Deciding what to eat has never been more difficult. Coming up with the Perfect Diet for you can be complicated by several different factors, including food sensitivity.
What are Food Sensitivities?
We all know what food allergies are. They seem to have become more and more common in the last few decades. Peanut butter sandwiches used to be a staple in my school lunches. Most of us wouldn’t even consider sending that to school with our children today. Peanut and other food allergies can cause life-threatening reactions, even to a tiny amount of offending food.
The term food sensitivity is newer on the scene, and deserves an explanation.
Like allergies, sensitivities are caused by the immune system overreacting to a natural substance – in this case, food. But they involve different parts of the immune system, causing different types of reactions. An allergic reaction is fast-acting and serious. It can cause a rash, itchiness, swelling, or anaphylactic shock. A sensitivity reaction is often slower and less extreme. This makes it more difficult to identify, as symptoms may not occur until days after the food has been ingested, and last for days or weeks afterwards.
What Causes Food Sensitivities?
Food sensitivities can develop as a result of several different factors. In general, it all starts with inflammation and leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
Intestinal permeability, better known as leaky gut, is a breakdown in the tight junctions between the cells of your intestine. This can occur due to inflammation and a loss of friendly bacteria that normally coat and protect the lining of your digestive tract. Inflammatory foods such as gluten, pain relievers such as Advil, and medications such as antibiotics can all contribute. Once the damage is done, small pieces of food may be able to squeeze through holes between your intestinal cells and enter your bloodstream before they are completely digested.
Normally, your food is broken down into much smaller particles before it leaves your digestive tract. When larger pieces enter the bloodstream, they may be identified as dangerous substances by your immune system. This immune reaction causes more inflammation, which can cause tissue damage and affect your health in a variety of ways.
Leaky gut affects different people in different ways, largely due to differences in immunity. If you have a depressed immune system, you may be less likely to develop symptoms due to leaky gut. If your immune system is hyperactive, you may be more likely to develop symptoms.
Sometimes, the antibodies your immune system creates to attack the foreign food particles in your bloodstream will cross-react with similar proteins that make up part of your own body. This causes an autoimmune disorder, where your immune system mistakenly attacks a part of your body, such as your joints or your thyroid gland.
Different people are more prone to specific symptoms and illnesses due to their environment or their genetics. Your likelihood of developing a food sensitivity, and how that food sensitivity ultimate affects your health, varies from person to person.
Nutritional deficiencies can weaken your body’s ability to heal from damage to your gut lining. A poor gut microbiome may be caused by a too-clean environment, or passed down to you from your mother during birth. And your immune system is inherited from both of your parents. Your specific vulnerability to food sensitivities is influenced by all these factors, and more.
How do I know if I have a food sensitivity?
Food sensitivities can cause a wide range of symptoms and illnesses:
- eczema, acne, or psoriasis
- weight gain
- anxiety or depression
- menstrual irregularities
- autoimmune disorders
- digestive disorders
If you are experiencing any of these, your Naturopathic Doctor may suspect a food sensitivity. There are 2 methods of discovering if this is the case: a food sensitivity test, or an elimination diet.
IgG Food Sensitivity Testing
The IgG Food Sensitivity test is a blood test. It looks for antibodies to a number of common foods. It can be performed at any LifeLabs with a requisition from Dr. Gibson. This test is quick, easy, and produces results you can clearly see, in black and white – and often in colour.
Food sensitivity testing is still controversial, however. The results may not be 100% accurate, and can be obscured by a general high level of inflammation. It is also expensive, costing $275 or more. However, it is an important tool that yields positive results for many patients.
The Elimination Diet
The elimination diet is one of a Naturopathic Doctors most beloved diets. It uses a systematic approach to remove common inflammatory foods, resolve symptoms, and then re-introduce foods one at a time in order to identify specific sensitivities.
There are many advantages to an elimination diet. It is free, and therefore can be performed by anyone. It almost always leads to the cessation of symptoms, as well as diagnosing the root problem. And because the diet includes almost exclusively whole, natural foods, it often results in unexpected health benefits.
However, an elimination diet is not for the faint of heart. It eliminates a number of foods that are a large part of a normal western diet. These foods must be avoided entirely – not just limited – because even a tiny amount can cause an immune reaction. And resolution of symptoms may take up to 6 months or more. The re-introduction phase can last just as long.
An elimination diet requires education, preparation, and support. It is not easy to adhere to. Fortunately, Dr. Gibson can help guide you through the process, if you choose to embark on it. Thanks to the Internet, there are more sources of information and support than ever before – finding recipes that fit with your diet is no longer the impossibility is once was. And grocery stores and farmers’ markets have a wide variety of compliant foods available.
Your Perfect Diet
What is a healthy diet for you? It depends. And it may change.
If you have a single food sensitivity, it may be simple enough to remove that food from your diet, and watch all your symptoms disappear. Ensuring you obtain adequate nutrition from the foods you are allowed to eat should present few, if any difficulties.
If you have several food sensitivities, eliminating those foods from your diet permanently may be less appealing, and possibly detrimental to your health in the long term. Fortunately, food sensitivities are not always permanent. Eliminating foods that are causing inflammation, combined with supplements to encourage the healing of leaky gut syndrome, may lead to the resolution of many food sensitivities over the course of several months. Under the guidance of Dr. Gibson, you will be able to carefully re-introduce some foods, and keep them in your diet as long as you remain symptom-free.
Ultimately, the perfect diet for you is one that keeps you feeling healthy and happy.