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Is Your Food Making You Sick?

April 1, 2018

Does eating make you feel tired, bloated or in pain? Do you feel certain that you are having food reactions but don’t know what to call it or where to start? We can start by classifying your reaction as sensitivity or an allergy.

Food Allergy
The word “allergy” is confusing because many people use it as a fully encompassing generic term for true allergic reactions and non-allergic adverse reactions, also called sensitivities or intolerances. Immune reactions can result from the different types of food allergies or food sensitivities you may possess. The most common foods causing allergic reactions are peanuts, soy, wheat, shellfish, fish, milk, eggs and tree nuts. Once identified, we recommend eliminating those problematic foods from your diet.

Food allergies are divided into two major categories: immediate and delayed. When immediate food reaction occurs, sufferers experience symptoms within hours of having ingested the food. Symptom onset is rapid and may include tingling of extremities, wheezing, coughing, or tightening of the throat, nausea, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. Sometimes in cases where nuts, shellfish, fish, and peanuts have been eaten, anaphylaxis can occur. Immediate food reaction is a fixed food allergy. The food to which you are allergic will almost always provoke an immune reaction when ingested. In immediate reactions the body over produces what is called Immunoglobulin E antibodies (IgE). Immunoglobulin E antibodies bind to allergens and trigger an allergic response (histamine) to any substance it sees foreign. Often, the reaction isn’t severe the first time and it is the second time of exposure that the acute reaction can occur.

Food Sensitivity
Food sensitivity, as opposed to a food allergy, happens gradually and isn’t life threatening. Symptoms of a delayed food allergy can take up to 72 hours to appear. This type of immune response is mediated by the IgG antibody, which is the largest circulating antibody in our immune system and can cross the placenta from mother to child. IgG antibodies are the most common form of immunologic mediated food responses. It can be difficult to identify the offending food since we eat so many foods that go through different processes, and many processed foods can have many ingredients. It is estimated that 20% of the population have adverse reactions to certain foods. Foods common in our diet may be difficult to pinpoint. Many times the foods we eat frequently and seem healthy are contributing to our health problems. Even fruits and vegetables can be triggering your immune system. Unidentified food sensitivities may contribute to a wide range of chronic health conditions including: weight gain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), rheumatoid arthritis, headaches, autism, ADD/ADHD, eczema, chronic ear infections, gut malabsorption, insomnia and many others.

Food sensitivities may be caused by many factors such as: stress, infections, overeating, artificial preservatives, additives, molds, pesticides, antibiotics, and environmental pollutants. An example (and a very common scenario) of how these sensitivities develop is one where the person is prescribed a broad spectrum antibiotic. The antibiotic upsets the normal microbiome (bacterial flora) allowing opportunistic bacteria, yeast, and parasites to grow unimpeded. Once established, an imbalance in the intestinal flora will affect normal intestinal permeability.

Leaky Gut
Intestinal permeability or “leaky gut” is a term describing the control of material passing from inside the gastrointestinal tract through the cells lining the gut wall into the rest of the body. The intestine normally exhibits some permeability, which allows nutrients to pass through the gut, while also maintaining a barrier function to keep potentially harmful substances (such as antigens) from leaving the intestine and migrating to the body more widely. Once an antigen has passed through the intestinal lining, IgG antibodies bind with the food antigen causing an immunologic response. Other precursors to increased permeability may include factors such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs like ibuprofen and aspirin), alcohol, artificial preservatives, additives, molds, pesticides and environmental pollutants.

In the past, elimination/challenge diets have been the gold standard for diagnosing food sensitivities. These diets however are strict and difficult to follow. Simple blood testing for IgG food sensitivities may be the answer.

The Benefits of Testing

  1. Helps determine if food reactions are contributing to physical or mental symptoms.
  2. Removal of highly reactive foods from the diet is a non-invasive, food-based therapy that often mitigates a patient’s symptoms.
  3. Research and clinical studies suggest food allergies identified by IgG testing can be a major contributing factor in many chronic health conditions.
  4. Food rotation and elimination diets can reduce stress on the immune system, lower gut inflammation, resolve food cravings, and reduce the potential for eating disorders.

Food should be nourishing and supportive to your body and your wellness. There is no reason what you eat should make you sick. If you feel you are having issues with certain foods, visit your naturopathic physician to detangle the cause, and consider using an elimination diet or testing to take control of your health.

Dr. Jonathan Raistrick, ND is the current Chairman of the Connecticut Board of Naturopathic Examiners for Connecticut Department of Public Health. He is also a contributing author in The Textbook of Natural Medicine. Dr. Raistrick graduated from Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington with his Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine. Dr. Raistrick owns and practices at Center for Natural Medicine in Watertown, CT. For more information please call 860-945-1004 or visit our website: centerfornaturalmedicine.net.

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