Ideally food is a source of nutrition that provides the fuel necessary for us to function and the raw materials for us to regenerate ourselves. There are several reasons why a food might interact with our bodies with poor consequences, signaling a food sensitivity.
Our bodies are designed to extract the nutritional components of food as we funnel them through our digestive tract. There is a progressive process beginning with chewing and mixing with saliva, proceeding to further breakdown with hydrochloric acid in the stomach and then further interacting with enzymes from our pancreas and small intestines. This all gets the food broken down to its basic building block components which can then be assimilated into our bodies.
The inside of the gut is technically outside of our bodies. The interface between the inside of our gut and the inside of our bodies is a major line of defense. Over 70 percent of our immune system functions here to identify substances that it perceives as hostile, such as bacteria. It reacts quickly to eliminate them using antibodies that remain on guard for the duration of our lives. This is primarily how allergies are formed. A food substance may enter the body without being broken down to its recognized building block form and therefore be identified as foreign and hostile. This food will then be forever labeled an allergen.
A food allergy is the situation when our body’s immune system perceives a food as harmful and assigns an antibody for that particular food, or a particular molecular structure on that food. This antibody or allergen reaction causes the unpleasant “histamine” response which can precipitate a “leaky gut” syndrome thus facilitating more allergies.
Another reason for unpleasant reactions to food is the loss of specific enzymes necessary to break down a particular food. The best examples of this are lactose intolerance and gluten intolerance which normally have breakdown enzymes located in the small intestines.
Other reasons for food sensitivities include a reaction to toxic additions such as pesticides, coloring and preservatives, as well as exposure to certain inflammatory foods that are specific triggers for arthritic flare ups. One example of this is the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, green peppers and eggplant).
The general health of each individual’s body plays into its susceptibility to a reaction. An individual may have generalized inflammation like Irritable Bowel Syndrome or may have dysfunctional stomach acid that effects their ability to process food assimilation.
The most eloquent method of identifying a specific food sensitivity for a specific person is by using an elimination/challenge diet. One first eliminates all suspected foods. Then wait ten days or more until all symptoms of sensitivity are resolved. If symptoms do not resolve, eliminate more suspected foods. Once symptoms are clear, begin adding one of the suspected foods each day or so and note a reaction. This will identify reactive foods.
Next is to distinguish between allergic foods and enzyme deficiency versus toxic exposure. If symptoms resolve using digestive enzymes, then that will be the management strategy for that food. If the food is clearly a toxin, then diligent avoidance will be the strategy. If a food allergy is probable, then avoidance for at least six months may reduce that food’s antibody population enough to resolve the symptoms. This will continue to manage the problem as long as the food is not eaten more than once a week.
To reiterate, food sensitivity can be caused by a food allergy or by an enzyme deficiency or by toxic exposure to additives or by trigger foods for an already existing inflammatory condition.
In summary: First, maintain a healthy working body. Second, select healthy foods, avoiding toxic additives. Third, do the elimination/challenge diet. Fourth, recognize and eliminate trigger foods. Fifth, rule out enzyme deficiencies, supplement as necessary. Sixth, identify and manage allergies.
Dr. Miles practices Naturopathic Medicine alongside other holistic practitioners at the Catalina Clinic of Integrative Medicine in Catalina, Arizona. Visit www.catalinaclinic.com.