Seems everywhere you turn anymore, "gut" is the first one to be blamed for inflammation, weight issues, mood changes and even histamine intolerance. Seems like a lot to blame on one organ system, doesn't it?
Let's look and see if it makes sense to really examine the gut as a potential piece in your food sensitivity puzzle.
Keep in mind your gut, like so many parts of your body, is a lot more complicated than it may appear. (Or even than we really know - we're still learning SO MUCH about the human body!) Your gut (which technically includes small intestine, large intestine and anus) is a long tube wiggling through your body, made up of muscle, tons of blood vessels, lymphatics, immune cells and nerves. Each one of those is a unique and integrated system that communicates with the rest of your body. Just like a twisted ankle or sinus infection affects your entire body, something "off" in your gut will do the same.
Your gut is responsible for the continued digestion of foods which starts in your mouth and stomach (parts of your digestive system - more to come!). It allows nutrients and fluids to be absorbed into the bloodstream for your cells to use, and also collects waste to dump.
If we then throw in the microbiome - your gut becomes a universe unto itself! The microbiome is the collection of organisms living in your bowels. Depending on the bug, they may help with digestion or get in the way of digestion. Your microbiome is an element to be considered and managed when you're dealing with food sensitivities.
That's your quick, down and dirty introduction to your gut. It's a major player in your health and your body's ability to maintain the balance we're all seeking.
Talking about food sensitivities, let's focus on just a few aspects of gut health. Specifically, let's look briefly at Candida overgrowth, Vagus nerve dysfunction and Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Candida and Food Sensitivities
Candida overgrowth is unfortunately pretty common - at some point there was a stressor which weakened the good guys of the microbiome and Candida, an opportunistic yeast who can be a good guy at low levels, had the opportunity to grow and take over the neighborhood.
Two major things Candida will do to make food sensitivities more of an issue: increase inflammation which can trigger leaky gut, and make acetaldehyde which interferes with some of the primary histamine-clearance enzymes. There are multiple other effects of Candida overgrowth, but these are two big ones.
There are diets and cleanses and therapies all over the internet claiming they will help you clear Candida. In my experience, few of them are truly effective because Candida is sneaky! If you're looking to work on suspected Candida, remember to include a biofilm disruptor. Think of the yeast as hiding underneath a protective blanket - doesn't matter what you throw at it, it will persist. A biofilm disruptor will help to destroy the blanket and make the yeast more vulnerable.
Also keep in mind a Herxheimer reaction or die-off symptoms are common during yeast treatments. If you're going to be working on yeast, I do recommend you consult a skilled provider to help you minimize and manage these reactions.
Vagus nerve Dysfunction and Food Sensitivities
Your Vagus nerve is one of the coolest things happening in your body. It starts in your brain and wanders down to your gut. In fact, it touches or affects almost every organ in your body! The messages travel both ways in the Vagus nerve - to the gut from the brain and back again. It's part of your Autonomic Nervous System which means you don't control it but it responds to your stressors, physical and emotional.
When the Vagus nerve is out of balance, you're going to experience symptoms throughout your body…but we're really interested in the gut right now. Heartburn, constipation, bloating, nausea are all symptoms of an imbalanced Vagus nerve. Sounds a lot like food sensitivity reactions, too, don't they? Interestingly, one of the most effective ways to help support Vagus is to hum! In fact, humming is one of my favorite approaches to nausea!
If you have any significant stressors in your life, consider looking into polyvagal theory and the Vagus nerve a bit. There are a multitude of different therapies out there, but starting with the exercises in books like Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve by Dr. Rosenberg is a great place to start.
Leaky Gut and Food Sensitivities
Leaky gut is a physical change in the gut at a cellular level. The whole system is a collection of cells and those cells create tiny gaps through which nutrients can be absorbed into the body. That's one of the primary purposes of the gut! When those gaps are too large because of infections or inflammation or allergies, things that shouldn't get through those gaps can sneak into the circulatory system, aka your bloodstream.
Those rogue things may be larger particles of undigested foods, or bacteria or viruses, or any number of other foreign things to which your body responds with inflammation, autoimmune-like reactions and histamine.
Both Candida overgrowth and Vagus nerve dysfunction can lead to leaky gut. Most folks are quick to self-diagnose based on what they feel and what they read out here on the internet, and they are likely correct. The thing to keep in mind is leaky gut is the symptom of something else going on. There is a trigger. There is a root cause. And that's what you need to go looking for when you're trying to solve food sensitivities from this angle. Not only are you trying to help the gut heal up, but you're also addressing whatever caused your symptoms. It's a time-consuming process…and a bit of a puzzle in and of itself!
Just looking at these three players in gut health, it's easy to see how most of us have some element of gut-involvement with our food sensitivities. It isn't necessarily the food causing the issue…there may be a completely non-food-related cause of your symptoms. But remember food is medicine.
Sixty-second Self-Care Tip…
So…I thought I was done with these little quicky tips, but I have to add one with this post! If you want just one food item to avoid that will make a huge difference in gut health (including all three things we just talked about), it is high fructose corn syrup.
We can all stand to reduce how much sugar we eat, but high fructose corn syrup is simply hard on your body. It changes your liver, affects your gut microbiome, increases inflammation. And manufacturers use it in more places than you may realize!! Read labels. If you see "high fructose corn syrup", put it back and look for another option!