First, let’s have ultimate clarity on what we’re talking about. Food ALLERGIES and Food SENSITIVITIES are different. Allergic reactions to food are modulated by Immunoglobulin E (or IgE) which are antibodies produced by the immune system. Symptoms of allergic reaction are typically seen very quickly after exposure to what the immune system has determined to be an allergen, say peanuts for instance. So rather immediately you notice itching, rashes, hives, and in extreme cases even swelling of the throat & tongue which can restrict your breathing and is life threatening, requiring emergency room care.
Food sensitivities or intolerances on the other hand are a whole other discussion. It’s a controversial topic among the medical community in general because we don’t yet understand the mechanisms behind it. Several theories have been researched, including the possibility of a different class of Immunoglobulin, IgG, that may modulate food intolerance responses. But evidence for this theory is still lacking in the literature. So, as of this moment in history, we don’t really know. But I’m sure science will eventually answer that question for us.
In the meantime, we do know by why of observation that food sensitivities and intolerances exist. They can be tricky to track down because unlike allergies, symptoms often appear much later, typically 48-72 hours after exposure. So pinpointing what exactly you’re reacting to can be difficult.
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Let me just take a time-out real quick and touch on lactose. Lactose is the sugar molecule in milk. And in order for the body to break it down and absorb it, the enzyme lactase is required. Some people don’t make enough lactase to fully digest lactose in the small intestines. Therefore, undigested lactose passes into the large intestine where it is fermented. Fermentation = gas. So you end up with the typical signs of lactose intolerance: bloating, cramping, etc.
Dear Lactose & Lactase, Thank you for being so straightforward. Sincerely, Everyone
However, maybe we can learn something about other sensitivities from lactose/lactase? After all, the lactase enzyme is produced by the cells that line the wall of the small intestine. And we know that when the tight junctions between the cells of the lining or “wall” of the small intestine becomes compromised that the intestines “leak”. In other words, particles that aren’t supposed to pass back and forth through the wall now do. And as a result, some of these particles are recognized by the immune system as antigens or invaders and an attack against them is mounted. And this is the basis for at least some autoimmune related reactions in the body.
Anyway, all of this to say: maybe the question for the moment isn’t: HOW do we explain food sensitivities? But instead: WHY is your body’s digestive SYSTEM compromised?
So if you’re having symptoms of food sensitivities which could include:
Then consider taking a systems approach to RESTING the digestive system because clearly the whole system is under stress and needs rested. The question is: Why? Why is this happening? The answer is in both your physical and your emotional stressors. For instance, did you know that blood sugar imbalance is stressful on your systems? If you eat the standard American diet it is quite likely that your blood sugar is often dysregulated and that is stress on your body. Poor and inadequate sleep is a physical stressor. If you’re emotionally stressed out and constantly rushing, constantly “doing”, you’re up-regulating your central nervous system and spending life in “fight or flight” mode. All of this stress is contributing to the dysregulation of your Stress Response System (the HPA Axis), which increases cortisol. And we know that cortisol breaks down the lining of the small intestines! Other things that damage or break down the lining of the small intestines:
So the goal is: take the stressors off the digestive system while optimizing digestive function. Then, get back to eating most foods. (Break out in Dance or the Hallelujah Chorus). That’s right! The goal is to go back to eating most foods. Take for instance, lectins. Lectins are antinutrients found in a number of foods: grains, beans, nuts, and nightshade vegetables (like tomatoes and peppers and eggplant). And our bodies should have the capacity to break them down. But in a compromised digestive system, we maybe can’t. So after resting the system AND optimizing digestive function, you can reintroduce or “challenge” lectins. And it’s possible that you can then tolerate all or least some lectin-containing foods.
How does one rest the digestive system while optimizing digestive function? Join me next time and we’ll dive into it!
Stephanie Yeager: Passionate about spreading the word of hope and healing for those like her, influencing a paradigm shift in the medical community toward greater understanding of chronic pelvic pain disorders, and prevention initiatives that may protect young women before onset can occur.