So You're Wondering If A Certain Food Might Be Causing You Grief
You struggle with digestive issues, migraines, skin troubles, asthma, pain or, some other issue that has been difficult to resolve. Perhaps you've heard that reactions to certain foods might contribute to such symptoms. So you book an appointment with a naturopathic doctor (ND) and you hope that we can do some testing to help you figure it out.
If that ND is me, here is what we are going to talk about.
First, I'll tell you that yes, I frequently find the consumption of certain foods can cause my patients' symptoms. I find that many people find relief and health thrives when we figure these things out.
Second, I'll tell you that the issue may be more complicated than you might think. There is no perfect test that will give us the answers that you are looking for. However, there are plenty of solutions! A thorough understanding of your symptoms, how you eat and your health history will be needed for us to decide how to proceed and figure out the best diet for your situation.
Here are six examples of reasons a particular food might not work for a particular person.
1. True allergy. True allergies occur when we form a specific type of antibody (immune chemical) called IgE to certain proteins found in specific foods. These reactions usually occur within minutes of exposure to a food. Common reactions include hives and breathing difficulties. This is the category for life threatening allergies. Due to the immediate nature of true allergies, people often already know they have these and they can be confirmed by testing with an allergist.
2. Celiac disease. When people with celiac disease eat a protein called gluten, it triggers their immune systems to damage the villi (finger-like projections) of the small intestine. This damages the ability to absorb nutrients from food and can cause a wide range of problems – from digestive symptoms to infertility. The type of antibody that causes this problem is called IgA and there is a very specific blood test that we can do to look for celiac disease.
3. Other antibody formation. Other types of antibodies such as one called IgG (and possibly others) can form to different foods. When these foods are present in large numbers, they may contribute to inflammation and play a role in numerous diseases and conditions. There is a blood test that can be done to identify IgG antibodies to specific foods.
4. Food breakdown issues. So far I have discussed food reactions related to the immune system. Another way people experience symptoms related to foods is a results of how they are able to break those food down once eaten. The classic example here is lactose intolerance. This is a problem where a specific enzyme (called lactase) that aids in the breakdown of the milk sugar lactose is lacking. Often when our digestive system is damaged, our ability to produce enzymes and other elements to help break down certain foods becomes compromised.
5. Problems with your microbiome. That is, the vast collection of bacteria that you carry around with you in your digestive system. Having too little good bacteria, or too much in in the wrong place, can contribute to symptoms especially when it comes to digestion. One major example here is a condition called SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). Classic symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, constipation and early fullness that is worse when the person consumes certain types of sugars. A breath test can help us diagnose this condition.
6. Intolerance to specific chemicals in foods. Some people experience symptoms when they consume foods containing high amounts of specific chemicals. Histamine, salicylates are two such chemicals. The list of symptoms associated with each is long but common to both might include digestive issues, sinus symptoms and itching. The best way to confirm an issue with these chemicals is to try a diet that is low in them and see if symptoms improve.
This is a complex issue! It's less straight forward than can be solved by a single test. However I also find it to be a fairly logical area to work with if I have gathered enough information about my patient.
Dr. Alexis Blanks is a naturopathic doctor who is clinically trained and naturally focused. She is co-owner of Flourish Naturopathic at Moss Healthcare.