Food is one of the most powerful medicines that can create life-long health. Every bite you put in your mouth has the potential to heal your body so you can start to feel good again. That’s great news if you have an autoimmune disease.
When you eat nourishing and healing foods, you can reverse the progression of your condition, have fewer symptoms, and feel better. Imagine how your life will be when your symptoms are no longer holding you back from living the life you want to live.
From a functional medicine perspective, food sensitivities are considered one of the root causes of autoimmune disease.
If you’re sensitive to a food it’s hurting your body. It can trigger an immune response, increase your antibody levels, and worsen a leaky gut (all of which influence your autoimmune condition and how you feel everyday).
Discovering and eating the right foods for your body is one of the key components of a functional medicine healing plan. It’s often one of the first things a functional medicine healthcare provider will help you with so you can jump start the healing process in your body.
Food sensitivities almost always play a role in autoimmune disease. If you haven’t done so already, work with a functional medicine healthcare provider that can help you navigate through identifying and removing your food sensitivities.
Here’s what you need to know.
Symptoms of food sensitivities aren’t always digestive related.
When it comes to identifying food sensitivities, you may assume you don’t have any if you don’t have digestive tract symptoms. It’s true that you might have digestive symptoms related to a food sensitivity (like bloating, cramping or diarrhea) but that’s not always the case.
It’s common to have symptoms outside of the digestive tract and in every system of the body. Common symptoms include: fatigue, sleep disturbance, hormone disruption, mood disorders (such as anxiety and/or depression), headaches/migraines, brain fog and joint pain — all of which are common in people with autoimmune conditions.
Symptoms of food sensitivities can be delayed.
Food sensitivities can be hard to identify because the symptoms may not show up right away. It can be several days to a week later that you may have a symptom related to a food you ate. How frustrating is that?
If you have a migraine today it’s hard to remember what you ate over the last week let alone figure out which of those foods may have been the trigger.
Even if you’re suspicious that foods are contributing to how you feel, it’s not always easy to go back and discover which ones they are — especially if there is more than one offending food and/or other compounding factors like hormone changes, sleep disruptions, or unexpected stress.
And, if you eat the food frequently, you may always feel symptoms (like fatigue, brain fog or joint pain) but not necessarily correlate them with the foods you eat.
How do you know if you have food sensitivities?
There are two ways to start identifying your food sensitivities and neither is a perfect science. You can do a blood test which looks at your immune system reaction to foods. And/or you can follow an elimination diet protocol.
When you follow an elimination diet protocol, you’ll remove the most common food sensitivities from your diet for 3-4 weeks (including: wheat, corn, soy, nuts, dairy, eggs and sugar). If you feel better, you can be fairly certain that you’re sensitive to one or more of the foods you’ve eliminated. As you add back in foods, you’ll notice which foods are triggering your symptoms.
Blood tests can be helpful in identifying your food sensitivities but there are limitations to this type of testing.
- Not all foods are tested. On average, labs have panels ranging from 75 to 300 foods. These may or may not be the foods you commonly eat.
- You must be eating the food in significant quantities to get an accurate result.
- A negative result does not necessarily rule out the food.
- Insurance usually doesn’t cover these tests. They can cost anywhere from $150-$750 depending on which lab you choose and how many foods you test.
Ask your functional medicine healthcare provider about your food sensitivities and how you should best go about identifying them. Depending on your symptoms, your current diet, and your gut health one of these testing methods may be more appropriate. Often, I’ll start with an elimination diet and follow-up with food sensitivity testing if necessary.
A negative blood test doesn’t necessarily rule out food sensitivities.
If you do blood testing it’s really important to understand that if you get a negative test result to a food — you STILL may have a sensitivity to that food. Here’s why.
You must be eating a food in significant quantities to get accurate test results. For example, if you haven’t eaten strawberries for several months, the blood test may show that you’re not sensitive to strawberries when, in fact, you may be sensitive.
In other words, a food that produces a negative result can still create a reaction in the body. This can be particularly frustrating especially if you’ve spent a lot of money on testing that may or may not be accurate!
Food sensitivities can change over time. So a negative result today may not necessarily mean that a food will never create issues in your body.
The good news…some food sensitivities can be overcome.
The good news is that you’re not necessarily destined to have food sensitivities forever. When the offending foods are removed from the diet and the body is given time to heal you may no longer react to the same foods. Or, your reactions may not be as severe as they were before.
If your leaky gut is severe, you’ll likely react to LOTS of foods. On the blood test, you’ll be one of those people who reacts to more than half of the foods tested. If that’s the case, you’ll need to also work on healing your leaky gut. As you heal, you’ll no longer sensitive to as many foods.
Some final thoughts.
If you have an autoimmune condition, food sensitivities are likely playing a role in your health. Even so-called healthy foods can create reactions in your body — especially if you have a leaky gut.
The good news is that when you identify and remove your food sensitivities you’ll notice an improvement in your symptoms (usually fairly quickly). Over time, as you heal your body you may be able to add back in foods that you were previously sensitive to (and you’ll notice you no longer react the same way).
At first, making changes can be difficult. Following an elimination diet can be challenging — it takes time, diligence, and discipline. But when you actually start to feel good (and you have fewer symptoms) it’s so much easier to stop eating the foods that you know hurt your body.
Work with a functional medicine healthcare provider that is trained specifically in helping those with food sensitivities. It’ll make the journey much easier and you’ll feel very supported along the way.
Would you like to learn more about how functional medicine can help you feel better? Check out my FREE 10-Day Email Series, What You Need to Know About Autoimmune Conditions, you’ll learn:
- why reversal and remission are possible for you,
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