I'm so grateful to have Beth Ann Davenport as a guest on today's blog post. If you have followed along with me on Instagram for a while, you know that our oldest son (6 years old), struggled with nightly night terrors and eczema for the last 4 years. We had tried everything supplement wise, removing evening screen time, sleep pattern training, etc. It was a very exhausting and discouraging process. We finally scheduled a sleep study, but before actually going, I decided my final attempt would be a food sensitivity test. He tested highly sensitive to gluten. Feeling defeated, but knowing that gluten can cause inflammation in all different parts of the body for different people, I thought removing it was a worthy shot. To our surprise and an answer to prayer, removing gluten has completely eliminated his night terrors.
I have always been a big advocate of gut health + have over the years learned its connections with so many different health issues. So many of you had some amazing questions + were interested in learning more about food sensitivities + gut health after I shared our journey. I am happy to introduce Beth Ann Davenport, a functional medicine Pharmacist. She is a wealth of knowledge and is passionate about a holistic approach to stewarding your body well (to say we are on the same page with our passions is an understatement). She also offers thorough wellness consultations + nutrigenomic testing (food sensitivity testing coming this fall).
Food sensitivities are a hot (and overwhelming!) topic these days, and for good reason. But in order to understand what it means to have a food sensitivity, we first need to talk about another trending concept, leaky gut.
It sounds super hokey, right? It’s not at all! The proper term for leaky gut is ‘intestinal permeability,’ and it is a modern day conundrum contributing to many chronic diseases, big and small, ailing us today.
We all have what is termed a gut-blood barrier, made up of multiprotein complexes called tight junctions lining our gastrointestinal (GI) tracts. Tight junctions are responsible for regulating which molecules can pass directly from your GI system into your bloodstream, bypassing part or parts of digestion, metabolism via the liver or kidneys, etc. Healthy tight junctions allow appropriate substances to pass through while blocking molecules from passing if they need to be fully digested or further metabolized. In short, healthy tight junctions make up the lining of a healthy gut.
When an individual has a genetic sensitivity to a food, I tend to think of it like a minor internal allergy (a trigger). Exposure to the trigger doesn’t cause an extreme, life-threatening allergic reaction (like the one when Will Smith’s face blew up in Hitch), so they often continue to include it in their diet unaware of the slow damage being done. Over time, bombarding the lining of the gut with a trigger causes the tight junctions to weaken (loosen), compromising the gut-blood barrier.
Loose tight junctions allow larger, more inflammatory particles to pass through (leak) from your gut into your blood. These molecules are generally more complex and are meant to be broken down in order to be utilized or eliminated by the body.
Once it’s begun, the most minor implications of leaky gut involve creating inflammation in various forms throughout the body, commonly the skin, digestive system, joints, and brain. In more extreme cases, the body develops antibodies against these larger inflammatory particles that sometimes resemble or can become attached to your own cells, starting a cascade toward auto-immune disease. For example, the structure of gluten leaked from the gut into the blood resembles some thyroid cells, which is one reason why gluten intolerance is so strongly linked to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune thyroid disease.
The good news is that the gut can be repaired! It’s a very individualized process, but it virtually always involves cleaning up your diet in some capacity, and an elimination diet is a great tool to implement when getting started.
There are two broad types of elimination diets. The first is for the more extreme at heart, eliminating all six of the most common triggers at one time. These six include gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, corn, peanuts, and tree nuts. I’m not going to lie - it’s hardcore. If you choose this route, I also recommend to eliminate refined sugar and alcohol, two other major contributors to leaky gut, to maximize the benefit of your hard work.
A second form of elimination diet is more moderate, and involves eliminating 1 - 3 triggers at a time. If you’re just going to pick three and go with it, I suggest gluten, dairy, and soy. You can also choose food sensitivity testing to identify which triggers are most likely affecting you and narrow down your elimination.
Quality is extremely important in testing, so I always recommend going through a healthcare professional if you choose to test. Reliability of testing varies greatly, and the entity you choose should be CLIA certified (they will state explicitly if they are) at a minimum. Also, testing available through healthcare professionals is covered under the HIPAA privacy law, which means your information is completely protected. If you choose a generic online option for any type of testing, whether its food sensitivity, DNA, etc., the company that performs the test owns your data and can sell it to marketers, the government, or whoever is willing to pay. Bottom line: do your research and choose a test you can trust.
Any effective elimination diet needs to be strict for a minimum of 10 days (absolute minimum! Two weeks is better, and many argue two months is ideal) before you begin adding back in one type of trigger at a time. As you detox initially, you may notice some symptoms worsen before they get better, and that’s normal. Your body is getting rid of a lot of gunk, so whatever your normal issue, don’t be surprised if it gets worse about 3 days into your elimination. For instance, if your skin is sometimes a problem, you may experience a breakout. If your digestion tends to give you fits, a … mass exodus… may be a part of your process. You get the picture. The main point to remember is that it (whatever it is for you), will get better if you stick with the elimination!
As you begin to reintroduce triggers, you want to allow at least 3 days per each individual food type to observe any changes. Once you add one food type back in (I usually recommend starting with your favorite first - the one you really miss!) for several days without issue, you can choose another. If you reintroduce a food and experience a reaction or worsening of symptoms, eliminate it again and wait a few days before reintroducing another. Continue the process until you’ve made your way through the triggers and resolved any corresponding symptoms.
Gut health is overwhelming, I know! It’s affected by a myriad of lifestyle choices and it has an effect on nearly every aspect of our health. Hippocrates, often considered the father of modern medicine, placed appropriate emphasis on it’s significance when he famously stated, “All disease begins in the gut.” For that reason and many more, eliminating foods that could be hurting your gut is a great place to start when you’re looking to improve your wellness!