Raya Ioffe knows what it feels like to be constantly sick with no idea how to recover. As a young child she struggled with constipation and nausea, and on several occasions she had gas pains that were so intense she was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Come college, acid reflux was her main concern—that and the fact she was often so dizzy that she was afraid to walk down the steps.
A barrage of medical tests—an upper- and lower-GI series, MRI, CAT scan of her brain, X-rays of her neck, neurological tests and blood work—revealed no clues or diagnosis, and as her health and self-esteem continued to plummet, Ioffe eventually found herself with a psychiatrist’s prescription for anti-depressants. “I almost gave up,” she says.
It’s a good thing she didn’t, though. Thanks to two pregnancies that forced Ioffe to evaluate her diet and its role in her overall health, she discovered that food was at the very root of the health problems that had been plaguing her for her entire life. “With encouragement from my Mom, I went to see an integrative practitioner who did kinesiology testing,” Ioffe says. “It turned out that the food that I thought was healthy for me was all wrong for my body.”
A New Threat
While most people assume that all adverse food reactions are allergies, that isn’t exactly the case, and it is important to differentiate between allergies and intolerances.
“Food allergies cause an immune system response when the body mistakes a particular food as a harmful substance,” explains Rene Ficek, a registered dietitian and Lead Nutrition Expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating. “IgE antibodies are released, mounting a defense against the food with a release of chemicals like histamine, causing the allergic reaction.”
The result can range from itching or hives to anaphylactic shock in the most severe cases, and the reactions typically occur immediately following ingestion. Food intolerances, however, are not always as easy to identify. Symptoms can take 24 to 48 hours to present and are often difficult to trace back to the offending food.
“Food intolerance can be caused by several different factors, including erratic food intake, poor nutritional intake, high intakes of refined foods, poor intake of dietary fiber or high fat diets,” says Ficek. “Others react to the chemicals that are produced naturally in foods, such as caffeine, salicylates and histamine in foods like strawberries, chocolate, and cheese. Another possible cause is to additives in processed foods which give them a longer shelf life.”
But no matter the cause, the result is the same: undigested or partially digested food molecules are released into the body—via permeations in the intestine, otherwise known as “leaky gut”—where they wreak varying levels of havoc.
Causing BIG problems
“Often times, the first and most common signs of food intolerance are bloating, tiredness and a general feeling of being uncomfortable,” says Christina Major, a Naturopathic Doctor with Crystal Holistic Health Consulting. “Then, as our body is repeatedly exposed, we [can] develop throat problems other issues.”
Skin issues, ranging from dry skin to severe eczema or psoriasis, are also common, Major says. “If you take medication, need skin creams or have dry skin, these are good signs you have food intolerance. Since the skin is the largest elimination organ, skin rashes or dry skin is a very good sign the food you eat is harming your body. The skin tries to get rid of toxins and waste products from the reaction through your skin.”
And the problems don’t always manifest physically, either. Adverse reactions to problem foods can also lead to emotional distress. “New studies show more and more how our digestive system is connected with the brain,” says Alexandra Roach, a certified holistic health practitioner and yoga and tai chi instructor. “Therefore, neurotransmitters and hormones are influenced by food intolerance as well—think serotonin, of which 80% is produced in the gut. If our digestion is messed up by food that our metabolism can’t handle, we might also experience symptoms like depression, anxiety, etc.”
Hope for Healing
Unfortunately, and unlike traditional food allergies that are detectable through simple blood tests, intolerances are difficult to diagnose. An elimination diet is typically required, during which the most common offenders (corn, wheat, dairy, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, artificial coloring, etc.) are eliminated. At that point, foods can be added back into the diet one at a time so that reactions can be clearly distinguished.
Singling out the offending food and removing it from the diet is only the first step in the healing process, however, as the issue of leaky gut must still be addressed. Dr. Drew Duquette, an Illinois-based chiropractor who specializes in alternative health care, suggests the following four-step plan:
1. Reduce inflammation by consuming lower amounts of omega-6 and trans fats and/or supplementing with anti-inflammatory supplements.
2. Elimination pathogens such as yeast, fungi, bacteria and parasites
3. Re-establish normal bowel flora with probiotics, prebiotic and fermented food in the diet.
4. Support small bowel cell function with L-Glutamine, zinc, aloe vera, licorice and glucosamine.
After more than three decades of dealing with the side effects of numerous intolerances (she gave up gluten, dairy, refined sugar, eggs, pecans, non-fermented soy and genetically modified corn), Ioffe has achieved a state of health and vitality that she never thought possible, and she’s working to share that feeling with others as a holistic health coach.
“Three weeks into my new way of eating the right foods for my body and avoiding foods that made me sick, 98% of my symptoms went away—no more nausea, constipation or gassiness,” Ioffe says. “I was overjoyed to see the exhaustion slip away along with eight extra pounds of weight. I got my life back and ignited a new purpose. Helping others get out of digestive distress, heal and regain their life and energy has become my life’s passion.”