An elimination diet can determine whether or not you have food allergies or intolerances that are causing digestive symptoms as well as contributing to other whole body symptoms and health conditions.
The health of your gut is, along with a healthy detoxification system, at the core of your overall health. Think of your gut as your inside skin… coming in contact with many “foreign” and toxic substances daily. Seventy percent of your immune system resides in your gut and the gut-immune system is critical to maintaining overall whole body health. If the gut-immune system is overwhelmed, it will result in not only digestive symptoms but will also negatively affect other parts of the body.
Adverse reactions can virtually occur anywhere in the body. Poor gut health has been linked to conditions such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, skin problems, migraines and asthma. Certain digestive diseases such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can also appear with other systemic symptoms and illnesses such as, thyroid disease, skin disorders, arthritis, sleep disturbances, etc. At the root of the problem is an imbalance in the gut-immune system and overall gut health.
As you will see, food sensitivities challenge and weaken your gut-immune system.
Genes as well as multiple environmental and lifestyle factors determine your food sensitivity experience. For example, inflammation of the digestive tract caused by factors such as, infections, certain health conditions, stress, medications, toxins, poor diet, alcohol, exposure to food allergens overwhelm the gut-immune system and cause intestinal permeability or “leaky gut”. A “leaky gut” allows food allergens to more easily come into contact with and inappropriately trigger the immune system and release inflammatory chemicals resulting in negative health effects.
Foods that you are sensitive to can contribute to gut inflammation and “leaky gut” and gut inflammation can result in a food sensitivity.
Food sensitivity is an inflammatory process. Your symptoms result from the release of inflammatory chemicals that act on body tissues and cause the health condition. Removing foods that you are sensitive to is part of an anti inflammation diet and critical to restoring gut health. You may find that some or all of your symptoms or health conditions are linked to food sensitivities.
It is the person’s immune system reacting to the food as if it were a threat to the body’s health that results in the symptoms of allergy. It is important to examine why you have food sensitivities in order to determine the root cause of your symptoms or health condition.
A food allergy is an inappropriate immune system response to a part of a food, usually a protein, that causes a release of inflammatory chemicals and results in clinical symptoms.
In general, the top 8 allergenic foods are: peanuts, soy, egg, milk, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and wheat.
A food intolerance results in clinical symptoms due to the release or elevation of inflammatory chemicals in the body, but is not linked to the immune system. Food intolerances are due to metabolic dysfunction (for example, enzyme dysfunction such as lactase deficiency that causes lactose intolerance) or pharmacologic responses (for example, a reaction to a pharmacologically active agent, such as tyramine, in food that causes migraine headaches).
Traditionally, the term allergy has been reserved for Type I hypersensitivity reaction (think IgE antibody production, immediate reaction, potentially life threatening) and Types II, III, IV hypersensitivity reactions (delayed reactions) are referred to as immune mediated reactions. An elimination diet and challenge is used to identify all types of food allergy and intolerance. Many practitioners consider the only “true” food allergy to be Type I hypersensitivity reactions. Skin testing or blood testing is used to measure IgE to specific foods. Delayed hypersensitivity testing, or IgG food allergy testing, is also available.
None of these tests alone (IgE or IgG testing) are sufficiently accurate to identify the specific foods that are triggering symptoms. The only way to accurately determine if the food is causing your symptoms is to do an elimination and challenge diet.
There are many types of elimination diets (some also call it a type of cleanse diet or gentle cleanse) such as, selective elimination or specific foods (one or a small number of suspect foods removed), comprehensive elimination (multiple foods/food groups removed), selective elimination (small number of foods allowed, use of medical foods, no longer than 14 days) and elemental diets (under medical supervision).
Which elimination diet should you do?
A comprehensive elimination diet and challenge will work for you if you are trying to determine whether or not you have a food sensitivity and are really unsure of what foods or food additives may be causing distress. One version of the diet that covers many potential food sensitivities indicates avoidance of: dairy, egg, gluten, soy, peanuts, oranges, shellfish, refined sugars, corn, and beef/pork. This is a difficult diet and you should plan to avoid these foods for at least 21 days before you re-introduce foods back into your diet. If this seems too overwhelming, modify and start with avoiding gluten, dairy and eggs for 21 days. You should feel better and better during the elimination diet, however, you may experience negative symptoms initially which should resolve. Following the diet for at least 3 weeks (4 weeks is ideal) is critical in order to accurately determine if you have food sensitivities.
Sidebar: Food challenge and re-introduction for most IgE-mediated reactions, and those suspected to cause severe reaction should be conducted under medical supervision. This discussion is primarily related to IgG-mediated reactions and food intolerances.
A daily food diary is an important part of the challenge or food reintroduction phase. Keeping a food journal as you sequentially add foods back into your diet allows you to track all symptoms and ultimately determine if you are food or food group sensitive.
This is a general guide to the elimination diet and may need to be modified based on your individual health and healing needs. There are many modifications and other factors to consider based upon your individual constitution and health, symptoms and medical conditions. Experimenting with a comprehensive or modified elimination diet may be a good first step in your healing process. Check out MyFoodMyHealth for chef-created, easy to prepare, recipes, and diet plans for food allergies and intolerance (use the promotional code "Vitality1" on the "Sign Up Now" page for 15% off your subscription).
Some references: Joneja, JV Dealing with Food Allergies, 2003; Mullin GE and Swift KM The Inside Tract, 2011; Clinical Nutrition: A Functional Medicine Approach, 2004; Lipski, L Digestive wellness, 2012; The Center for Mind Body, Food as Medicine conference 2012; IFM Functional Nutrition Course conference 2012
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