How food sensitivities make you fat.

When we think about food allergies, what comes to mind are things like a kid going into anaphylactic shop after eating peanuts or something similarly scary.  But yet, such reactions are relatively rare. What’s much more common is a person with low-grade allergy (aka ‘intolerance’) for example to gluten or yeast who can never actually put the finger on the reason for their ailments because the symptoms are usually vague (bloating, constipation, weight gain) and his exposure is frequent (meals, snacks etc.), so quite difficult to link them together. And as the years pass, the hidden allergy takes taxes the immune system. The result of an overworked immune system can be anything from weight gain (or not being able to lose weight) through irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to arthritis.  Not pretty.

That’s what happened to a patient of mine. He was grossly overweight and was facing diabetes. But his blood sugar problem was only the icing on the cake (pun meant). He was also complaining of pain in the joints and suffered from asthma, on-going fatigue and a problem sleeping. To combat his lethargy, he craved sugary drinks and fast food for its high quantity of starchy carbs, a false source of quick energy.

After testing, we found out that he had celiac disease, a serious autoimmune disease which was being fed by his daily bad dietary habits. Celiac disease causes the immune system attack itself, by attacking the healthy lining of the digestive tract.  Unchecked, this disease means the gut is in a constant state of inflammation which can lead to other chronic illnesses.  The major culprit that triggers this reaction is gluten, a gluey protein which is found in many grains, including in my patient’s daily dose of baked goods.

Let’s Talk About Food Sensitivities and Inflammation

 

This patient’s story is not exceptional. Inflammation is one of the biggest causes of weight gain and disease. While celiac afflicts roughly 1 percent of the population as many as 30 percent may have non-celiac gluten intolerance. The key difference is that, in people with celiac disease, the body attacks the small intestine which means that potentially it is fatal, whereas a mere intolerance won’t kill you but can not only cause you physical discomfort but as mentioned above can interfere with weight loss and cause weight gain.

When people are gluten intolerant (rather than suffer from celiac), the immune system attacks the gluten. Either way, the gut is aggravated hidden from sight. And, when the lining of the gut is inflamed, the body prone to food reactions, so the problem multiplies and can spiral out of control.  When the lining of the gut is inflamed, small fissures open between the tightly woven cells which make up the walls of the gut. We call that leaky gut syndrome.  And once you get that, the fissures in the gut’s armour allow bacteria and partially digested food molecules to slip through and into the bloodstream where they are considered foreign invaders. 

Once it spies a potential enemy, the body doesn’t ignore it. The immune system gets to do its job. White blood cells rush to surround the offending particles and the result is systemic inflammation. I’m not talking about a sore throat or a pain in the butt. I’m talking about a hidden, smouldering flame which is created by the immune system as it, day in day out, attempts to fight off assault of food allergies.

The problem is that most people, like my patient, eat foods they are allergic to several times a day, throughout their lives. Which means that every time that they eat, the immune system goes nuts. However, because symptoms of a food intolerance can be delayed up to 72 hours after eating, it can be hard to spot.

Without diagnosis or awareness, the damage is continuous, meal after meal. Eventually, inflammation trickles throughout the body, establishing an environment ripe for weight gain and chronic disease.

Identifying and treating food allergies and food sensitivities is an important part of my work. Six weeks after my client went gluten-free, not only did he lose 3 notches on his belt, but his joints stopped hurting, his asthma was reduced, he wasn’t hungry and he became as energetic as the Duracell bunny.  This type of response is not unusual.  I have seen dramatic effects in weight loss, inflammatory conditions like autoimmune disease, and even mood and behavioural disorders.

 

The problem is that most healthcare practitioners, don’t seem to see the value in uncovering hidden food intolerances.  That is unfortunate because there is a growing body of medical literature demonstrating the close relationship between the gut, food, and sickness. The good news is that you don’t have to wait for your doctor to catch up with science. Here are three methods to help you determine if food allergies are damaging your health.

  • Get a food intolerance test. Blood testing for IgG food allergens  can help you to identify hidden food intolerances. While these tests do have limitations, and need to be interpreted in the context of the rest of your health, they can be useful guide in determining what are the causes of your medical issues and if it stops you from losing weight. When considering blood tests for intolerances or allergies, it’s always a good idea to work with a doctor or nutritionist which is trained in dealing with this issue.

  • Avoid dairy, gluten and yeast for 6 weeks. These are the most common triggers of the problem. For patients who have trouble losing weight, I often recommend a short elimination diet. All three are linked to insulin resistance and, therefore, weight gain. Temporarily cutting them out of the diet, allows the inflamed gut to get a break and recover. This one move is probably the single most important thing most people can do to lose weight.

  • Avoid the top food allergens.  If you don’t feel a sense of relief from avoiding dairy, yeast and gluten, you may need to take the elimination diet one step further.  This means cutting out the top food allergens: gluten, dairy, corn, eggs, soy, nuts, nightshades (tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes, and aubergine), citrus, and yeast (baker’s yeast, brewer’s yeast, and fermented products like vinegar). You should try to sustain this for a full six weeks’ period. That is enough time to make you feel better and notice a change. When you are reintroducing a top food allergen back into your diet, eat it at least 2-3 times a day for 4 days to see if there’s a noticeable reaction. If there is, eliminate this food for 90 days.

  • There is a supplement called Quercetin that you might want to try as it is known to be very potent for allergies.

If you are overweight, or suffer from inflammatory diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer, the potential health benefits of discovering and eliminating hidden food allergies is extremely important. Remember, the right food is medicine and is your greatest partner in preventing and treating disease.  

 

I you have any questions about testing for food intolerance or allergies please don’t be hesitant to ask. If you found this information helpful, please share with those who might benefit from it.