When it comes to food sensitivity, follow your gut!

When Western doctors rely on blood work to determine if you have a allergy to a food, it’s because they’re looking for a severe, potentially life-threatening response, in the hopes of preventing death. Sounds good, right? Of course! 

But allergies, anaphylaxis and death are not the only poor health outcomes that can occur because of food. I’ve seen numerous cases in my years of practice of patients having specific unpleasant issues, reporting them to their doctor, and being brushed off because blood reports or other tests all returned normal. Yet these patients are still gaining unexplained weight, can’t stay awake, or have poor memory and concentration, headaches, skin irritation, phlegm congestion, hair loss or a variety of other unpleasant ailments. These symptoms are real, and we can heal them when we have some information about how to work on wellness-based eating habits! 

Your immune system needs balance in order to work properly.

What I love about the practice of Chinese medicine is that here we understand that everything is interconnected and intermingled: the mind and the body, yin and yang, exterior and interior, blood and Qi, environment and lifestyle, stress and balance. Everything we’re exposed to, directly and indirectly, determines the balance, so we never disregard factors. 

This lays the groundwork for understanding the important relationship between our immune system and our digestive organs. More specifically, the lungs and large intestine have an interior/exterior relationship; one relies on the other, and a dysfunction in one will diminish the function of the other. When the lungs are congested, or deficient, it often manifests as an immune response of mild inflammation in the gut. If the intestines are backed up, the lungs will become congested with phlegm and mucus. 

Sensitivities aren’t allergies, but they’re still a health issue!

So why do we still react to foods even if our tests come back negative? Because we’re dealing with sensitivities, not allergies. For instance, some people get a runny nose whenever they eat a chocolate bar. The gut interprets the sugar from that chocolate bar as a foreign substance, and sends out an Immunoglobulin G (IgG) response—low-grade inflammation. When this cycle happens over and over, the physical response eventually gets strong enough for the person to pay attention. Over a period of time, these low-grade responses become exhausting for the immune system and Qi, setting the stage for illness, ailments and, eventually, disease. 

If an allergy is significant, the body releases histamines and produces immediate hypersensitivity reactions that you feel right away: hives, itching, flushing or sneezing. These symptoms are a result of Immunoglobulin E (IgE) allergies. 

IgG responses, in contrast, have more subtle immune effects that tend to show up over a gradual period of time, making it easy to miss the link or correlation. IgG antibodies circulate throughout the body and act as the first line of defense against infection. Food sensitivities and intolerances cause a spectrum of negative symptoms often seen in chronic neurological, gastrointestinal and movement disorders, with symptoms such as bloating and nausea, headaches, mood changes, fatigue, arthritis, acne, poor circulation, anxiety, depression, poor memory, insomnia, digestive imbalances and much more.

These are considered low-grade IgG responses. We often ignore these symptoms, or perceive them as being related to something to which we had immediate exposure. It takes anywhere from 24 to 72 hours for a sensitivity or intolerance to show up as a reaction. And, by then, most people can’t remember what they ate, so they don’t recognize what the reaction is about. With an allergy, the response would be immediate and you would learn the connection because there’s no lag time. This can be really confusing when you are trying to understand what your body is asking for, especially if your spleen and stomach Qi is making specific demands!

There is a continuous turnover of cells and Qi in the gut. This means we can’t eat the exact same foods all day, every day, for weeks, months or years at a time. We need to adjust and remember to listen to our bodies so we can tell when they’re asking for a variation; this is part of the constant work of adapting to your environment. Your gut is the internal environment, with your Qi being rooted at the deepest level. Being able to consciously know what agrees with your body allows Qi to fundamentally continue to flow. 

So what’s the solution? Keep a food journal!

The best way to get a sense of your sensitivities is to start using a food journal to log what foods you are eating, along with general symptoms of discomfort (fatigue, bloating, poor memory or concentration, digestive upset, changes to bowel movements and so on). Then, you can refer back to it to see what foods you ate within a one- to three-day window of negative symptoms. This will help you establish links. 

From there, you can drop one or two foods that might be the culprit and see how you feel. Then, a couple of weeks later, try adding them back in, and see if you notice your symptoms come back. It’s a gentle, slow-paced process of tracking how you feel so you can make informed decisions about what to eat.

When we understand our food sensitivities, we can relieve low-grade, prolonged inflammation that festers and builds up over an extended period of time. The goal of nutrition and eating for your Qi is to make food an easier tool to help boost your longevity, prevent disease and maintain optimal health. 

Food journaling is a tool that you can use to finally know what foods work best for you. It’s not meant to make you feel that you can never eat the foods that you’re sensitive to. It’s a positive step in taking the constant guess work into knowing what agrees with you in the long-term. Eating for your Qi is not a short-term, temporary fix. It’s about aligning your spleen and stomach Qi with foods and their specific therapeutic properties. Food is medicine and your Qi should know how to handle it! 

Most people don’t need to go all out and do a full-on elimination diet, which is a much more radical and drastic process. You can consider that as a later step if your food journaling doesn’t give you the answers you’re looking for. But you likely don’t need a system shock. A gentle investigation is usually plenty! All you need to do is follow your gut!