Those who live with food sensitivities understand that these medical issues are very real and can greatly impact patients’ lives. However, there is much more to food sensitivities that the pain and embarrassment that can come from the typical bloating, nausea, and diarrhea associated with these ailments. In fact, food sensitivities are often the cause of widespread inflammation and can go hand in hand with gut bacterial imbalances, mineral and vitamin deficiencies, obesity, and autoimmune disorders.
What Are Food Sensitivities?
Food sensitivities, aka food intolerances, are any set of adverse reactions to ingested food. Unlike a true food allergy, food sensitivity may be linked to any component of any food. This includes things like artificial colours, sweeteners, preservatives, and any number of additives.
A food sensitivity is often chronic, meaning the symptoms may be slow in onset and last for an extended duration. Gluten-sensitive individuals, for example, may suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms for weeks after eating a bagel but these symptoms often don’t first appear until 24-78 after ingestion.
Is Testing Available for Food Sensitivities?
Traditional medicine does not offer much in the way of food sensitivity testing. Illnesses are tested through tissue biopsies in the intestinal tract. Illnesses like gluten sensitivity associated with celiac disease, Functional Medicine provides other options – specialized laboratories offer testing of mouth swabs and stool samples in order to ascertain exact food sensitivities. Functional Medicine physicians often make use of these facilities to aid in precise diagnosis of their patients’ diseases. These laboratories can help confirm sensitivity to proteins such as gluten.
How Are Food Sensitivities Related to Inflammation?
Inflammation is part of the immune response, the body’s normal answer to harmful invasive organisms. Inflammation is characterized by redness, swelling, irritation, and increased temperature. Unfortunately, the immune system is not always able to properly distinguish a real threat from a relatively harmless substance. When a person with a food intolerance ingests a triggering food, the gastrointestinal tract becomes inflamed. This often happens as a result of the overgrowth of “bad” bacteria and yeast. These microorganisms compete with and kill off the normal, helpful gut bacteria.1
This inflammation may become systemic, or spread throughout the body. And, since food sensitivities are chronic, the symptoms may not be immediately apparent. In the meantime, the patient might eat more of the offending food, unaware that anything is wrong. This sends the immune system into overdrive and inflammation increases.2
One of the best measures of inflammation is called C-reactive protein (CRP). This compound increases along with inflammation and can be quantified by a simple blood test. Multiple studies have demonstrated a link between CRP levels and “Western” diets rich in carbohydrates and fats. These diets often contain foods that are common triggers for food-sensitive individuals.
For example, a study published in 2017 found that European children who consumed diets full of sugars and processed foods had higher CRP levels than children who ate many fruits and vegetables.3 Furthermore, an analysis published in 2016 stated that “Consumption of a healthy dietary pattern was associated with significant reductions in CRP.”4
Stress and Anxiety
Additional factors in food sensitivity-related inflammation are stress and anxiety. Patients suffering from symptoms of food sensitivity often experience stress and anxiety from a combination of their painful symptoms and worry. This stress contributes to the inflammation they experience and starts a cycle that is almost impossible to break without medical intervention. Other circumstances that contribute to inflammation include heavy metal toxicity and the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin.1
How Can Functional Medicine Help?
Dr. Lynne Murfin helps her patients manage their food sensitivities and decrease their symptoms (and inflammation) in a number of ways. Along with confirmation of suspected food sensitivities by diagnostic testing, Dr. Murfin will look for other contributing factors, like unacceptable levels of heavy metals and nutrient deficiencies. Each factor is addressed in order to rebuild a healthy gut.
Inadequate nutrient levels are actually a frequent problem with food-sensitive patients. Many patients realize that they have some sort of sensitivity and avoid triggering foods, such as dairy products. However, these patients often have malabsorption issues due to their inflamed guts. These issues can lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D.5 Part of the Functional Medicine approach is to replace these crucial vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, supplements and minerals, such as glutamine and zinc, are very helpful in gut repair.
Another critical step in resolving the inflammation that occurs with food sensitivity is to fix it where it starts – the gut. Dr.Murfin can prescribe specific probiotics to flood a patient’s gut with good bacteria – that kind that assists in digestion. These probiotics are tailored to each patient’s unique situation.
A good Functional Medicine physician is an invaluable source of healthy lifestyle advice. Proper diet and exercise are critical components of being both inflammation-free and healthy in general. Multiple studies have shown this to be the case. One such study appeared in the International Journal of Obesity in 2017. The authors found that CRP levels in obese pregnant women fell significantly when the participants adhered to a program of physical activity and carbohydrate restriction.6 Additionally, a separate 2017 study showed reduced CRP levels in mice who were given lycopene and tomato powder, one hallmark of a healthy diet.7 Beyond diet and exercise, stress levels are also intimately tied to gut health and food sensitivities. This is one reason why Dr. Murfin provides the teaching of stress-relieving techniques and lifestyle education in her practice.
Those suffering from food intolerances, obesity, and inflammation, whether seen or unseen, can find hope in Functional Medicine treatment. This holistic approach aids in balancing the microecosystem of the gut and helps patients not only be better, but feel better too.
About Dr. Murfin:
Dr. Murfin is wholeheartedly focused on her life’s mission to help people heal and achieve extraordinary outcomes. She believes that health is more than merely the absence of disease. It is a total state of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social wellbeing through the creation of a whole and meaningful life. Dr. Murfin leaves no stone unturned to determine the root cause of illness or imbalance.