Questions about sensitivities arise almost daily in my practice. What are they, do I have them, and are they a cause for concern? Food sensitivities have been known to contribute to a variety of health concerns from migraine headaches, acid reflux, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating, eczema, joint pain, malnutrition, irritability and fatigue. The connection between the symptoms you experience and the food you eat is directly related to the health of your digestive system and its dynamic relationship with your immune system. Food sensitivities cause inflammation in the body, and inflammation over time wears down your vitality and puts you at risk for the development of chronic disease. Here are some answers to the most common questions from clients at the clinic.
What are food sensitivities? Are they “sensitivities”, “intolerances” or “allergies”?
Does this sound familiar: “My medical doctors says I don’t have food allergies, my Naturopathic doctor says I have food sensitivities? What should I do?” Food sensitivities do not meet the medical definition of allergy. This definition is very specific. Food allergies are triggered by a specific type of antibody know as IgE antibodies. These antibodies cause reactions that happen very quickly. They cause redness and swelling and, in some cases, it can lead to anaphylaxis which could be life threatening. Peanut and shellfish allergies are good examples of “food allergy”. This is not the type of reaction we are talking about when we are discussing contributing factors to joint pain, gas and bloating.
Food sensitivities are caused by a different type of antibody called the IgG mediated immune response. This class of antibody causes a delayed inflammatory response to particular food triggers. IgG antibodies attach themselves to particles of food and create inflammatory immune complexes. Normally your immune system tries to remove these complexes, but when the system cannot keep up, they deposit in your tissues and create inflammation. It is this inflammatory cycle that causes the damage to your body’s tissues like your joints, your brain, or the cells lining your digestive tract. It is the inflammation of these tissues that causes the symptoms listed above. If we can dial down the inflammation we can stop the tissue damage, which leads us to the next step of restoring your digestive health.
Food intolerances simply mean that the body cannot tolerate a specific type of food. This can be for a number of reasons. Lactose intolerance is a good example. When the body does not make enough of the enzyme lactase to break down the sugar in milk. This causes a great deal of gas, bloating and digestive discomfort but does not trigger the immune system to produce an inflammatory response.
Remove the food sensitivities, remove the inflammation, stop the tissue damage!
Our digestive health is extremely important to our over all wellbeing. Every cell in our body is made up of nutrients that are absorbed into our body through the lining of our digestive tract. Damage to our digestive tissue poses a significant risk to the health of every system in the body. If the digestive tract is inflamed we cannot absorb nutrients properly. This means we can suffer from malnutrition even when our diet is healthy, which is why some individuals might experience an iron or B12 deficiency despite an adequate dietary intake of these nutrients. Sometimes the tissue damage in the digestive tract can be significant and cause intestinal permeability or “leaky gut”. This means that particles of food do not get properly transported into the body. Instead they make their way into other tissues and the blood stream and start aggravating our immune system. Since these food particles have not been properly introduced to the immune system, the immune system starts to treat them like a foreign invader and mounts an inflammatory attack.
Removing foods sensitivities from the diet allows the digestive tract time to heal. This will improve absorption giving the body the proper building blocks for optimal cellular health, improved energy focus and concentration. This will also calm inflammation, which will allow the body to repair the tissue damage to the brain and joints leading to decreased pain and improve mood.
Dr. Wiley’s best advice: don’t over-think it, just decide for yourself
I constantly meet with clients who are struggling with inflammation and digestive complaints. They are confused and striving to find a solution. If you think you might have food sensitivities or just want to improve your digestive health you need a systematic plan for evaluating your digestive function. Identifying your food sensitivities is the first step. The plan is simple, you need to remove your offending foods (100% elimination) for 2 weeks, this is enough time to calm your immune system, and then you can decide the impact on your health for yourself. Then you can decide what you want to do about it. Most people fear food sensitivity elimination but it is often much easier to do than live with pain, suffering and dysfunction.
Your Naturopathic doctor understands food sensitivities and other contributors to digestive health and whole body wellness. We also have the tools, resources and clinical experience to help you navigate your health promotion plan. You do not have to go through this alone, our team has the knowledge and experience to help you make a difference in your health!
Dr. Erin Wiley is a naturopathic doctor with a strong focus on preventative and integrative medicine. She is the Co-founder and Clinic Director of the Integrative Health Institute, an integrative medical clinic located in downtown Toronto. Erin has a strong clinical emphasis on stress related illness, anxiety, depression and hormone balance. As a naturopathic doctor, Erin is passionate about working with people to help them better understand their health and achieve their health goals.
image via Creative Commons original here