Food Sensitivities Are All in Our Gut!
Thirty years ago, it was rare to know someone with a food sensitivity or allergy. These days, every elementary school has a peanut-free table. There are millions of gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free items lining our supermarket shelves. It seems rare to not know someone with a food sensitivity or allergy nowadays. How can we prevent—or at least slow down—the seemingly ever-increasing number of food sensitivities? And what can we do to reduce our chances of getting more if we already have one?
Research has shown that 80 percent of our immune system is housed in the gastrointestinal tract, commonly referred to as the gut. Our gut contain tens of trillions of microbes, all living in a delicate balance between those that are beneficial for us—aiding in our digestion and absorption and forming the foundation of our immune system—and those that are potentially pathogenic. That homeostatic relationship is not something we want disturbed. If the microbes in our gut become imbalanced, our entire immune system will be compromised.
While there are also genetic factors at play, our immune system, to a large extent, controls the level to which we react to things in our environment, including germs, toxins, pollen in the air and even the food that we eat. Since a majority of our immune system is housed in the gut, it is reasonable to believe that maintaining excellent gut health is vital to preserving the proper function of that immune system. Luckily, there are several steps we can take to promote optimal gut health:
• Eliminate foods we are already sensitive to. Many people believe that they do not have food sensitivities if they do not have gastrointestinal symptoms. However, reactions to food come in many forms, including skin conditions like acne, eczema and rosacea; headaches; fatigue; joint pain; congestion; autoimmune conditions like alopecia, Hashimoto’s and rheumatoid arthritis; and countless other issues that can have ties to the foods we eat. A functional medicine practitioner can help us find out what bothers us. A 30-day reset diet can also help by eliminating and then adding foods back in one at a time.
• Check for any gut pathogens like bacteria, viruses or yeast. We all have these things in our bodies all the time; the pathogens are ideally kept in check by our good bacteria so that they do not become overgrown, a condition called dysbiosis. If dysbiosis does occur, this can lead to a compromised immune system. Functional medicine doctors are trained to look for symptoms of gut dysbiosis, test to find out if it is bacterial, viral or fungal, and then treat it appropriately and naturally.
• Getting vitamin D levels checked at least once a year is recommended, but ideally every six months. A primary care physician can order this test, or a kit from Grassroots Health can be ordered and done at home with a finger prick. Ordering from Grassroots is also an opportunity to become a part of their international research project to help fight vitamin D deficiency.
• Take probiotics and eat fermented foods. Probiotic capsules and the probiotics found in fermented foods have an immuno-regulatory effect, meaning that they help to keep everything running smoothly down there. Probiotics aid with digestion, helping to break foods down and keep the pathogens in check. A variety of fermented foods and changing up the type of probiotic every month or two introduces a larger variety of bacterial species.
• Eat a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory diet. Many of us know the benefits of eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables—organic and often raw—but it is just as important to eat eggs from pastured hens for choline; shellfish for vitamin A, vitamin D and zinc; and cold-water fatty fish like wild salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines for EPA and DHA. Grass-fed beef contains a much healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats than conventional beef does. These and many other nutrients are the building blocks for creating new, healthy cells that join together and form the gut lining. Without them, the cell regeneration process does not work properly and the gut—and therefore the immune system—are compromised. Most grains, as ubiquitous as they are, are much less nutrient-dense than the other foods listed here and are also typically more inflammatory and, as such, should be minimized.
• Start making bone broth. Bone broth made from the bones of grass-fed beef or pastured chicken can be amazingly restorative for the gut and is a great source of glycine, an amino acid that is missing from our modern diet. Muscle meat is high in methionine, which has been shown to raise homocysteine levels—a marker of heart disease—and is believed to be the reason red meat used to be maligned. Adding bone broth into our diet gives us that much-needed, homocysteine-lowering glycine.
• We are bombarded by environmental toxins all day, every day. It is impossible to completely eliminate our toxic exposure, but we can do our best to at least minimize it. Swap out chemical-filled home cleaning products for more natural versions; do the same for personal care products. Installing an air filter and a water purifier in our homes can help. Buying organically grown fruits and vegetables whenever possible is beneficial, especially for those known as the “Dirty Dozen”, and avoid GMOs. Buy grass-fed meat, pasture-raised organic poultry and wild-caught fish rather than conventional. Switch plastic food storage containers for glass and do the same for water bottles. Ditch that Teflon pan and buy a cast-iron skillet. If seasoned enough, they’ll become almost as non-stick as Teflon.
Taking these steps may not be a cure-all for food sensitivities, but they will certainly improve our gut health and slow down the inflammatory process that led to the food sensitivities in the first place. And, if we are lucky enough to not have any food sensitivities, following these guidelines can help prevent us from getting them in the future; it also protects us from a myriad of other inflammation-related issues.
Tracy Schiff, FDN-P, CHC, CGP, is a functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner and certified health coach. She also completed Chris Kresser’s ADAPT Course at the Kresser Institute for Functional and Evolutionary Medicine and Andrea Nakayama’s Full Body Systems. Schiff works as a health coach in the office of Dr. Tamara Sachs in New Milford and also sees clients privately through her company, BetterFed. She can be reached at 844-458-2801,
Tracy@TSachsMD.com or Tracy@Better-Fed.com.