You’re careful about your health. You do your best to eat well, and you pay attention to the ways that your diet affects your energy levels. But something seems off. You’re experiencing annoying symptoms that you can’t explain. You’re often gassy and bloated, your skin may not be clear and glowing anymore, you may be ready for a nap after a meal, and you wish you could remember where you put your keys. Why does your memory feel so foggy?

These issues are frustrating (and often embarrassing). They’re also very common. Many patients come to see us with healthy lifestyles, but are baffled by continuing digestive issues, mysterious rashes, and low energy levels. If this sounds familiar, it may be time to take a good look at your diet. Even a healthy food can make you feel sick if your body is sensitive to it. For many, the mystery of what foods are potentially a problem becomes both frustrating and overwhelming.

But good news! You may not have to look very far to make changes that relieve your symptoms. With a bit of detective work, and a bit of help, you can map out a dietary plan that restores your wellbeing.

 

What are the Symptoms of Food Reactions?

Food reactions can be tricky to figure out. One reason is that there are multiple types of reactions to investigate. A partial list includes: true allergies (e.g. anaphylactic reaction to peanut), intolerances (e.g. lactose intolerance), chemical reactions (e.g. sulfite sensitivities), infections (food poisoning), auto-immune conditions (e.g. celiac) and sensitivities. In addition, there’s no one-size-fits-all description of the way our bodies react. Symptoms vary from person to person and can even be different depending on what else is happening in your body. For example, you might respond differently at different stages of your menstrual cycle or to varying quantities of the offending food.

Although we consider all potential reactions when investigating your issues with foods, sensitivities are tricky to identify since they are less obvious than some.

Food reactions (and particularly sensitivities) can cause/worsen:

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Bowel problems
  • Asthma
  • Sinus infections
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Sore joints
  • Migraines
  • Dark circles under your eyes
  • Brain fog
  • Rashes
  • Many other symptoms

Another reason why food sensitivities are often missed is that these symptoms can be delayed up to 24 hours after a meal, so many people don’t make the connection between what they ate and how they feel.

Similarly, it’s difficult to measure how many people suffer from food sensitivities because a lot of us don’t seek medical help, figuring that it’s normal to feel gassy and tired much of the time. In fact, some medical practitioners can be skeptical about food sensitivity symptoms, which can lead to frustration for patients. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

 

What Contributes to Food Sensitivities?

What is the root cause of food sensitivities? And why are they becoming increasingly common?

We believe there are many potential reasons:

  1. Eating the same food over and over: The gut loves variety and is healthiest when many different foods are eaten regularly. Simply eating cheese, wheat and eggs all the time (for example) might increase the risk that you develop a sensitivity to one of them.
  1. Antibiotics and other drugs that alter gut health: Many medications can change the digestive environment and alter our ability to digest and absorb, leading to difficulties with certain foods over time. These may include antibiotics, acid reducers, and anti-inflammatories.
  1. Poor diet: A diet high in processed foods, sugar, chemicals, coffee, or alcohol can contribute (to varying degrees) to inflammation of the gut lining and the risk of developing a food sensitivity through altered digestibility.
  1. Dysbiosis: When you have low beneficial bacteria or an overgrowth of problematic fungal or bacterial species, digestion and food reactivity can take a hit.
  1. Poor eating habits: Eating too fast, eating on the run, not chewing properly, or regularly eating too much can stress the GI tract’s ability to properly process your foods – it can be as simple as this!

 

Which Foods Can Cause Food Sensitivities? (Answer: Pretty Much Any of Them.)

Uncovering food sensitivities can be tough. Among other things, research suggests that food sensitivities can be a trigger for disordered eating in some people. After all, if food is causing you pain, but you’re not sure which foods are to blame; it’s easy to associate your diet with negative experiences. In addition, at times what seems like a food reaction is something else altogether and unnecessarily eliminating foods challenges nutrition.  As a result, seeing a medical professional is a good idea if you suspect your food may be making you feel unwell — medical supervision can also ensure your approach to food remains healthy and balanced.

 

How Can You Treat Food Sensitivities?

Food sensitivities are treated in this way:

  1. Testing – there are several techniques that can be used to identify problem foods including the gold standard: the elimination challenge diet.
  2. (Temporarily) remove all problem foods while:
    1. improving diet overall
    2. healing the irritated and inflamed gut
  3. Once symptoms are improved, we explore returning foods to the diet to uncover which one(s) continue to be a problem, and must be avoided (at this time), and which ones can be happily added back.

Uncovering food sensitivities is a truly valuable medical journey for many patients.

To your best health!

 

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28936357

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5603184/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0277953608002773

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7460264

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41575-018-0064-z

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306453018303950

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10009-food-problems-is-it-an-allergy-or-sensitivity