I really don’t like the subject of food sensitivities – well it’s not the subject I don’t like so much I guess, it’s the food sensitivities themselves! The reason is that it took me literally years to figure out that I was needlessly suffering from all kinds of symptoms that could have been alleviated just by eliminating certain foods. The problem was that I found it very difficult to figure out which food caused what. I now look back and realize that it could have been much easier if I knew to first cut out gluten, and then work on identifying the remaining food sensitivities. Symptoms like rapid heart rate, frequent urination, feeling bloated, blurred vision, eye pain, joint pain, migraines, inflammation, anxiety, depression, mood swings….yes, I know what you’re thinking – those symptoms are from Hashimoto’s! But let me tell you something I have learned in the last 2 years: Hashimoto’s can be one of the by-products of a leaky gut in most cases. This means that addressing the leaky gut can also address Hashimoto’s and addressing Hashimoto’s also mean addressing a leaky gut. In other words, these two conditions are very strongly correlated! Although I am not down playing the symptoms of Hashimoto’s at all, I have found that a person can go a long way to minimizing their symptoms by addressing their food sensitivities and by addressing their food sensitivities, they can begin to heal some of the damage from Hashimoto’s.
So what is a leaky gut and how is that related to food sensitivities? This is where the experts come in. To explain the link between leaky gut, gluten and Hashimoto’s, I will direct you to this video by Dr. Nikolas Hedberg:
For those who would like more “science” on the subject of leaky gut, you will find more detailed information in this article from thepaleomom.com. This is one of those areas that tend to be the most frustrating for those who have just transitioned to gluten-free. Just like a pill, we think that going gluten-free should have “fixed us” and then we uncover more issues to deal with. That’s why I always call Hashimoto’s a “personal puzzle” because each one of us have different levels of sensitivity and different food sensitivities. There is not “one diet fits all” or “one treatment fits all” and of course, you know I will again recommend Dr. Izabella Wentz’ book on Hashimoto’s (for those of you needing immediate help, this book can also be purchased in eBook form here) in order to help you figure out what your particular needs are. On top of food sensitivities, there are other culprits that get in the way of healing. I don’t want to overwhelm you so I will link to other experts in passing here and if you are interested in researching these areas, you will have a place to start. Here are other areas you might need to consider down the road:
- Basic food sensitivities as described in this guest post from Paleomom.com’s blog by Dr. Kellie Ferguson, N.D.
- The very important gluten cross-reactive foods – there is a test for this Cyrex Labs provides. Here is great detailed information by Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D. from her blog on the subject. Don’t miss this article if you have not felt better after 3 months on a truly gluten-free diet!
- Airborne gluten – yes, it can be a problem! Here’s a post regarding this possible culprit from TheGlutenFreeHomemaker.com.
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) – This can be a real problem and can keep you from healing. Here’s a beginner’s guide from UltimatePaleoGuide.com.
- FODMAP Intolerance aka Fructose Malabsorption – I’m still learning about this one but it seems it is about highly ferment-able foods that might be hard for you to tolerate. Great information on this subject can be found at PaleoMom’s blog here.
- Histamine Intolerance – This is something I think I am dealing with. All of these “rabbit trails” take time to get through so give yourself a break and take one step at a time! You can read up on this possible culprit on Chris Kresser’s blog here.
- Multiple Chemical Sensitivity which Dr. Kharrazian covers in his new book, “Why Isn’t My Brain Working?: A Revolutionary Understanding of Brain Decline and Effective Strategies to Recover Your Brain’s Health – you can view a short video of someone who traveled to Disneyland who suffers from this but was accommodated on her vacation.
- Healing through the Autoimmune Protocol which omits most food sensitivities. You can find a great guide and cookbook here by Mickey Trescott in eBook form. or now available in hardcover here. This diet can really help eliminate the most common food sensitivities without having to find professional help immediately (although it is recommended if you don’t feel better within a short time).
- Adrenal Fatigue, sleeping pattern problems, blood sugar regulation…..and more!
Not all the conditions listed will apply to everyone and for a fortunate few, none of them will apply. Some people get well on just a strict gluten-free diet but it is not common, unfortunately, for this to be the only step to take for healing. And even more importantly, once the healing of the gut has been done, many of these intolerance’s will also be resolved so the above list appears to be a short term problem as long as the gut healing is addressed. The most important food sensitivity beyond gluten for you to know about after going gluten-free is to find out if you are gluten cross-reactive to any other foods. The most common gluten cross-reactive food is dairy. Foods known to be possible gluten cross-reactors are chocolate, oats, rice, potatoes, corn and more. (The link above by PaleoMom.com on cross-reactive foods addresses this topic in extreme detail and can be also found here.) You can get a test to help you determine this much easier through Cyrex Labs Array 4 which you can find here. But you need a doctor to help you get this test. Usually a Functional Medicine doctor zones in on this issue pretty quickly. You can find a Certified Gluten Practitioner here trained by gluten expert Dr. Thomas O’Bryan. I am so grateful to my Functional Medicine doctor for recommending that I get this test. Eliminating gluten but not the cross-reactive foods your body sees as gluten is kind of like not eliminating gluten at all since the symptoms will still be present and the damage will persist. It is recommended that the gluten cross-reactive foods be eliminated for at least 6 months prior to re-introduction in a systematic way. However, for these additional sensitivities/intolerance’s, it’s always wise to get a good natural or alternative doctor to help you through diagnoses. Treating a condition that has not been diagnosed can cause further imbalances and the vicious cycle may continue! I will never forget how instrumental my doctor was in helping me find my triggers. I owe a lot to Dr. Boydston and since I’m bringing him up, I would like to share a video where he describes just why the gluten-free diet takes time to “work” and why other triggers might need to be addressed in addition to the gluten (note: he is currently not taking new patients unfortunately):
There are many different professionals to help you on your journey. Below are links to those I feel have helped me the most or have heard to be helpful. You might find others:
- Functional Medicine doctors specifically trained by Dr. Kharrazian who have a focus on thyroid problems.
- GAPS practitioners and nutritionists.
- Certified Gluten practitioners trained by Dr. Thomas O’Bryan.
- Although I don’t have links, you can find help through Naturopaths, Alternative Medicine doctors, Chiropractors who have strong training in autoimmune conditions, and others.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to my husband, “it might have been the eggs….or the salad…or the ____” (fill in the blank). During these times, researching other food sensitivities became my ticket to feeling much better. After getting my testing for Gluten Cross-Reactivity and Food Sensitivities and then being on an intense gut repair diet, I finally found relief and relief that has lasted for months on end! A qualified practitioner can order these tests for you but I highly recommend the first option above because these Functional Medicine doctors specialize in autoimmune conditions and you can find one that specializes in thyroid issues. Here’s my post on what a Functional Medicine doctor is about for further review. You can also find detailed help through a Certified Gluten Practitioner.
Above all, keep a good attitude. My way of doing this is to be grateful that there are ways to heal. It could be that there are no answers and we just get sicker and sicker. Using diet to calm the immune system (as well as other approaches) gives us hope that we will one day feel better. I highly recommend nutrient dense foods, my favorites are listed at my Resource Center. These foods help nourish the body, and along with other diet measures, helps heal the gut.
On a lighter note, and to help make my point above, my friend Diana recently got her food sensitivity test results back after little improvement going truly gluten-free. Here’s about how the conversation went.
Diana: Well, I got my test results back and you won’t believe it!
Me: Okay, what is it?
Diana: Well, I am sensitive to almost everything I’ve been eating: coconut, almonds, lettuce, spinach, squash, etc.
Me: Wow! That’s pretty bad! What CAN you eat?
Diana: Well, I can have avocado, sweet potatoes, cashews, cocoa, fish, etc.
Me: Well, at least you can have cocoa!
Diana: Ya! What am I going to eat it with? Sprinkle it on my fish?
I gotta hand it to her. At least she kept a sense of humor! My test came out that I couldn’t have blackberries, cinnamon and others. I LOVE cinnamon. I haven’t had it for months now but I went 3 months without it and then re-introduced it. Since I had been feeling well and thought I had healed a lot, I figured I could eat it. Turns out it gave me a rapid heart rate for 3 days! But now I know what was causing certain symptoms! And you can too! Is it fun to eliminate foods you love? No! But it is way less fun to have the symptoms!
So, if you are ready to get tackle this area, find yourself a good nutritionist or someone who is able to get these tests done for you and perhaps you will find as great a relief as I have. And perhaps after the gut has healed, these foods can come back into your diet like chocolate has come back into mine! Don’t forget that I have many resources listed in my “Resource Center” so you can find more easily the books, tools and food needed to make your transitions less stressful.
Finally, I have found that a basic elimination diet like the SCD Diet or a Paleo-type diet can go a long way on helping you find your food sensitivities without expensive testing. I chose testing because my symptoms were quite serious but if I had more time to work through the symptoms, I would start on a basic elimination diet and then once I was feeling much better, I would add in foods one at a time and wait 3-5 days to be sure there is no reaction. Your diet can be built upon and expanded pretty nicely once you begin to feel well enough to recognize new symptoms when adding in a new food.
I hope this post didn’t discourage you too much. It’s easy to feel that Hashimoto’s is just one peel of an onion after another but there are many that have gotten through to feeling much better like myself. It’s so worth it!
Here’s to continued healing!
The whole “Let’s Go Gluten Free” series can be found here.Disclaimer: All posts are describing my personal journey through health issues and are in no way meant to guide anyone towards any method in particular. I am not a medical practitioner or have a dietary or medical license, and this blog is not intended to be taken as authoritative advice. Please see your doctor, or health professional before making any drastic diet changes! Also, occasionally I find others to partner with whom I have had tremendous help from and therefore, there may be paid advertisements and links to support them and help me financially run this website.