What You Eat = How You Feel
It’s becoming more and more apparent how what we eat directly affects how we feel. There is a lot of confusion around leaky gut, food allergies and food intolerances. Today we’re going to look at how these issues interact and what they are. If you think you aren’t affected by any of these three, think again. If you are eating a Western (Standard American Diet) you likely suffer from an intolerance and/or leaky gut and aren’t even aware.
Allergy vs. Intolerance
I’ll start by telling you that a very small percentage of the population has actual food allergies, which result in severe reactions after any contact with the offender – think EpiPens. Food allergies show up most commonly with cow’s milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, fish and shellfish, and tree nuts. Peanuts are not tree nuts, they are legumes. So a peanut allergy does not automatically create a tree nut allergy. Most food allergies show up in childhood. And those countries eating a Western diet have a much higher rate of food allergies. One theory is that our oversanitization efforts, which I discussed earlier, have led to a decline in the microbiome which has led to our immune systems turning on us and attacking our own tissues and other non-harmful substances in the absence of a plethora of bacteria to protect us from. This theory is also applicable to food intolerances.
More people are subject to food intolerance, and don’t even know they are intolerant of a food. The growing number of people affected by intolerance may not be aware of an intolerance because they have been eating the food their entire life. I’m a good example. I’ve been using myself as a sort of guinea pig for dietary styles. As part of detoxifying my system and cleaning up my gut, I went vegan for almost two years. As with any major change in diet, things go out and things come in to replace them. I replaced my animal proteins with plant proteins I did not consume a lot of in the past, like lots of legumes. I started eating beans of all types and lentils on a daily basis. I was avoiding gluten, but eating a lot of sprouted grains, fruit and starchy vegetables. I was definitely feeling better, which was deceptive.
Although I was eating a whole food, plant-based diet, I managed to gain a few pounds over those two years. (Not that such a diet is immune from weight gain.) Nothing substantial or even really noticeable, just enough to make my clothes a bit snug. I decided to start experimenting. I added back fish at first, but changed nothing else. I was still keeping processed foods and added sugars out. Nothing changed, so I started looking at other potential issues. A little over two months ago I decided to add back some animal proteins and keep an eye on my carbs. I went back to tracking my food, this time all the way down to the micronutrient level (tracking vitamins and mineral) as well as macronutrients (fat, protein and carbs). It was at that point I realized how many carbs I was eating. Several servings of fruit every day along with sprouted grains and a lot of legumes gave me pretty high carb numbers.
As soon as I adjusted my carb intake I experienced an immediate positive effect, or effects. I was still getting weight spikes though. You know, when you get on the scale and you’re two pounds up from the morning before. That’s called inflammation. I did not eat enough food to gain two pounds. So next, I took out grains. All grains. I’ve been grain free for almost three weeks now and no more spikes. In the past, I would get spikes from certain meat and all dairy. Hence the vegan path. Since we took out gluten, I never considered gluten-free grains as a bad actor for me. But it’s looking more and more like grains may have been the last stronghold keeping me from fully healing my gut. This is an example of what a food intolerance can look like.
Here are some common symptoms of food intolerance:
- Stomach aches
- Skin issues
- Brain fog
Food intolerances are often found in people with impaired intestinal barrier permeability, a.k.a. leaky gut. I’m sure you’ve heard about leaky gut. Maybe you thought it was such a crazy name and tried to picture what the heck it is. I’ll try to explain it as simply as I can.
Leaky Gut and Food Intolerance
A healthy gut with a healthy microbiome will keep toxins from getting through the mucosal lining (barrier) of the gut wall. We covered the layers of the gut wall when we discussed nutrient absorption. The lining of the gut has a very delicate balance to maintain between knowing what to let through and what to keep out. The lining must be just permeable enough to allow nutrients to pass, and it must also recognize toxins and pathogens to keep them from passing. The key aspect where leaky gut is concerned is the spacing of the cells. The spaces between the cells of the lining need to be large enough to allow the passage of nutrients, but not so big that larger, undigested food does not get through. When those spaces between the cells called junctions are too big, or loose, you have an impaired intestinal barrier.
When these junctions are no longer tight, large molecules, toxins and pathogens get through to the lining of the small intestine where they wreak havoc on the immune system. At this point they have bypassed the gatekeepers and entered the control room. Once inside, the immune system mounts an attack. Remember when we talked about the acquired immune system? When faced with a foreign substance, like undigested food, toxins and pathogens, the immune system creates antibodies for the foreign substances. Then, it stays on the lookout for them. If they return, the immune system revs up and mounts an inflammatory response. This exacerbates the leaky gut and creates a vicious cycle by harming the lining further. And these antibodies the body is creating can actually cause us to crave these foods, making it even more confusing. I mean, why would we be actively seeking out food that is harming us?
The body uses everything at its disposal now to excrete the invader, including through the skin. Think hives and acne as examples. Inflammation in the blood that leads to autoimmune response can take many forms, including food allergies, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and even autism. Of course we need food to nourish our bodies. But it needs to enter the closed system through the proper means, ways the body can identify with, process and transport. When things slip in through the back door in an unidentifiable form the body can’t process, it quickly reacts and looks to defeat it and get rid of it.
Leaky gut is now being looked at as a potential precursor to Crohn’s disease, MS, IBS and asthma. The good news is there is testing for and the ability to fix leaky gut. If you are chronically experiencing the following symptoms, you may want to consider getting tested.
- Increase in food intolerances and/or allergies
- Brain fog
- Bloating, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms, IBS and IBD
- Thyroid and other autoimmune issues
- Skin rash, psoriasis, eczema
- Joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis
- Excessive fatigue
- Mood swings
- Allergies or asthma
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies due to poor absorption
Addressing Leaky Gut
As I said, leaky gut and food intolerance is connected, so it’s no surprise food intolerance would be listed as a symptom. If you are noticing more and more that you are suffering symptoms within a few hours after your meals, this is a strong indicator you could have impaired intestinal permeability.
Treatment for leaky gut will include looking for dietary triggers, balancing the microbiome and assessing lifestyle factors, environmental toxins, and drugs like anti-inflammatories that damage the intestinal lining. Here is a list of common food triggers:
- Gluten and gliadin (wheat proteins)
- Lectins (the protective coverings of plants like grains, legumes and seeds)
- Nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, sweet bell peppers, eggplant)
- Processed foods in general due in large part to emulsifiers like carrageenan and “gums”
You may have bypassed some of the articles in my gut health series thinking they did not apply to you. If that’s the case, I hope you are now seeing just how interrelated all of these concepts are to one another (based on the links in this article back to previous articles). This hole that runs through our body is really the center of it all. When it’s healthy and working well, we are healthy and well. When it is out of balance or damaged it affects every other part of us in one way or another. The body is a wondrous thing, but it has a delicate balance. The entire system works in concert to maintain homeostasis. No part of the human body is irrelevant; even the one that we consider to be “outside” the system. Many of the issues I’m covering are the start or the result of one of the other issues. For instance leaky gut may cause food intolerances, or food intolerances may lead to leaky gut. This same two-way street was a factor in IBS as well between the brain and the gut.
I hope this gave you a better understanding of leaky gut and the difference between an allergy and an intolerance. I hope you also stay tuned for next week’s article. If you aren’t receiving the links to the articles every week, scroll up to the top of the page and sign up. Also, as a special treat this week, I created a printable infographic that lists the Environmental Working Group’s 2018 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. You can grab your copy by following this link. Have a great week!!
Yours in Wellness,
Previous Post: The Importance of HOW You Eat
Next Post: Sugar Cravings and Candida