You’ve heard that one person’s medicine is another person’s poison, but did you know that one person’s health food is another person’s junk food?
Millions of Americans suffer from at least one food intolerance/sensitivity. You can be intolerant to any food: apples, lettuce, chicken, and even olive oil. Besides making it impossible to lose weight, food and food chemical intolerance has been found to play a role in many chronic health conditions including:
- Celiac Disease
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Headaches & migraines
- Weight imbalances
- Skin conditions such as eczema
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Joint and muscle pain
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Chronic diarrhea
Food intolerance is also considered a major stressor to the adrenal glands. Unhealthy adrenals can wreak havoc on gut health, immune system, detoxification capabilities, hormones, fertility and muscle and fat gain and loss.
What is food intolerance?
Food intolerance is a negative reaction to food that happens when your body is hypersensitive to a food and launches an attack OR because your body lacks the ability to break down a food (as in lactose intolerance when the person doesn’t make enough enzyme to break down the lactose sugar in dairy).
When your body launches an attack on food, it does so with something called mediators. These are chemicals from your immune system such as eosinophils, basophils, neutrophils macrophages, T-cells and NK cells. Think of them as different departments within your immune system. Sometimes one mediator “department” will attack while others will not. This is one reason why it is hard to pick up on food intolerance: a small amount of the trigger food may not always cause an obvious symptom even though every time the trigger food is consumed, your mediators are attacking it (sometimes it will cause a big war with lots of symptoms and other times, it’s smaller).
When we eat foods we are intolerant/sensitive to, it causes systemic disruption and can cause chronic inflammation in the body resulting in a variety of symptoms (see above).
The difference between food intolerance and allergies
Food intolerance is different than food allergies in a couple of ways. One is the way that the body responds and the other is the speed in which the body responds.
With an allergy, your body’s immune system (mast cells) reacts to the offending food very soon after exposure. Food allergies occur in 2-4% of the population. The body releases histamine, prostaglandins and other pro-inflammatory mediators. If you have a strong enough allergic reaction, exposure to the allergic food can result in life-threatening anaphylaxis. Because the reaction occurs so quickly after exposure to the allergic food, most people who have food allergies are well aware of what they are allergic to.
Food intolerance or sensitivity can be much trickier since the reaction is delayed. You can also have a food intolerance that doesn’t give you clear symptoms unless you have a lot of it or eat it a few days in a row (as I mentioned). This is why it can be so challenging to figure out!
The other thing that is important to mention is that food intolerance/sensitivity happens when we lose something called “oral tolerance”. Oral tolerance is when your immune system can tell the difference and not attack food proteins, but instead attacks disease-causing bacteria and other pathogens or chemicals that are harmful. In other words, your immune system works well and attacks what shouldn’t be there and it isn’t triggered by many of the foods you are eating. When you lose oral tolerance, it’s because your immune system (your gut is your largest immune organ!) is NOT functioning properly and it is attacking proteins from your food. It’s seeing everything as an enemy and wants to attack!
Your gut is home to your immune cells that are responsible for oral tolerance. A disturbance in your gut leads to loss of oral tolerance and the result is that you have symptoms and an ever decreasing set of food options.
Food intolerance pathways
This next part gets a bit geeky so feel free to skip to the next section it if that’s not your thing.
There are many, many ways that the body can react to an intolerance because there are multiple hypersensitivity pathways. The four main categories of hypersensitivity are: Type I, II, III and IV. Types III and IV are much more common in people than Type I reactions; 15-25% of population compared to 2-4%.
- Type I hypersensitivity categorizes true food allergies as given in the above example. It is also called an IgE reaction.
- Type II hypersensitivity has not been found to be linked to adverse reactions to food.
- Type III hypersensitivity includes IgG reactions (commonly tested for by most food intolerance tests). Type III reactions usually take place 3-8 hours after exposure.
- Type IV hypersensitivity is the most common pathway for adverse food reactions and yet many tests do not test for Type IV reactions. In Type IV reactions, the T-cells react with offensive foods and symptoms occur anywhere from 4-72 hours after exposure. Herein lies the challenge with identifying delayed food intolerances. How many people are going to make the connection between not feeling well with what they ate 72 hours earlier?
Finding out if you have a food intolerance
There are several ways to detect what you are intolerant to. You may already know that there are certain things that make you feel crummy when you eat them.
There are also blood tests such as serum IgG and Type IV test. These offer the broadest spectrum of pinning down food intolerance trigger foods. Oxford Labs offers a test called the MRT (Mediator Release Test), which is currently considered one of the best, most accurate food intolerance tests (also tests for food chemicals). This test is offered through licensed nutritionists such as myself with special certification in Functional Diagnostic Nutrition™ and Metabolic Typing™.
Recovering from food intolerance
To heal your body and keep oral tolerance, you’ll need to get a good plan for replacing your trigger foods with gut healing, anti-inflammatory foods. Getting those stressful foods out of your diet for awhile AND repairing the damage to your gut may allow you to eat them later without it causing inflammation and all those other symptoms we talked about. The goal is to eat a diverse amount of foods.
Here’s an overview:
- Eat a variety of foods, especially fresh produce. You may get tempted to opt for easy-to-cook processed foods on a daily basis, but you have to be intentional in choosing higher quality foods that are right for YOUR body.
- Get to the root of what’s damaging your gut. High sugar, artificial sweeteners, trans fats, lack of sleep, unmanaged stress, environmental and food chemicals, and infections all disrupt your gut microbiome. You can learn more here about leaky gut and how to fix it.
- Have a healthy and active lifestyle. Make sure you are doing enough exercise regularly, getting ample sleep, and managing your stress appropriately.
- Tailor a healing protocol. Your diet can be customized according to your needs. You can eliminate foods that you’re sensitive to for a time and introduce them gradually back to your diet one at a time once you have repaired your gut, restored proper immune function, and your digestion is working well again.
Your body is designed to be healthy. Sometimes it needs a bit of extra help so you can look and feel your best. As you now know, food intolerance is a major obstacle that may be getting in your way and causing you symptoms. You don’t need to keep wasting your time and energy struggling and guessing.
It is my passion to work with people like you whose health symptoms are getting in the way of you living life fully and with a sense of freedom in your body. I can help you to regain your health so you can feel great and free to enjoy life fully. Part of helping you do that is to help you have the healthiest gut possible.
If you’re ready to discover where your best health has been hiding, I’d love to connect with you!
Apply for a complimentary Unstoppable Health Discovery Session. http://bit.ly/schedulinghealth (subject to availability).
Until next time, I’m wishing you unstoppable health!