The Tricky Part – Find The Food Triggers
Not feeling good for any reason is reflected in symptoms, both physical and mental. Those symptoms always mean that your immune system is working hard to fix something that has gone wrong. Most of us consider symptoms to mean we are sick. And rightly so.
We tend to go to the doctor with major symptoms and treat minor symptoms as an inconvenience. Minor, however, still means that damage is being done somewhere. Fortunately (hopefully) your immune system is responding, trying to keep you safe – which means the problem will go away.
About 70 – 80% (depending on who you ask) of your immune system is in your gut, the destination for the stuff that goes in your mouth, usually known as food. So it seems apparent that food is the largest contributor to human illness.
The gut is a fast healer, So if the reaction is a food sensitivity and the damage is occasional, you are probably good to go. If, on the other hand, damage to the gut is continuous (because you insist on eating the stuff you are sensitive to), healing isn’t allowed to occur. The damaged gut lining can lose its natural tightness (leaky gut) and allows undigested food particles to escape into the blood.
The other 20% of your immune systems responds to those undigested particles in your blood because they don’t belong. We now have an allergic reaction. This is the same sort of reaction expected with allergens that arrive through the nose (such as pollen) or the skin (such as chemicals).
An autoimmune condition is also the result of an immune response but is an over-reaction with an additional, unfortunate twist. The immune system not only attacks the allergen but other proteins in the body that “look like” the allergen.
A good example is Celiac disease where the allergen is in gluten, a family of proteins found in wheat, rye, spelt, and barley. The immune system attacks the gluten proteins AND the intestines themselves. Particularly troublesome because gluten is in everything (see The Tricky Part below).
Arthritis has the immune system attacking joints and sometimes eyes and skin. Lupus can attack almost any organ in the body. Of course, there are about 77 more such autoimmune conditions.
There are no cures for autoimmune conditions. The typical medical response to an autoimmune condition is immunosuppressants intended to stop the attack. Unfortunately, when the immune system is suppressed to reduce/eliminate symptoms for those conditions it is also prevented from responding to viruses, bacteria, and funguses.
So if you fall off a ladder, slam your car into a pole, or otherwise damage yourself physically, your immune system’s ability to help you heal is suppressed. If you are infected by a virus (e.g. COVID-19) immune suppression is not a good thing.
The Tricky Part
The tricky part is identifying what you are reacting to.
The top eight food or food groups account for 90% of all food allergy reactions. They are milk, peanuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp), soybeans, eggs, finned fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod), and tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans). The most common are in bold type.
So let’s operate on the premise that your symptoms are likely caused by one of top five. Why would we do that? Because Dr. Amy Myers (The Autoimmune Solution) and Dr. Tom O’Bryan (The Autoimmune Fix) and numerous other functional medicine doctors I follow say the same thing. The most likely suspects are gluten and dairy.
How hard will your search be? You know when you eat a scrambled egg, a handful of peanuts or bowl of beans, a crab or lobster, or a glass of milk. And while tofu and soybeans may only be a small part of your diet, you do know when you eat them. It is a bit easier to know what specific whole food creates symptoms for you.
Wheat, on the other hand, isn’t something we usually eat all by itself. It’s an ingredient – an ingredient unfortunately in almost everything commercially created, not just bread.
What does everything mean?
Everything means food in sacks, bags, bottles, some frozen casseroles/vegetables and even canned goods like soup. Cosmetics, and personal care items like shampoo and lotions. Prescriptions, OTC drugs, and supplements. Even crafts like Play-Doh. Get the idea?
Don’t expect to recognize the wheat ingredients. For example, would you expect “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” to be wheat?
A group of proteins in wheat, rye, and barley make up the gluten that causes bread to rise. Back in the very old days two things were true. First, American wheat had much less gluten in it than it does today. Secondly, our primary food source of gluten was bread.
Hybridization has purposely increased the gluten content of wheat because the higher the rise, the more we (the consumers) like it. And commercial food manufacturers found lots and lots of uses for wheat including baked sweets, thickeners, chips, pasta, and a bunch of other stuff.
A sensitivity to gluten or any other wheat proteins might have had only a mild effect 100 years ago. These days wheat (and its gluten) is in everything. Thus arrives the “volume and frequency” problem, the problem that creates sensitivity, transitions to allergy, and can evolve to autoimmune. Dr. Myers, author of the Autoimmune Solution, calls this the autoimmune spectrum.
Sensitivity can’t be tested for with any degree of certainty. Allergies and autoimmune conditions can be tested for with limitations. You can be bounced from doctor to doctor, testing will be pricey, results are not guaranteed, and diagnosis may take forever. In other words, this approach is not going to be easy.
There are three different posts on this website from an earlier time illustrating amazing remissions from autoimmune conditions. Take a look at the three, here, here, and here. As you read take note. The patient descriptions validate the limitations outlined above.
You are Looking for the Trigger(s)
Autoimmune conditions with food triggers are not curable. Neither are allergies. The triggers have to be avoided. The more complex your condition, particularly when autoimmune, the trickier this becomes. The stories referenced above make that very clear.
Later I will outline the broad strokes of an elimination/reintroduction diet. But if you need help, take a look at Dr. Myers or Dr. O’Bryan or other functional medicine doctors. Ignoring symptoms is not a good idea.
Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Proceeds from her book benefit the Montgomery County Food Pantry. Her website is http://www.allaboutthefood.org/ She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 870-490-1836. Her Facebook page is www.facebook.com/patsmithbooks.