Food allergies and intolerances are considered a ‘sensitive’ topic, as many conventional medical practitioners deny that food sensitivity is a real condition.
On the other hand there is a strong argument from alternative medical practitioners that the food we eat is a frequently overlooked origin of disease.
It’s therefore important to consider the research and findings from both groups to ensure the most accurate and balanced approach to understanding gut health.
In this article you will learn the differences between such reactions, how it works and the best practices to resolve your clients issues.
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With a food allergy or sensitivity, the problematic food can set up a cascade of immune and chemical reactions in the body, usually within minutes or days.
If this food is continued to be consumed over time, it can cause an ongoing inflammatory reaction on the lining of the intestines, which can result in the lining becoming unhealthy and ‘leaky’.
Our gut allows the foods and water we consume to enter the body while preventing dangerous toxins and compounds getting in.
When our gut is not working optimally, or is in a state of distress, these dangerous compounds can get in our system. The body will also not be fully absorbing the key nutrients it requires for the tasks asked of it.
It’s therefore important as nutrition coaches to understand how this process affects the body and the related symptomology.
For clients who may experience digestive system issues or relates symptoms, we are then in the best position to advise and guide them to better health.
It’s important to highlight here, that not everyone has food allergies and intolerances.
For those who have never experienced an allergic reaction before it can be a difficult to accept. It can be difficult to understand how even a food that is generally good for us can cause some people such problems.
It’s becoming a popular dieting trend that everyone must restrict their diet to avoid any chance of reactions or responses to certain foods, which shouldn’t be the case.
Food sensitivities are very real, they do exist, and it’s important to treat people on an individual basis before deciding on removing foods or food groups from their diet.
For many, it may not even need to be considered.
The Immune Response
We know the strength and importance of our immune system, it’s a complex and connected system that is designed to protect the body.
If the immune system cells brand a food as an ‘invader’, it will be dealt with by the same process as any other immune response to deal with the food.
It’s a smart system too, as it will remember the problematic food and respond in the same fashion with each subsequent exposure.
This response calls forth the body’s energies to protect it, using up macro and micronutrients in order to keep the body safe and protect it.
This is why tiredness is strongly linked to those with food sensitivities.
The two main branches of the immune system are:
1. Innate Immune System
This branch deals with mainly the delayed-onset symptoms of the food and chemical intolerances.
2. Adaptive Immune System
This branch, also known as the specific immune system is more closely associated with a ‘true allergy’, one with which symptoms are rapid or instant e.g. nut allergy.
When this ‘invader’ enters the body, a cell known as a macrophage will most likely absorb it and this then becomes known as an antigen-presenting cell.
When this allergen or antigen cell is detected, certain blood cells in the blood, known as lymphocytes, respond to the presentation of that allergen or antigen.
These lymphocytes that respond (typically T-cells with some receptor type) become switched on and become activated.
If this lymphocyte then bonds with another type of lymphocyte (typically a B-cell), the result is the immune system’s permanent ability to recognize and react against that specific allergen.
This is why the term ‘specific’ immunity is given to this process.
The next response to this food invader is seen when the chemical reaction occurs between the T-cell and B-cell. This causes the B-cell to become a plasma cell, which now has the ability to create multiple versions of itself.
These new receptor plasma cells also mirror the same shape of the original allergen that entered the body.
As this is a receptor cell (or antibody) it now has the ability to bind with that allergen whenever they come into contact.
These new plasma cells can also bind with two other white blood cells known as mast cells and Basophils.
Mast cells typically locate themselves in different parts of the body such as tissues, GI tract and the skin. Basophils are typically free moving and located in the blood.
So now when the said food invader enters the body, it not only results with the specific antibody plasma cells, but with the mast or basophil cells.
When this happens, it causes the cell membranes to break down, which then allows the release of histamine that is found within the cells.
Histamines are the trigger to the common allergic symptoms we see and this process is also known as degranulation.
This is the usual and instant response we typically get from common allergies.
Long-term then, usually 6-8 hours after that initial reaction, the body will convert ‘phospholipids’ (the membranes of the cells previously broken down) into other inflammatory responses.
Some of which can be a lot harsher that the previous reaction and may need medical treatment or attention.
This specific reaction or immunity is typically seen with allergies, such as a sneeze from dust, watering eyes from pollen or a skin reaction to nuts.
The severity of reactions is therefore varied but they follow the same response from the immune system. They are easy to identify and the culprit food can be found easily.
Sensitivities or food intolerances are different to allergies as the onset of symptoms may take several hours to a couple of days to occur.
This is from a delayed immune response and they can be much harder to diagnose as a result.
The pathways or mechanisms underlying these food intolerances appear different and vary to that of the allergies previously mentioned.
Most probably they are the immune system cells reacting to a chemical that either naturally occurs in a food or is added to it at some stage.
The reaction may also be against complexes of chemicals or natural food constituents, a compound of both proteins and carbohydrates, known as lectins.
However, there are many elements within a food and any one of them may be responsible for activating the immune system.
There are a number of reasons why people will see an immune response to certain foods or food groups.
There are three main factors that contribute to this process:
1. A HYPERPERMERMEABLE GUT (LEAKY GUT SYNDROME)
Leaky gut can be triggered by a number of things, including inflamed gut lining, unbalanced bacteria levels, underlying allergic conditions within the gut and deficiencies.
The source of these can then typically be linked back to a number of lifestyle factors.
A diet containing intolerant foods is the most common, but any food that has been shown to inflame the GI tract can cause issues.
Stress can also be a trigger as it can greatly reduce blood flow to our important digestive organs. A diet low in fibre can play a significant role too, as fibre keeps us regular and therefore excreting dangerous compounds in the process.
Lastly, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs will cause havoc on our gut and kill off good bacteria.
2. A SLOW OR DEFICIENT DETOXIFICATION PATHWAY
The detoxification system is the primary factor used to remove toxins from the body, if this is not operating efficiently, problems can arise.
A slow detox may exist if the body’s detox system is already put under strain – it finds it difficult to keep up with the demand. As a result toxins (such as a food intolerance) remain in the body and cause an immune response to occur.
This can also occur when a certain detoxification enzyme is deficient. A detoxification enzyme deficiency makes it difficult or impossible to break down a dietary toxin.
This can also be linked to a poor diet, as an optimal detox system requires adequate levels of the nutrients necessary for proper liver detoxification.
3. GENETIC PREDISPOSITION
It’s considered that some people are more likely to react to a particular food substance than others. This can be related to place of origin, ancestry, previous exposures, migration and food modification.
It has also been suggested that blood types may have some predictive value to producing an adverse reaction to the associated food.
When we constantly expose the body to a food intolerance it can lead to a chronic activation of the innate immune system.
This constant response of the immune system leads to increased free radicals in the body, taxing the detoxification pathways and increasing inflammation in the body.
This inflammation can cause potential physical damage and premature aging to the body, and it is now believed to be linked to an underlying cause to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and obesity.
This sets in motion another cascade of events in the body that may result in symptoms of ‘malnutrition’ or deficiencies in nutrients.
It’s clear that those who have a food intolerance should act on it and remove it from their diet.
There are a number of tests and procedures we can use to source the problematic food/s, but first, let’s look at some of the common symptoms and responses.
Symptoms & Responses
There are a number of common symptoms or reactions within the body when exposed to a food allergy or intolerance.
It is important to understand these so we can spot potential issues in our clients.
This is one of the most common symptoms with food sensitivities and is commonly considered with an up-regulated or overactive immune state.
This can be linked to an over active immune system that is constantly being taxed by the consumption of intolerant foods. Fatigue can also be the alert to a food intolerance.
The level of fatigue will vary from person to person.
However, if their tiredness is not related to any particular exertion or unrelieved by sleep or rest, and is frequently worse in the morning, many health practitioners believe it may be associated in some way with food or chemical sensitivities (providing that no obvious medical conditions exist).
Like fatigue, headaches can become a recurring problem in those who are experiencing allergic reactions to food.
These again may range from mild right up to full-blown migraines that require medical treatment.
Many people resort to prescription drugs and medicines, yet these rarely prove to be effective.
For some, the simple solution may appear to be the elimination of certain foods from their diet or substances from their environment.
Many common skin problems such as eczema, acne, or irritation may be reduced or prevented through elimination of intolerant foods.
That’s because there may be a link to what we eat and the condition of our skin.
Traditional medicine does suggest that immediate skin rashes can be caused by reactive foods, but are slow to suggest that delayed reactions like acne may be linked.
Like headaches, many sufferers are prescribed creams and antibiotics to deal with the issue, but this simply masks the problem.
Many people have had great success at reducing skin problems by assessing their diet and removing any trigger foods.
Food sensitivities can result in malnutrition, as the body is no longer absorbing the nutrients correctly and expending more of them to keep up with the immune response.
The body will naturally crave more food to replace the lost and expended nutrients, so with the over consumption of calories, we can see weight gain as a result.
IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition of the digestive system. It can cause bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.
The symptoms of IBS usually appear for the first time when a person is between 20 and 30 years of age. They tend to come and go in bouts, often during times of stress or after eating certain foods.
Symptoms vary between individuals and affect some people more severely than others. However, most people have either diarrhoea, constipation, or bouts of both.
The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but most experts agree it’s related to an increased sensitivity of the entire gut, which can occasionally be linked to a prior food-related illness.
This may be caused by a change in your body’s ability to move food through your digestive system, or may be due to you becoming more sensitive to pain from your gut.
INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE (IBD)
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term mainly used to describe two diseases, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are long-term (chronic) diseases that involve inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (gut).
Ulcerative colitis only affects the colon (large intestine), while Crohn’s disease can affect the entire digestive system, from the mouth to the anus.
It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the two main types of IBD. If this is the case, it is known as indeterminate colitis.
There are other, rarer types of IBD called collagenous colitis and lymphocytic colitis. Together these are often called microscopic colitis.
There is medical research to suggest that food we eat can have an impact on our airway conditions.
Allergic airway disease may be due to food intolerance, moulds, and chemicals such as preservatives and food dyes, as well as airborn allergens.
Typical problems are asthma, hay fever and sinusitis to just name a few. These intolerances represent more load on the body, and the air passages are a target for a system weakened by the elements.
Some lucky people find that by avoiding their intolerant foods, they find a cure for their airway conditions, or at the very least, reduce the impact of their problems.
Finding The Problem
It’s possible to treat food allergies and intolerances.
This is can be done much easier and at less expense than other chronic medical conditions.
This normal, predictable sequence of events can be stopped at any time by removing any intolerant foods or chemicals. The results from doing so can be instant, and typically within the first 2-4 weeks, clients can see significant improvements in various symptoms.
It can be difficult to find these trigger foods, which is when a carefully planned elimination diet is a perfect short- term aid to resolving issues quicker.
Food sensitivity testing can also be a great addition to help reinforce findings and confirm some of the more uncommon food intolerances.
These can also help save time throughout the elimination phase as you can instantly remove the troublesome foods and test again when symptoms are resolved.
Blood testing can be the most accurate form of testing, particularly those that test against changes in white blood cell size and number.
These tests mimic as closely as possible what actually happens when a food is consumed or chemical exposure occurs and can detect the effects of a wide range of biological mechanisms that are involved.
Standard allergy testing (skin, urine, hair) may not prove as accurate as blood tests, as they may only measure a single mechanism associated with such a release.
They can however serve as a quick, easy and affordable starting point for some clients.
The Mediator Release Test (MRT) is considered to be the most conclusive test with scores of 93.6% accuracy.
The MRT tests 5 immune pathways allowing the success rate to be extremely high.
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