Food Sensitivities and your Family
As a naturopathic doctor, it is important to address the root cause of you and your family’s concerns. Your digestive system is a foundational aspect to achieving health and wellness, and it is very often disrupted by food sensitivities. Most often, the food sensitivities that you may have as a parent, will also show up in your child as the foods that you consume are similar. As a family, you can make adjustments to what you eat in a sustainable manner through the process of identifying food sensitivities.
What is a Food Sensitivity?
Food sensitivities are caused by the immune system reacting to certain foods. The digestive tract houses a generous part of the immune system. It acts by sampling foreign objects that enter the gut and decides whether it should mount an attack or not. Foods can be considered foreign if they are over-consumed or there is a genetic predisposition. The immune system attacks these foreign foods because it believes that they will pose a threat to the body. When that happens, a cycle of inflammation begins causing the single layer of cells that separate the gut from your blood stream to become hyperpermeable. If that food continues to be consumed, it further damages the gut which leads to sensitivities against more foods, large particles to enter the blood and cause systemic inflammation.
Food sensitivities are not the same as food allergies which result in anaphylaxis and require an epi-pen. Food sensitivities typically result in symptoms that are more subtle and take a couple of weeks or months to acquire. They can also aggravate pre-existing conditions so they can be more difficult to identify without knowing what to look for.
Symptoms of Food Sensitivities
Some common symptoms of food sensitivities include:
· Abdominal pain
· Gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation
· Nausea & vomiting
· Skin rashes
· Mood changes
· Can aggravate asthma and eczema
· Joint pain
· Runny nose
· Regular colds and flus
· Aggravate autoimmune conditions
· & more
It is still important to receive a full assessment of you and your family’s concerns as many of these symptoms can be a result of other issues. If serious causes are ruled out, food sensitivities can be considered.
How to Treat Food Sensitivities?
There are four main steps to diagnosing and treating food sensitivities:
Identifying you and your family’s food sensitivities is the first step in treatment. There are three main ways to do so. The first and the most simplistic method is through a speciality IgG food sensitivity blood test. It works by testing your blood sample against a variety of foods and assesses for an antibody immune response. You will then receive a breakdown of the exact foods that you are sensitive to, foods that cause a mild reaction and foods that do not cause a reaction at all. There are different types of food sensitivity tests to choose from, but it is best to choose one that is recommended to you by your naturopathic doctor and that tests against foods that are more aligned with your diet.
The second way to test is through a 4 -week elimination diet protocol in which a wide range of foods that have been known to cause inflammation are removed such as gluten, eggs, dairy, yeast, nightshades, certain fruits and sugar. This method of testing tends to be less feasible in a family setting as significant meal planning must be in place, though it is not impossible. It is also important to note that restrictive diets for children can be harmful and requires and informed discussion with a naturopathic doctor before beginning this test.
The third way to test is by eliminating a smaller range of foods that commonly cause triggers such as gluten, dairy and sugar for 4 weeks. This method is more feasible then the second method, but not as specific as the first.
2. Eliminate & Heal
If you choose the blood test to identify you and your family’s food sensitivities, the elimination phase will also be 4-weeks, but based on your specific food sensitivities. During the 4-week period of elimination you should notice a reduction or absolution of symptoms. By eliminating inflammatory foods from the diet, the gut is able to heal and repair itself.
After the 4-week elimination period, the foods that were removed will slowly be reintroduced back into the diet with careful monitoring. Once consumed, a reaction may or may not occur. Reactions to foods vary among individuals and symptoms may happen immediately or take hours to days to present themselves. After a new food is reintroduced, it is best to wait 3 days to monitor for a reaction before adding in another food. If a new food is added too early, you may not be able to discern which food caused the reaction. If after 3 days there is no reaction, add in another food to test. If a severe reaction to a food was found, you will have to wait until your symptoms have settled before testing a new food. Checking in with your child’s symptoms regularly is necessary to control any aggravations and monitor reactions. The reintroduction schedule of foods will be individualized based on the findings of the previous phases.
Sustainability is the most foundational aspect of addressing food sensitivities. After the identification, elimination and reintroduction phase is complete, there is a better understanding of how foods affect your body. It does not mean that the foods that have resulted in a reaction should be eliminated from the diet indefinitely. With the knowledge you have gained about your food triggers, you can make an informed decision about what you choose to eat and how often. Some foods may cause a more significant reaction than others, but you can gage how much is too much for your body. That may mean that your body can only handle two eggs a week for now for example. Your food sensitivities and dietary needs may change over time, but abundance, variety and consuming real, whole foods is the best way to avoid getting food sensitivities and promotes a healthier relationship with food.
Another way to promote sustainability is to eat the same meals together as a family while going through this process. As a family you can choose meals together, cook together and get really involved in the process. This creates a supportive environment for you to address your concerns, manage your symptoms and feel empowered.
When to seek naturopathic support?
If you suspect that you or your child may have a food sensitivity, naturopathic doctors have the tools and knowledge to assess your concerns. Addressing food sensitivities is no small feat and may require additional support such as meal planning, supplementation, stress management, and lifestyle counselling to enable you and your family’s success. A healthy diet for you and your family is different than anyone else’s diet. Dietary and nutritional needs should be individualized to your specific health concerns to optimize the health and happiness of your family.
If you have any questions about food sensitivity testing, please book a complimentary 15 minute meet and greet appointment with Dr. Ann-Marie Regina, ND.