While many holistic approaches to the gut healing zero in on removing pathogens and adding in gut healing foods and herbs, there’s one incredibly important piece of the puzzle that many practitioners miss that can mean the difference between fast-tracking to digestive wellness and prolonging symptoms and dis-ease. It’s the topic of food sensitivities.
Of course, eliminating pathogens and healing the gut lining are two key elements of the gut healing journey, but you need to do them alongside the third key — addressing food sensitivities. Together, these three things will give your digestion the biggest chance of recovery. If any one of these three areas is overlooked, you very well could waste your time and money only to have gut issues come back in a matter of weeks, months, or years.
In this post, I’m going to explain the role food sensitivities play in gut healing and how to consider it alongside a holistic gut healing program so that you can walk away with a concrete action plan.
Food sensitivities are an immune reaction created by your body to a particular food. This typically happens when you have some type of damage or compromise to the lining of your digestive tract (called leaky gut). The lining can be damaged by things like medications (ibuprofen, antibiotics, birth control), foods (GMO, gluten, sugar, and other inflammatory foods), environmental toxins (household cleaning chemicals, city smog), and even stress.
If you’ve taken or eaten any of these things for even a short length of time, there’s an increased likelihood some damage was done, which could result in leaky gut (also called intestinal permeability). When there is a leaky gut, you are prone to food sensitivities. That’s because food then has the capacity to “leak” or escape out of the digestive tract and into the bloodstream where it shouldn’t be, causing the immune system to tag it and attack it as an invader. This is how it can come to be a food sensitivity.
Think about the cells of your digestive tract like a wall of bricks. Held together by mortar, there should be no holes or gaps where anything can get through the bricks. However, if over time the mortar is chipped away by environmental factors, holes can appear and small particles can get through.
See the diagram below to see how this happens in the gut:
The more you eat a certain food, whether it be a superfood like kale or something not-so-super like gluten, the more likely you will develop a true sensitivity to it. That’s because the more you eat it, the greater chance it’ll “leak” through the gaps in your intestinal wall for the immune system to tag it as a bad guy and launch an immune attack against it. Not only does the immune system not want to see food particles outside the gut lining, but when they leak through before they’re fully digested, they appear in a larger state than they would later on when the food is actually ready to be absorbed and distributed to the body as nutrition. Since the body doesn’t recognize it in this larger form, it also considers it a foreign invader, so it calls on your troops (immune cells) to defend the fort (your body).
I ask my clients all the time if they tend to eat many of the same foods on a regular basis, and when we get their food sensitivity test results back, I’m not surprised to see many of the foods they listed on there because those foods were constantly coming into contact with the immune system since they had leaky gut (something we also test for when doing stool testing).
So food sensitivities aren’t just for the ‘bad’ or unhealthy foods, our body can develop a food sensitivity to the healthiest and most innocent of foods because your body can essentially react to anything.
So, you may be wondering if YOU have food sensitivities. Below are a few common symptoms:
The tricky thing about pinpointing food sensitivities is that, unlike food allergies, are DELAYED REACTIONS, so it’s not always obvious what food is causing a symptom like the ones above. You know that someone with a peanut allergy will have an immediate reaction like swelling of the throat, but sensitivities can present symptoms hours or days after, or build over time. This makes it really hard to detect what they are. It’s important to be aware that if those symptoms are happening to you, there you may have some food sensitivities – it’s just a matter of figuring out what they are. Unless you want to do tons of elimination diets and food journaling, it’s probably most effective to just get the testing done, which is an easy blood test that my clients run with me all the time.
The biggest issue with food sensitivities, especially for those of you already suffering from autoimmunity, is they are keeping your immune system on high alert. It’s constantly on as it needs to “defend” your body against foods that continue to “leak” through.
One by-product of immune activity is inflammation. Think about what happens when you sprain your ankle — it gets puffy. That’s your immune system trying to heal you by generating inflammation. In the digestive tract, when you get bloating and pain, that’s your body trying to protect you, too. Inflammation is often a sneaky cause of weight gain or weight loss resistance. The first time I ran a food sensitivity test on myself and cut out the foods I was reacting to, I lost five pounds within the first two weeks…and that was ALL inflammation!
Because both pathogens and foods can create inflammation in the body, they must be addressed together. If you focus only on removing pathogens but continue to eat the foods your body is reacting to, you will still have inflammation, your immune system will remain on edge, and the gut will never fully heal. In this sense, it can defeat your efforts when you only focus on pathogens because the foods will continue to create inflammation in the system while you’re trying to remove it! It may seem like a viscous cycle, but if you address them in tandem, you have the greatest shot at healing the gut, calming the immune system, recovering from food sensitivities, and eliminating pathogenic infections (even chronic ones).
Food sensitivity testing is done via blood testing. The most common technology on the market is called ELISA, however, with rapid advancements in food sensitivity research and testing methodologies, ELISA has become outdated technology. Even though a lot of functional lab tests claim they’re highly accurate, most are still leveraging the ELISA technology, which can lead to many false positives. This can be frustrating because after spending money on the testing and cutting out many foods, you may be left no better if the results weren’t accurate.
That’s why I use a different and newer technology to test for food sensitivities that produces much more accurate results.
Most ELISA tests and other conventional tests are testing the whole protein of food. The issue here is that our body often isn’t reacting to the foods in that way. Because you’ve chewed the food and it’s begun to digest via digestive enzymes, stomach acid, and muscular contractions along the digestive tract, by the time a food can pass through the gut lining and meet the immune system, it’s in peptide form. The new test I run through Vibrant America tests for food sensitivities at the peptide level, mimicking how your body would actually react to food as it’s being broken down.
Even more compelling and important, the Vibrant America test is half the price of the old and less accurate technology! Apply to work with me to run this test and any other necessary functional lab tests to start getting to the root of your digestive health complaints so you no longer feel like a stranger on your own body!
By now, it should be pretty clear that to heal the gut, you must take a holistic approach, which includes addressing the food component along with everything else. The best approach is testing for pathogens, addressing inflammation, and testing for food sensitivities all at the same time. These are the three core elements that we address in my popular Love Your Gut program, so if you’ve been trying to heal your gut on your own and need the guidance of an expert who has not only studied this extensively but gone through herself, I invite you to join us. When you join this live 12-week program, you obtain access to ALL of this testing right away.
The first test is a comprehensive stool test that looks for hidden pathogens that can contribute to chronic digestive upset and other symptoms like joint pain, brain fog, inflammation, etc. The test also looks at your inflammatory markers (calprotectin), immune markers (secretory IgA), gluten sensitivity (anti-gliadin IgA), and leaky gut (zonulin). All of these markers should be included on a stool test as they give us the most complete picture of what’s going on in the digestive tract, and the GI-MAP test which we run in the Love Your Gut program and in my private coaching program does exactly that.
The GI-MAP test is also one of the most advanced stool tests on the market. It uses DNA technology that’s designed detects the DNA of pathogens that could be deeply hidden inside the body and missed by other more conventional testing methodologies like culturing and microscopy. This gives us the greatest chance of finding what other tests and practitioners haven’t been able to, oftentimes explaining major contributors to autoimmunity or chronic symptoms and conditions.
You also have the option to run a food sensitivity test during the program, which I highly recommend, and most people who join choose to do it for the reasons mentioned above.
You can join the program immediately and get started that same day. This is a live program I run continuously, and the sooner you enroll, the sooner you can get started testing and implementing what your body has been craving!
Kristin Thomas is a health coach and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner specialized in helping women with hormone, digestion, and autoimmune health concerns. Having gone through these health challenges herself, she now helps clients find their own path to complete wellness through practical and natural diet and lifestyle changes.
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