Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Food Elimination Q/A Part One (Is food elimination for life?)

By Christian Wernstedt

I'm doing a lot of work on helping people identify and fix food sensitivites, so I often receive questions related to this. If you have a question, please put it in the comments section, and I will try to answer it in a follow up post. Thanks! /Christian

Q: Let’s say that I have discovered a few foods that I react badly too. Will I have to stop eating them for life?

To answer this in an as illuminating way as possible, I’m going to define food sensitivity very broadly:

Let’s consider “food sensitivity” as something that could include everything from abnormal blood sugar levels when eating carbs, to tummy discomfort when eating lactose, to autoimmune flareups from gluten or nightshades, to anaphylactic shock from eating peanuts.

If the food sensitivity is part of your “hard wiring” either because of genetics or because a part of your body has become irreparably damaged, then YES, you need to stay away from that particular food for the rest of your life.

An example of hardwired genetic food sensitivity is genetically based lactose intolerance. In this case, your body just doesn’t have the genetic information that it needs to make the needed digestive enzyme (lactase), and hence you will never be able to digest lactose on your own without ingesting some lactase at the same time. (Strictly speaking this may depend on your gut flora and if you drink raw milk, but let's not complicate things!)

(Note: To put this in the context of "Paleo": Paleo theory essentially holds that we are all genetically hardwired to be more or less sensitive to grains, legumes, dairy and certain other foods.)

The second category of "hardwired" food sensitivity is caused by irreparable damage.

One example of this is problems metabolizing carbohydrate due to the inability of the pancreas to produce insulin (diabetes). Another example is the poor ability to digest fat in people who have had the gall bladder removed.

In addition to these examples of irreparable damage, I would like to add that in a person with auto-immune disease there is the possibility that the immune system has become permanently unable to distinguish between “self” and and “non-self” in such a way that some foods will always be problem triggers. (An example is a person with Celiac disease who will have to stop eating gluten for life.)

Let’s now look at food sensitivity that is not hardwired, but that could be called functional (or “circumstantial”) food sensitivity:

In this case the sensitivity is a result of a degenerative process that has caused a degree of malfunction in some organ or system in the body such as the intestinal mucosa, gut flora, blood sugar regulation, or immune system (all of which can cause the body to react adversely to various foods).

This type of food sensitivity is most often present when people discover problems with typical paleo foods such as meats or seafood or inconspicuous fruits and vegetables.

If this is your situation, your prospects for being able to eat the food again without problems hinges on if you can successfully halt the responsible degenerative processes and restore proper function.

Part of the healing process is to stay away from the reactive foods for a significant time (say, three months), and then do an experiment with re-introduction.

Now, I deliberately said “part of the healing process”, because removing trigger foods may not be enough to to stop and reverse the underlying degenerative process that caused the food sensitivity.

In many cases one needs to do additional repair work in conjunction with eliminating reactive foods to regain full health and the ability to eat the excluded foods again.

Conversely, not doing the repair work can result in a merry-go-round of food sensitivities. The person may develop new sensitivities to whatever foods they are eating for a prolonged period of time. (This is a classic sign of “leaky gut”.)

Details of the repair process are far beyond the scope of this post, but, as a summary, one may have to use restorative nutrients to repair the digestive tract, as well as address other surrounding issues such as hormonal imbalance, gut pathogens, and toxicity issues that can all contribute to poor gut function.

PS. What I have found is that when a person doesn't have optimal health overall (could be anything from acne to obesity to auto-immunity), poor gut health is always part of various viscous cycles in that person's body, and that in order to heal the body, one must heal the gut… But to heal the gut one must also heal the rest of the body! (Helping people navigate this wonderful complexity is part of my daily life!)

PPS. Polemics: There is a widespread myth in the paleo community which is that taking out certain foods will always lead to healing of the body, and that if a person doesn't get better after doing so is is because he/she just didn't do paleo strictly enough or hasn't tried to eliminate enough foods.

This is as simplistic and ignorant regarding the nature of the body as saying that a person with a bullet wound likely needs no further help beyond having the bullet removed.

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