How Can Your Food Intolerances Become Addictions?
By Joan Kent, PhD
My doctoral program required me to choose a specialty (sugar addiction). Before that, I had studied food intolerances. My interest in those was always their link with addiction.
Common triggers for food intolerance include chocolate, corn, soy, wheat, other gluten-containing foods, peanuts, dairy, eggs, sugars, and other sweeteners.
What Does Food Intolerance Look Like?
Symptoms and signs may include headache/migraine, joint pains, fatigue, sleepiness, heart palpitations, depression, irritability, stomach pains, bloating, and many more.
Digested food moves through the bloodstream, so the effects of an intolerance can show up almost anywhere in the body.
Food reactions might be the same every time the food is eaten, such as a rash.
Or the reactions might vary – say, a non-itchy rash one time and itching with no rash another time.
The reaction might be cumulative: a small portion of the food causes no reaction, but another portion that day, or several days in a row, causes one.
Addiction is another possible reaction that may develop over time.
What Causes Food Intolerances?
The causes are many, but here are a few.
• One cause is a genetic intolerance or a tendency toward it.
• We can become intolerant to a food we eat often or in large quantities. Overeating a food uses up enzymes specific to digesting that food, so complete digestion is prevented. That may result in improperly digested food particles moving through the digestive tract and bloodstream, triggering an immune reaction. Undigested, unabsorbed food provides no nutrients.
• We can become reactive to a food we eat with another triggering food. So the list of trigger foods may grow, eventually resulting in malnutrition.
Food Reactions May Change Over Time
The guiding principle of the human body is homeostasis.
When a trigger food is first eaten, the body attempts to restore homeostasis by ridding itself of that trigger food. It attaches antibodies to the partially digested food while it's in the intestine. That might eliminate the food before it can pass into the bloodstream.
But if the food does enter the bloodstream, it can promote inflammation. The acute reaction may be short, and the body may return to homeostasis quickly.
If someone continues to eat a trigger food over time, though, the body adapts. The immune system may become slower – or less able – to respond. The adaptive reaction may be slower than the acute reaction. Signs or symptoms may last longer – hours or days.
How Can That Become an Addiction?
The immune response to a trigger food involves stress hormones; opioids, such as endorphins (beta-endorphin); and chemical mediators like serotonin. The combination can produce temporary symptom relief through analgesic action, mood elevation, and a feeling of relaxation.
In that way, eating the trigger food may make someone feel better and even think the food is beneficial.
Endorphins are typically released with dopamine. The combination of those two brain chemicals and serotonin forms what I've always called "the addictive package." Avoiding the trigger food might lead to withdrawal.
After long-term use, someone may eat the trigger food not for the pleasure of a "high," but to relieve the distress of withdrawal without it. It's almost textbook addiction.
How Does Intolerance/Addiction Affect Health?
As someone addicted to a trigger food continues to eat it, the immune system must keep adapting, and may become hyper-sensitized, reacting to more and more foods – especially those eaten together with trigger foods, or with sugar.
The constant demand on the immune system can lead to immune exhaustion and degenerative reactions, depending on genetic weaknesses. The signs and symptoms are many.
Sugar can be a major player in this because it causes inflammation in the body and makes it more susceptible to food reactions. Eating trigger foods plus sugar can make new reactions even more likely to occur.
Cake is one example: sugar plus wheat, eggs, milk. I also recall a book by Nancy Appleton, who suggested that eggs trigger reactions in some people because they're frequently eaten at breakfast with orange juice.
As the addictions continue, cravings occur, possibly increasing consumption. As more and more foods trigger an immune response, the result may be malnutrition.
Statistics say rates of food intolerance are rising. My theory is it's at least partly due to sugar in our diets – including 'sneaky' sugars that are often viewed as healthful: agave, fruit, fruit juice, and sweeteners.
Stopping the Cycle
• Give up any foods you suspect may be causing any reactions, even if you love them.
• Identify foods you eat regularly with those trigger foods. Eliminate those, as well.
• Avoid sugar.
• Follow this plan for 3-4 weeks.
In the meantime, you may have cravings. If so, my proven, time-tested recommendation is a teaspoon of liquid B-complex (complete B-complex) to kill the craving within minutes. [Please check with your doctor to be sure this strategy is appropriate for you.]
At the end of the 3- to 4-week elimination, you should be feeling and looking better.
If you'd like to improve your health and energy, start by visiting LastResortNutrition.com . Grab your free copy of "The 3 Biggest Mistakes People Make When Trying to Quit Sugar." Discover how easy it is to make small changes that produce big results.
Brought to you by Dr. Joan Kent, best-selling author of Stronger Than Sugar: 7 Simple Steps to Defeat Sugar Addiction, Lift Your Mood, and Transform Your Health.