Around a fifth of the Western Worlds’ population believe that they themselves react to some kind of food. The reasons for food intolerance are many, and vary greatly in severity. I will in this article focus on unraveling various ways someone can react to certain foods, and then what to do about this.
Even though the food we eat is medicine for most, parts of food sources can for some be like a poison. The reason why someone react to foods are multifactorial, and often include a combination of genes and environmental factors.
We can divide food reactions into three main categories: Immune-reactions, enzyme breakdown problems and toxic reactions.
Immune reactions to foods are what we call hypersensitivity reactions. Possibly the most familiar way for food immune reactions is food allergy. Even so, this is a relatively rare condition, and occur in only about 2-3 % of the Western population. Common food sources that may give food allergies are wheat, milk, egg white, soy, nuts and shellfish. With food allergy, consumption of the food source will potentially lead to a swift reaction, often occurring within seconds to minutes after ingestion, potentially with a fatal outcome if nothing is done. What is physiologically happening, is that the food activates an antibody called IgE (Immunoglobulin E). This will consequently lead to a surge in histamine, creating an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions can lead to serious, and potentially life threatening conditions, due to the throat and tongue swelling up and obstructing the airways. One can also have allergic reactions to a range of non-food particles such as dust, mold, animal hair, pollen, fungal spores and much more. There is often a cross-reaction to similar biological complexes. We therefore see that for example people with birch allergies could also react to apples.
In addition to IgE mediated food reactions, there are other hypersensitivity reactions to foods. Here other Immunoglobulins are activated by ingestion of the food, with an activation of other immunoglobulins called IgG or IgA. Here the time it takes from the activation of the food substance and activation of the immunoglobulin, to the actual appearance of symptoms may take from half an hour up several days. Even so, in my experience the symptoms often start to appear within half an hour. Common food sources relating to this delayed hypersensitivity reaction can be gluten, milk proteins such as whey and casein, eggs and soy. Here symptoms can relate to gastrointestinal problems, but also generate a whole range of symptoms such as fatigue, migraine, joint/muscle aches, skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis and much more. Many world renowned researchers have shown how ingestion of these proteins can cause an immune reaction. Alessio Fasano, a world renowned researcher at Harvard Medical School and University of Maryland Celiac Research Center have conducted countless studies proving how gluten sensitivity can potentiate a range of issues.
Because it often takes a while before symptoms appear, the origin for the immune-reaction may be obscured. A famous Norwegian researcher called Peder Brantsæg, have shown the pathophysiology between food intolerances and the evolution of auto-immune disorders, where the immune system not only does their job of fending against invading bacteria and viruses, but over-react, and start to attack ones’ own cells. Common Auto-immune disorders include Diabetes Mellitus Type 1, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hashimotos Thyroiditis and Psoriasis, to name a few.
Breakdown Issues related to food occur due to enzyme failures. The enzymes essential for the breakdown of a certain food malfunction or is lacking. Breakdown problems can relate to proteins, carbohydrates or fat. Breakdown issues related to proteins may lead to undigested protein particles called peptides. Another famous Norwegian researcher called Karl (Kalle) Reichelt proved the co-existence of neurological problems and peptide breakdown problems. The research shows how undigested peptide particle complexes lodge in the neurological opioid receptors, and hence cause a great deal of problem. Opioid receptors are what is the receptor upon what Morphine works, even though there are many different types of opioid receptors, with different chemicals triggering them. Several studies show the link between opioid peptides and diseases such as Schizophrenia, Autism, ADHD and Dementia.
Another example of a breakdown issue is that of carbohydrates. The most common case here is that of lactose intolerance. This is by far more common amongst Asian population, due to the genetic profile, but may also occur amongst all populations. Here a reduction of enzymes leads to less digestion of these carbs in the small intestine, where they then pass to the large intestine. Here these complex carbohydrates may serve as a food source to the wide range of bacteria in the gut, often leading to very distressing gastrointestinal symptoms such as flatulence and diarrhea.
Breakdown issues related to fat, implies problems breaking down the fat one has ingested, leading to less absorption of the fat. The definition of fat malabsorption is that over 7% of ingested fat in the food is found in the feces later on. The reasons for this breakdown problem is often due to liver and gall bladder issues, or reduced secretion of digestive enzymes from the pancreas. Certain bacteria dysbiosis may also contribute to fat malabsorption.
Toxic food substances can also give quite severe reactions when eating them. Examples of this is rotten food, infected food and foods containing ample amounts of detrimental chemicals and heavy metals. Ingestion of these foods can give rise to everything from acute to chronic complaints, and vary a great deal depending on what has been ingested.
Examination to evaluate whether someone has got a food intolerance implies a thorough walkthrough of the patient’s diet and food habits, clinical symptoms, genetic and family history, risk of gut flora imbalance, and possible ingestion of toxins.
Investigation to determine whether someone has got food intolerance can start by doing a blood works looking for elevations in the immunoglobulins and enzyme depletions, in addition to signs of malabsorption. When there is a strong suspicion that someone has a food intolerance, it is advised to undertake an elimination/provocation diet, where one first eliminate (stay away from) the suspected food(s) for a period of around 4-6 weeks, and then “provoke”, by introducing the food again. When there is a “positive” reaction, meaning there is an improvement by elimination and a worsening by provocation, it will be advisable to stay away from the food(s) for a while. Eventually, (unless it is purely genetic such as lactose intolerance) after months or years, it may be possible to introduce these foods again, without any problems.
It is not uncommon to see a great improvement in someones’ chronic ailments after eliminating the food that give rise to the symptoms. I have experienced patients with severe migraine and chronic fatigue syndrome to suddenly feel revived and thriving after eliminating those foods. So if there are someone you know that have chronic ailments, with symptoms not passing with standard therapy, it would be wise to consider if there may be an underlying food intolerance giving rise to the problems.