Food Allergies, Sensitivities and Gut Health
Food allergies and sensitivities are different. A food allergy is when a person has exposure to a food and they break out in hives and have an allergic reaction. Food sensitivity occurs when a person eats a food they are sensitive to and it causes an immune and inflammatory response, which causes insulin resistance. Although most people eat foods they are sensitive to every day, they don’t realize it. Similar to a bad relationship, the person does not realize how bad it is until they are no longer in the relationship. The six most common food allergies are gluten, soy, corn, shellfish, eggs and dairy.
Consumption of foods allergens can trigger low-grade, chronic immune responses. For example, research suggests that gluten can negatively affect organs and structures beyond the gastrointestinal tract, including the brain, heart, joints, endocrine glands and more. The reason for this widespread response to food allergens in various tissues is due to the fact that bacteria that populate the gut help control everything from nutrient absorption, hormone production, metabolic function, immune health, and cognitive processes.
Dysbiosis, or microbial imbalance in the gut, is associated with pathogenesis of both intestinal and extra-intestinal disorders. In many of these disorders, the mechanisms leading to disease development involve the pivotal, mutualistic relationship between microbial in the colon, their metabolic products and the immune system. The microbiota function together with our immune system to protect against pathogens and extract nutrients and vitamins. Alterations in the gut microbiome can manifest from exposure to various environmental exposures, including diet, drugs, stress, toxins and infections. These factors can damage the gut and increase permeability of the intestinal lining, contributing to a condition known as leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut syndrome is a disorder that develops when tiny openings form in the gut lining, allowing large proteins, toxins, and gut microbes to leak across the gut barrier. Molecules that are usually contained within the gut are then able to enter the blood stream and travel throughout the body, which can provoke a chronic, low-grade inflammatory response. Prolonged systemic inflammation can diminish our body’s ability to distinguish and fight off foreign intruders and pave the way for autoimmunity. Increased permeability of the gut due to a weakened barrier and damaged intestinal lining also reduces absorption of essential vitamins and minerals. Nutrient deficiencies further decrease the immune system response to inflammation and increase the body’s vulnerability to infection and disease.
Gluten sensitivity is prevalent among American populations and is a result of our genetic predisposition to gluten intolerance. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, malt and derivatives of those foods. There are many hidden sources of gluten including coffee creamer, broth/stocks, candy, chewing gum, cold cuts, imitation seafood, condiments, and many more. Grains have been modified to such a great extent in the United States that 42 new strains of gluten produced in a short time period of 20 years now exist. The human genome cannot adapt quick enough to process this food.
Symptoms of gluten intolerance are extensive and can include abdominal cramping and bloating, constipation, diarrhea, ulcers, fatigue, joint pain, itchy skin, infertility, various skin conditions, nutrient deficiencies, frequent headaches, and struggles with weight gain. Because the gut affects the brain, those with gluten intolerance may also experience “brain fog,” memory difficulty, higher risk for learning disabilities, depression, or anxiety.
Many people suffer from a multitude of health conditions with no awareness that gluten may be the cause. Meanwhile, their ill health or symptoms are attributed to something other than gluten sensitivity. Without identification of gluten as the cause of symptoms, people will continue to eat this toxic protein and enter an endless cycle of chronic and severe illness, misdiagnosis, use of harmful and expensive pharmaceuticals and deteriorating health. Furthermore, those with chronic inflammation as a result of untreated gluten intolerance have been found to go on to develop neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease, or other autoimmune disorders including Hasimoto’s hypothyroidism, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Colitis, Multiple Sclerosis and many more.
Celiac disease is the extreme end of a broader gluten-intolerance spectrum, in which a person has a true allergy to gluten. For those who suffer from Celiac Disease, gluten ingestion results in a full autoimmune reaction that causes damage to tissues throughout the body. This reaction includes destruction to microvilli, small finger-like projections that line the small intestine. When the microvilli cannot function properly, the body cannot absorb nutrients adequately.
Symptoms of celiac disease include malnutrition, stunted growth in developing youth and adolescents, irritability and behavioral issues, fatigue, weight loss, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal bloating and pain, anemia, bone or joint pain, neurological and psychiatric illness and death in severe cases. When a person tests negative for celiac disease, there is still a chance they suffer from gluten intolerance.
You must heal your gut before you can heal your condition. Using the functional medicine model, Dr. Marci finds the source of the problem and evaluates environmental and genetic factors that challenge normal physiology. Maintaining a gluten free diet may seem difficult at first. Dr. Marci will help you see past food labels and construct an effective meal plan free of gluten products and those with cross-contamination or hidden gluten to allow your body to thrive. To find out if you are one of millions suffering from misdiagnosed gluten sensitivity or allergy, schedule a consultation today.
Carding, Simon. Verbeke, Kristin. “Dysbiosis of the Gut Microbiota in Disease.” Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease. 2015.