Digestive complaints affect nearly 100 million Americans. In most cases, the symptoms reflect disturbed digestive function or food intolerance rather than an underlying disease. Functional gastrointestinal disorders include occasional indigestion or heartburn, dyspepsia, excessive flatulence, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Supporting digestion with the help of digestive enzymes and other natural approaches is often the best route to eliminating these bothersome (and sometimes embarrassing) symptoms.
What Causes Food Allergies?
A food allergy or food intolerance occurs when there is an adverse reaction to the ingestion of a food. In a classic food allergy, the immune system is involved, producing a true allergic reaction that can potentially result in severe symptoms—including anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction that impairs breathing. In a food intolerance, the immune system is not involved; symptoms are generally less serious and often limited to digestive problems.
A classic food allergy occurs when an ingested food molecule acts as an antigen—a substance that can be bound by an antibody. Antibodies are the protein molecules made by white blood cells that bind to foreign substances, in this case, various components of foods. Allergic reactions can be delayed or immediate. Immediate allergic reactions can be quite serious and potentially life-threatening, as food antigens bind to specialized white blood cells that release histamines, which cause swelling and inflammation.
With food intolerances, the root cause often is an inability to digest certain foods due to a lack of certain digestive enzymes. For example, approximately 65 percent of adults have a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy. Lactose, a sugar in milk and milk products, is broken down by the enzyme lactase, produced in the small intestine. If the lactose is not broken down by the enzyme lactase, it can produce a lot of gastrointestinal symptoms especially gas, bloating, cramping pain, and diarrhea. Taking supplemental lactase can help with lactase digestion and allow people with lactose intolerance to eliminate symptoms of food intolerance.
Food Elimination Diet for Allergies
There are a variety of dietary approaches to deal with food allergies and intolerances. For example, an allergy elimination diet is one popular method in which commonly eaten foods are eliminated and replaced with either hypoallergenic foods or foods that are rarely eaten. The individual stays on the elimination diet for at least one week. If the symptoms
are related to a food allergy or intolerance sensitivity, they will typically disappear by the fifth or sixth day of the diet. If the symptoms do not disappear, it is possible that a reaction to a food in the elimination diet is responsible. In that case, an even more restricted diet must be utilized.
After the elimination diet period, individual foods are reintroduced every two days. Methods range from reintroducing only a single food every two days, to reintroducing a food every one or two meals. Reintroduction of an offending food will typically produce a more severe or recognizable symptom than before, allowing for easy identification of a food allergy or intolerance.
A popular diet to help deal with common digestive disturbances is the low FODMAP diet. This diet focuses on eliminating certain foods known to cause excessive gas, bloating, and changes in regularity. FODMAP is an acronym for:
- Fermentable – foods that are quickly broken down (fermented) by bacteria in the large intestine.
- Oligosaccharides – “oligo” means “few” and “saccharide” means sugar. These molecules are made up of individual sugars joined together in a chain. Beans are a common source of oligosaccharides.
- Disaccharides – “di” means two, so a disaccharide is composed of two sugar molecules bonded together. Sucrose is a disaccharide.
- Monosaccharides – “mono” means single, so a monosaccharide is a single sugar molecule. Fructose is a monosaccharide.
- Polyols – these are sugar alcohols often used as sweeteners. Some examples are xylitol, maltitol, and erythritol.
A low-FODMAP diet refers to a temporary eating pattern, usually 7 to 10 days, that has a very low amount of FODMAPs. It is used in clinical medicine to relieve digestion-related symptoms such as gas, bloating, and irregularity in people dealing with:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Other forms of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorder (FGID)
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Certain autoimmune conditions/diseases like (potentially) rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, or eczema
- Fibromyalgia or other health issues you’ve noticed are triggered by certain foodsFrequent migraines that appear to be triggered after certain meals
Here is a list of some common foods and ingredients that are high in FODMAPs. To follow a low FODMAP diet avoid these foods for 10 days:
- Vegetables: Artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, beetroot, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic, fennel, leaks, mushrooms, okra, onions, peas, shallots.
- Fruit: Apples, applesauce, apricots, blackberries, boysenberries, cherries, canned fruit, dates, figs, pears, peaches, watermelon.
- Dairy products: Milk (from cows, goats, and sheep), ice cream, most yogurts, sour cream, soft and fresh cheeses (cottage, ricotta, etc).
- Legumes: Beans, chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, soybeans.
- Wheat: Bread, pasta, most breakfast cereals, tortillas, waffles, pancakes, crackers, biscuits.
- Other grains: Barley and rye.
- Beverages: Beer, fortified wines, soft drinks with high fructose corn syrup, milk, soy milk, fruit juices.
- Sweeteners: Fructose, honey, high fructose corn syrup, xylitol, mannitol, maltitol, sorbitol.
Hidden Allergens in Foods
Gluten is the main protein complex primarily found in grains including wheat, barley, spelt, and rye. Many people have an intolerance to gluten along with casein, a protein found in milk. When ingested in intolerant individuals, these proteins can produce gastrointestinal discomfort, especially gas and bloating. Obviously, when avoiding gluten and casein, reading food labels carefully is required.Many gluten-free products are available in natural foods stores and even in mainstream supermarkets. Beneficial grains that can replace gluten sources include amaranth; quinoa; and brown, red, black, and wild rice.
Although the popular solution for gluten and casein intolerance is following a gluten-free, casein-free diet, and eliminating the offending proteins will reduce discomfort, there are often hidden sources of gluten or casein in foods that can still lead to discomfort.
Digestive Enzymes for Treating Food Allergies
In many cases, enzyme supplementation may be useful. Many of the foods excluded on the low-FODMAP diet produce beneficial effects on the intestinal microbiome (the collection of microbial genetic material in the gastrointestinal tract). However, an alternative approach may be to focus on supporting FODMAP digestion through the use of supplemental enzyme formulations rather than eliminating these foods.
One popular method is simply a 14-day trial with a broad-spectrum enzyme formula that includes many key enzymes involved in digesting common offending food components. Improving digestion via supplemental enzymes may be all that is necessary to eliminate a food intolerance.
For people with gluten allergies and intolerances, look for an enzyme supplement especially formulated to help with gluten digestion. These formulas contain enzymes that can digest gluten. Supplemental digestive enzyme preparations can help people tolerate lower levels of gluten or casein intake especially during the initial phase of gluten and/or casein avoidance. Dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPP-IV) is an enzyme that targets both gliadin (a component of gluten) and casein, and is resistant to breakdown by other digestive enzymes. DPP-IV is thought to be one of the key enzymes responsible for the digestion of these proteins, and is known to be found in lower amounts in the intestinal lining of individuals with gluten sensitivity and intolerance. In fact, there is an inverse relationship between the level of DPP-IV and intestinal damage in people with gluten sensitivity. In other words, the lower the DPP-IV, the more significant the damage to the intestinal lining. Preparations containing DPP-IV are often recommended to safeguard against any hidden sources of gluten.
5 Supplements for Food Allergies
1 - Tolerase G for Digesting Hidden Gluten
Although many people try to avoid gluten-containing foods, it can be difficult to completely eliminate gluten from the diet. Eating away from home can be especially challenging. Bricker Labs GlutnGo features a unique enzyme (Tolerase G) that digests the gluten molecule from the inside-out and has been clinically shown to inactivate hidden gluten in the stomach. This product is not intended to replace a gluten-free diet or treat or prevent celiac disease.
MEET THE EXPERT: Nathan Matusheski, PhD, is a Scientific Leader, Nutrition Science & Advocacy, with DSM Nutritional Products.
2 - High Quality Probiotic
Gut microbes are intimately involved in regulating everything from mood to memory. They regulate metabolism, make vitamins, assist in detoxification, and, to a significant degree, determine whether a person is fat or lean. This is why a high quality probiotic supplement should be a central player in anyone’s health program. GARDEN OF LIFE DR. FORMULATED PROBIOTICS incorporate a comprehensive array of bacterial strains that have been validated in leading-edge scientific literature and feature a unique shelf-stable delivery system.
MEET THE EXPERT: David Perlmutter , MD, is a board-certified neurologist, No. 1 New York Times bestselling author, and fellow of the American College of Nutrition.
3 - Immune Supporting Probiotics
Not all probiotics are not created equal. You have to search out brands that actually do studies on their specific strains of probiotic and also study survivability and effect when you take them. WAKUNAGA KYO-DOPHILUS is a great example of a science-based product that contains specific strains of probiotics that meet all the criteria for beneficial flora including regulation of the immune system.
MEET THE EXPERT: James LaValle, RPh, CCN, is a nationally recognized clinical pharmacist, author of 16 e-books and 20 books including the bestseller Cracking the Metabolic Code, and board-certified clinical nutritionist.
4 - Prebiotics
Unwanted bacteria can actually consume important nutrients that the body would normally absorb. In many cases, healthy bacteria have a difficult time displacing unwanted bacteria and require help; this is where a supplement such as arthur andrew floraphage can be beneficial. This prebiotic supplement frees up nutrients by neutralizing unwanted bacteria. When paired with a probiotic, Floraphage can have profound effect on supporting the growth of the beneficial probiotic bacteria.
MEET THE EXPERT: Grace Liu PharmD, holds a doctorate in pharmacy, a bachelor in nutritional science and food science, has four years of training in plant biology, and is Crossfit Nutrition Certified.
5 - Multi-Strain Probiotics
An imbalance of gut microbiota has been linked to a broad range of diseases such as gastrointestinal and autoimmune conditions. But did you know that mood disorders and depression are also associated with gut health? A high-quality Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria supplement such as Natural Factors Ultimate Probiotic Critical Care 100 Billion helps to recolonize friendly bacteria in the gut. Reduced stress and anxiety are a common “side benefit” of restoring gut health.
MEET THE EXPERT: Karen Jensen, ND, is a naturopath, well-known lecturer, and author of Three Brains: How the Heart, Brain, and Gut Influence Mental Health and Identity.
Food Allergies and Gut Health: Can Probiotics really help?
Over the past couple of decades, there has been an alarming increase in food allergies, with dairy and gluten-containing grains at the top of the list of reported problem foods. Food allergies have increased in children by 50 percent since 1997. Why the increase? One theory is something called the hygiene theory, which is the idea that we live in a sanitized society that prevents the proper development of the immune system. In other words, a lack of childhood exposure to bacteria in the environment prevents the growth of even good micro-organisms in the gut.
Years ago, studies indicated that the more antibiotics children are given, the higher their risk for developing allergies and related conditions like asthma and eczema. It should be no surprise, then, that probiotics have been studied and found to be effective to help reduce allergy symptoms like runny nose and eczema. How do probiotics help prevent allergies?
Your mucosal barrier, which lines the intestines, is only one cell-layer thick. Between these cells, there are protective proteins that act as gatekeepers, allowing for nutrients to be absorbed into the bloodstream through proper channels. Probiotics direct the production of these proteins, and also signal them to open and close as needed so the immune system in the submucosal layers can fight bad bacteria.
When this system goes awry due to a lack of beneficial flora, proteins, allergens, and chemicals from food can pass through to the bloodstream and can cause the immune system to become overly active. This can result in delayed allergic reactions. When probiotics are taken, studies show that they start to down-regulate the production of chemicals called cytokines, the inflammatory chemicals produced by the immune cells that cause most of the annoying and sometimes life-threatening symptoms related to food allergies.
Anything that affects our beneficial flora can begin to alter our immune system regulation and the development of food allergies. Environmental toxins like pesticides and other drugs besides antibiotics, like acid blocking drugs and corticosteroids, can impact our beneficial flora. Believe it or not, even stress can have an impact on gut immune issues. (Cortisol levels go up under stress, and lead to chemical messaging that causes the protective gatekeeper proteins in the gut to break down and stay open.) So with all of these things that can work against us having a healthy immune response and the development of food allergies, one of the biggest ways to protect ourselves may be to take probiotics.
—James LaValle, RPH, CCN