up anything you say – as long as it isn’t bread!’ (For bread, read tea, sugar, milk, coffee, potatoes, and so on). Immediately, of course, I suspected that this was something they were going to have to give up in order to get well. Sometimes I was accused by my patients of being puritanical: to them it seems I was bent on stopping the things they enjoy and crave the most, and often they are right. Usually this was no more than a jocular criticism, but there were occasions when I was faced with raw, steamy emotion. I had to explain that it was not my fault the situation had come about; I merely had to treat the after-effect of years, even a lifetime, of wrong eating habits.

So what is a masked allergy or intolerance?

Now you may understand the very common experience: that of feeling pretty rough first thing in the morning. Many people wake tired and irritable and are slow to start their day. It seems that until they have eaten breakfast, they behave like a bear with a sore head. Well, by the time we awake, many of us have been off food some 10 – 14 hours. That’s easily enough to set up withdrawal symptoms.

The proof of what I am sharing with you here is so easy to establish. You’ll do it for yourself, following the plan in the book. When you give up the offending food or foods, you’ll probably have some terrible withdrawals at first. But then, after about five days, you will end up bouncing out of bed with zest and hit the ground running each morning. Then you will know for sure, I’m right.

Sale’s General Theory of Adaptation

These observed food masking effects are easy to explain, using Hans Sale’s General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS for short). If you haven’t read Sale’s very capable book, The Stress of Life, you should. He postulates three stages in coping with stress. This progression would be exhibited by any organism in response to any form of stress, from an amoeba living in slightly tainted water all the way to a pressurized executive in a demanding, harassing job that is giving him ulcers.

Then, gradually, adaptation occurs. The organism learns to cope with the problem. The symptoms reduce or disappear, and the disease submerges; the human subject feels well again. Slyer recognizes this as a separate development, or Stage 2. It appears that there are no further problems. Yet all the while an insidious attack is taking place. This steadily erodes the body’s defenses until eventually they are exhausted. The process may take months or decades, but it advances inexorably as long as the stress is present. Finally, when the body can simply cope no more, symptoms reemerge, and this is Stage 3. The organism is sick, as before, but now in difficulties because there are no defenses left. This is the stage of chronic illness.

Stage 4 overload

Slyer did not postulate a Stage 4 but I am adding to his theory here by suggesting that the masking step goes beyond Stage 3. In this additional aspect, which we can consider as a fourth stage, the food relieves the symptoms temporarily. But the patient is now on dangerous ground and the destructive results of the continued daily or hourly stress can cause a breakdown of almost any organ in the body

Now the new genetic incompatibility theory

Ironically, this new specialty of nutritional genomics came about through studying idiosyncratic drug reactions. Some patients were being hurt and even killed by drugs which didn’t seem to be threatening to the majority of us. Over 100,000 people are year are killed by adverse drug reactions in the US alone. Despite being diametrically opposed to the unscrupulous drug industry I am prepared to concede they don’t like killing their customers, if only because it costs big money and creates insurance problems. But in fact the investigation of why some individuals respond in a dramatically different way to the same substance led to the discovery of the important of gene-mediated metabolic pathways.

Last word

The time will come when we will all be routinely tested for our genomic profile and advised accordingly what substances (foods and chemicals) are safe for us and what we should avoid. HRT may be great for some women but drive others inexorably towards cancer and heart disease; beta carotene may protect some people against cancer but can cause it in others; vitamin A, taken as an immune booster can increase the chance of susceptible women getting a hip fracture; decreasing blood hooky stein levels with B vitamins actually causes more fatal heart conditions, despite lowering the homo cytokine levels; and so it goes on… Without the correct gene profile in hand, doctors are, in effect, merely guessing which drugs to administer and running a lottery on which patients will die and which will live.

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