Unraveling Food Reactions

One of the main topics people wish to discuss with me is why certain foods affect us differently. There is a lot of mystery and confusion around what causes these reactions, and how to recognize if a particular food is problematic. I hope I can offer some clarity with this short description of the different ways our bodies respond negatively to certain foods.

1. Allergies are the reaction that are most recognized by Western medicine, and possibly the most dangerous. Allergies affect the level of the immune system known as Immunoglobulin E, or IgE, found in lungs, skin and in the mucous membranes.

An allergic reaction happens when a person’s immune system dramatically overreacts to a substance that it perceives as a poison. Protective immune reactions, such as swelling, occur to such a degree that the person cannot breathe and/or their skin may break out in hives. Protective hormones may cause blood pressure to skyrocket and the heart to race.

Many common allergens are mildly toxic. For example, peanuts often contain a toxic mold, which is the root cause of the immune reaction. True allergies can be life threatening, especially if the person has been exposed to the allergen multiple times.

The body creates more antibodies every time it is exposed to an allergenic substance or antigens. These antibodies are designed to react against specific allergenic substances or antigens and lie in wait to respond to the next exposure, causing a bigger reaction with each exposure. Fortunately allergies are quite rare and are easily tested for.

People with autoimmune diseases such as asthma are more likely to suffer from allergies, since autoimmune illnesses are essentially overreactions of the immune system. We don’t know what causes a body to react so dramatically; however stress, heredity and over exposure to toxins can be factors.

2. Sensitivities are reactions that occur in levels of the immune system other than IgE. Food sensitivities, particularly those at the Immunoglubulin G or IgG level, make up the majority of all reactions, and are often the result of digestive issues.

Digestion is a complex process that relies on stomach acid, bile, beneficial bacteria and a range of enzymes to function properly. Chronic stress, poor diet and antibiotics can interfere with the digestive process, and cause damage to the intestinal lining. The result is a condition commonly known as “leaky gut.” In this situation, the innermost protective layers of the intestinal lining may become worn away, allowing small particles of partially digested food to leak into the blood stream, which surrounds the intestinal tract. The food is unrecognizable by the immune system because it isn’t fully broken down. As a result, the immune system produces antibodies to protect the body from these “foreign invaders.”

Foods that are most likely to become problematic are those that are eaten on a daily basis, particularly high protein foods such as casein and whey in dairy products and eggs. These protein molecules are particularly complex and difficult to break down.

Food sensitivity symptoms are often delayed and vary greatly from person to person, and so they may not be recognized as a food reaction. Migraines, rashes, mood swings, sinus infections, acne, joint pain, constipation, diarrhea and grogginess are all common symptoms of food sensitivities. Food sensitivities often accompany other health issues, such yeast/bacterial overgrowth, Crohn’s disease, GERD, adrenal fatigue, mood disorders and chronic fatigue.

Unfortunately IgG sensitivity testing has not yet been incorporated into the practices of many Western doctors. However, this is less true among doctors with private practices who keep up with new research. I am able to provide these tests through the authority of Dr. Stefan Cohen. I have seen great improvement among my clients who have performed these tests and avoid the guidelines provided by their results.

3. Intolerances are recognized by Western medicine, but are likely to be overlooked and some intolerances are difficult to test for. Intolerances differ from allergies and sensitivities in that they are not reactions of the immune system. An intolerance is caused by a chemical reaction due to the lack of the enzyme which is required to metabolize a particular substance. A common example is lactose intolerance. Many people’s bodies don’t produce the enzyme lactase, which is required to digest a sugar, which is found in milk, known as lactose. Other examples of chemical intolerances include fructose, a sugar found in fruit and corn syrup and the monosodium glutamate found in hydrolyzed vegetable protein and powdered milk. Reactions run the gamut from mood swings, to severe digestive disorders. Intolerances are often inherited, although lactose intolerance can be the result of digestive disorders.

4. There are also many underlying health issues that can cause reactions to particular foods or substances. For example, a person with yeast or bacterial imbalance may feel bloated or spacey after they eat a high carbohydrate meal. The yeast in this person’s system may ferment the sugars in their meal to produce gas and alcohol. A person who suffers from hypothyroidism may notice their symptoms worsen after eating lots of soy, wheat or raw cabbage, since these foods are all shown to hinder thyroid function. I often research and offer dietary recommendations for my clients who suffer from specific health conditions to ensure they meet specific nutrient demands, as well as to help them to avoid foods that are not compatible with their condition.

Clearly even healthy food can affect us in unexpected ways and it’s worth taking a look at your diet if your health is off. Do some research, or talk to a nutrition professional such as myself if symptoms are severe. While doctors who have made an effort to study this field of science may be helpful, those who have not kept up with research may deny that food reactions exist beyond true allergies. While tests are helpful for identifying foods that may cause bad reactions, you can also identify problematic foods on your own. Simply avoid the suspicious ingredient for a week or so, making special effort to read ingredient labels. While you won’t learn the nature of your reaction, you can at least discover if the food should be avoided, which is the main priority.

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