Gluten-free, dairy-free, wheat-free, soy-free…these are now terms we may be coming familiar with when we’re at the grocery store or out to eat. Why are foods without these certain ingredients becoming more prevalent? What health concerns are related to food sensitivities? And how can you find out if you may them as well?
A food sensitivity is not the same response as a food allergy. A food allergy is an immediate, allergic immune response to a component in food, that may result in hives, a rash, swollen lips, swollen throat/airway, and can be life-threatening. A food sensitivity is a delayed immune response, usually to a protein in food (but may also be to a starch, additive or pesticide), that can occur up to 72 hours after having eaten the food. It is not life-threatening, but can be associated with a whole host of symptoms and health concerns.
Many factors increase our risk of developing a food sensitivity. We may establish a food reaction whenever our digestion or ability to absorb nutrients has been compromised. Anything that may cause us to have decreased stomach acid or enzymes to digest our food, that may lower the amount of beneficial gut bacteria we have, that may cause a gut infection, that may decrease our protective layer of immunity in the gut, or that may cause gut inflammation in general increases our likelihood of developing a food sensitivity. Issues like a poor diet, gut irritants like soda, alcohol, coffee, nicotine and medications, antibiotics (just once or taken several times), high stress, history of food poisoning or parasites, and chemical or environmental sensitivity are all risk factors.
Genes, of course, play their part as well. If both parents have a food sensitivity, a child has a 67% chance of developing one. If one parent has a food sensitivity, a child has a 33% chance. Typically, we develop reactions to foods we may be eating three times a week or more frequently. Often times, we find certain foods that we love to eat, or are fast and convenient, and simply work them into our daily routine. Babies that are formula-fed are shown to have an increased risk of sensitivities, as a result of not getting their early immune system from their mother’s breast milk. This makes them more likely to have a reaction to proteins in foods that may be introduced early, such as before six months old. We may react to GMO-containing foods, as our bodies may not recognize the new DNA in these foods, and it can set off an immune response.
GI symptoms like indigestion, belching, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain are very common with food sensitivities. However, there are many more health concerns associated with an immune reaction to food, which may seem completely unrelated. These may be concerns such as chronic ear or sinus infections, interstitial cystitis, recurrent canker sores, IBS, asthma, allergies, eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, migraines, and fluid retention. Mental-emotional concerns like depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, OCD, irritability, brain fog and seizures are also correlated.
Finally, there is a significant association of autoimmune concerns with food sensitivities. An autoimmune disease is one in which the immune system confuses a part of the body for an infection (like a virus or bacteria) and attacks it, destroying the function of a healthy body part or organ. These are diseases like Hashimoto’s, Graves’, celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren’s, autoimmune hepatitis, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and multiple sclerosis. Seventy percent of the immune system resides in the gut! So, when an arm of the immune system becomes dysfunctional, we MUST consider the gut as a potential cause or contributor.
If you have any of the above health concerns or symptoms, they could potentially be related to or caused by a food sensitivity. Testing is via a simple blood test, which checks for 96 different foods, spices, fruits, vegetables, oils, and yeast, making it very comprehensive. The results take two weeks, and are able to show a practitioner how well you’re digesting and absorbing your food, how inflamed your gut is, whether leaky gut is present, and how long it will take to heal your digestive tract. So, if you’ve suffered enough, if the therapies you’ve tried haven’t relieved your symptoms, or if your doctor can’t find a cause for your symptoms, please strongly consider testing for a food sensitivity.