Some foods can trigger an autoimmune reaction that can produce several symptoms depending on the person. Frequently, these are gastrointestinal symptoms like constipation and bloating. However, aside from gut symptoms, food sensitivities can cause joint, skin, and brain symptoms, to name just a few.
What Are Food Sensitivities?
Sometimes it is challenging to discover a food sensitivity because it can take 48 to 72 hours to see symptoms after consuming something. Many people can go a lifetime and never realize they have a sensitivity and do not connect symptoms to their food. Many common foods that can trigger a reaction include rice, wheat, corn, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, and nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.
When food proteins trigger the immune system, it sees it as a danger and will produce a fighter protein called IgG or immunoglobulin G. These antibodies can cause a delayed sensitivity response rather than an allergy (immunoglobulin E) response, according to Robyn O’Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth: How Our Food Is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It.
Your functional medicine practitioner will often order food sensitivity testing to help pinpoint your triggers, like wheat and dairy. They may also recommend an elimination diet to help discover the foods that cause symptoms. Lastly, food sensitivities may not be obvious, and a food journal may be the best way to understand some patterns of symptoms.
Food Sensitivity Symptoms That You Didn’t Know About
You may be surprised that a food sensitivity could be to blame for your skin rash or joint pain. Delayed reactions to certain foods can include fatigue, skin rashes, brain fog, joint pain, and headaches. More surprising symptoms can consist of bumps on the back of the arm or dark circles under the eyes.
Gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and constipation can be related to food sensitivity. Food sensitivities are a known cause of leaky gut or intestinal permeability. Read more here to learn more about leaky gut and how to heal it.
Skin reactions from food can include skin rashes and bumps on the back of the arm or dark circles under the eyes. Food sensitivities can trigger a flare-up if you have psoriasis or eczema, but you may not immediately make that connection.
Recently, we had a patient in the clinic who was experiencing painful and irritated skin reactions on his arms. After testing for and using an elimination diet to discover the root cause, the skin reaction still would not improve. After keeping a food journal, it became apparent that he was consuming many almond products like almond milk and almond butter. So, he was exposed consistently to almonds. After eliminating almonds from his diet, his skin cleared up. Sometimes the foods you eat all the time- even “healthier” alternatives- can trigger your symptoms.
Whether you have arthritis or the autoimmune disorder rheumatoid arthritis (RA), joint pain and an inflammatory response can occur from a food sensitivity. Foods known to trigger joint flare-ups should be avoided, and these are often red meat, dairy, corn oil, fast food, processed foods, salt, sugar, and alcohol.
Food triggers can affect the brain, causing inflammation and decreased energy levels. Anxiety, depression, headaches, migraines, and brain fog can all be symptoms triggered by foods.
Certain foods can cause brain fog; often, these are wheat, soy, eggs, corn, dairy, nuts, and citrus. Brain fog symptoms may be surprising as they encompass many cognitive functions:
- Confusion or disorientation
- Difficulty processing information
- Fuzzy thinking
- Lack of concentration or focus
- Memory issues
- Problem-solving issues
- Slower thinking
- Trouble finding words
- Visual and spatial skills are diminished
Other root causes of brain fog include gluten sensitivity, gut dysfunction, brain inflammation, imbalanced gut microbiome, leaky gut, intestinal dysbiosis, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), Candida albicans, thyroid issues, hormone imbalances, and more.
Another way in which food sensitivities affect the brain is through autoimmune antibodies. Some people’s immune systems attack glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), an enzyme that comes in two forms GAD65 or GAD67, found in a part of the brain called the cerebellum. GAD65 antibodies can be associated with several neurological symptoms, including cognitive and memory issues, seizures, psychiatric symptoms, stiffness, painful muscle spasms, and more. A patient came to the clinic with fine motor control issues and found she could not even text on her phone. When she did the elimination diet, we learned that the root cause of her musculoskeletal symptoms might be gluten sensitivity. The patient removed gluten from her diet and gained full fine motor control within a couple of days.
A leaky gut can cause an imbalance of the gut microbiome, the part of our gastrointestinal tract that is home to trillions of microorganisms. Our microbiome helps us absorb and use our nutrients and plays a role in how we digest our food. It helps balance our immune systems. Food sensitivities can cause gut inflammation and be a root cause of an imbalanced gut microbiome.
After finding out what is triggering your gut reactions and eliminating that food, you need to add other foods to help balance the microbes in the gut. These foods contain good or beneficial bacteria to help rebuild the microbiome:
How Food Sensitivities Harm the Mitochondria
Certain foods that act as anti-nutrients in the gut can harm mitochondrial function. Anti-nutrients are naturally found in many plant-based foods and animal products. These substances exist to protect plants, but they also may block nutrient absorption when humans eat them. When this happens, the cells in the body do not get enough nutrition. Mitochondrial function can be affected, causing fatigue, poor energy production, and slow healing and repairing.
Anti-nutrient foods include:
- Lectins found in legumes and whole grains
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower
- Oxalates from green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, beets, and coffee
- Phytates or phytic acids found in seeds, legumes, nuts, and whole grains
- Saponins found in legumes and whole grains
- Tannins from legumes, coffee, and tea
Diabetes and Food Sensitivities
Those with diabetes may see abnormal spikes in blood sugar when eating foods they are sensitive to, such as vegetables or proteins. This is because blood sugar levels and the immune system can be affected by food sensitivities. Often these triggers are not discovered until an elimination diet is done. Usually, when the food is removed from the diet, blood sugar spikes disappear. When the food is reintroduced, it’s very obvious that it causes a blood sugar elevation. We have even seen patients reverse their diabetes by going off of their food sensitivities!
Foods that fall into the nightshade category include tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes, eggplant, peppers, pimentos, goji berries, ground cherries, ashwagandha, paprika, curry, chili powders, and tobacco. These foods are rich in antioxidants and nutrients. However, some people will find they have sensitivities to them. Nightshades contain lectins that can trigger the body’s immune response to attack “foreign invaders.”
Nightshade symptoms caused by food sensitivities include:
- Difficulty walking
- Swollen hands, knees, and joints
- Weakened grip strength
Often a hot shower is needed for the pain and swelling to decrease and joint mobility to increase.
Overcoming Food Sensitivities
Food sensitivities are a challenge for patients because they will have to give up foods they love. But here at the Caplan Health Institute we can support you through the process of changing your diet. We can offer suggestions for delicious replacements to your reactive foods. Most importantly, we can make your gut stronger, so you’re not as reactive to the offending foods.
Schedule a complimentary 15-minute discovery consultation and we can get you on the road to healing.