THE FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE APPROACH TO
FOOD ALLERGIES AND SENSITIVITIES
Many of my patients come to their first appointments having already tried many different diets.
Many of these well-informed patients with meticulously ‘healthy’ diets have hidden food intolerances (also called sensitivities) that secretly sabotage their health.
To spend so much time, energy, and money on very high-quality food and still feel like you are reacting to something can be very frustrating. In my appointments, I go after the symptoms but also address the underlying issues causing them.
A food sensitivity is different from a food allergy. A food allergy is generally a more serious reaction - the most severe being the anaphylaxis that occurs with a peanut allergy.
Even airborne molecules are enough to trigger a severe food allergy. Food allergies can be extremely serious and need to be handled with the help of a doctor and sometimes emergency medication.
FOOD SENSITIVITIES CAN CAUSE SEVERE SYMPTOMS
Food sensitivities are a little harder to classify because of the range of symptoms they can cause.
We will use gluten as an example because more and more people are finding out that this protein is a problem for them.
Many patients that come to me have been told that ‘unless you are celiac, you do not have a problem with gluten’.
This is a wildly untrue statement that has probably delayed the diagnosis and treatment of many people.
Food intolerances can cause painful and debilitating symptoms.
I have known a patient that developed such a severe gluten sensitivity that they have been to the ER with neurological symptoms - trouble seeing, hearing problems, and migraines so bad that they have partial paralysis for weeks.
This patient had been tested for - and does not have - celiac disease or any other condition.
Removing gluten produced an immediate effect, getting rid of all of this patient’s 'mysterious' symptoms.
Gluten Sensitivity, Gluten Intolerance, & Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
muscle and joint pain
Food intolerance can cause severe symptoms and the lack of an antibody (which would classify their reaction as an allergy) is no reason not to take this condition seriously.
There are many ways to find out if you have a food sensitivity.
It is important to note that if you have severe symptoms, like trouble breathing or swelling of the throat or tongue you should go to the ER immediately as you may have developed an anaphylactic reaction.
It is vital to work with a doctor if you have been having severe reactions to your food. Keeping a food journal or doing an elimination diet is a slower way of determining an intolerance and should only be done if your symptoms are very mild.
POTENTIAL SYMPTOMS OF
Headaches, panic attacks, migraines, brain fog, trouble concentrating, memory problems, anxiety, mood swings, temper, depression, agitation, nervousness, feeling 'pressure' in the head, palpitations, being jolted awake at night by an 'electric shock' feeling, feeling 'shaky' throughout the day, feeling like your nerves are raw
Feeling 'poisoned', abnormal sweating, feeling unwell very quickly for seemingly no reason, tired all the time, a buzzing feeling in body preventing sleep, itchy mouth, chronic sinus issues, chronic ear infections or fullness in ears, tinnitus, never feel rested, tightness in chest, menstrual problems, joint pain, candida, chronic sore throat
IBS, cramping, abdominal bloating, diarrhea, constant stomach churning, feeling that stomach never 'empties', blood sugar problems, feeling nauseous all the time especially in the morning, metallic taste in mouth, weight fluctuations, rapid heart rate especially after eating, irregular heart beat, anxiety after eating, feelings of panic after eating
Swelling around eyes, dull skin, eczema, looking 'sick', puffy face, water retention in body, hives, red eyes, blurry vision, rashes, dry eyes, dark circles under eyes, sunken face, dry hair, dry skin, looking and feeling exhausted no matter how much you sleep
Constant joint pain, feeling of pressure in joints, arthritis, bone pain, blood sugar regulation issues, hypoglycemia, dizzy/weak between meals, tingling in hands and feet, cold extremities
THE LIMITATIONS OF 'GUT HEALING DIETS'
Some patients get relief from adhering to a diet like ‘Paleo’ or ‘Autoimmune Protocol’ and they can indeed reduce reactivity and remove some or all of the symptoms of food intolerance.
It is important to note that adhering to these diets for weeks or even years often does not achieve the overall healing the patient is after.
If, for example, a patient has been adhering very strictly to one of these diets to reduce their symptoms and then eat some gluten-free grains or some fruit and their symptoms return - this is a huge sign that there is a larger biochemical problem going on and that their diet clearly is not actively 'healing' their gut.
Food sensitivities, particularly multiple food sensitivities (to gluten, soy, eggs, dairy, etc.) are, in the vast majority of cases a sign that your body’s ability to function is compromised.
This can be due to chronic bacterial infection, a ‘hidden’ viral infection or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
SIGNS THAT YOUR 'GUT HEALING DIET' IS NOT WORKING
Increased Food Sensitivities
Despite adhering strictly to your diet (Paleo, AIP, Keto) - you are reacting to more and more foods.
Your 'safe food' list is shrinking and your body seems to be becoming more 'sensitive' in general to foods. You can no longer stray off your diet.
Even though you have been diligently avoiding 'not allowed' foods and adding your 'gut healing foods' the addition of a single 'cheat meal' can have your symptoms raging back.
You Do Not Feel Well
If you are unable to get restful sleep, are hungry all the time, have low energy or have headaches, stomach pain, acne or rashes - these are signs that your body is not thriving and an evaluation should be done to determine the underlying cause.
ADDRESSING THE CAUSES OF FOOD INTOLERANCES
WITH FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE
To fix the reason why you are having a food intolerance in the first place requires treatment of the underlying biochemical issue that caused you to become reactive to foods.
The first step in addressing this underlying issue is to optimize digestive function starting in the stomach. It is not enough to take a digestive enzyme because then you will become dependent upon that digestive enzyme.
Restoring digestive function is imperative for your ability to digest foods and depending on the patient, it can be done in a variety of ways.
The second step is to correct an immune imbalance - there is a reason why your immune system is launching a response against a formerly harmless food.
The immune component is usually two-fold involving chronic nutrient deficiency and a long-standing chronic infection.
A thorough functional medicine evaluation and diagnostic testing will be used to determine exactly what is going on in your body and the optimal path to help you heal.