The Link Between Food Allergies, The Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Diseases

A food allergy occurs when your body has an abnormal response to a particular food. Your immune system essentially makes a mistake by treating this food as something dangerous to your body and will overreact to the ingredient in food (usually a protein) by creating antibodies to fight it. The symptoms develop when the antibodies are actively attacking the “invader” – the offending food. The most common food allergies involve reactions to wheat, eggs, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, corn, shellfish or fish. However, any food can essentially cause an immune reaction.

Causes of Food Allergies

A common cause of multiple food allergies, according to many food allergy experts, is what is referred to as a “leaky gut” – or increased intestinal permeability. Due to various causes (such as intestinal yeast overgrowth, over-use of antibiotics, deficiency in digestive enzymes, overuse of NSAIDS and antacids, high sugar and refined flour consumption, and stress), the intestinal wall becomes unable to keep out large molecules such as bacteria, fungi, parasites and their toxins, undigested protein, fat and waste normally not absorbed into the bloodstream. These molecules pass through the damaged, hyper-permeable, porous or “leaky” gut. These substances do actually “leak” across the intestinal wall – hence the name “Leaky Gut Syndrome”. Once this process occurs, the body perceives these large molecules as foreign invaders and attacks them with an antigen-antibody response. These proteins are no longer identifiable as food and the body attacks them as though they were pathogens. As the cycle continues and perpetuates, this “leaky gut syndrome” begins to contribute to poor digestion, mal-absorption problems, and further food allergies. Formation of these auto-antibodies due to leaking of intestinal contents can show how autoimmune diseases relate to food allergies and the leaky gut. Physicians are just now beginning to recognize the importance of the gastrointestinal tract and intestinal permeability in the development of allergic or autoimmune disease.

Autoimmune disorders are diseases caused by the body producing an inappropriate immune response against its own tissues. Sometimes the immune system will cease to recognize one or more of the body’s normal constituents as “self” and will create auto-antibodies – antibodies that attack its own cells, tissues, and/or organs. This causes inflammation and damage and can lead to a variety of autoimmune diseases. Some autoimmune diseases that are linked to intestinal permeability are: Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, migraines, attention deficit, autism, depression, eczema, acne, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, diabetes, chronic fatigue etc. Reversing these autoimmune diseases will actually depend on healing the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Any other treatment is just symptom suppression.

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Steps Towards Healing the Gut

Treatment of leaky gut syndrome must concentrate on removing the root causes in order to encourage the gut to heal. Some steps in restoring intestinal health are:

  • * Re-establishing internal ecology and healthy intestinal flora with anti-fungals and probiotics
  • * Addressing nutritional deficiencies and stimulating intestinal healing with proper foods and supplements
  • * Changing the diet to incorporate only natural and organic foods
  • * Eliminating all processed foods, refined sugars, and refined white flours from the diet
  • * Removing hard to digest proteins such as gluten and dairy from the diet
  • * Adding in digestive enzymes to the diet to aid in proper food breakdown
  • * Avoiding alcohol
  • * Increasing consumption of essential fatty acids such as fish oils and GLA

Correcting the altered permeability can have an immediate effect on relief of symptoms and a gradual improvement in the underlying condition. We just cannot overlook the important connection between the health of the human body and the integrity of the gut wall. Ultimately, healing the gut should be the primary focus of many autoimmune diseases today. This will go a long way in reducing the inflammatory and immune processes involved in such diseases. We need to ensure that we are treating the underlying cause and not just masking the symptoms!!