By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
Most of us are aware of foods that don’t agree with our bodies – foods causing bloating, heartburn or indigestion. What patients often miss however, is the connection between food intolerances and the immune system. And when the immune system is involved, we also have inflammation.
Inflammation is important because it is the fuel behind many chronic health conditions: arthritis, skin conditions, digestive complaints, fatigue to name a few. Dealing with inflammation is one of the most important keys to maintaining optimal health, and it all starts with what you eat.
Food intolerances are not the same as food allergies:
- A food allergy is an immediate immune reaction, where the body swells, itches or goes into shock very quickly after eating a food (usually within 10 minutes). These are foods that need to be strictly avoided.
- A food intolerance causes a delayed response (6-48 hours after consumption) and will never be life-threatening. The significance of food intolerances is that they increase inflammation in the body, which can lead to chronic illness.
Food intolerances cause your immune system to become out of balance, and can result in many health conditions. It is also important to note that food intolerances do NOT always cause digestive symptoms. Conditions that could mean you have food intolerances include:
- digestive upset (bloating, stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea)
- frequent colds and flus
- frequent ear or tonsil infections in children
- seasonal allergies
- eczema, psoriasis, chronic hives
- behaviour problems in children
- low energy, brain fog, difficult concentration
- autoimmune disease (ex. lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis)
- mood disorder, especially depression
- weight gain or difficulty losing weight
It is important to determine which foods are problematic, because this is one way you can settle down an imbalanced immune system. By removing a reactive food from your diet, you are allowing your body to rebalance on its own, without needing a medication to do it for you.
Food intolerances are definitely on the rise (as are food allergies). As discussed in a previous newsletter article, a few possible reasons why, include: the rise of genetically modified foods; environmental toxins causing more immune system stress; overuse of antibiotics causing intestinal lining irritation; and diets that are concentrated on just a few staple foods.
The top most common food intolerances include: dairy, egg, wheat, gluten, corn, soy, peanuts, other nuts especially almonds, some fruits (especially banana, orange, grapefruit, pineapple, cranberry), and kidney beans.
The good news is that by taking charge of your nutrition, many health conditions can actually be reversed.
Here are some common examples:
- Childhood eczema is often exasperated by the presence of food intolerances, and can 100% resolve with the elimination of these foods.
- In cases of autoimmune conditions, some patients are able to achieve long-term remission by identifiying and eliminating their food intolerances.
- The first thing I investigate when I see a patient with long-term acne without an obvious hormone imbalance, is possible food intolerances.
- In children with recurrent ear infections, there is often an underlying dairy intolerance causing congestion in the eustachian tubes.
- Most patients’ seasonal allergies will either go away or be dramatically diminished, when they identify and avoid their food intolerances.
Food intolerance and weight: a common connection
There is a strong connection between food intolerance and weight gain. If you are struggling with losing weight or have been gaining weight, you may have underlying food intolerances. The link between food intolerance and weight gain comes back to inflammation. Chronic inflammation affects stress hormones, which also affects blood sugar metabolism, both of which result in weight gain. To effectively lose weight and improve your metabolism, you need both a healthy diet that supports blood sugar balance, and a plan to decrease inflammation in the body.
How to test for food intolerances:
The most accurate way to test for food intolerance is with a blood test that measures IgG or delayed hypersensitivity reactions to foods.
If you believe that food intolerances may be affecting your health, you may be correct – food intolerances are definitely on the rise. And remember that there is accurate testing available to confirm your food reactions without a lot of trial and error with your diet. This is definitely one important step in addressing systemic inflammation of many types.