Food Sensitivities, Intolerances and Allergies
Gluten Sensitivity Enteropathy is an autoimmune inflammatory condition that refers to a group of different types of gluten sensitivity. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other foods derived from these grains. The most extreme subgroup is celiac disease, a genetic autoimmune condition. One percent of Americans are estimated to have celiac disease. When individuals with celiac disease consume gluten, their bodies have an immune response that results in damage to the intestinal villi. Some individuals who experience distress when eating gluten-containing products and show improvement after following a gluten-free diet may have gluten intolerance, instead of celiac disease. Intolerances generally worsen over time but, unlike celiac disease, there may be no damage to the small intestine. To summarize the gluten spectrum: any individual who experiences some type of reaction to gluten is gluten sensitive. Those people that are gluten sensitive and also have the genetic markers for celiac disease are gluten-intolerant, but not all gluten-intolerant individuals have celiac disease.
Wikipedia® defines food sensitivity as a negative reaction to foods that may or may not be related to the immune system or to food poisoning. It is a delayed hypersensitivity and can be caused by the absence of specific chemicals or enzymes needed to digest a food substance, or to the body’s responses to certain food components both natural and artificial. In comparison, a food allergy is an immediate hypersensitive immunologic response to a food protein. It is estimated that up to 12 million Americans have food allergies of one type or another. Approximately 90 percent of all IgE-mediated food allergies are caused by the “Big 8” food sources of allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, soybean, fish, crustacea, and wheat.
Symptoms of food sensitivity vary greatly, and can be mistaken for the symptoms of an allergy. While true allergies are associated with fast-acting immunoglobulin IgE responses (requiring the participation of antibodies), it can be difficult to determine the offending food causing a sensitivity because if the immune system is involved, the response is likely to be IgG mediated (a cellular reaction that requires the participation of T lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that helps the body fight infection) and takes place over a prolonged period of time. Thus the causative agent and the response are separated in time, and may not be obviously related. A deficiency in digestive enzymes can also cause some types of food intolerances. Lactose intolerance is a result of the body not producing enough lactase used to break down the lactose in milk. Salicylate sensitivity is an intolerance to food chemicals such as salicylates or salicylate sensitivity. Salicylates are chemicals that can occur naturally in many foods. Salicylate sensitivity causes many symptoms, the most common of which are: hives, stomach pain, headaches, mouth ulcers, and it has even been linked to ADD and ADHD.
Symptoms of food sensitivities include gas, intermittent diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, skin rashes, migraine headaches, and an unproductive cough. Common symptoms of food allergy include skin irritations such as rashes, hives, and eczema, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. The American College of Gastroenterology estimates that 95 million Americans have gastrointestinal problems. If 12 million of the 95 million experience true food allergies, then 83 million, or approximately one out three Americans, are experiencing true food sensitivities and intolerances. Quite literally, the food we eat is making us sick. Currently, there is no cure for food allergies, sensitivities or intolerances. The only way to manage these conditions is strict avoidance of the offending food or food component.
It is not easy eliminating common foods from your daily diet, but to kick start your efforts we have developed a Menu that contains none of the “Big 8” allergens (see Featured Menu). If you are experiencing any symptoms of food sensitivity or allergies, we recommend eliminating any of the common allergens from your diet that you suspect might be culprit for two months. Think carefully, do you get bloated or inflamed after eating pasta or a bagel? You may have gluten intolerance. Do you experience diarrhea after eating ice cream? You may be lactose intolerant. Keep a diary of what you eat and how you feel after each meal. After two months of eliminating a certain food, add the food back into your diet and note any physical and mental changes you experience. If you noticed a decrease in physical discomfort and inflammation, and feel in better health when you eliminated the food, you probably have sensitivity to that food. Nourish yourself and practice preventive medicine – don’t eat food that makes you sick. After all, we are what we eat.