Are Food Sensitivities Behind Your Symptoms?

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The other day I had another reminder about the significant effect food has on our health. A patient who had been medicated for years for daily acid reflux and nasal congestion, tried an elimination diet for only 3 weeks. Essentially all her symptoms of reflux and sinus inflammation resolved! Inadvertently, even her rosacea improved! Her hsCRP blood test had for years been showing whole-body inflammation  (associated with high risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease). But after 3 weeks of the protocol, she went from a high risk level to a very low risk level!

So what’s an elimination diet?

The elimination diet is a protocol used to identify foods in our diet that may be causing or aggravating headaches, sinus inflammation, abdominal pain, gas and bloating, fatigue, mood changes, skin rashes and hives, eczema, acid reflux, constipation or diarrhea, joint pain, brain fog, wheezing, palpitations and many other symptoms.

Sometimes the adverse reactions to foods are obvious to us (such as when it changes our breathing or causes a skin rash). However, food reactions can occur up to 3 days after eating the food triggers so often symptoms are hard to track and difficult to correlate to foods. Generally the protocol involves eliminating common food allergens for a short period of time and watching to see if any symptoms improve. This is followed by systematically reintroducing the foods and observing responses to each food group to identify which foods are associated with which symptom(s). As you can imagine, this program involves careful planning, guidance and monitoring so make sure to do this under the supervision of a physician. Also, this protocol is NOT for suspected anaphylactic reactions (closing up of the throat and difficulty breathing) caused by foods.

I have heard some people say “I would rather not know if certain foods are bothering me because that means I can’t eat it!” That’s not necessarily the case. Often times, once we identify foods that exacerbate symptoms, we avoid them for a period of time to allow the gut lining to heal. After this break period, sometimes those foods we were previously sensitive to are well tolerated. Either way, knowing our body’s responses, we can choose to manage our food sensitivities to our comfort level.

What a great reminder: before jumping to therapies to suppress symptoms, in non-urgent cases, let’s always investigate our basic daily practices, such as diet, to improve symptoms from the inside out.

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The Power of Food

This is an incredible story: a physician who was struggling with MS, revamped her diet based on nutrient research to nourish and support nerve function and mitochondria (the energy-producing organelles of our body). She had astounding results! I also loved that she studied about all these nutrients (like B vitamins, CoQ10, etc.) and concluded that the best way to get them was from food!

Food truly is medicine.

Thanks for sharing this, Cherry!

What’s triggering my migraines?

99% of women and 94% of men experience headaches in their lifetime. Most of these headaches are due to muscle contraction and migraines. Today I’d like to discuss migraines.

What are they? Migraines tend to be in the front and sides of the head. They’re more common in women and in adolescents and young adults. It can be a dull ache but they tend to have a throbbing nature and often the scalp feels sensitive. Some people also have sensitivity to light. Migraines ‘with aura’ refers to migraines with visual changes, like scintillating lights, dizziness or muscle weakness. Migraines can last a few hours to over 24 hours and occur at irregular intervals (can be weeks or months between each) and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Interestingly they decrease as we approach middle age and during pregnancy.

It’s thought that a wave of electrical activity passes through the brain making nerve fibers more sensitive to pain and dilating blood vessels. This is probably the reason we feel the throbbing and fullness in our head especially when we change body position.

What can be done about them? Studies have shown that eliminating allergenic foods greatly reduce  triggering of migraines in most patients. Cow’s milk, wheat, eggs, oranges and benzoic acid are the most common foods allergies. Foods that cause blood vessel dilation may also trigger migraines. These foods include chocolate, cheese, beer and wine.  Monitor symptoms while avoiding 1 or 2 of these foods at a time. Your ND can also suggest specific nutrients and herbs that can prevent and decrease the intensity of migraines.

 

Identifying and avoiding food allergies is definitely one of the most important steps to preventing migraines… but if you already have a migraine? Try essential oil (such as peppermint and lavender) products made for application to temples or using essential oils in a diffuser. Acupuncture can also be extremely effective in reducing the sensation of heaviness in your head and mitigating nausea.

Remember: head pain that follows head or neck trauma, starts suddenly or is unusually severe needs to be assessed by your physician.

Do I Need a Detox?

Who can benefit from a cleanse? People who have had exposures to chemicals (recently or in the past); patients preparing for pregnancy or menopause; patients with or wanting to prevent autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, chronic disease, neurodegenerative disease, hyper-inflammatory disease, chemical sensitivities, frequent infections, migraines, allergies, hives, eczema, foggy-thinking, fatigue, IBS, constipation… so, basically, anyone could benefit from a cleanse.

The body has built-in systems for eliminating naturally produced waste products as well as chemicals and heavy metals from exposure. Unfortunately these cleansing systems are often under-utilized due to lack of fiber in the diet, nutrient poor diets, dehydration, shallow breathing, lack of regular sweating and lack of rest. This leads to the reabsorption of many of the toxins that would normally be eliminated from the body if the systems were in ideal working condition. For example constipation can lead to the build up of chemicals leading to a headache.

Solvents, fossil fuel products, insecticides, herbicides, plastic residues, flame retardants, wood preservatives, toxic metals, and more can be eliminated via sweating and via our liver and kidneys. Even breathing helps to eliminate volatile compounds from solvents, cleaners, dry cleaning fluids and fuel compounds.

The toxins in our bodies are often stored in fat, nerve cells and the brain decreasing the overall tissue functioning.

The basics: quality sleep, clean air, nourishing diet, adequate hydration, love, healthy thought processes, etc. all support organs in the elimination process.

Keep in mind: The more inflammation the body is already experiencing, the more antioxidant support needed during the cleansing process (a diet rich in antioxidants may be sufficient support for many while others may require supplemental support and greater time). Also, when we “stir things up” in the body, there is re-exposure (as the toxins are circulating to leave the body) and often strong emotions may surface. So it’s important to stay connected with your physician and other support networks during a cleansing process.

Photo courtesy of A. Graber

3 Health Tips That Will Change Your Life, Number 2

#2 Eating Mindfully

To quote my neurology instructor “the gut is a slave to our nervous system.” The gut is controlled by the (parasympathetic) branch of the nervous system dominant when are body is at rest (during meditation, sleep, in the presence of pleasant company, etc.). During this relaxed state, the nervous system signals the stomach to release more acid and digestive enzymes to ensure foods are digested fully and efficiently. Also the coordinated movement of intestines to allow for nutrient absorption and maintain bowel regularity occurs during this relaxed state.

How’s my digestion?

Bloating, gas, acid reflux, excessive belching, bad breath, abdominal cramping, feeling of food “sitting in the stomach”, constipation, diarrhea, cravings, excessive changes in blood sugar, low energy are all signs of less-than-optimal digestive function.

So how do I improve my digestion?

The key is to get our bodies into that relaxed (parasympathetic) state. Create a pleasant eating environment that is relaxing (eating with family and friends, nice scenery or in a pleasant dining area, relaxing music, etc.). The process of preparing your food (exposure to aroma and visual presentation of food) also helps to stimulate your digestive processes to prepare for digestion. Avoid eating while working, reading, driving, ‘zoning out’ in front of the TV or engaging in any stress and anxiety producing tasks. Keeping your attention on the pleasure of eating will improve digestion greatly. Bitters, digestive enzymes, acupuncture and identifying food intolerances may also be helpful to get efficient digestion, effective nutrient absorption and eliminate unwanted symptoms.

3 Health Tips That Will Change Your Life

People often ask me what my top health tips are; these 3 topics come up frequently as  significant factors in a broad range of conditions from acid reflux and  acne to heart disease and chronic pain. Before turning to medications or surgery, make sure you’ve got these areas optimized!

#1 Quality Sleep

How many hours of sleep do you get? Do you wake rested?

Is sleep that important?

A recent European study showed those who sleep 6 hours or less have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and coronary heart disease (CHD). Disease risk also increases with poor quality sleep (not waking rested). When both short sleep and poor sleep quality are combined there is even higher risk (65% higher risk for CVD and 85% higher risk for CHD).

How is my sleep?

Fatigue, difficulty with concentration, irritability, poor blood glucose control, changes in mood, decreased stress tolerance, chronic pain, poor memory, weakened immune function resulting in infections are all possible symptoms of inadequate rest.

To improve sleep:

Determine what your sleep obstacles are: Stress, poor blood sugar control, eating large meals before bed, alcohol, caffeine, sleeping pills, insufficient exercise during the day, exercising late in the evening, irregular sleep routine, watching TV late, etc. all prevent us from getting quality sleep.

Keep the bedroom a place of rest (instead of a place to work or study), support a regular sleep routine ideally heading to bed by 10pm. Acupuncture, stress management, nutrition counseling, exercise prescription, screening lab tests and other tools may be used to improve sleep quality, in turn, improving energy level and overall health.

Photo courtesy of J. Chahal