Food Sensitivities

Food Sensitivities, Parasites & Candida are not things that often come up during a routine visit to your doc but functional medicine and holistic nutrition sees these as being triggers for chronic health conditions and autoimmune disorders. In fact according to Dr. Mark Hymn these 3 factors must always be considered when addressing health conditions.

Let’s take a quick look at each one, starting with Food Sensitivities. I’m not going to go into huge detail here.  You don’t need it to begin on the path to helping your child.  If you are like me and prefer the in-depth gory detail version you can find lots of links to trusted resources over on the Digging Deeper page. 

In the holistic health world food sensitivities have long been thought to be a contributing factor to chronic illness. But, there is a lot of confusion around sensitivities, allergies and how they affect health. Again, this is a Coles notes version but it gives you the fundamentals you need to know

A sensitivity to food is technically different from an allergy to a food.  

A true allergic response is usually immediately following contact with a food.  These are the ones that can be life threatening.

Sensitivities on the other hand, tend to have a much more delayed response time, even up to a few days.  This makes is much harder to pinpoint the culprit!  Things like headaches, bloating and gas, fatigue, rash, eczema, asthma and flare ups in autoimmune symptoms are associated with exposure to a food sensitivity. These symptoms may be noticeable in your child but many times there may be little to no noticeable symptoms that would make you think of a food sensitivity.  This is our case.

Very generally here, what makes the reaction different is the immune mechanism at work in a sensitivity versus an allergic reaction.

An allergic immune response results in the release of an IgE anitbody.

A sensitivity immune response results in the release of an IgA, IgG, IgD or IgM antibody.

So, you ask….how do those funny looking letters contribute to health problems? How does our immune systems decide that a food is a bad guy and go on the attack?

Well…..we are back to that darn Leaky Gut. 

Back on the short video of leaky gut (above) we talked about enterocytes, the cells that line the intestinal wall. We saw how these cells are covered with the brush border enzymes that take care of the last stages of digestion or break down of food. It is these enzymes that make sure a food is broken down into its smallest components. Then and only then should it be absorbed through the tight junctions of the intestinal wall into the blood or lymphatic stream where it will be taken to be metabolized and used by the body.

Protein for example is broken down into simple Amino Acids.  Interestingly it is the protein in foods that we have sensitivities to.  Casein from milk is a good example. The proteins in wheat are what cause a reaction. Interestingly these proteins are thought to cause some degree of leaky gut in everyone, not just people with health problems. Check out the podcast on gluten if you’d like to learn more about that!

So, when the intestinal cells are surrounded by the right balance of microflora and are happy, health and functioning properly we would not expect to see food sensitivities or allergies. But,   when there is an imbalance in the gut bugs and these enterocytes are not functioning well, they cannot properly breakdown our food into its smallest component to be absorbed and used by the body. Then, as we saw in the video the enterocyte cells also start to lose their ability to form the protective and selective barrier function. Those tight junctions are no longer as tight and strict as they should be. Those unbroken down food particles leaky through into the blood stream. The armed guard is there lying in wait around the gut… The official name of it is the GALT or Gut Associated Lymphoid Tissue.

Undigested protein fragment sneaks through and the GALT goes;

“Hey, I don’t recognize that…it doesn’t look right and doesn’t belong here….get it!” 

It mounts a full blown attack on the food particle as if it were the most dangerous foreign invader…because it does not recognize it as a food particle in this larger form.  The immune cells produce the antibodies we talked about earlier (IgM, IgA, IgE, IgG, IgE etc). The result… inflammation and sometimes further damage to the gut itself.

This is how the body decides that food is an enemy and what is meant by a food sensitivity.

Now, as this stuff continues leaking out day in and day out (and remember it is not just undigested food particles but bacteria and toxins as well!) the body continues to do its best to protect our child’s body from the invaders and inflammation becomes chronic. Chronic inflammation is being recognized, even in mainstream medicine, as a major trigger for chronic illnesses, autoimmune and even cancer.

Once the immune system has gotten a hold of these “foreign invaders” it must get rid of them somehow.  This is usually done through the liver, but since it is getting backed up with the river of stuff escaping from the intestine, the body will often look for other ways to detoxify.  This is where we sometimes see symptoms or manifestation of a sensitivity as the highly intelligent body tries to rid itself of this stuff through other organs of elimination and detoxification. Think skin, respiratory system, lymphatic system, urinary system and bowels. These systems are often where we see the conditions show up in our kids.

It can also happen that the body cannot cope with the immune complexes being produced by the leaky gut and so will store them in other tissues of the body like the connective tissue and joints.

Some interesting new research is highlighting a possible link to autoimmunity not just because of the inflammation but by the way of what is called molecular mimicry. In a nut shell, the immune system recognizes the protein structure of a food particle as an invader and then later on confuses that same protein structure somewhere in the body’s own tissue, thinks it is foreign and attacks.  

We can be reactive to virtually any food.  If the gut is leaky and letting stuff through, there will be an immune response and thus a sensitivity.  Some foods are regarded as more highly reactive like the protein in wheat, milk and egg white for example.

So what to do?

We bounced back and forth with food sensitivity testing for a long time and every time we went back the foods we had been avoiding were now clear and the ones we had included tested as sensitivities. It became an overwhelming juggling act and sometimes if felt like there were no foods we could feed my son that he was not sensitive to. That became pretty unmanageable and the more I looked into it the more I realized this is not just about avoiding foods…it has to be about getting to the root, the reason there is sensitivities in the first place. The hyper-permeability of the gut.

Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride and many others in the functional health world believe that while there is leaky gut there will be food sensitivities so a gut healing protocol of some type is an absolute must. In my opinion and experience this makes good sense. There can be no overcoming food sensitivities and allergies without restoring proper function to the gut.

For more information on gut healing protocols check out a few of my podcasts on the subject, look into my Kids Gut Healing Bootcamp or visit the Digging Deeper page for some links.

Podcasts: An Interview with Dr. Natasha Campbell- McBride – Integrative Approach to Asthma, Allergies & Eczema – The GAPS Diet Explained – Mom Cures Daughter of Extreme Eczema

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