Updated: Jun 11, 2021
Have you ever been caught up in the cycle of eating the same 5 to 10 foods for months at a time?? As in, every. single. day. Are you reluctant to move outside of your comfort zone and add new foods to your diet because you are afraid of how your digestive system might react?
It is not uncommon at all for people with chronic digestive issues to experience what is known as “loss of oral tolerance.”
If you react to lots of different foods and have dwindled down your food selection from eating a wide variety of foods to just a handful, you may be experiencing food sensitivities.
Maybe you thought you had food allergies but when you went to the allergist, you came up empty handed. Maybe you have tried an elimination diet and food journaling with little to no solid leads on what is causing your symptoms? Frustrating, I know.
It could all come down to immune tolerance, the immune system’s ability to not react to chemicals, food proteins or even the body’s own organ tissue.
Luckily, there are ways that you could improve your immune tolerance and start adding new foods back into you diet, just the way it should be!
First, you should know that food allergies differ from food sensitivities.
A true food allergy usually comes on very quickly after even limited exposure to small amounts of the food and happens each time you consume it. Allergies can cause hives, itchy skin or a rash as well as more serious symptoms including shortness of breath, chest pain or even difficulty swallowing. As you can see, the response can affect the entire body, not just your digestive system. Food allergies are what’s known as an Immunoglobulin E (IgE) response by the immune system. Generally speaking, most people with a true food allergy are well aware of it and steer clear of the offending food(s) at all costs.
More common are food intolerances and sensitivities. Here’s a quick overview of the differences between the two:
A food intolerance means the body lacks an enzyme needed to breakdown a specific food which then triggers a response by the digestive system. Think lactose, found in milk. If you don’t produce the enzyme lactase, you can’t properly breakdown lactose, leading to unpleasant symptoms after consuming milk.
Food sensitivities occur when a particular food or group of foods trigger an Immunoglobulin G (IgG) immune response. This type of immune response is usually delayed by up to 72 hours, making it difficult to pinpoint which food caused the reaction. Symptoms can range from bloating, diarrhea, stomach pain and migraines and are not life-threatening like some true allergies can be.
So, what can you do to break this vicious cycle and improve your immune tolerance? Below, I have outlined three ways you can begin working towards a more diversified diet and better health with fewer digestive symptoms.
1. Calm overreactive dendritic cells. These immune cells help in the process of determining whether the immune system should mount a response to a particular food or not. You see, the immune system thinks at a molecular level and recognizes everything by its’ protein structure. Basically, that means foods that are not broken down into the smallest possible structures, single amino acids, our immune system could tag them as foreign and mount a response to those food proteins. Inflammation is a natural part of an immune response. If we are consistently failing to break down our food the way it should be, our bodies could be dealing with constant, low level inflammation and unpleasant digestive issues. That’s why breaking down our food properly is so important.
Most everything we consume is made up of chains of amino acids that must be broken down. Producing enough saliva and chewing really well can help in this process but the real work involves Hydrochloric Acid (HCL) and digestive enzymes. Taking low doses of HCL and/or digestive enzymes with each meal can be a real game changer for people that suffer with food sensitivities
Boosting what’s known as Secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA) levels can help calm over reactive dendritic cells as well. SIgA are a type of antibody located in the small intestines, where nutrient absorption occurs. SIgA antibodies are responsible for tagging foreign invaders, signaling other immune cells to sweep them up and eliminate them.
If your SIgA levels are low, dendritic cells can become overactive. Low SIgA levels can occur for many reasons including chronic infections, use of medications like steroids, stress, adrenal fatigue, and low vitamin A levels. Boosting SIgA levels can be a long-term project but an imperative one if you want your health to improve. Supplementing with Colostrum and Saccharomyces Boulardii are great ways to increase SIga levels. You should also consider checking for chronic infections.
Supplementing with Vitamin A is a good place to start while you work through identifying what other areas of your life need to be addressed. Stress management and proper sleep will take you a long way and are within your control to change.
2. Dampen the response from regulatory T-cells (T reg cells) - T reg cells are part of “team immune system” (such a complicated system of the body!) They mature in the thymus and that is where the “T” comes from. The thymus is one of two primary lymphoid organs. The other primary lymphoid organ is bone marrow.
Let’s take a step back for a minute. It’s important to note that dendritic cells are essentially “sampling” cells. They sample their local environment for pathogens like virus’ and harmful bacteria and present their findings to the lymphatic system. T-reg cells are responsible for deciding if the immune system should initiate an inflammatory response. If you recall from your human biology class, the lymphatic system travels throughout body. This means that if T-regs cells decide an inflammatory response is necessary, that inflammatory response can cause inflammation anywhere in the body.
The good news is, there are several ways we can help to dampen that inflammatory response.
· Supplementing with Glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that helps fight free radicals which can be harmful to the body.
· Checking your Vitamin D levels and supplementing if needed. Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating inflammatory processes in the body.
· Making sure you have the proper balance of Omega-3 fatty acids is important for T reg cell function. Reduce your intake of Omega 6 oils by swapping out your cooking oils from corn, soybean and cottonseed oils to butter, olive and coconut oils. Be careful reading food labels as well because oils containing Omega 6 are frequently used in processed foods and snacks. Additionally, increase your intake of Omega 3 fatty acids by consuming more foods high in them like Salmon, Mackerel, chia seeds and walnuts. A good quality Omega 3 fatty acid supplement is also an option.
· Increase Endorphins, a group of hormones that act on opiate receptors in the brain, causing us to feel happy and help reduce pain and suppress inflammation. Take time out of your busy life to do some things you really enjoy. Anything from gardening, exercise or sex will help increase endorphins. Laughing is a great one as well!
· If you have a very limited intake of vegetables and fruits, consider supplementing with Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA). SCFA are compounds produced by gut bacteria that help reduce inflammation along with countless other benefits.
3. Diversify your gut bacteria (microbiome) – One of the easiest ways to improve oral tolerance is to diversify your diet by including as many fruits and vegetables as you can. The more diverse your dietary intake of fruits and veggies, the more diverse your gut bacteria and the healthier you are.
Gut bacteria are responsible for countless processes in the body including signaling the immune system, communicating with the brain and producing…..short chain fatty acids! And that is a very short list of their benefits.
So, what do you do if you experience food reactions to lots of different fruits and vegetables? I suggest supplementing with short chain fatty acids. I also recommend making a list of the foods you react to and a list of the foods you don’t eat but don’t react to. This will help you to begin incorporating new fruits and vegetables into your diet while also supplementing, both of which will help increase gut bacterial diversity along with all its benefits.
Lastly, some people simply prefer to test for food sensitivities. They want peace of mind, knowing exactly what the body reacts to and what is deemed acceptable to consume.
If you have symptoms of loss of oral intolerance and are ready to do a food sensitivity panel or need help better understanding where to start in this seemingly overwhelming process, reach out and schedule a free discovery call to discuss this and more!