Food Sensitivities

We all know that proper diet is key to optimum health. But what if the foods that you believe are good for you might actually be causing you harm? For some, common foods consumed on a daily basis may be causing an immune response leading to symptoms, inflammation and degenerative disease.

What causes food reactions?

One reason for food reactivity is that due to factor—such as diet, genetics, microbiome issues, and environment—-many of us have developed something called leaky gut. This can cause openings in the intestines which may allow unprocessed food to travel through walls of the intestine into the rest of the body.

The body recognizes these as foreign invaders and mounts an immune system response. Sometimes these food particles are very similar in structure to various tissues in the body. The immune system may then mistake the tissue for the food leading to  chronic inflammation and possibly autoimmunity.

Once the lining of the gut becomes compromised, the body is even more prone to food reactions as additional undigested foods get into the bloodstream. And if these suspected food turn out to be one of your dietary staples, the damage to the gut is constantly renewed. 

Other causes for food sensitivity

Leaky gut isn’t the only reason.  Food issues can be caused by:

  • Combinations of foods within a meal
  • Food preparation such as cooking –which changes the protein structure of foods,
  • The variety chosen, or how they are grown– since someone may have an immune response to the GMOs or pesticides used.
  • An autoimmune response generated by consuming foods known to interact with specific tissues.

But I don’t get rashes, how can I have an intolerance to a particular food?

Most folks think food allergies or intolerance only present as rashes, hives, or asthma. That is pretty far from the truth. Severe allergic reactions (IgE antibodies) may cause outward symptoms, but common food allergies (IgG or IgA) don’t show up on regular allergy tests of the skin or blood but can still lead to symptoms throughout the body.

For instance, a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 “diseases” that can be traced back to gluten consumption. These include Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, arthritis, chronic sinusitis, type 1 diabetes, irritable bowel, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, joint pain, etc. and their array of symptoms.

What is the difference between a food allergy, sensitivity, and intolerance?

The distinction between food allergy, food sensitivity, and food intolerance depends on whether the immune system is involved.

For example, let’s take a  look at Celiac disease. True Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks the small intestine. It only occurs in only about 1 percent of Americans, whereas a non-celiac reaction is when the immune system attacks the gluten molecule itself.  It is far more common and affects over 30% of the population. 

A food sensitivity also occurs when a delayed immune system response is initiated by a triggering food. Food intolerance is an issue with digesting a particular food and does not involve the immune system.

How long do food reactions last?

Food reactivities can be immediate or can take several days. In fact, each time a glass of milk is consumed, morphine-like substances are released into the brain which cause a molecular reaction that could remains active for up to three weeks.

Gluten responses can last for months to those who are susceptible. Because symptoms may be delayed for days, a low-grade food intolerance may be hard to detect. For example, why would you consider that a gut issue would be due to a tomato eaten four days ago!

How do I know what foods am I sensitive to?

Try to think of the one thing in your diet you couldn’t possibly live without, and that is probably what you are intolerant to! People with biochemical sensitivity to certain foods tend to crave the very foods that are harming them. The common belief that we crave what our bodies need does not hold true when our body systems are imbalanced. People with imbalances instead crave what gives them temporary satisfaction, even if these indulgences are usually followed by unpleasant physical symptoms, anxiety, depression, or lethargy. Instead of taking these symptoms as a sign that a particular food is bad for us, we recall mainly how good it initially made us feel, and so we seek more of it.

An additional concern is that these foods can be highly addictive. Foods such as gluten and dairy have been shown to release morphine-like substances such as gluteomorphins or casomorphins, respectively, which cause us to crave the foods we are allergic to. Many times we eat these foods because they make us feel better by alleviating the withdrawal symptoms causing the cycle to continue.

Can I test for food sensitivities?

Testing may be a good option for those unsuccessful with the elimination diet or for folks with specific autoimmune conditions who need to uncover potential reactions to specific foods that might worsen their condition.  Please click here to learn details on effective elimination diets.

Cyrex Labs Array 10 is extremely valuable as it looks at immune response to cooked versus raw foods as well as the lectin component of some foods.

But the problem remains that most tests are not 100% accurate and depend on too many factors including recent consumption, ability to generate an immune response, etc.

Additionally, if you test positive for a large number of foods, it may be that you have an issue with leaky gut, malabsorption, or oral intolerance rather than those specific foods.  

Finally, some pathogens can “cross react” making you appear to have a positive test result against the food when in reality, it is an immune response against a pathogen. See Reaction of Monoclonal and Polyclonal Antibodies Made against Infectious Agents with Various Food Antigens. 

What are the most common allergenic foods?

  • Gluten.  Barley, rye, semolina, spelt, and wheat (corn is a close cousin and may also cause problems in some individuals). Gluten may be replaced with rice, almonds, potato, coconut, amaranth, teff, quinoa, buckwheat, sesame, millet, or oats.  Wheat grass depending on when harvested. Note: Oats may cause a problem based on where they are processed and stored.
  • Cow Dairy. Most folks find that they can replace cow dairy products with sheep, goat, buffalo, or camel with little issue.
  • Nightshade family. Cashew, eggplant, green/red/chili/jalapeno/orange/pimentos peppers, potato, and tomato.  Spices- including cayenne, chili, ground red pepper, crushed red pepper, curry and paprika. Avoid any ingredients that are listed under the hidden label: natural flavoring.
  • Latex family. Banana, papaya, kiwi, mango, and guava. We rarely remove avocado from the diet unless absolutely necessary.
  • Peanuts.  These are actually a legume since they grow in the ground.  They tend to contain fungus which affects may people.  Consider using raw almond or other type of nut butter instead.
  • Artificial sweeteners, food additives, and artificial coloring
  • Soy
  • Lectins.  Nightshades, legumes,  peanut, some melon/squash/cucumber, gluten, etc.. :Create glycoproteins that that initiate an immune system.

How can I treat issues with food?

The best method is an elimination diet which removes suspected foods for a period of 4-12 weeks. Foods are then reintroduced back one at a time to determine any adverse reaction. Testing is also an option but may not be 100% accurate. See below.

Food Sensitivity

Most food sensitivities are not usually permanent but unfortunately, the only way the body can recover from food issues is by eliminating the foods that trigger the symptoms so that the body has an opportunity to rest and repair itself. This approach can be be challenging due to withdrawal symptoms and eating habits.

At the same time we try to improve oral tolerance by supporting the immune system and intestinal barriers.

Once the suspected food is eliminated for several months, it is then consumed for several days to create a response. If all goes well, utilization of a four day rotation schedule in meal planning may help  prevent redeveloping the allergy. It is important to note that foods such as gluten and dairy might not be able to be put back in the diet.

Food Intolerance

Food intolerance may be supported by digestive aids such as enzymes, HCL support, bitters, vagal tone exercises, stress management, neurotransmitter issues, etc. since they do not have an immune component.

Food Allergies

True food allergies may require complete elimination.

Autoimmune Triggering Foods 

Autoimmune issues may be worsened by the consumption of foods found to trigger that specific condition. Determining these connections is still in its infancy, but foods potentially triggering Hashimoto’s have been documented by Dr. Datis Kharrazian, PhD. in his paper, “Immunological Reactivity Using Monoclonal and Polyclonal Antibodies of Autoimmune Thyroid Target Sites with Dietary Proteins”

He has also published ,“Detection of Islet Cell Immune Reactivity with Low Glycemic Index Foods: Is This a Concern for Type 1 Diabetes?” which looks at foods affecting Type 1 Diabetes.

What is the benefit of an elimination diet?

If you have an issue with a particular food, you should understand why. For example, maybe you think you an issue with celery…

  • Is it an immune response or are you just having a problem breaking it down?
  • Do you have a problem with the entire food family—in this case, Apiaceae? That might be the case if you also have problems when eating foods such as parsley and carrot. 
  • How you feel when you consume dark greens or nuts? If those foods also bother you, could your issue with celery be related to oxalates? If so, why? Are you forming oxalates because of yeast overgrowth, high vitamin C consumption, genetics, or some other reason?
  • Or do you just have an issue when it is cooled or maybe combined with another food?

This is the power of an elimination trial, namely determining the what, how, why, and when to allow for better dietary decisions.

Can I stay on the elimination diet forever?

Sounds like a great idea to most folks since they feel so much better, but no. We really need to avoid the truly reactive foods but continue to eat as varied and expansive of a diet as possible. If we only eat particular foods, over time, we could develop a reactivity to them as well– perpetuating the cycle.

Eating a diet with high variety strengthens our immune system and maintains something called oral tolerance. The more different foods you can eat, the more tolerant you become.

Diversity in polyphenol fruits and veggies for those not sensitive also helps create a diverse microbiome to support function throughout the body. If we limit variety, we limit the diversity of our microbiome.

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