Food Sensitivities: A Potential Contributor to Our Chronic Health Issues
Through reading our blogs, you are probably well-versed with the concept that the whole body is connected. We also already know that our digestive system dictates a wide variety of functions in the body. When our digestive systems are not functioning optimally or are being attacked through repetitive introduction of foods we may be sensitive to, this can affect our greater health.
First we need to define the difference between a food “allergy” and a food “sensitivity.” A food allergy is often life-threatening and is mediated by immunoglobulin E (IgE). Symptoms of a food allergy can include hives, coughing, sneezing, and potentially life-threatening swelling of tongue and throat obstructing breathing. A food sensitivity on the other hand is often mediated by IgG and can be more subtle . This could include vague symptoms such as:
Digestive symptoms: bloating, acid reflux, fatigue or headaches after eating
Skin symptoms: chronic acne, eczema or psoriasis flare-ups Exacerbation of chronic inflammatory conditions (ie. Arthritis, autoimmune disease)
Immune-related symptoms: chronic sinusitis Mental-health related: exacerbation of depression, anxiety, etc. (think of the gut-brain axis!) [1,2]
How Can This Be Related to Overall Health?
As we know, the gut, specifically our intestinal microbiome is connected to our brain health as well as skin health and regulation of the immune system. We may already see food sensitivities peek through by the way of exacerbation of chronic conditions [2,3,4]. For example, if you notice more acne after eating a cheese-filled pasta dish, this could be related to a sensitivity to cow’s milk dairy products. Food sensitivities can also work by building up small amount of inflammation over time, which can be more difficult to identify. On top of this, if we are exposed to anything else which can cause dysbiosis, it can leave us further prone to food sensitivities, or something commonly referred to as “leaky gut” .
Normally, the cells of our intestinal lining are held together by tight junctions and only allow certain molecules to pass through and be absorbed for our nutrition. If there is damage to these cells via inflammation or dysbiosis (poor balance of good gut bacteria to harmful ones), it can cause gaps in these tight junctions which can allow tiny bits of particles to flow into the blood stream. The blood will recognize these particles as “not-self,” so may try to attack them by activating the immune system.
Why Does This Happen?
This is the million-dollar question; why might we become sensitive to foods we never had an issue with in the past?! This can be due to a number of reasons, mainly revolving around dysbiosis. Dysbiosis can occur because of antibiotic use, low stomach acid, stress, long-standing digestive issues or food allergies. It can also occur due to blood sugar dysregulation or changes in estrogen levels (ie. Menopause) . The process of aging can also affect the gut microbiome as well as slowing transit time in the intestines and digestive function.
How to Identify and Treat Food Sensitivities?
The gold standard for identifying food sensitivities is through undergoing an elimination (or hypoallergenic) diet. There are a few ways to do this, but essentially it involves removing the most common offenders from our diets for a minimum of three weeks. The order of healing the gut lining is as follows:
1.Remove: This involves removing commonly offending foods for a certain amount of time, in order to give the gut some time to heal and for the immune system to settle down.
2.Replace: This means adding back essentials which may have been depleted via diet, medications, diseases or through aging. This includes helping to support digestive function through the use of certain supplements such as digestive enzymes or apple cider vinegar.
3.Replenish: In order to correct dysbiosis, we may have to replenish good bacteria. Probiotics are found naturally in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi or kombucha. They are necessary to help kill off bad bacteria, such as candida.
4.Repair: The last step in the process is to repair the gut lining. Depending on each individual’s case, this could involve foods or nutritional supplements to decrease inflammation and allergic symptoms, or simply to provide a protective seal for the cells of the intestinal wall.
After the repair stage, we may want to try foods that we had been sensitive to during the “removal” phase of the process. We may no longer have symptoms appear when consuming them! However, if symptoms are still lingering, it may be a good idea to completely remove those foods or have them in moderation.
Now that we are aware of how food sensitivities can affect our overall health, they may be an important piece to consider if we are meeting any barriers to health! Please contact your healthcare practitioner if you want to undergo a gut-healing protocol, so they can suggest the best plan for you!
- Shakoor, Z., Al Faifi, A., Al Amro, B., Al Tawil, L.N. & Al Ohaly, R.Y. (2016). Prevalence of IgG-mediated food intolerance among patients with allergic symptoms, Annals of Saudi Medicine. 36(6), 386-390. https://dx.doi.org/10.5144%2F0256-4947.2016.386
- Ohlsson, L., Gustafsson, A., Lavant, E., Suneson, K., Brundin, L., Westrin, A., Ljunggren, L. & Lindqvist, D. (2019). Leaky gut biomarkers in depression and suicidal behaviour, Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 139(2), 185-193. https://dx.doi.org/10.1111%2Facps.12978
- Camilleri, M. (2019) Leaky gut: mechanisms, measurement and clinical implications in humans, Gut. 68(8), 1516-1526. https://dx.doi.org/10.1136%2Fgutjnl-2019-318427
- Atkinson, W., Sheldon, T.A., Shaath, N., Whorwell, P.J. (2004). Food elimination based on IgG antibodies in irritable bowel syndrome: a randomised controlled trial, Gut. 53(10): 1459-1464. https://dx.doi.org/10.1136%2Fgut.2003.037697
- Vieira, A.T., Castelo, P.M., Ribeiro, D.A. & Ferreira, C.M. (2017). Influence of oral and gut microbiota in the health of menopausal women, Frontiers in Microbiology. 8, 1884. https://dx.doi.org/10.3389%2Ffmicb.2017.01884