A hundred years ago, the idea of being allergic to a food would have been absurd. Even just a decade ago, the terms “gluten-free” or “dairy allergy” were uncommon, and most people judged without knowing what it meant or why it was important. Today, most schools are nut-free facilities and laws have been passed to ensure proper labelling of all ingredients in a product. Still, many families struggle with the idea of keeping certain foods off the dinner table, and if you are someone with a food allergy you know how stressful it can be to attend any social gathering. What has triggered this development in sensitivities to food? Has our food changed so drastically that we no longer recognize it or have our bodies become more sensitive? Perhaps the answer is a combination of both, but given the human genome has been nearly identical for last 2000 years, it is unlikely to be a gene mutation.
The gastrointestinal tract has an intricate anatomy that requires specific conditions to be met for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. Food entering the stomach must be broken down to the smallest particle in order to be absorbed through the very tight junctions of the stomach lining and into the bloodstream.
This first step can be complicated by inadequate production of digestive enzymes, insufficient stomach acid, and rapid transit through the stomach with overactive muscles. In the case of a highly stressed person who eats on the go and doesn’t thoroughly chew their food, large pieces of food are more difficult to digest and can damage those tight junctions in the intestinal lining, resulting in gaps that allow these pieces to enter the bloodstream.
As the immune system is used to seeing the smallest particles of food in the blood, large pieces are extremely foreign and an immediate attack ensues. Immune cells are produced to fight those specific foods and travel around the entire body looking for other foreign particles to attack. This can cause inflammation in muscles, joints, and skin, decrease focus and concentration, and eat away at your energy, leaving you feeling sluggish. As for the remaining food in the digestive tract that is not absorbed, water and bacteria rush in to create symptoms of bloating and gas. Over time, the repeated entrance of improperly digested foods creates a proportionately larger immune response which can result in eczema, acne, headaches, weight gain, fatigue, joint pain and even depression.
Because the immune cells are made specifically for a certain part of a food, for example, the gluten protein, a seeming “gluten sensitivity” develops. Now, Caeliac Disease is a completely different story, because immune cells specific to gluten are delivered genetically and these individuals will never be able to tolerate gluten. The good news for the rest of us is that simply removing gluten for a few weeks and adding in a few healing nutrients can allow the digestive lining to seal those tight junctions. Proper eating habits like sitting down to eat a meal, chewing thoroughly and not wolfing down food allow the body’s natural production of digestive enzymes and stomach acid to increase. With some time and effort, it is definitely possible to overcome a food sensitivity and get back to enjoying foods again.
Dr. DeSouza shares new research and discoveries along her journey.