Food sensitivity is often a major risk factor for systemic inflammation immune stress and it can distract your immune system from more important tasks such as destroying cancer cells, parasites, fungus, viruses and invasive fungus. As part of a functional medicine work-up, a simple, inexpensive test panel for food sensitivities can determine certain foods to eliminate for a while which can eliminate some inflammation and immune stress, and which can lower your overall stress levels.
Regardless of the problem that you are seeking care for, at some level your immune system is involved, and the immune system does better if it is not distracted or damaged by food sensitivities. For instance, you may have mild food sensitivities which may not be that important for your overall health, but if they distract your immune system in its fight against Lyme or cancer, or you are dealing with serious asthma or an autoimmune disorder, even mild sensitivities can be important. Food sensitivity recovery is a relatively simple process but giving up one’s favorite foods can be difficult. We have health coaches and support to help you make better food replacement choices.
The Immune System and Leaky Gut
Roughly 70% of the body’s entire immune system surrounds our intestines, which protects our body from toxins and unfriendly organisms that live in our intestines, such as parasites, bacteria, fungus and viruses. When our immune system suspects unfriendly organisms, it fires off its defensive chemical weapons, which in turn causes the unfriendly organisms to fire back, and the lining of the intestines is caught in a crossfire between two warring armies. Eventually this battlefield environment (AKA inflammation) causes damage to the lining of our intestines and microscopic holes can form in the normally impervious barrier. Food proteins begin to leak through these holes (known as leaky gut) and then our immune system starts to react to perfectly nutritious food proteins as if they were invasive infections.
Testing for Food Sensitivities
The food sensitivity test measures your IgG antibodies against those foods which are leaking through the lining of your intestines. IgG antibodies represents an important defense component, but there are others such as a cellular defense that involves white blood cells. These other tests are much more expensive, so we begin with the antibody tests to get started with recognizing how each individual’s unique response to foods can cause stress and inflammation. The severity of your sensitivities is graded by the levels of antibodies found in your blood test. A 1+ or a single * signifies a mild reaction, 2+ or two ** suggests a moderate reactivity, and a 3+ or 3 *** indicates a severe sensitivity. Generally speaking, you can deal with the mild reactions by limiting contact with that food to once or twice a week. The longer the immune system goes without encountering that food, the more it “forgets” about it and the lower the antibody levels go. The converse is true, so the best choice is to limit exposures to help the immune system settle down. It has better things to do than react to food.
If a food comes up as 2**, or a moderate sensitivity, that food should not be consumed any more than once every 2 weeks. If you do consume a problem food, try to be aware of any adverse physical changes like moodiness or achy joints for the next day or two after exposure. If the sensitivity is 3+ or *** then the food should be restricted for 2 months to give the immune system time to completely forget about it.
Since the immune system reacts to the amount of allergic protein, in general, the higher protein foods (meats, seafoods, dairy, seeds, nuts, grains) have vastly more allergic potential than low protein foods (vegetables, fruits, spices). The food sensitivity test does not account for the density of protein in the various foods it tests for. Therefore, vegetables, fruits and spices are not as important to space out or eliminate.
Healing Food Sensitivities
Leaky gut and food allergies can wear down our stress hormones and severe fatigue, mood imbalances, insomnia and other signs of autonomic stress can result. The most common food sensitivity, gluten sensitivity, can be so profound that it may even cause severe psychiatric disorders and any of the hundreds of autoimmune disorders. But first, we test with functional medicine testing to see what comes up. Healing from a food sensitivity is in many ways very different from the healing process from most medical or psychiatric disorders. It’s not what you take that gets you well; it’s what you avoid. Healing from food sensitivities is a medically inexpensive protocol – simply remove or restrict contact with the offending food and voila, the inflammation is less, the deterioration of neurotransmitters and hormones gets better, and mood and energy often stabilizes.
Supplementing our diet with digestive enzymes is very important when it comes to the issue of food sensitivity as they degrade allergic food proteins so that they no longer appear to be as much of a threat to the immune system even if they continue to leak through the intestinal lining. Toxins, especially heavy metals, inactivate our body’s digestive enzymes, thus making supplemented, undamaged enzymes very important. If your pancreatic enzymes are inactivated (EPI or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency) or the enzymes in fresh fruits and vegetables have been lacking in your diet, you are much more likely to suffer from food sensitivities.
Before our ancestors became farmers and herders, relatively recently in our long ancestral history on earth, they were gatherers, hunters and fishers. They consumed foods they could scavenge and foods that were in season, constantly shifting contact with various food proteins, and lessening the likelihood that their immune systems would zero in on any single protein as a potential threat. Compare that diet to today’s meal plans, which usually expose the immune system to the same proteins day in and day out. It’s no wonder that most human beings in the modern world suffer from food sensitivities.
Rotate Your Foods
My best advice is to rotate different foods into your diet, try new foods you have never had before, eat the rainbow of vegetables, remember that adage that “variety is the spice of life” and your immune system will be grateful. Functional medicine food allergy testing is a good way to determine what foods to eliminate or to consume less often. Pancreatic and vegetarian digestive enzymes may be one of the best food supplements to add to your diet.
Charles Gant, MD, PhD, is a physician, educator and author, specializing in functional medicine, genomics and precision medicine to address the root cause of medical disorders and the biochemical causes of mental/emotional disorders and addictions. He practices in Washington, D.C. at National Integrated Health Associates and is the author of End Your Addiction Now.