We’ve all heard that food is medicine. However for many individuals with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), food may actually be triggering symptoms. Understanding food as medicine, or sometimes as a poison, is not easy, but there’s certainly no shortage of diets to tell you that. Popular diets right now include everything from the paleo diet to the blood type diet, low fat, low carb, veganism and vegetarianism. Despite all the diets out there, there is no one-diet-fits-all scenario that applies perfectly to any one person. For that reason, individualizing a diet is most useful for treating many gastrointestinal (GI) conditions.
Understanding both inflammation in the GI system and the possible chemical toxicity found in food are two main considerations when discerning between food as poison or food as medicine. Inflammation is the result of your own body’s immune attempt at removing or neutralizing harmful stimuli. Obvious signs of inflammation in the GI tract are diarrhea, gas, bloating, abdominal pain and constipation. However, assessing the cause of the inflammation may require further assessment of your immune system.
This analysis is best done through a blood assessment of immunoglobulins, also known as antibodies. Immunoglobulins are small proteins produced by the immune system designed to bind to viruses, bacteria, or other proteins perceived as a problem, which can certainly include food. When bound, the antibodies flag the immune system to respond in a certain way. Different antibodies trigger different responses by the immune system. For example, the IgE antibody reaction stimulates immune cells to dump histamine, thus resulting in classic allergy symptoms — watery eyes, runny nose, hives, difficulty breathing, swelling of the lips and airway. Other types of immune reactions result in increased mucous production, diarrhea, bloating, or constipation and may be strongly linked with the disease process involving leaky gut syndrome.
When assessing the antibodies to food, the most useful screening tool is ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbant assay) testing, a technology that has been used since the 1960s. At the Peoples Wellness Center, we offer a comprehensive food sensitivity panel that evaluates antibody reactions to almost 100 different foods. By identifying the antibodies the immune system creates and making subsequent dietary changes, positive outcomes in the treatment of IBS and other digestive disorders have been observed.
While nutritional information may involve calorie, fat, protein, and fiber content, looking at food from a toxicity perspective may also help us assess the poisons that may be on the plate. In many cases, finding the cleanest, most toxin-free food sources has a major impact on GI complaints. When eating meat, milk, oil, or fat-based foods, it is highly important to obtain the cleanest organic sources possible. Many times, fat is a storage unit for heavy metals and environmental chemicals (such as dioxins, PCBs, dichlorobenzene, and xylene). When exposed to these foods, your symptoms may actually reflect toxic exposure, rather than indigestion. Whether it be fish oil, flax oil, bacon or steak, finding organic, clean sources is imperative to avoid toxic exposure.
In addition, many nuts, beans and seeds are a source of mold toxicity (called mycotoxins). Coffee beans are one main vehicle for mold contamination. One recent study published by the journal Food Additives and Contaminants showed that 91.7% of green coffee beans were contaminated with mold. You can find mold-free coffee, nuts and seeds at quality grocers and farmers’ markets. At Peoples, we carry clean sources coffee, flax, chia and nuts.
Because food can actually be cause for many negative impacts on the body, discerning food from adequate nutrition is needed. So remember: Diets are not fashion and no one diet works for one person. Pick your nutrition, not your poison.
By Amy Nelson, ND*. Amy is available for consultation at Peoples Wellness Center North.
*Naturopathic doctors are not currently licensed in the state of Texas.