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Struggling with weight loss, despite eating well and exercising, could be associated with other factors such as food sensitivities. The distinction between food allergies and food sensitivities is essential to understand. Food allergies are the most recognizable type and are those that cause an almost immediate reaction such as throat tightening, difficulty breathing, rash, itchy skin, swelling, and low blood pressure. Food sensitivities cause delayed reactions that can appear hours to 3 days after consuming a triggering food.
Distinguishing Food Sensitivities from Food Allergies
Immunoglobins are antibodies or proteins made by the immune system to fight things the body recognizes as foreign substances. These foreign substances can be bacteria, toxins, pollen, or food. Food sensitivities are immunoglobin G (IgG) reactions whereas food allergies are immunoglobin E (IgE) reactions. IgG antibodies lead to inflammation within the body and are not associated with the release of histamine like IgE reactions. IgG antibodies are long-lasting, and the body continues to produce them if the triggering foods are eaten. Most foods can cause a food sensitivity reaction; however, most are caused by beef, citrus, dairy, egg, corn, pork, and wheat.
How do Food Sensitivities Start?
The small intestine is responsible for proper digestion and for keeping out bacteria, foreign substances, and large undigested food molecules. Tight junctions, which make up the barrier projecting the small intestine, get inflamed or irritated when they loosen up, letting large particles pass through. When the particles enter the bloodstream, the immune system responds and creates antibodies to defend itself. The immune reaction occurs outside the lining of the gut, where infection-fighting lymphocyte cells are produced. This tissue where lymphocytes are produced is called the gut-associated lymphoid tissue or GALT. When the GALT is triggered, multiple chemicals called cytokines are released and travel throughout the body, causing inflammation. Each time a triggering food is eaten, antibodies react, causing the immune system to respond continually. Increased intestinal permeability or leaky gut is the result of inflammation and imbalance within the body. Cytokines disrupt hormones and neurotransmitter systems, and food sensitivities have been linked to triggering autoimmune disease by overstimulating the immune system regulatory function.
Food sensitivities and their contribution to weight gain
There are several connecting factors between weight gain and food sensitivities. One of these could be that often, people crave foods they are sensitive to. Particular sensitivities like sugar, wheat, corn, and other high-glycemic foods stimulate serotonin. Serotonin produces a feel-good sensation, which the body experiences as a reward associated with eating that food. This effect is short-lived and leaves you craving the food again. Inflammatory cytokines also decrease serotonin, compounding the whole craving issue.
Cortisol, a hormone the body uses to control inflammation, rises in the body during times of stress. Cortisol increases blood sugar, feeding the harmful bacteria in the gut, yeast, and other pathogens stimulating overgrowth. This increase in blood sugar leads to the body needing to produce more insulin to counteract the sugar, causing insulin resistance and eventually leads to diabetes. Excessive cortisol leads to a weakened intestinal lining, contributing further to leaky gut. Cortisol also contributes to fat accumulation around the midsection. Visceral fat, found deep beneath the surface of the abdominal wall, is dangerous because it is stored around vital organs like the liver, pancreas, and intestines. It creates a chaotic situation for hormones and can lead to chronic disease.
Another cause of weight gain with food sensitivities is a lack of nutrition as a result of leaky gut and an overreactive immune system. A healthy immune system is dependent on adequate nutrition to supply energy sources, maintenance, and the action of the immune system response. The leaky gut can cause malabsorption of many essential micronutrients. Inflammation causes swelling and releases chemicals, which can block the absorption of vitamins and other essential nutrients. Inflammation, combined with a lack of beneficial bacteria in the gut leads to deficiencies in nutrients that are essential for proper metabolism and weight control.
How to discover food sensitivities?
Testing for food sensitivities is done through a simple blood test. Finding the triggering foods is the first step in the process. Removing the foods from the diet through an elimination diet is a crucial factor in understanding which foods may indeed trigger a response. Another necessary part of the treatment is healing the gut. If the gut is inflamed and lacking beneficial bacteria or full of candida, removal of the offending foods is only correcting one part of the problem. Stool testing reveals abnormalities in the gut to assist with the proper remedies to heal the damage. For many people, discovering their food sensitivities and healing their gut is the key to helping with weight loss.
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Common allergens. (n.d.). In F.A.R.E. (Food Allergy Research & Education). Retrieved from https://www.foodallergy.org/common-allergens
Lipski, E. (2012). Digestive wellness: Strengthen the immune system and prevent disease through healthy digestion (4th Edition). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.
Maggini, S., Pierre, A., & Calder, P. (2018). Immune Function and Micronutrient Requirements Change over the Life Course. Nutrients, 10(10), 1531. doi:10.3390/nu10101531
Waserman, S., Begin, P. & Watson, W. (2018). IgE-mediated food allergy. Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology, 14(2), 55, doi.org/10.1186/s13223-018-0284-3.