As an ND I work a lot with dietary changes. We all have a good sense of what healthy eating looks like. If you are a patient of mine you know that I will often recommend going on a whole food, gluten-free diet. Why? Because gluten causes a transient leaky gut in everyone.The medical term for this is intestinal hyperpermeability. Gut health remains as a central part of my practice because ultimately it is the gatekeeper for nutrients into the body. It also hosts the microbiota (healthy bugs) which also contribute to good health. Poor gut health influences every aspect of wellness - including the brain, heart, immune system and much more. Over the long term supporting your gut is key to overcoming food sensitivities.
I regularly have patients that are making exceptional dietary decisions. Yet they are still experiencing symptoms like skin problems, IBS, bloating, joint pain, recurring colds, GERD and fatigue. So what is going on? Well, one thing I often search for is hidden food sensitivities or intolerances. With food sensitivities, even healthy foods may be contributing to problems!
Many people get food sensitivities confused with allergies. With an allergy, the body produces an immune response with a substance called IgE. I tell people the "E" means emergency. Symptoms are quick to start and often severe. This may include sudden shortness of breath or narrowing of the airway. This can be an emergency situation. Your doctor may send you to an allergist for a skin prick test to determine this type of allergy.
A food sensitivity is a slower and less severe reaction to foods. Symptoms can be vague and range from classic gas and bloating to behavior and mood changes. It can zap your energy. Food sensitivities may be due to many reasons. Your immune system may be producing something called IgG towards the food or you may lack the enzymes to digest it. Symptoms can appear hours or even days after eating the food which makes them difficult to identify.
There are many ways to look for food sensitivities. The most common method is an elimination diet. There are many elimination diets available and in general, they are often very hard to follow. They take patience and time. If you do this method then I recommend keeping it simple to a max of 4 foods at a time. This method is a good start for those wanting to see if they have some of the most common food sensitivities. I generally get patients to first eliminate dairy, wheat, soy, corn and citrus foods for 10 days and see how they feel. If symptoms resolve then great, we are on the right path! After 10 days, they can reintroduce the food one at a time for 3 days per food. If symptoms reoccur after eating the food then this is likely a food sensitivity. Go ahead and try this at home. But don't forget, once you have identified your food sensitivities, you can move on to supporting your gut health.
Another fun way to do an elimination diet is during a cleanse. The cleansing programs I recommend also include an elimination diet. This way, after 21 days you can add individual foods back into your diet and monitor for symptoms. I like Mediclear SGS by Thorne and Ultraclear Renew programs, by Metagenics. They are also safe and extremely popular!
In many cases, the situation is more complicated. Luckily, there are several screening tests available that may be helpful. My favorite is the electrodermal screening (EDS) food method. I find this to be the most clinically useful option in most cases. I have also had my own personal experiences with EDS for both myself and my kids. With the EDS method (also known as vega testing), the electrical capacity of the body is measured in the palm of your hand to first get a baseline. We then introduce a food to the electrical circuit and if there is a change in the electrical output of the body then we flag this food as a potential sensitivity. At the end of the session, we generate a list from over 200 possible foods, molds, and environmental chemicals to avoid for 2 months. It's a fascinating experience and as we uncover potential sensitivities. Many people come across foods they have already suspected and more. After avoiding the foods for 2 months we meet again to retest the foods to generate a smaller, more focused long-term avoid list. This follows up step is an important part of the process.
Many people are surprised to hear that food sensitivities are always changing. Some are fixed but most change over time. So when a food sensitivity is suspected, as long as it's not an IgE allergy, then you should be able to eat the food again after a break from it or after improving your gut health. If you find you are reacting to a healthy food, like broccoli, we can usually get you eating it again!
It's also easy to focus on the all things you can not eat when on a special diet. It's easy to become overwhelmed. Instead, it is helpful to focus on all the wonderful foods you can eat. There are always lots! Changing foods is a way to diversify your diet and experience new foods. You should never deprive your self of nutrients or calories when following an elimination diet.
In a recent case, we had a 5-year-old female come to our office with a long-standing history of eczema. In the past, she had a poor immune system and was constantly on antibiotics. She produced excess mucus and had a rattle sound when breathing. At first, we focused on creating a foundation for health with basic nutrition. Her mother began reducing her intake of dairy and wheat. She also increased plan based foods in her diet. We added children's probiotic to support her immune system along with fish oils. With these changes, over the course of 6 months, she began to have fewer colds and infections. The rattle sound in her chest disappeared. Still, after all this her eczema remained! We were missing something. Finally, we tried the EDS food sensitivity testing. Many hidden food sensitivities appeared. Once they were eliminated within a week her skin became smoother and her eczema faded dramatically. She continues to improve!