Paleo, Atkins, Ketogenic, South beach, Vegan, Raw food, Macrobiotic, SCD, The Zone… what do they all have in common?
Yep… they are all diets. But more than that, people turn to them as the panacea for their health and weight issues. In fact, the number one reason people are lured into dieting is to lose weight.
But while eliminating obvious “villains” from the diet will definitely kickstart weight loss, unknown food sensitivities (even to healthy foods) can sabotage your weight loss efforts by promoting low-grade inflammation.
Food allergies vs Food intolerances vs Food sensitivities
We often use these interchangeably, but they are fundamentally different.
Food allergies are adverse reactions to food, mediated by the immune system via IgE antibodies.
IgE antibodies react against suspected foreign or harmful substances such as pollen, fungi, animal dander and food proteins. IgE levels are often high in people that have allergies.
For those without allergies these proteins are harmless, but in the case of individuals suffering from food allergies, the immune system overreacts to a protein found in a particular food, labeling it as a dangerous invader. This perceived threat then triggers a sequence of events at the physiological level, eventually leading to the manifestation of the allergic response (itching, swelling, rashes, hives, sneezing, watery eyes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anaphylaxis…) that varies in severity from individual to individual.
Allergic reactions to an offending food usually occur within a few minutes to a few hours upon exposure to it. The most common allergens include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish.
Food intolerances do not involve the activation of the immune system.
They’re usually associated with enzymatic deficiencies (as in the case of lactose intolerance), certain diseases (gallbladder or pancreatic disease), reactions to certain agents in food (histamine, tyramine…) or food additives (food dyes, MSG, benzoic acid, nitrates, sulfites…).
While food intolerances can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating, stomach pain, headaches, hyperactivity, etc., they are unlikely to cause long-term health issues.
Food sensitivities, while superficially similar to food allergies, are not life threatening. However, they also involve the activation of the immune system – to an extent – and can become debilitating in the long-term, potentially leading to other issues.
If a “sensitive” individual is exposed to a protein that his/her body perceives as a threat, he/she’ll manufacture another type of antibody known as IgG. IgG antibodies defend against pathogens and they remain long after the threat is over. There are four subtypes of IgG – IgG 1, IgG2, IgG 3, and IgG 4.
Another crucial difference between food allergies and food sensitivities is the appearance of symptoms. The “less aggressive” IgG antibodies typically produce a delayed response that appears only after several hours or even days after ingestion of the offending food. Food sensitivities can often manifest as brain fog, anxiety, headache, sleep issues, joint and muscle pain/aches, bloating, stomach pain, congestion, fatigue, irritability and weight gain.
IgG and Inflammation
One study (1) conducted with obese juveniles examined the relationship between IgG antibodies and predisposition to low grade inflammation and arterial plaque formation.
The study looked at IgG antibodies directed against food antigens, C-reactive protein (CRP) – an inflammatory marker – and the thickness of the intima media layer (IMT) of the carotid arteries.
It was found that the obese juveniles had a highly significant increase in IMT, elevated CRP values and anti-food IgG antibody concentrations compared to normal weight juveniles. Specifically, CRP levels in obese subjects was 200% higher than the normal weight subjects. Additionally, the mean anti-food IgG antibody level in obese subjects was 141% higher than normal weight subjects.
Given the findings, the authors concluded that anti-food IgG antibodies are tightly associated with low grade systemic inflammation.
Inflammation and Weight Gain
So how is inflammation connected to weight gain?
We often associate inflammation with the pain, heat, redness and swelling that accompany painful bumps and broken bones – if you’ve ever experienced it, you know it’s not fun. But this type of inflammation is actually a good thing because it helps your body protect and heal itself.
On the other hand, persistent low-grade inflammation (the type we cannot see) can have far more deleterious consequences on your health – and on your weight. Sugar, industrial oils, fried foods, chronic stress, hidden food allergens… all of these contribute to low-grade inflammation at the cellular level.
And in your cells’ talk, inflammatory markers, acute-phase proteins and cytokines are the official language for orchestrating the inflammatory response.
Research has shown that inflammatory markers, such as fibrinogen and plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (PAI- 1), acute-phase proteins, such as C-reactive protein (CRP) and serum amyloid A (SAA), pro-inflammatory cytokines (signaling molecules), such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-a, IL-1b and IL-6 are positively correlated with insulin resistance and the features of metabolic syndrome, in most cases, independently of the degree of obesity (2).
What you can do about it
3 week elimination diet
The golden standard for identifying food sensitivities is an elimination diet followed by a carefully planned reintroduction period in which the possible reoccurrence of symptoms is noted.
For 3 weeks, you’ll eliminate several foods from your diet and then you’ll reintroduce one food at a time and watch out for any symptoms it might trigger.
If you’ve tried the elimination diet but you’re still experiencing symptoms, it may be appropriate to work with a health professional that can order a food sensitivity test. An IgG food sensitivity test can help determine which specific foods you’re reacting to that you might still have in your diet.
One study (5) conducted with individuals suffering with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), tested subjects’ IgG levels and then divided them into two groups: one following a diet that eliminated the offending foods and another group on a sham diet.
There was a clinically significant improvement in IBS symptoms in patients eliminating foods that they were sensitive to as per IgG test, compared to the placebo group.
While IgG testing do have limitations and should be interpreted within the context of your general health, it can be an useful guide to uncover your particular sensitivities. Eliminating foods for a specific amount of time, according to the level of reactivity, may finally give you long-lasting relief from stubborn symptoms, and shift the scale in your favor.
If you’ve tried every diet under the sun, you’re managing stress wisely, you’re exercising and you’re sleeping like a baby yet your weight still won’t budge, food sensitivities may be playing a role.
Try the elimination diet for 3 weeks and see how you respond. You have nothing to lose – other than a few pounds.