Food sensitivities and resulting conditions affect at least 100 million people worldwide. In the US about 50 million people suffer from food sensitivities and the prevalence has increased to more than 50% in adults and more than 70% in children in the past years. These numbers continue to be on the rise.
Food sensitivities are the underlying cause of endless chronic conditions including digestive issues such as IBS, Crohn’s, or Ulcerative Colitis, hormonal imbalances, weight gain or difficulty losing weight, skin conditions, arthritic conditions, autoimmune disease, low energy, fatigue, migraines, anxiety, depression and blood sugar issues. Any health issue with increased inflammation can be exacerbated by exposure to foods that negatively affect your immune system. This is because the vast majority of disease can be boiled down to one thing - inflammation.
Inflammation is a general term that refers to the actions of the immune system that includes various cell types and specific proteins that work together to fight infection or any potential “invaders”. There are different potential ways that your body can have an immune response to a food. This can be confusing, but basically food “allergies” and food “sensitivities” are completely different reactions.
Our immune system produces antibodies, or immunoglobulins (IgM, IgA, IgG, IgE and IgD) in response to food, food additives and chemicals, as well as environmental substances (which are all called antigens). When outside antigens enter our body, our immune system has to decide if they can stay or if they should be attacked. It does this by labelling proteins on the surface of the antigens so that certain immune cells can be called into action. It is this protein marker that elicits an overreaction by a specific immune compound. The specific type of immune compound called into play is what determines the type of reaction that is going to happen.
In the case of a food allergy, there is an overreaction to a particular food by the Immunoglobulin E (IgE) that occurs typically within seconds or minutes from the time of exposure to a couple of hours later. This is called an immediate reaction. Anything can be a food allergy, however common ones are eggs, shellfish, milk and tree nuts. The resulting reaction can be mild or severe; mild can look like allergies with congestion, itchiness or mild swelling of face or lips or wheezing, or there can be abdominal cramping and diarrhea or vomiting. In severe reactions, there can be more severe swelling, including the throat, and in worst cases a respiratory reaction in life-threatening anaphylaxis.
Food sensitivity reactions, on the other hand, are mediated by IgG antibodies and a compound called Complement which are bound to immune complexes. A significant action of Complement is to recruit inflammatory cells to the area. Therefore, it contributes to tissue inflammation and symptomatology. These reactions, mediated by IgG, are called delayed hypersensitivity reactions because they can occur anywhere from hours to days after ingestion. Because the result isn’t immediate, the symptoms are more difficult to discern. These insidious symptoms such as a slow onset of lethargy or fatigue can be nearly impossible to pair with a previously ingested food. Since food sensitivities aren’t immediately life threatening like food allergies, they are often dismissed and not readily recognized, especially conventionally. However, these food sensitivities that are often ignored can have a great impact on your long-term health.
If we are eating several foods that are causing this IgG reaction on a regular basis, there will always be an underlying level of inflammation in the body. These foods are not only uncommon allergens, but they can be anything at all. The healthiest foods, with an example of wild salmon or broccoli, can cause this reaction as any other food can. Over time, this inflammation will reach a sort of threshold that will result in tissue damage and symptomatology.
The digestive system is integral to all of this inflammation because a large percentage of the body’s immune system resides within the tissues surrounding the gut. This is because the gut is a very essential barrier between the inside of the body and the outside world. The entire gastrointestinal tract from beginning to end is essentially one continuous tunnel. Nutrient absorption occurs at the level of the small intestine and the barrier is what allows nutrients to come in and all else to stay out of the gut.
Leaky gut, also known as increased intestinal permeability, occurs when the integrity of the lining of the intestinal tract is compromised. In a healthy state, the gut lining, made up of enterocytes, has a tight barrier that controls what is able to be absorbed. When enterocytes or the proteins that form bonds between them are damaged, microscopic holes are formed. Then bacteria, viruses, toxins and partially digested food from the gut are able to penetrate the tissues and escape into your bloodstream and also to the immune cells of the gut. These “foreign objects, or invaders” are marked by the immune system as pathogens and attacked. More immune cells from the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (the immune system in the gut) are recruited. When large amounts of pathogens escape, other parts of the body such as the liver contribute to the response, increasing the systemic inflammation and gearing up the immune system. Bacteria particles and toxins cause generalized inflammation by stimulating the release of chemical messengers that travel in the blood and tell white blood cells to attack. These chemical messengers are called inflammatory cytokines and are responsible for widespread inflammation because there is not a specific target tissue. This resulting immune activation with immune complexes being formed causes further destruction to the gut barrier. Now a vicious cycle is occurring where more and more food proteins and pathogens are going in and the gut is getting more damaged. This in turn causes further food sensitivities, or reactions to more and more foods, as the immune system is working overtime. Probiotics play a role here, as growing evidence suggests that the gut microbiome is a key factor of the gut barrier. Probiotics may be able to reverse leaky gut by enhancing the production of proteins in the gut lining.
How can this scenario affect the rest of the body and cause any number of chronic conditions? These immune complexes won’t just stay local to the gut but will also travel in the bloodstream to distant areas including joints, skin, nervous tissue or endocrine tissue. They can travel virtually anywhere in the body, causing tissue damage. In individuals with a genetic predisposition, a leaky gut may allow environmental factors to enter the body and trigger the initiation and development of autoimmune disease. This is because a leaky gut provides the trigger to the body to produce antibodies as well as an extra stimulus to the immune system. These two factors, in addition to the third factor of which is genetics, are the necessary elements for autoimmune disease to develop.
The scenario painted above does indeed appear to be grim. The ongoing end result for many is enduring years of chronic illness or symptomatology without knowing that certain foods have caused or contributed to these conditions. However, you don’t have to continue with your symptoms, wondering which foods are causing what, or periodically avoiding certain foods thinking they might be the culprit. If you experience any ongoing symptoms, consider being tested for food sensitivities. Almost any food can be a sensitivity, and genetics as well as other factors control the immune response, so the types of foods reacted to vary quite a bit for each person.
There is one test on the market facilitated by health professionals that measures both IgG and Complement. The test utilizes methods that yield the most complete profiles of the causative agents in food sensitivities. The methods used detect both IgG antibody and Complement antigen together in order to determine the reactivity of each sample against a wide variety of food antigens. This test stands out over others because it includes the necessary component of Complement. As mentioned above, Complement is even more important that the IgG response to food. Even if there are several foods with a significant IgG reaction, the foods that bring Complement into play are the ones that significantly boost the immune response and have the potential to do the most tissue damage. Most testing only looks at IgG, which is only part of the picture, and leaves out the sensitivity and specificity that Complement provides. This test is the most sensitive test available clinically and measures 132 foods, colorings and additives. It also tests for leaky gut, so there is a tremendous amount of information obtained from the results.
Undergoing food sensitivity testing is just the beginning step for gut healing to take place. The offending foods causing an immune reaction, or an IgG and Complement response, need to be eliminated for a period of time. Then, a gut healing protocol has to be put into place. Based on the test results, we design a 12 week elimination of the inflammatory foods, followed by a systematic reintroduction to check for reactions. During this time, if a gut healing regimen is closely followed, antibody production in response to a given food will decrease or be eliminated within that time. If this is the case, you will most likely be able to reintroduce the food again without symptoms. The testing is a huge opportunity to identify the offending foods that have been causing inflammation in your body and to finally address the problem. It is not enough, however, to just identify the offending foods. Removing the foods to reduce the inflammation and give the gut a reprieve provides a window of opportunity to actually put in the work to heal the gut without the stimulus of those foods. Therefore, both of these factors are critical. If the above is effectively done, there is enormous potential for healing to take place, to be able to enjoy the foods again, and best of all, for symptomatology to be alleviated and even eliminated.
Dr. Alia Elias, N.D., M.S.O.M.
Learn more about Dr. Alia and her business, Your RX Meals at her website: http://www.yourrxmeals.com/what-we-do/