Most of us get a feeling in our stomach when something is wrong: ‘Go with your gut’ is an age-old saying and, interestingly, it might just have some science behind it. Experts have described the digestive system as the second brain. It produces neurotransmitters like serotonin, hormones and immune messengers called cytokines, all of which communicate with our little grey cells. Because of this link, any gut-related conditions can have an effect on how we think and feel. For example, cytokines, which are often produced as part of an immune reaction in the gut, can make you feel depressed and reduce levels or serotonin (our essential feel-good neurotransmitter). In fact, when our gut is healthy it produces much of our serotonin; keeping it well is vital for boosting your mood!
This connection explains why food allergies and sensitivities can cause chemical imbalances and inflammation in the brain, which in turn affect mood and behavior. Allergies have been linked to a range of symptoms including hyperactivity, autism, depression, addictive behavior, irritability, anxiety, and even aggression.
The ones most likely to influence our behavior this way are referred to as delayed food allergies and are different from typical hypersensitivity or acute allergies most people are familiar with in a number of interesting ways.
Delayed allergies, known as immunoglobulin G (IgG)-mediated responses, don’t always cause instant reactions but can cause systemic low-grade inflammation in the body, including in the brain. Inflammation doesn’t only affect our mood but has been linked to behavioral disorders. Various studies have shown that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), for example, can improve dramatically through an elimination diet based on IgG food-sensitivity testing.
People often develop addictions to the actual foods they are allergic to, so the removal of these can result in withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, irritability, depression, anxiety, mental fogginess, mood swings and fatigue. However, the good news is that these symptoms don’t last.
Some of us have enzymes in our digestive tract that break down certain peptides (small chains or amino acids) like gluten into opioids that act like heroin or morphine. If these foods are taken out of your diet you may find that you experience withdrawal symptoms. Opioids disrupt brain function by attaching to receptor sites normally meant for neurotransmitters, which explains why foods such as dairy and gluten have been found to play a role in ADHD and autism, brain fog, anxiety and migraines.
Depression can also be associated with food allergies. It is a common symptom of the untreated coeliac disease – an autoimmune condition triggered by the gluten found in wheat, barley, and rye. Certain addictions, for example to alcohol, have also been linked to depression. This is often due to abnormally low levels of serotonin and/or noradrenalin in the brain.
If you suspect you have an allergy or sensitivity consider taking a blood test with a qualified practitioner. IgG blood tests can help you identify any foods you are currently eating that cause a delayed reaction and assess how severe that response is. You may suspect you are reacting to gluten; if so, you should also get tested for coeliac disease. Being gluten-sensitive isn’t black and white. There are degrees of sensitivity. And not all sensitivity to wheat is, strictly speaking, a gluten one too. It has been discovered wheat comprises more than 100 different components that can cause a reaction. New tests are now available that will look for all of these components.
If you do react to gluten you may also be sensitive to other foods, as proteins in different foods can cause-react; the body mistakes the food for gluten and reacts in the same way. Cross-reactivity is common between gluten and dairy, as the structures are similar. It is estimated 50 percent of those sensitive to gluten are also sensitive to dairy.
If you don’t want to undertake tests for food allergies, another approach is to exclude suspected foods from your diet for two weeks, one at a time, then reintroduce them in a controlled way, recording your symptoms under the guidance of a nutritionist. If there are foods to which you are reacting, you need to stop eating them to reduce damage and inflammation in the gut. Foods that evoke an IgE-type sudden reaction may need to be avoided for life. If you are diagnosed with coeliac disease, you also need to avoid gluten forever.
IgG food reactions can be short-lived if you take steps to restore gut health and improve digestion, so you may only need to avoid these foods for 3-6 months. After you reintroduce them, reduce the risk of the sensitivity recurring by eating them only every four to five days, giving your gut time to recover.
Once you have discovered the culprit foods which are causing your symptoms and have eliminated them, you can look forward to a clearer head and a sunnier outlook, not to mention waving goodbye to bloating and discomfort! Good luck
- Wheat, gluten, dairy, egg, soy, yeast, shellfish, nuts.
- Histamine: found in red wine and beer, fermented cheese, shellfish, fish, tomatoes, chicken, spinach, cured sausage, chocolate, fermented vegetables and soy sauce.
- Tyramine: Found in plums, raspberries, cheese, beer, red wine, bananas, yeast extract, avocados, tinned fish, tomatoes, soya, vinegar, and all types of pickles.
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): Often added to processed foods, ready meals, and takeaways, especially Chinese food.
- Solanine: Found in the nightshade family potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and aubergines.
- Lactose: found in dairy products.