I had a lab partner in college whose boyfriend had a large section of his colon removed as part of his crohn’s disease treatment. He would carry what she affectionately called a "poop bag" with him for the rest of his life. I have seen mothers carry epi pens in their purse in fear that their child will stop breathing when they come in contact with peanuts or milk.

Food allergies and food sensitivities are becoming epidemic. There are various theories on what causes food allergies, but one that stands out for me is the theory that when our guts are unhealthy they do not properly digest foods and these foods then make us sick.

One woman I know, Ann Marie, has recovered from the symptoms of food allergies and can now eat the very foods that once made her so ill.

If Ann Marie’s story or her class, Reversing Food Allergies, can help just one of those people then it is worth looking into.  Now let’s hear from someone who knows the bitter struggle of food allergies all too well.

What is your experience with food allergies?

Hidden food allergies absolutely devastated my health.  I was 25 years old and I was so sick, I didn’t have the energy to do anything.  I was getting sinus infections every month, had sores in my nose that wouldn’t heal, and my arthritis pain was so bad, I couldn’t even sleep through the night. I was taking Alleve and allergy medicine on a daily basis.

I had no idea that I even had food allergies, much less that these food allergies were causing my arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and other health problems.  I did an elimination diet for 30 days and while the first week or two was pretty rough, the last two weeks, I felt like I was walking on air.  All my symptoms vanished and I felt like a kid again.  I’d jump out of bed in the morning, go all day, and I had no pain, no sneezing, no dizziness.

Of course then I found out the hard way that if I ate just a tiny bit of gluten or sugar, all my symptoms would come right back.  So I worked on healing my gut. I took strong probiotics and avoided gluten and sugar. 

It took me about 2 years but I did reverse my food allergies.  I can now eat anything — wheat, sugar, you name it — and I don’t have any symptoms.

What do you believe causes food allergies?

Food allergies are caused by a damaged digestive tract.  The digestive tract gets damaged by two things: (1) things that kill of our good bacteria and (2) things that damage our gut lining.  

  1. Things that kill good bacteria. Our good bacteria is killed off by antibiotics, the birth control pill, steroids and other drugs, as well as chlorine in the water we drink, bathe and swim in.  A hundred years ago, antibiotics were unheard of.  We also ate plenty of naturally fermented foods at every meal — from naturally fermented sourdough to ketchup to sauerkraut to good old fashioned ginger ale. These foods provided probiotics to help build and maintain the good flora in our gut.  These days, everything is pasteurized and sterilized, so not only are we killing off the good flora, but we’re not replacing it.
  2. Things that damage our gut lining. Foods that are hard to digest damage our gut lining. These foods include unfermented soy (the worst), as well as unfermented (unsoaked) grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

A century ago, all of these foods were traditionally soaked or fermented in order to make them more digestible (think about how you have to soak beans before eating them).  Nowadays, with people using modern commercial yeast instead of traditional sourdough, these foods are not adequately broken down and are much harder on our digestive system.

We also used to eat a lot of chicken stock and other kinds of bone broth a century ago.  Broth is one of the most healing foods for you digestive tract.  Sadly, it has been replaced my MSG in most restaurants and packaged foods (including most of the canned soup you find at the supermarket).

How do you reverse food allergies?

First of all, we have to avoid foods that we are allergic to.  Every time we eat a food that we cannot digest, it damages our gut further.  That is why so many people end up with multiple food allergies. First they’re allergic to gluten, and they keep eating that, and then the next thing they know, they are also allergic to dairy.  Then one day, they’re also allergic to nuts or eggs.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t know which foods we are allergic to.  And, according to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of The Gut & Psychology Syndrome, the tests that are available are not reliable at all.

The only real way to find out what you are allergic to is to do an elimination diet for 4 weeks. That is what I did.  Then you gradually reintroduce foods, one by one. You watch for reactions, and when you have a negative reaction, you know you can’t have that food.  At least not for a while, until your gut is more healthy.

It’s not just about avoidance of allergens.  If you just avoid gluten or dairy, you’re not going to heal the gut so nothing will change. 

We also need to heal and seal the gut by eating lots of fermented foods, taking probiotics and eating bone broth which helps to rebuild and strengthen the gut lining.  Probiotics help because part of their job is to build and protect the lining — so the more good flora you have, the more they work to heal your gut.

It can take a while to recover is because you have to help the gut rebuild itself.  Let me explain:

There are these tiny finger-like protusions that line the gut wall. They are called villi.  The villi are covered with cells that are called enterocytes.  These enterocytes are covered with tiny hairs, like grass.  This grass-like covering is called microvilli. (Stay with me — I’ll explain why all of this is important.)

Now, when the gut wall gets damaged and there is not enough good bacteria, the enterocytes get damaged and worn down. And their "grass" stops growing and they become bald.

Why is this a problem? Because it is the microvilli that actually secretes the enzymes that allow you to digest certain foods.  In other words, you need the enzyme "lactase" to digest "lactose" in milk and dairy products.  If your enterocytes are bald and your microvilli is non-existent, you are not producing any lactase — and as a result, you can’t drink milk.

So it depends on how worn down your digestive tract is.  If it is completely worn down, it might be a while before you are able to eat any complex foods that require enzymes to break down.  These complex foods are called "disaccharides" (two sugars) and "polysaccharides" (multiple sugars) and include dairy, grains, sugar and starches.  Monosaccharides (single sugar) are foods that do not require enzymes to break down.  So they are easy for us to digest and don’t tax our digestive system.

In the beginning, you can only eat simple foods like meat, fish, bone broth, and cooked and fermented vegetables.  In time, as you heal, you can introduce more and more complex foods one at a time.

If you continue eating food you don’t have the enzymes to digest, you are putting too much strain on your digestive tract, and not giving it the time and space to heal itself.  This is why it’s important to stick to a restricted diet in the beginning, and eat lots of things that will help your body heal itself, like fermented foods and bone broth.

You can use the coupon code "HEAL" for $20 off enrollment and find out more about Reversing Food Allergies. Tomorrow Ann Marie will be giving away free enrollment to one reader.