What's your body temperature got to do with food allergy? Everything, says Alan Hunter, and his discovery has won him several awards and a doctorate
Alan Hunter was the very picture of health. A young man in his early 20s, he was the British Under-21 Welterweight Judo Champion and a European bronze medallist. Then, almost overnight, he started feeling tired. It was an all-encompassing fatigue that never lifted and made any physical activity difficult, if not impossible. This chronic fatigue was often accompanied by depression, which took all the joy out of his life.
For several years Alan lived with the problem. Doctors had been unable to pinpoint any cause; all they could see in front of them was a perfectly fit young man. Then Alan happened to read about food allergies, and the description of possible symptoms seemed to match his own.
This was in the 1960s, long before anyone recognized just how prevalent the problem was. From then on, Alan described his problem not as fatigue, but as a food allergy.
Over the next 20 years, he went on 50 water-only fasts, a month-long diet of eating nothing but grapes and seven months of the Gerson diet, originally intended for cancer patients. But the moment he started eating normally again, the allergy would return. "Everything I ate made me ill," he said.
He noticed one strange thing about his allergy. Whenever he had a fever, all of his symptoms disappeared. Over those 20 years, he had three bouts of fever and, each time, he was symptom-free while he had a high temperature, whereas all the allergic reactions returned once the fever subsided.
There were a few other things too. For one, it was clear that the problem had to do with the person, not the food. After all, most people can eat a tomato without reacting. And he suspected it was somehow linked to the allergic person's blood flow, which he thought became restricted whenever an allergen was eaten.
He went along to the hospital in his home city of Edinburgh and found a vascular surgeon and radiologist prepared to test his theory. He had his blood flow tested before he ate a food to which he was allergic, and again afterwards. As expected, there was a drop in blood flow (hypoperfusion) after eating the allergen. That would explain the vast array of possible reactions to food, which seemed to happen anywhere in the body, Alan surmised.
But why was blood flow affected by food? There were three possibilities, Alan thought: something had been added to his body's processes; something had been taken away; or something had been damaged, and he included inflammation in this.
He immediately assumed it must be the last possibility, but dismissed it because his body would have repaired any damage, or inflammation, during his months-long fasts, and most of his allergic reactions lasted only an hour or so, which also suggested no long-term damage.
For similar reasons, he had to reject the idea that something-such as a nutrient-was missing. How could something go missing during the hour he was suffering an allergic reaction only to come back later?
Alan was left with the idea that something had been added. Initially he thought that the something might be pharmaceutical drugs or toxins from the environment, but again, why would they be a problem for only an hour after eating, and disappear completely when he had a fever? It had all the hallmarks of a living organism, something that responded to heat and blood circulation-in fact, a parasite. Parasites could even be responsible for the change in blood flow, as they tend to live in arteries and so could become an obstruction.
He flew out to a specialist clinic in California, which confirmed several parasitic infestations. And it was easy to see how he got them-in fact, how all of us must have them. They are on the fruit and vegetables we eat, in the milk we drink, on our toothbrushes, on paper we pick up, and so on. Yet, despite that, most people don't get ill or suffer allergic reactions to food.
So why had they affected Alan and the many thousands of others with food allergies? Alan did something that most of the many thousands of other sufferers wouldn't: he obtained 50 million nematodes, or parasitic worms, and studied them. He noticed how they reacted when his microscope's illuminator was switched on, but otherwise, his observations weren't telling him anything.
Then one day he read that amoebas move to the warm side of a microscope slide when they are being studied. "I had read something that appeared insignificant at first, but suddenly hit me like a sledgehammer. If the parasitic amoebas on the microscope slide responded to temperature change, here was a vital clue to their behaviour: parasites are temperature-sensitive."
This explained why he became free of symptoms when he had a high temperature, and he also had a chronically low body temperature of around 97 degrees F (the accepted norm is around 98.6 degrees). Looking back, he thinks a boyhood of eating processed foods and 'white stuff' was responsible for his body temperature falling slightly.
If he could raise his body temperature to closer to the healthy norm, he might be able produce an environment hostile to parasites. Again, another book came to his aid. This time he read about a woman who was able to reverse her hypothyroidism, which would also lead to a subnormal body temperature, by eating a raw-food diet for a year or so. This made sense: when he himself was on a raw-food diet, he monitored his temperature and noted a slight, but steady, increase over the months.
And a slight increase-even of just one degree-was enough to make all the difference, as Alan discovered.
Alan has been recognized for his insights and research over the years. He won a best research award at a complementary medicine expo in 2003, and received a special award for research and a doctorate from the Indian Board of Alternative Medicine in Kolkata.
He worked as a telegraphist before becoming Scotland's first food-allergy practitioner in 1975, after studying nutritional medicine. He still practises as a therapist today, although along the way he also owned a care home for the elderly.
Today, Alan remains free from all his allergies and is an ardent raw-food advocate, although he now eats a more balanced diet. "It can be hard to keep to at the beginning, but it's something you can get used to. The rawer your diet, the quicker are the results," he says.
Symptoms that could mean a food allergy
The following symptoms and illnesses have all been associated with food allergies in scientific studies. See if yours are among them.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Burning pain in penis on urination
High blood pressure
Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
Myalgia (muscle pain)
Urinary tract infections
There's no avoiding parasites. One baby cereal alone contains more than 20,000 mites per kilo, while around half of all vegetables have parasite eggs nestling in them.
Nematodes, a human parasite, are pretty abundant too. One spadeful of garden soil will contain around a million of them.
Your normal temperature
Medicine considers that the normal body temperature is 98.6 degrees F (37 degrees C). This was based on the observations of German physicist Dr Carl Wunderlich in the 19th century. But not everyone agrees: in 1992, a US study found that a more normal reading was slightly less, at 98.2 degrees F (36.8 degrees C).
A reading can also be slightly lower if you place the thermometer under the armpit; the temperature may then be 33 degrees F (0.5 degrees C) lower than the actual body temperature. Temperature can also vary throughout the day and according to your age, with the elderly tending to have lower body temperatures.
Overall, a normal body temperature can vary from 97 degrees F (36 degrees C) to 99 degrees F (37 degrees C).
Some don't like it hot
It isn't just parasites that wilt in a higher body temperature. Hyperthermia, or heat therapy, has gone in and out of fashion over the years, and raising body temperature has been used to treat a wide range of health conditions.
In Japan, FIR (far infrared) saunas have been used to treat chronic heart failure. The heat can improve function of the lining of the blood vessels and their ability to dilate.1 The special saunas have also been used to successfully treat chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS),2 arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), peripheral heart disease, chronic pain and fibromyalgia.
It's even been used to treat cancer-one of the more famous patients was former US president Ronald Reagan. Researchers at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Center in New Hampshire have tested the therapy on colon and melanoma cancer cell lines in the laboratory. After exposing cancer cells to a constant heat of 109.4 degrees F (43 degrees C), it either slowed their growth or made them disappear altogether. More interesting still, the heat caused a cascade effect between tumours, such that even those not directly targeted by the nanoparticles and magnetic field used in the tests also died off.
This suggests, say the researchers, that hyperthermia might be an effective treatment even in cancers that have spread (metastatic).3
J Am Coll Cardiol, 2002; 39: 754-9
J Psychosom Res, 2005; 58: 383-7
Nanomed Nanotech Biol Med, 2014; doi: 10.1016/j.nano.2014.02.003