These issues are frustrating (and often embarrassing) and they’re also very common. Many patients that come to see me are already living a fairly healthy lifestyle, but are baffled by continuing digestive issues, mysterious rashes, and low energy levels. If this sounds familiar, it may be time to take a good look at your diet. Even a “healthy” food can make you sick if your body is sensitive to it, even if you're eaten it your whole life without issues until now. For many, the food mystery becomes both frustrating and overwhelming when trying to understand what foods are nourishing you and not making you feel terrible.
The good news is that you may not have to look very far to make changes that relieve your symptoms. With a bit of detective work, and a bit of help, you can map out a dietary plan that restores your well being.
What are the Symptoms of Food Sensitivity?
Food sensitivities can be tricky to diagnose. Symptoms can vary widely from person to person and can even be different depending on what else is happening in your body. For example, you might respond differently at different stages of your menstrual cycle, or if you’ve been under more stress or not sleeping as well.
Food sensitivities can cause or contribute to:
- Bowel problems
- Chronic illness
- Sinus infections
- Autoimmune diseases
- Sore joints
- Dark circles under your eyes
- Brain fog - that annoying forgetfulness and lack of clarity
- Painful periods, endometriosis
- Fertility issues
- Eczema and psoriasis
- Many other conditions!
Another reason why a food sensitivity is often a missed diagnosis is that these symptoms can be delayed up to 72 hours after a meal, so many people don’t make the connection between what they ate and how they feel. Even the most incredibly observant people can find it difficult to notice that they feel brain fog 3 days after eating a “normal” food.
Similarly, it’s difficult to measure how many people suffer from food sensitivities because a lot of us don’t seek medical help, figuring that it’s “normal” to feel gassy and tired all of the time. In fact, conventional medical practitioners can be skeptical about food sensitivity symptoms, which can lead to frustration for patients. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
What Causes Food Sensitivities?
It’s important to recognize the difference between food allergies, food intolerances, and food sensitivities. Food allergies are immune reactions. After eating a certain food, your body’s immune system launches an attack by making its own protein, called immunoglobulin E (IgE). The next time you consume that food, your body is ready to attack again. The IgE causes your body to release a chemical called histamine, which triggers the physical symptoms of an allergic reaction. This is the type of allergy reaction one has to pollens and dander. With food, it can cause frightening anaphylaxis reactions.
A food intolerance occurs when the body loses the ability to produce a certain digestive enzyme. Lactose intolerance occurs when the body cannot produce the lactase enzyme, and fructose intolerance occurs when a body cannot produce the fructase enzyme. Eating foods with lactose or fructose will then cause gas/bloating and diarrhea to occur (and can be a sign of Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth)..
A food sensitivity reaction occurs when you eat a food and it forms an antigen/antibody reaction. That is, a different part of your immune system binds to the food, the IgG reaction. Those immune complexes can cause intestinal and systemic problems in the body and mind. There are specialty labs that can detect this reaction. In our practice, we use Alletess Labs to identify these reactions.... and one blood draw can uncover up to 184 food sensitivity reactions!
If we continue to eat that food sensitivity, the lining of the gut can become inflamed and damaged. Eventually, it can become permeable, so the undigested material “leaks” into the bloodstream. Not surprisingly, this is called “leaky gut” syndrome or intestinal hyperpermeability.
What is the root cause of food sensitivities? And why are they becoming increasingly common?
There are many medical reasons:
- Eating the same food over and over: the gut loves variety and is healthiest when many different foods are eaten regularly. Simply eating cheese, wheat and eggs all the time increases the risk that you might develop a sensitivity to one of them.
- Antibiotics and other drugs that harm the gut: many medications can harm the gut, the ability to digest, the beneficial bacteria in our intestines. Proton Pump Inhibitors and common anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen and naproxen are devastatingly damaging to the gut as well.
- Poor diet: A diet high in processed foods, sugar, chemicals, Genetically modified organisms, too much coffee or alcohol—all these things can over time increase the inflammation of the gut lining and the risk of developing a food sensitivity.
- Lack of protective nutrients: Ingesting foods high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory chemicals help protect all cells in your body, including your intestinal lining.
- Dysbiosis: When you have low beneficial bacteria or an overgrowth of problematic fungal or bacteria species, this can cause leaky gut and food sensitivities.
- Eating too fast, eating too much: Poor eating habits can stress the gastrointestinal tract.
Which Foods Can Cause Food Sensitivities?
Uncovering food sensitivities is a fantastic reason for seeing a Naturopathic Doctor – we have the tools to help identify if a particular food is making you sick. In addition, medical supervision can ensure your approach to food remains healthy and balanced. Research suggests that food sensitivities can be a trigger for disordered eating in some people. After all, if food is causing you pain, but you’re not sure which foods are to blame, it’s easy to associate your diet with negative experiences.
How Can You Treat Food Sensitivities?
At our office, we identify and address foods sensitivities with this approach:
- Test through a reputable laboratory to uncover food sensitivity reactions
- Remove all positive foods and tidy up your diet in a healthier way
- Take supplements to help heal the gut lining
- Follow up in about a month — oftentimes people only have to avoid all the foods on the list for 1-2 months. Once symptoms/signs of the chief complaint(s) are gone, then foods will be methodically added back in one by one to uncover which one(s) really cause the problem, and must continue to be avoided, and all the others are good to be eaten regularly again.
Sometimes food sensitivities are only the tip of the iceberg and we have to go deeper and look to other causes of your symptoms. You can read more about that here.
Uncovering food sensitivities is a truly a game-changer for many of our patients. If you suspect that something is off, I would love to offer you a complimentary Health Discovery session to see if our approach is right for you.
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