Curious if your health issues are related to food sensitivities? We’ll cover general information regarding food sensitivities, navigate information that may be helpful to determine if your health issue may be related to food sensitivity, and how as a part of my practice we can test and help you overcome food sensitivities.
Let’s start here: WHAT IS A FOOD SENSITIVITY?
Food sensitivity describes a specific immune reaction to a food or food chemical. A reactive food will cause immune cells to release chemicals that are inflammatory. These chemicals are called mediators and you may be familiar with the name of a few of these chemicals like histamine, cytokines and prostaglandins. There are about 100 different types of mediators, those are just a few. These chemical mediators your immune cells release are the DIRECT CAUSE of food sensitivity symptoms and associated inflammation in the body.
ARE FOOD ALLERGIES THE SAME AS SENSITIVITIES?
There is a lot of confusion regarding food intolerances, food allergies and food sensitivities, some of which may be due to the medical community and health professionals using the words interchangeably. However, all of these conditions are different, and created because of very different reactions (or lack of reactions) in the body. Let’s break it down.
Food intolerances are not something your immune system is reacting to. Rather it is most often that your body is not creating an enzyme for food breakdown (or creating enough of the enzyme). The intolerance most people know of is lactose. It is due to inadequate lactase production, so the sugar found in milk doesn’t break down and makes it to the distant parts of your GI tract (read your colon) and the gut bacteria have a hey-day digesting lactose. This causes gas, bloating, and for some diarrhea. The food sensitivity testing I work with does not test for food intolerance, however on the elimination diet we create together, it becomes easy to identify these food issues quickly.
Food allergies are a reaction that your immune system is involved with. Allergies are not exclusive to food either, I’m sure you know this already, but you can be allergies to medicine, insects stings (like bees), pet dander, pollen, mold, grasses, and food. There is only pathway that your immune system reacts to create an allergic response. It is called an immunoglobulin E mediated response or IgE. Symptoms vary, but they are usually immediate and varying levels of severity. Think hives, wheezing, vomiting, blood pressure drop, closing of airways, anaphylaxis. These are the kind of reactions to take very seriously. Most often these types of reactions are known to an individual and are confirmed with skin pricking. If someone tells you they are allergic to peanuts or shellfish, this is typically the type of reaction they are speaking about, and it’s not one to mess around with. The testing done in my practice will not show this type of reaction.
Food sensitivities are the third type of reaction. They are a more complex (almost elegant) type of reaction. It certainly doesn’t leave you feeling elegant, but there are so many different types of immune cells and pathways that are apart of these types of reactions. The symptoms are often delayed, instead of immediate like the food allergies just discussed. Because of this delay, it is hard for an individual to root out the offending foods on their own. These delays can be as long as 36 hours or as short as 2 hours. If it is a migraine that is triggered, how are you to know if it was the papaya in the fruit salad at work today or the coffee cheesecake that was served at the family gather last night? The symptoms that are related to sensitivities are also more varied and have varying degrees of severity. Most of the symptoms are related to inflammation and a cascade of related responses. From muscle contraction, to arthritis, to migraines and IBS.
DO I HAVE A FOOD SENSITIVITY?
If you have an inflammatory or autoimmune condition, most particularly one that is not responding to traditional treatment, you very likely may have a food sensitivity. The most common conditions that can be improved or completely resolved with food sensitivity testing and a related elimination diet are:
During an initial consultation, we will carefully review your symptoms and health history to determine if food sensitivity testing is right for you and may improve your health conditions, or if the test is un-needed and other issues may need to be resolved first. (Other issues could be parasites, small intestine bacterial overgrowth, etc).
I do have some patients that do not present with the typical conditions listed above and are just interested to know if they are sensitive to any foods. We can test and work on a patient specific diet for you to improve energy levels and decrease inflammation in your body based on the testing. There is no harm in testing and it could be a great way to spend your FSA funds before the end of the year!
HOW DOES YOUR FOOD SENSITIVITY TESTING WORK?
The mediator release test (MRT) is a blood test that directly measures the mediators your immune cells release when exposed to foods or food chemicals. There is 150 different foods and food chemicals tested. Things like apples, wheat, dairy, other items include herbs like basil and oregano, even foods like quinoa and rice. Chemicals in common medicines like Advil and Tylenol are also tested. Wouldn’t it be great to know if that medicine you are taking to rid yourself of inflammation or a headache was actually contributing to the problem? By measuring how much mediators your body is releasing, we can quantify just how reactive a food is to your specific body.
WHAT IS THE DIET PROTOCOL LIKE WHEN WE ELIMINATE FOODS?
The LEAP (Lifestyle Eating And Performance) Immunocalm Diet is an individualized diet based on your test results. It is implemented in 5 separate stages, starting with limiting your diet to the least reactive foods and gradually moving on to other foods that are more reactive. The idea is that we lower the inflammation and quiet your immune system and then slowly add back in foods. The diet in it’s most restrictive phase will still allow you to live your life, but we may find out that the food you eat every day for breakfast is something you are reactive to. If that’s the case, we better change it. So there is a level of flexibility you must be willing to practice to see optimal results and healing in your body.
One of the beautiful things about this program is you test, and then you eat food that is good for you, nourishing your body, and you simply remove foods that are harmful and allow your body to heal. Depending on the severity of your condition ( like IBS) you will likely see results within 5-10 days, for those with eczema, it may take a bit longer to see improvement (2-3 weeks). You do not need to take supplements or purchase any type of detoxifying formula to see improvements, the idea is to heal and eat real food.
HOW CAN I GET STARTED?
I’m glad you asked! Let’s set up a 30 minute consultation where you can learn more about it and I can screen you to make sure the test is best for you. It’s only $35 to schedule the initial consult. If you choose to move forward I decrease the price of the testing and package by $35, so you have nothing to lose. Our meeting can be completely virtual, so don’t let distance stop you from getting started and ridding yourself of foods that are harming your body rather than nourishing you! Click here, fill out the form and I will be in touch to set up an appointment.
Leaky gut syndrome is gaining attention in both conventional medicine and alternative treatment modalities as more and more chronic inflammatory illnesses are plaguing Americans. I know that cooky aunt of yours or the self proclaimed health nut down the street have been talking about it for years, but what does the research, the current evidence have to say about the process? First of all, what is leaky gut syndrome? Is it as gross as it sounds? Yes! Most of us can’t stand the sight or smell of our own gut contents when they move from us to the toilet, can you imagine what these contents are doing as they leak out of your GI tract and into your body?
The lining of the GI tract, like our skin, is a barrier to the outside world, and it is one layer of cells thick. Thankfully, this lining is extremely good at blocking the bad and letting in the good. These cells sit very closely to one another and transport nutrients into the cells to be absorbed into the blood or lymph stream and distributed throughout the body. However, when contents of the GI tract can get IN BETWEEN the cells and access our blood and lymph systems, it can create havoc. You immune system at first will respond with local inflammation and mount a defense against the invaders, but after long term exposure your immune system can become “confused” and start mounting a defense against you and your body, your organ systems.
Physicians and the general public have long been resistant to the idea of leaky gut as an alternative medicine quack diagnosis, but if you take a search among medical research databases for the words “intestinal permeability” or “intestinal hyperpermeability” you will find hundreds upon hundreds of studies looking at just this: leaky guts.
The symptoms leaky gut can cause include: fatigue, gas, bloating, joint and muscle aches and pains, skin rashes and confusion. The difficulty with these symptoms is that they can occur in many different diseases, making leaky gut syndrome all the more difficult to correctly diagnose. Among the published evidence the following specific medical conditions are associated with leaky gut syndrome: celiac disease, IBS, asthma, Crohn’s disease, Type 1 diabetes (late onset), rheumatoid arthritis, obesity-associated insulin resistance, migraines, food allergies/sensitivities, even cancer. In some of these conditions we have a chicken and egg scenario and we need more research to determine causality or just merely association. In others, we understand the increased gut permeability, or leaky gut starts an immune system cascade that affects very distant parts of the body, including the brain, joints as far away as hands and feet.
If you or a loved one experiences any of the above medical conditions, I know you are thinking: Is there a way to be tested for leaky gut syndrome? Yes, labs have the ability to do three different tests that assist in identifying how permeable our intestines are. They are all based upon ingestion of certain foods and then measuring ratios of these food contents in the urine. The idea is your body takes in the food, it makes it to the part of the GI tract that is compromised, then it will either pass between cells, into your blood, to your kidneys to be filtered and out through urine, OR your gut is okay, and it makes it out as a part of your stool.
Conventional and Alternative Treatments
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind about it, we need more research in this area. Many doctors will just slap your gut with a healthy dose of anti-inflammatory drugs, with no regard to the fact that NSAIDs have been implicated in causing increased intestinal permeability. However, working with a Dietitian (especially and functional and integrative medicine dietitian) provides a unique advantage to adjust diet to try and lessen symptoms, remove underlying roots of the problems, clear infections (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO) and institute patient specific interventions to heal the gut.
If you feel that you may have leaky gut the first recommendations I make are the following: Stop taking NSAIDs, decrease alcohol intake significantly, consider removing gluten from your diet for a time. The next step (though it can be expensive) is test for food immune reactions, so offending foods can be eliminated and your body can be given a chance to heal. As a specific elimination diet is implemented, then considering glutamine, zinc, gelatin, and probiotic supplementation and other gut healing protocols that are appropriate for the individual and their condition.
Making the paradigm switch to eating whole foods and removing processed foods from the diet will give your body an extreme advantage in avoiding a leaky gut. Why? Because all of the processed chemicals and highly refined foods can be inflammatory to the gut and soon when the gut is compromised when these foods make it to the blood before your body has a chance to rid them or break them down into smaller particles, it is likely your body will mount an extreme response to the chemicals contained in these foods. Whole foods taste good and are good for you. What do I mean when I talk about whole foods? Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, choosing meat that has not been treated with hormones, responsibly sourced fish.
Thanks for reading, please let me know if you feel you need assistance with this, I would be glad to set up an appointment with you.
But we seem to be expert at underestimating.....
These truths have led to increasingly large waist lines. What am I talking about? Calories. We are really, really bad at guessing the calories in meals served to us at restaurants.
In a study conducted in 2006, on average, 90 percent of people underestimated the caloric content of restaurant foods by more than 600 calories. MORE THAN 600 CALORIES. If you ate an additional 600 calories per day, it would take you less than a week to gain a pound. You could potentially gain over 60 pounds in a years time!
The study went a little like this:
Surveyor: How many calories do you think are in the hamburger and french fries you just ordered?
Diner: Oh, about 890 calories.
Surveyor: WRONG! Upwards of 1500 calories. (Closer to what most people need in an entire day)
Before 2010 more than half (56 percent) of the nation's large chain restaurants did not provide adequate nutritional information, some not any information. Those that did, often did not have this information available on site. The information could be obtained by writing to corporate contacts, visiting confusing websites, or brochures mailed upon request. With the scarcity of this information and lack of proximity, even if requested, to an individual at the point of sale, it made little change to their purchasing decision and thus their caloric intake for a meal.
When nutritional information is easily available to consumers, they appear to be influenced by it in making dietary choices. In one study, about half (48 percent) of people reported that the nutritional information on food labels has caused them to change their minds in buying a food product.
A new meta-analysis (which is just a fancy way of saying - a review of A LOT of studies) shows that certain genetic predispositions for obesity does not preclude lifestyle changes from having successful outcomes in weight loss efforts. The analysis looked at diet, exercise and drug based interventions. Look at this quote:
"We found that the FTO genotype had no detectable effect on weight loss in overweight and obese adults in response to intervention. Importantly, our findings show that the genetic predisposition to obesity associated with the FTO minor allele can be at least partly counteracted through dietary, exercise, or drug based weight loss interventions and that those carrying the minor allele respond equally well to such interventions," Mathers and colleagues said.
This is great news! Even if your genetics have assisted in packing on a few extra pounds, it doesn't mean you are doomed to stay at your current weight. Diet and lifestyle intervention can help you shed unwanted pounds.
I'm sure you've seen sprouted products on the shelves of the health food store, they are even entering main stream markets like Trader Joes, Costco and other major grocers. Even wondered what's the big deal? Are they worth the hype?
In short, they are a big deal and worth the hype. What is a sprouted grain you may ask? A sprouted grain lives somewhere in between being a grain seed and a developing new plant. I say it 'lives' somewhere, because it is LIVING. In order for seeds to grow, it must be activated by certain conditions, like warm air and moist environment. Once these conditions are met the seeds grow, when they are changed the sprouting stops.
Why does it matter that these grains have been sprouted? Like, how does it actually help you? Enzymes are released in the process of sprouting, these enzymes assist in breaking down proteins and carbohydrates. Due to the presence of these extra enzymes, these grains are easier to digest. They are also lower on the glycemic index than their non-sprouted counterparts. Key nutrients like B vitamins, folate, fiber and essential amino acids are present to a higher degree in sprouted grains.
What if you are allergic to gluten? There are gluten free sprouted grains like sprouted quinoa.
Sprouted grains have a hearty, nutty flavor. They can be cooked and eaten as a side dish in place of rice or potatoes, or ground into flours for breads and muffins. I also love using sprouted grain bread, which I can buy ready made and all I need to do is toast it!
feeding beyond 6 months even up and to 12 months to 24 months is more beneficial for infants. This was shocking to our class as we kept reading 6 months, 6 months, 6 months. She further said that the recommendations remained at 6 months because these groups knew that if they set the bar as high as 12 months of exclusive breastfeeding, instead of women trying for that length of time, they wouldn't even start. GASP! But, as we learn, study after study, breast IS best, AND if at all possible mothers should try and breastfeed their children over formula. I am always interested when I hear information on breastfeeding rates, and I am super encouraged to read that breastfeeding rates continue to be on the rise in the US. Check out the CDC's recent report and report card showing these new numbers.
I'd say from my own personal qualitative perspective the most recent and most popular food to avoid is not even a food, it's a protein: GLUTEN. Gluten is just ONE of the proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. Wheat flour is used to make most breads, cereals, pastas, basically anything good, let's be serious.
There is a condition called Celiac where people have a genetic predisposition and then have some sort of insult factor that enters and causes an individuals immune system to attack the important finger-like absorptive villi in the intestines when gluten is present, this makes them very, very sick and often causes extreme weight loss and malnutrition. But, many other people who do not have Celiac disease have begun avoiding gluten and thereby wheat products. Some do it because so is the herd, other because they can link some sort of symptom to eating wheat like bloating, fatigue, abdominal pain or diarrhea.
I am happy to report another study coming out of Columbia University Medical Center which was recently published in GUT, a leading international journal in gastroenterology, evidences a biologic basis, and scientific support for something we have long described as leaky gut syndrome. You can read about the study here in Science Daily.
I'll talk about the actual mechanism of leaky gut and why it can cause food sensitivities in a future post. For now I would just like to report the findings, that individuals with Non-Celiac Wheat Sensitivity were found to have an immune instigated inflammatory response to wheat intake in this study. This shows that some symptoms of wheat sensitivity may not be imagined, and that there is a link in what is estimated to be 1% of the US population.
I ate strawberries as an afternoon snack today, they were delicious. Deep red all the way through the sweet berry and you could practically smell them from across the room. Strawberries are difficult to avoid in my present world, as I live in a city in which it's largest export is strawberries. But, I don't buy many strawberries locally, as much as it pains me, because strawberries are at the very top of the list of produce that contain large amounts of pesticides. Unfortunately, most farmers around here aren't growing organic strawberries this time of year because the berries would grow too much mold.
I'd like to provide a list of foods that I usually try to purchase only organically grown. This list closely mirrors the Environmental Working Groups Dirty Dozen.
8. Tomatoes/Cherry Tomatoes
10. Hot peppers
I'd also like to provide a list of foods that don't break my bank account when I shop as I choose a more conventionally grown option that is generally less expensive.
2. Sweet Corn
People are voting with their purse-strings to the tune of 13 billion dollars in 2015 alone in organic food purchases, however organic produce is only estimated to account for 1% of America's farm land. Talk with your local farmers on your interest in local, organic food and let them know you are committed to supporting their efforts and costs to convert to organic practices.
Caitlin Johnson is a dietitian, wife, lover of ice cream, chef wannabe, California-girl, Christian, liver eating, "food-avore."
218 W. Carmen Lane, Suite 108
Santa Maria, California 93458
Hours: Tues and Thurs 9-5 PST