What are intolerances all about?
Food intolerances seem to be the new fitness food fad and have definitely become a hot topic recently. Without being tested or performing an Elimination Diet, people with little nutrition experience will tell you to avoid all sorts of food because they are causing you to die a slow death. But just how much of this is true and why has everyone jumped on the bandwagon?
Food intolerances are common place these days and most people that are into ‘health and fitness’ also seem to think that they have one or several and become orthorexic in trying to avoid certain foods. Just as how fat was demonised in the 70s and 80s, and carbs in the 90s up until recently, it seems that foods containing gluten or dairy have now fallen ill to the same assault. But what is the actual likelihood that you have a food intolerance and how much will it effect you and your everyday life if you don’t do something about it? The answer to both of those is: MASSIVELY!
Food sensitivities have been linked to: asthma, allergies, ADD/ADHD, skin conditions, mood disorders, addictions, migraines and a whole host of other things. And if you’ve ever experienced: gas, bloating, stomach pains after eating, constipation, diarrhoea, rotten smelling farts and stools, even a runny nose or headache after you eat, you can be sure that you have some sort of gastrointestinal dysfunction. The problem is, that most people have lived with these conditions for so long, they assume that they’re normal and learn to live with them. Feeling bloated, having uncomfortable gas and stomach pains are not normal and taking steps to correct this should be of high priority!
In this article I’ll be taking you on a journey through the gut, what happens when you have a food sensitivity and what other bodily systems are effected. This may be a little too technical for most and will be an eye opener for others. Either way, people should know that the foods they eat have much further reaching effects in the body than just a bit of gas or bloating. Our gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a sensitive thing, it contains around 75% of the bodies immune system and has more neurons than the entire spinal chord and it has its very own. It also has it’s own independently operating nervous system. In other words, it’s an important piece of machinery that has a very delicate balance.
All guts, no glory!
So what actually happens in the body when you eat a food you’re intolerant to? We all know that you have some sort of reaction: bloating, gas, discomfort or pain. These are surface symptoms. But what’s happening inside at a deeper level and why does eating these foods prove to be so detrimental to your health and body composition goals?
When you eat a food you’re allergic or have an intolerance to, your body recognises it as an Antigen (foreign invader/food intolerance/ infection) and your body detecting this antigen creates a chain reaction in the body which effects a number of systems.
Antigens, when detected, trigger an immune reaction creating an inflammatory response. This inflammation causes in increase in oxidative stress which results in the death of cells and DNA damage. This not only speeds up the ageing process and causes massive amounts of damage to our internal working structure, but can also be the cause of several auto-immune disorders such as celiac disease or Hashimoto’s.
The other problem with this chronic inflammation, is that the increase in oxidative stress, DNA damage and cell death also trigger the release of inflammatory cytokines, which leads to more inflammation and creates an never-ending negative feedback loop which will not stop until steps are taken to remove all antigens.
Inflammatory cytokines (the precursors to inflammation) actually tell the body to increase fat storage and this is a massive problem as having more fat cells and tissue itself triggers the release of inflammatory cytokines. So this in itself creates a second never-ending negative feedback loop negatively effecting fat loss and overall health. And of course, if the body is being told to store fat, this makes fat loss hard and in some cases impossible.
Furthermore, having Antigens constantly present in the body can cause an imbalance in the bacteria of the gastrointestinal system, thus causing a state of dysbiosis. This in itself can cause a disruption in the body’s hormonal metabolism and balance while also leads to directly increasing cholesterol levels and down regulating the active thyroid hormone which is key to your metabolism and fat loss.
Also, when antigens are present in the body, they trigger a release of cortisol, the bodies stress hormone. Increased cortisol can have a number of damaging effects in the body, starting with a down regulation of Secretory IgA, which is the mucosal lining of your stomach and gastrointestinal tract and is your bodies first line of defence (immune system) against infections and antigens.
When SIgA is down regulated and the mucosal lining begins to break down, you increase your likelihood of having something called Leaky Gut Syndrome, this means that disruptions in your gut lining allow unbroken food particles to enter into your bloodstream, which are recognised as an Antigen and creates all the triggers talked mentioned above, as well as releasing more stress hormone in the body.
Increased Cortisol also decreases the production of HydroChloric acid in the stomach, which makes it difficult for your body to break down foods and leads to the malabsorption of nutrients and a deficiency of minerals which can lead you to develop anaemic tendencies. A decreased level of HydroChloric acid also means you cannot sterilise your food properly. This increases your chances of contracting infections and causing a possible disruption of bad bacteria, meaning you increase your chances of Antigens being present in the body, thus causing more food intolerances and possible infections.
Another issue with increased cortisol is that is increases blood sugar levels by releasing glycogen from muscles and the liver. Constant and frequent releases in blood sugar will eventually lead to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and other blood sugar related diseases, which you can read more about here. All of these blood sugar abnormalities in themselves lead to an increase in Cortisol production so this is another never-ending cycle of problems which have all stemmed from antigens in the body.
Hopefully all of that has been pretty straightforward and relatively easy to understand. Now to get onto what we can begin to do in order to fix the problem and start the healing process…
Check out my article on the Elimination Diet to see how you can heal your GI tract and make your body work for you!