Over the last few weeks we have been exploring the difference between food allergies and food sensitivities, and looking at the symptoms of both. This week, we will address one of the major causes of food sensitivity – stress: how it causes food sensitivities and what you can do to get rid of them. If you have missed any of the previous articles in this series, you can catch up by following the links below:
Part 1: Food Allergy or Sensitivity – What’s The Difference?
Part 2: How Do I Know If My Child Has A Food Allergy?
Part 3: Back to School – 4 Steps to Keeping Your Allergic Child Safe
Part 4: The Problem with Wheat – Allergy, Sensitivity or Celiac?
Part 5: Why Going Dairy Free Is Such a Challenge & What to Avoid
Part 6: Food Sensitivities in Children: Why symptoms are so often missed
One of the most common questions patients ask me is, “I used to be able to eat this food with no problem, why am I suddenly reacting badly to it?”
So, the question is:
Why do people, seemingly out of the blue, start having immune reactions to food?
There are many proposed theories about the cause of food sensitivities but by far one of the most prevalent is stress. So, let’s start by understanding how stress can trigger food sensitivities.
Stress. We hear this word so often we have become almost desensitized to its real meaning and the effect it has on our bodies, our health and our quality of life. Stress can be defined as either a physical or an emotional impact on the body. Physical stressors include low blood sugar, injury or trauma, pregnancy, environmental exposure to extreme hot or cold temperatures and toxicity. Emotional stressors are unique to all of us but the ones we all share are the death or illness of a family member or friend, divorce, work and financial stress.
It’s all about Cortisol
You may have heard about the ‘stress hormones’. You may even have heard of cortisol – the main stress hormone – but what is it and what does it do?
Well, cortisol is one of over 125 hormones produced by the adrenal glands and is our major stress hormone. Cortisol, in the right amount, is what keeps us healthy. It keeps our energy up, our immune system strong, our weight regulated and inflammation low.
When we experience any kind of stress our brain, or more specifically the pituitary gland, produces a hormone called ACTH whose job it is to tell the adrenal glands to either increase or decrease the production of cortisol. We all experience stress from time to time, it’s what ensures we get up in the morning and live our lives, and under these normal conditions, our cortisol levels remain fairly stable and our adrenal glands have plenty of time to recover. However, the problem arises when we are under prolonged stress. We produce too much cortisol for too long – eventually our adrenal glands become exhausted and our cortisol levels drop; if we do not have enough cortisol, or if the demand for cortisol is too high and we cannot fulfill that demand, then we will begin to feel unwell. The most common symptoms of cortisol imbalance are fatigue, sleep disorders, frequent infections, anxiety, increased pain and inflammation, sugar cravings, abdominal weight gain and food sensitivities.
Cortisol is an anti-inflammatory hormone that helps regulate the effect of histamine, a compound that is released by a kind of white blood cell called mast cellswhen they break down. As it is released, histamine causes swelling and irritation and again, stress is the culprit! It is stress that causes these mast cells to break down and release histamine all over the body including in the digestive system – which brings us back to food sensitivities.
When histamine is released in the digestive system it creates an inflammatory reaction that causes the normal tight junctions of the intestinal cells to gap – what is most commonly referred to as Leaky Gut. These tight junctions are our protection between the outside world (our digestive tract) and the inside world (our blood) and it is a really important defense mechanism in our body. In the presence of Leaky Gut, the foods we eat are not broken down and digested properly, and large protein molecules get absorbed into the blood and trigger an immune reaction. Once the immune system sees this food protein an immune reaction is triggered and a memory cell is created. The next time we eat this food in the presence of Leaky Gut, our immune system remembers this foreign protein and creates an IgG immune reaction calling white blood cells to the “rescue”. With the stimulation of white blood cells come those histamine-releasing mast cells which are the cause of food sensitivities.
To find out more about how this food reaction occurs you can go back and read part 1 of this series.
Maintaining good health is a process that we must work on on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis and this includes managing our stress levels. However, sometimes the stressors we are exposed to are not within our control and we are exposed to them for a prolonged period of time. The havoc that prolonged stress can cause the body is unique to each person however the triggering of food sensitivities is one effect that is fairly universal and very often, while the stress that triggered Leaky Gut goes away the food sensitivities remain. Discovering what your food sensitivities are and eliminating them from your diet, while simultaneously taking steps to heal Leaky Gut will get you back on the path to health. For this reason, food sensitivity testing is something I do with almost all of my Naturopathic patients and it can really be a pinnacle in their healing process.
If you are struggling with symptoms of stress and you have symptoms of food sensitivities and would like to be tested you can find out more about my Food Sensitivity/Allergy program, by making an appointment today.
Next time, we will be looking at the role food sensitivities play in fertility. To be sure you don’t miss it, please subscribe to this blog using the subscription box on this page. Also, I welcome your comments, questions and stories – you can share them in the comments box below.