Often times in holistic medicine we have to ask, which came first? What is the root cause? Is a new food sensitivity a reaction to a toxic overload in the body, or is an undetected food sensitivity creating additional toxic burden? In order to answer this question, we have to start by looking at one’s life and health profile as a whole.

Everyday we are bombarded with thousands of chemicals that come from a combination of contaminated food, water, or our surrounding environment (cookware, clothing and a plethora of household items) (1). Our individual toxic burden indicates the level of toxins stored in our tissue that is unique to us (1). Although organs like our liver and kidneys actively filter out toxins from our body, these organs can become overloaded with toxins, and their ability to detoxify becomes impaired. This can lead to a cascade of issues such as generalized pain, depression, autoimmune conditions, and food allergies/sensitivities accompanied by a host of digestive issues (1). If one or more of these issues are present, the gut should be addressed first, as the gastrointestinal tract tends to be the first system impacted by a toxic overload (1).

A food sensitivity can be clinically defined as “a non-immune adverse reaction to food that includes metabolic, toxic, pharmacologic, and undefined mechanisms (2).” Or in other words, a range of food related complaints with varying etiologies (2). Determining whether food sensitivity is present may require testing, such as a food sensitivity test or through more personalized nutrition strategies such as elimination diets or dietary recall/symptoms journal overseen by a registered dietitian (RD). Examples of food sensitivities may include monosodium glutamate (MSG), histamine, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (2). Food intolerances often involve more than one organ or system, and commonly present themselves as GI symptoms (abdominal pain or distention, bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea), followed by neurological symptoms (dizziness, headaches) and/or cardiovascular signs/ symptoms (palpitations, drop in blood pressure) (2). Rarer respiratory symptoms include sneezing or shortness of breath, as well as dermatological indicators such as itching or flushing of the face (2). Unlike with a food allergy, food sensitivities are consistently dose dependent and vary on an individual level, which emphasizes the importance of working with an RD, who can help you decipher the degree to which you’re reacting to a certain food. An RD can help educate patients on how to differentiate their symptoms, followed by appropriate diet modifications or help find substitutes if you choose to simply abstain from the foods causing a reaction (2).

As previously discussed, a toxic burden can cause a disruption to the GI tract by inducing a reaction to your food, creating a host of digestive issues and a vicious cycle of inflammation throughout the body. However, an underlying food sensitivity yet to be discovered also serves as a source of “toxin” to the body. To understand which side of the coin may be the true culprit, working with an RD who can view a clear picture of your health and lifestyle is essential (1). If your reaction to various foods are truly caused by excessive toxins, an RD can help initiate the necessary steps to begin the healing process. Safely removing toxins from the body before a gut healing regimen begins is the necessary first step. This may include reducing exposure to pesticides, herbicides, plastic storage containers, non-stick cookware, triggering foods and/or unfiltered water.

Once we reduce exposure to excessive toxins, we must then replace these with supportive nutrients that help aid in the liver’s process of neutralizing and packaging toxins in preparation for excretion (3). These nutrients include foods rich in folic acid (eggs, citrus, spinach), B vitamins (leafy greens and chickpeas) as well as flavonoids (green tea, strawberries, and garlic) (4). When digestive symptoms have subsided, one should be mindful of their diet and lifestyle moving forward. Regular sweating, eating a fiber rich diet and modifying your intake to exclude triggering foods are all effective ways to decrease toxicity and inflammation throughout the body (4).

Food sensitivities can manifest as a result of a toxic overload in the body or be the underlying cause of excessive inflammation and unpleasant digestive issues. Working with a registered dietitian can provide you with root cause treatment necessary to absolve disruptive GI issues caused by either a true food sensitivity or a system overloaded with toxins. Contact Natural Medicine of Denver today if you are interested in exploring the root cause of any gastrointestinal issues you may be experiencing!

1. Lum, Brian. How to heal from a high toxic burden with functional medicine.

2. Gargano, Domenico et al. Food allergy and intolerance: a narrative review on nutritional concerns. *Nutrients*. 2021 May; 13(5): 1638

3. Lifestyle Matrix

4. Robbins, Oceans. 12 Detoxifying foods to help cleanse your body naturally. 2019. foodrevolution.org/blog/detoxifying-foods/