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Is Your Food Making You Ill?

Food sensitivities, food allergy and intolerances: what are they? And how can they help address poor digestion?

A well functioning digestive tract (gut) is integral for our health as a whole. The gut works to extract vital nutrients from our diet and constantly assimilates these nutrients throughout the body to where they are needed for organ function. So, poor digestion can affect more than just your bowel habits. It can contribute to a multitude of conditions, including immune issues like asthma or chronic colds and flu’s, skin disorders such as eczema and acne, migraines, poor concentration, fluid retention, mood swings and, in some cases, behavioral problems in children.

A Naturopath considers the gut as you would consider the health of a tree –  with an unhealthy trunk, the tree fails to thrive. The same can be said for the digestive tract. Considering your digestive tract comes into contact with food at least several times a day, it is important to consider whether the food you are eating on a regular basis, year upon year, is actually healthy for you.

Close to 19% of Australian adults claim they experience some sort of reaction to certain foods. Some people will report, through a process of trial and error, that certain foods like wheat or dairy make them bloated or feel sluggish. It is important you don’t cut out food groups from the diet on a whim without professional advice as you may be missing out on certain vital nutrients. In order to more accurately identify and better understand how certain foods may be affecting your health, pathology testing may be indicated to determine if a food allergy, sensitivity, or intolerance exists.
The terms “food sensitivity” or “food allergy” or “food intolerance” are often used interchangeably. This is a misnomer as they all refer to different body responses and are managed in unique ways. So, if you are considering eliminating a certain food from your diet, or you have done so already,  it is important to understand the difference between these terms and potentially investigate further with professional support to ensure you are making the best decisions about your diet and health in general.

Food Allergy
A food allergy is generally characterized by an immediate “IgE” immune system response to food and can include symptoms such as vomiting, wheezing, pain, hives, and swelling, as well as the life-threatening symptoms of anaphylaxis. Given the severity of symptoms, the first point of call should always be your GP and Immunologist to ensure accurate diagnosis and the most appropriate care.  Food allergies are generally in response to certain proteins in food and are managed via strict allergen avoidance and appropriate medication. A Naturopath can provide additional support (via healthy meal alternatives and nutritional medicine to support gut health) once the primary care practitioner has seen the patient and identified the food allergy.

Food Sensitivity
A food sensitivity is also an immune reaction to food and is characterized by a delayed, less specific response to food such as bloating, headache, fatigue, poor concentration, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). A Naturopath can refer for an “IgG” Food Sensitivity blood test to help determine if food sensitivities are present. Food sensitivities are generally managed by eliminating the offending food for a period of time, followed by a slow, monitored reintroduction to determine where a patient’s tolerance level is. A Naturopath will help you determine where your tolerance level for that food lies and will provide healthy meal alternatives along with natural medicine, where indicated, to improve gut permeability and return your digestive system to optimal function. IgG Food Sensitivity tests can be useful for patients with non-gut related conditions where chronic inflammation is involved to help reduce the systemic inflammatory load.

Food Intolerances
Food intolerances are different again and generally do not involve the immune system.  It is reported that up to 25% of the population have some form of food intolerance. Food intolerances relate to a diminished ability to break down food. They are usually caused by the lack of specific enzymes required to break down certain sugars such as lactose (milk sugar) or fructose. Food intolerances can also occur in response to certain chemicals in our food like MSG, salicylates, and amines. Common symptoms associated with a food intolerance are bloating, headaches, stomach ache, diarrhea, and flatulence. Breath tests are available to help identify lactose and fructose malabsorption. A Naturopath may also support the patient through an elimination and/or rotation diet to help better understand and manage the diet.

If you would like more information about how a Naturopath can help support your digestion function and improve the assimilation of nutrients throughout the body, please contact Kathleen McFarlane today.