The GI Tract: Food Sensitivities Might be the Cause of Your Symptoms

Frustrated young woman talking mobile phone You’re ready to throw your hands up in the air with frustration because you have been to multiple doctors and had endless tests yet you’ve learned nothing definitive.  You may have symptoms like chronic headaches or migraines, muscle aches or joint pain, fatigue, digestive or tummy issues, rashes, foggy brain, fatigue and more and you’re at a loss when it comes to learning how to find relief.  Clinical studies show that adverse food and chemical reactions can cause inflammation that result in a variety of symptoms associated with a wide range of common and often debilitating conditions.  These symptoms may appear 4 – 96 hours after eating which makes it difficult to determine exactly what is causing the inflammation and reactions or symptoms.  Believe it or not inflammation caused by adverse food and chemical reactions starts in your gut.

Gut Health

The National Institute of Health has been a front runner in microbiome research and it’s affect on the human body.  The microbiome is a compilation of healthy and harmful bacteria. Our digestive tract needs these healthy bacteria (Bifidobacteria and Acidophilus) to maintain its health and integrity. The digestive tract is responsible not only for food digestion, but our nervous, hormonal and immune systems. Many are unaware that 60% to 70% of the immune system resides in the small intestine emphasizing the importance of intestinal health.

  • 95% of all chronic disease has an inflammatory component.
  • The health of your gut prevents or sets the stage for food sensitivity, immune dysfunction, inflammation, & chronic disease.
  • Determining and removing foods that cause inflammation in your unique body can be an important part of breaking the cycle of chronic inflammation and improving your symptoms.

Food Allergy vs. Sensitivity: What is the difference? 

Oh yes, there are major differences between allergies and sensitivities.  People often say they are allergic to certain foods, but when they look a little deeper the symptoms describing are not those of food allergies, but rather food sensitivities or intolerances.

What is a Food Allergy?

Allergy foodA food allergy is an immune system response to compounds found in foods. Food allergies occur when the body mistakes the food eaten as an invader and sends antibodies to fight it. This is what is called an IgE reaction. When a person with a food allergy eats an offending food, IgE triggers a chain of reactions that result in the body releasing chemicals, such as histamine to expel the “invader” from the body. Depending on the tissue in which these chemicals are released, a person will experience a variety of food allergy symptoms. Typical allergy symptoms present within 4 hours after eating and may include anaphylaxis, runny nose, itchy mouth or eyes or hives. For some, it is deadly. The most common food allergens include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, pecans and almonds), wheat, soy, fish and shellfish. They are considered “the big eight” because they are the most common food allergens. Together they make up about 90 percent of all food related allergic reactions. Eggs, milk and peanuts are the most common allergens in children. Unlike adults, children can sometimes outgrow their food allergies, especially to milk and soy.

What is Food Intolerance/Sensitivity? 

Food intolerance or food sensitivity is a digestive system response rather than an immune system response (as in food allergies).  These types of food reactions occur when the digestive system is unable to fully digest a particular food. Food particles can then enter the blood stream where the T helper cells see these foods as invaders and cause inflammation.

Symptoms of food intolerance or sensitivity overlap with food allergy symptoms.  People with food intolerance issues are usually able to consume small amounts of food without experiencing adverse reactions, while even small amounts of food allergens can cause severe reactions.  Unlike the immediate immune response seen with food allergies, food sensitivity reactions are delayed reactions by the immune system.  Because of the delay in response time it is often difficult to notice the offending foods that trigger the immune reaction.

According to Registered Dietitian/Functional Nutritionist Lea Russell, extensive research has shown that excessive production of such molecules can attack and cause damage to normal tissues by triggering the inflammation response.  Inflammation is believed to be the underlying process involved in disease formation, and can be a contributing cause to many common symptoms experienced by people including brain fog, fatigue, depression, rashes, sinus, respiratory and digestive symptoms, and diseases like celiac, Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune conditions.

How do you know if you have Food Sensitivity?

There are several methods to determine if you have food sensitivities. Some require eliminating entire food groups, keeping detailed food journals or taking a scientific blood test.

  • Food Group Elimination – Providers or health coaches would advise you to eliminate specific foods groups such as wheat/gluten, corn, eggs, sugar, nuts, coffee, dairy and soy. After eliminating all of these for 1 – 3 months, you would then add in one food group at a time to determine tolerance. This is a lengthy process and can create a very restrictive diet.
  • Food Journaling – This method is less precise and makes it more difficult to determine what exactly is causing the suspected food-related symptom.  You basically have to write down everything you eat and symptoms as they occur. Since food sensitivity symptoms are not immediate, it can be hard to determine which foods are causing your symptoms.
  • Food Sensitivity Testing – This is a blood test that can scientifically measure the white blood cell response when introduced to up to 400 different foods, chemicals, functional foods and herbs, anti-inflammatory agents and antibiotics. This type of testing can determine precisely which items are causing the inflammation.  With this information you or your health coach are better able to customize a plan for you based on what you CAN safely consume without the food causing inflammation in your immune system along with what needs to be eliminated altogether.  I recommend and use the ALCAT test by Cell Science Systems which has the backing of the Yale University School of Medicine (Section of Digestive Diseases) research study on immunology of food intolerance.

restore your healthEstablishing a Healthy & Happy GI Tract

Maintaining good gut microflora is a constant battle.  Your body is continually being exposed to pathogens, pesticides in foods, antibiotics, foods causing sensitivities, processed foods and stress.  It takes a daily routine of eating healthy, eliminating foods that cause sensitivities and practicing daily stress reduction techniques to establish and maintain good gut health.