Food Allergy, Food Sensitivity and Fatigue

In anyone with fatigue, understanding food allergies is important as many people with chronic fatigue have significant food allergies and intolerance. In addition to fatigue, symptoms of food intolerance often include digestive complaints like bloating or diarrhea, headaches, muscle pain and brain fog.  A common reason for developing food allergy and intolerance is poor gut wall function (leaky gut) and other digestive issues. Even irritable bowel syndrome, a common diagnosis with intermittent diarrhea and constipation, can be triggered by food allergy.  

The University of York in the U.K. conducted a survey to help understand the benefits of elimination diets based on the results of a food intolerance test. Out of 436 who reported experiencing fatigue, 87% reported a boost to their energy levels having removed their ‘trigger’ foods,  defined as foods which show a positive IgG reaction to antibodies in the blood. Overall in the study, 76% of people who rigorously followed the recommended diet reported a benefit, 68% of which experienced this after 3 weeks. Other improvements included digestive issues 80%; headaches, asthma, rhinitis, eczema, joint pain all improved between 70 and 80% 

Though this study used blood tests to identify food allergy, I have found that a better way to assess food sensitivities is intradremal skin tests. Allergy response to foods is complex, involving antibodies (IgG4, Ig E)  lymphocytes and innate the immune system. Only skin testing can give a picture of all these aspects of food intolerance. After 3 decades of testing patients using provocative neutralization techniques which are the gold standard for food testing (per the American Academy of Environmental Medicine), I have seen many patients quickly improve by eliminating the foods we identify as   intolerant.

Food allergy develops for many reasons: genetics, repeated exposure to the same foods, lack of digestive enzymes, damage to the gut wall from abnormal microbiota including yeast (candida albicans) virus, bacteria and parasites. In people with poor adrenal response, cortisol which dampens down the effects of food allergy and inflammation, is inadequate to prevent symptoms, especially the fatigue, inflammation and brain fog which is so common with food allergy.

The most common foods that are allergenic are dairy, wheat, corn, soy, beef, yeast and tomatoes. Interestingly, these foods often make up the bulk  of typical American diets. Receptive exposure to these foods along with digestive dysfunction leads to the trigger for chronic low energy levels. This type of food allergy often can resolve by avoidance and immunotherapy (allergy desensitization). This differs from what is called a fixed food allergy such as with foods like shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts and strawberries  in which susceptible people can get severe reactions like anaphylaxis, asthma or hives. These reactions are immediate and obvious. The typical food reaction that underlies fatigue is delayed and masked, in most cases without testing it is impossible to identify.

Gluten Intolerance, Wheat Allergy and Celiac Disease

Many people have found eliminating gluten from their diet has a good effect on energy levels. The reason might be that gluten, a protein in wheat ,barley and rye can damage the gut wall and lead to inflammation throughout the body. Wheat is the most common source of gluten in the American diet, a food that many people have eaten almost every day of their lives. Besides the repeated exposure which we are genetically not prepared to tolerate (think of our distant ancestors who were hunter gatherers and would have some food source for a period of time then move on to another source), there are subtle changes in the wheat protein itself through agribusiness farming methods. 

Avoiding gluten is often accompanied by rapid weight loss, better energy, clearer thinking and less aches and pains. Unfortunately, this does not clearly happen in everyone who stops eating wheat. At times the benefits are  more subtle leading people to give up on these restrictions even if in the long run it would be beneficial to stay off gluten. However, there are blood tests that can help identify who is gluten intolerant or wheat allergic that I have found useful in the many patients who do not easily improve with gluten avoidance. 

The bottom line: diet, food allergy and gluten intolerance are major factors in fatigue and tiredness that need to be addressed to achieve the vitality and high level wellness we all strive for.