ESTIMATED READING TIME 4 MINUTES
Almost one in three people in the UK report suffering from IBS, yet over half don’t seek professional help. Many people put up with their symptoms, or self-diagnose food allergies, ending up on a restrictive diet. This isn’t great for health as vital nutrients are often missed out on. It’s not good for wellbeing either as food is meant to be enjoyed, not a source of stress and worry.
In support of Allergy Awareness Week, you’ll discover the connection between IBS and food allergies, as well as some other causes of IBS.
IBS is simply a term used to cover digestive issues without a diagnosable cause. But functional medicine practitioners know health issues don’t just ‘happen’. They’re always caused by something, even if the cause can’t be labelled as a disease. At the root of ill-health are imbalances in organs or systems. In IBS, these imbalances can be microbial, nutritional and hormonal.
Food allergies can cause IBS, but you might suffer from IBS if you don’t have a food allergy. In fact, the term ‘food allergy’ is often used incorrectly.
Allergies are caused by a sudden release of inflammatory chemicals by your immune system when any type of threat to your body is detected. The system is designed to protect you, but often goes awry, with allergies sparked off by innocuous substances, including foods.
It’s estimated up to 10% of the UK population suffer from food allergies 1, with the highest proportion being toddlers, suggesting food allergies are on the rise. Food allergies can make life very difficult, and can be life-threatening so shouldn’t be taken lightly.
When a problem food is detected, your immune system’s defence mechanism leaps into action, releasing histamine and causing an immediate increase in inflammation. The reaction usually occurs soon after the food has been eaten, and will occur every time it is consumed, sometimes even after only a tiny trace of the food.
Following exposure to the problem food, your body produces an antibody, meaning the food or substance will be remembered the next time it’s encountered. These antibodies can be measured, so it’s relatively easy to detect food allergies. However, many people are allergic to food additives such as preservatives, emulsifiers and colourings, so the culprit might not be immediately obvious.
You now know histamine plays a role in allergic reactions, but it can contribute to IBS in other ways. As well as being produced in the body, histamine is found in certain foods. Some people lack the enzyme needed to break down this histamine, meaning levels can build up. Histamine intolerance often causes IBS-type symptoms, as well as itchy skin, sneezing and so on.
IBS is connected with food sensitivities, too, but what is a food sensitivity? They are also immune reactions but different types of antibodies are involved. Adverse reactions from food sensitivities aren’t usually as immediate or well-defined as from food allergies. This makes them harder to detect from symptoms alone, but the antibodies can be detected with a blood test.
Food sensitivities usually develop because the digestive lining has become too permeable. This means food particles pass through into your bloodstream before they’ve been fully digested. Because they shouldn’t be in your blood in this state, they’ll be unfamiliar to your immune system. It then mounts an attack.
Food intolerances on the other hand arise when your body is unable to effectively break down certain foods. One example is people who lack the enzyme to break down milk protein. These symptoms, like those from food sensitivities, can occur some time after the food is eaten.
If you have IBS symptoms, you’ll doubtless have an imbalance in the types of bacteria resident in your gut. Their job, amongst others, is to assist with digestion, keep your digestive lining healthy, regulate histamine and control inflammation. So if they’re not happy, your digestive system won’t be happy either.
The food you eat has a major effect on your microbiome, both positive and negative. So it might not be the food per se that’s the issue, but your microbiome’s reaction to it. Restoring a healthy population of gut bacteria is key to managing IBS.
With all these potential issues going on behind your IBS, it’s important to discover what the underlying causes really are. This is where testing comes in. Looking at the antibodies in your blood will pinpoint specific food sensitivities, while other tests can peek into the world of your gut microbes to assess whether an imbalance is contributing to your symptoms.
Simply avoiding problem foods isn’t the answer; the goal will always be to heal your digestive system, in time enabling you to enjoy a healthy varied diet again.
Would you like natural support for your Digestive Issues? Then book a free 15-minute discovery call to see if Functional Medicine is for you.
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