Do you love pasta, bread, or ice-cream so much you crave it frequently? This could be a case of food intolerance and the gut instinct gone haywire? Many people suffer from food hypersensitivity and intolerance and are often not aware of it. Sufferers might actually love the food that they are intolerant to, and even crave it.
In fact, food sensitivities are now considered a major causative factor in many health conditions such as eczema, bloating and even depression.
Here is an actual case I came across recently. Let me explain how we are about the help this patient get over with conditions seemingly unrelated to her food choices and the microbiome inside your G.I. tract.
"Mary" came to the clinic and asked me how she had developed food intolerances as an adult. As she told me about her health issues, it emerged that she had been given a lot of antibiotics as a girl for earaches and chesty coughs. At 17, she had glandular fever (mononucleosis) that took her a good while to get over. She wondered if it recurred when she was stressed and tired. Also, every year she needed a couple of courses of antibiotics for bad chesty colds or sometimes for sinusitis.
I suspected that her fibromyalgia (chronic muscle pains) fit a class of cases where chronic intestinal infection followed a weakened immune system.
Yeast or fungal infections lasting many years are an important sign that the intestines have become home to several unfriendly bacteria and fungi, and that the levels of immune-supporting good bacteria called probiotics are very low. For women this often shows as vaginal itching and discharge, while men may have "jock itch," especially in summer.
As we talked some more she mentioned a lot of bloating, and that bread and beer were the worst culprits. "They make me look three months pregnant — people are always asking!" she said. Mary's muscle pain symptoms had lasted now for two years. She had frequent headaches and felt extremely tired, to the point where it was difficult to keep working. She was sleeping terribly, which was "becoming depressing." As she spoke, she had some tears and anxiety on her face as she worried out loud if she could get better.
What is Food Intolerance?
Food intolerance is not to be confused with food allergies. A food allergy occurs when the immune system over-reacts to certain food particles, causing the body to mistakenly produce an antibody (IgE) to fight off the otherwise harmless antigens. The slightest exposure to the food particle is enough to trigger an uncomfortable food allergy reaction like itching, scratching, or sneezing. These symptoms of an allergic reaction occur almost immediately. Sometimes it includes swelling of the lips, mouth, and throat, even an alarming shortness of breath with wheezing.
Food intolerance, on the other hand, is more common and often goes unnoticed because symptoms can arise hours or days after the food is ingested. These symptoms might be as mild as gas and bloating, or as severe as arthritis and chronic fatigue. One of the most common types is intolerance is lactose. Many people have a shortage of the enzyme lactase that is needed to break down a type of sugar in the milk called lactose. Without lactase, symptoms such as an irritable gassy bowel, diarrhoea, and cramps often occur. (By the way, certain strains of probiotics can help you digest lactase and reduce gas and bloating.)
The immune system does get involved in food intolerances. Rather than producing the fast-acting IgE and histamine, the body produces IgG antibodies. These antibodies and the body's reactions tend to first affect the liver and then move into weaker body tissues and "agglutinate" there—get stuck—and cause delayed reactions of inflammation. Intolerances to gluten or wheat, for example, gradually cause inflammatory antibodies to accumulate first in the intestines (which swell up), but may travel to the skin (eczema), or joints (arthritis).
The other major effect of the reactions is to cause food cravings. This happens when inflammation in the liver induced by the food intolerance causes a chemical reaction that leads to low blood sugar levels (reactive hypoglycemia). The craving is usually not only for sugar, but also for sugar mixed with the triggering food (e.g., wheat flour in bread, biscuits, or maybe milk chocolate).
In Mary's case, we found that she had intolerances to wheat, milk, yeast, and cola nut—she loved colas to keep her energy going! Bread and sugar were the foods she craved, as both were feeding the fungal overgrowths she had inside her.
Food Intolerance and Chronic Illness
Identifying food intolerances is important because it is very often linked to chronic diseases such as fibromyalgia, eczema, asthma, arthritis pain, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, and even depression or hyperactivity. Food intolerance may be the major factor causing these illnesses or it may exacerbate the underlying genetic predisposition.
A case of food intolerance often develops in adulthood, unlike allergies that tend to go away as children grow up. In adults, food intolerance often begins with weak immunity, which is generally induced by stress or a lack of Vitamin D, vital minerals such as zinc, or probiotic gut flora. Healthy probiotics promote immunity and reduce infections, which is especially important within the intestines. When depleted, a residual infection may remain in the intestines and often a new fungal infection or "thrush" develops.
Abnormally high levels of these intestinal microorganisms can cause or worsen behavior disorders, hyperactivity, depression, attention deficits and concentration issues, muscle pain and some movement disorders, fatigue and immune dysfunction.
Mary related to this story. I also told her that her chronic low-grade infections made her intestines "leaky"—food particles can cross the intestinal lining and get into the blood before being properly digested, making food intolerances worse. The immune system has to protect the body from this undigested food, and IgG antibodies are one means to do this.
Identify the Culprit with Functional Medicine Tests
A simple blood test called IgG Food Intolerance can identify IgG sensitivities to over 100 foods such as dairy, wheat, gluten, eggs, sugar, soy, meats, fish, and nuts as well as to Candida albicans, a common toxic yeast. There is also a urine test called the Organic Acids Test (OAT), which provides a snapshot of the metabolism, based on the byproducts the body discards through the urine. These discarded organic acid molecules can indicate disorders of metabolism including energy production, the presence of yeast (Candida) or bacterial overgrowth in the gut leading to toxicity and many other issues. Most importantly, the OAT provides an accurate evaluation of intestinal yeast and bacteria.
These test reports can take the guesswork out of naturopathic treatments. With the accurate measures, the practitioner can make recommendations such as taking anti-fungal or anti-bacterial medications, initiating a detoxification protocol, increasing antioxidant intake, taking probiotic and nutritional supplementation and healing the "leaky gut".
How to Break the Cycle
The most common treatment recommended for food intolerance is to cut the questionable food out of the diet. However, permanently avoiding a large selection of food is not sensible, as good nutrition is vital to fight chronic illness. Repeatedly eating only a small selection of food tends to make the intolerances worse and the root cause is never properly addressed.
So what can you do to break the cycle? The problem starts in the intestines, so this is where the healing needs to start.
I often recommend the Four R Program as the important steps to cure allergy and food intolerance. The four steps are: Remove, Replace, Repair and Regulate.
The Remove Stage
Once the antigens are identified through the aforementioned IgG test, stay away from them during the following treatment period. For example, if cows dairy products is amongst the antigens, remove these from your diet is needed at first. Only by removing the main causes of persisting symptoms can the body begin to heal.
The other common cause is persistent infections—in the tonsils, sinus and gut. A naturopathic physician can help you remove these infections with natural remedies, although at times antibiotic therapies can be prescribes for some of the parasites. In many cases, a detoxification may be needed to clean the liver and colon, and removing any heavy metal toxicity is sometimes needed to allow the immunity to rebuild.
The Replace Stage
Antibiotics can reduce the levels of probiotics. It is important to replace the lost friendly bacteria through supplementation.
Omega 3 is also important in addressing allergy issues and inflammation. Fish oils and flax seed oils are good sources. Vitamin C and Quercetin are very effective natural anti-histamines, while fruit and vegetables give you plenty of anti-oxidants.
In cases of food intolerance, certain enzymes may be needed to correct the digestive enzyme deficiencies. Minerals like magnesium may also be needed if depleted by the leaky gut.
In the Replace stage the body is given the nutrients, probiotic and enzymes to allow the beginning of healing, especially of the gut.
The Repair Stage
The next step is to repair the intestinal lining. If a "leaky Gut" is found, the hyper-permeability of the intestine has to be corrected. This is only possible after all infections are well managed. Depending on your conditions in the digestive system, I may suggest different supplements to assist this process. This step may take up to 9 months.
The Regulate Stage
It means normalizing your immune system, which is possible now the gut is working well and the barrier and digestion is back to normal. It may take up to 12 months for more severe reactions to achieve desensitization. However the condition should continue to improve all the way along.
In the case of Mary, she was ready to follow a diet, get help clearing up the infections, and rebuild her intestines and immunity. We treated her gut, as she had excessive bacterial overgrowth in her small intestine, as well as fungal problems. After completing a four-month recovery program, her fibromyalgia symptoms improved.