Do you suffer uncomfortable, seemingly unrelated symptoms? Have you ever had recurring pain that you just can’t explain? In this series, I’ll unveil some of the most common sources of this “mystery pain”. Whether you’re experiencing discomfort for the first time, or have searched for answers for years, I hope to accompany you on your journey to a pain-free life.
When Nourishment Brings Pain
While many of us are aware of the most common and severe food allergies, you might not be aware of some more hidden reactions to foods. Usually, we expect that if we’re going to react to a food we eat, it would cause a digestive problem or pain. But some reactions don’t cause any digestive problems. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen who tell me they don’t have any digestive issues, but they’re in chronic pain some place in their body. Have you heard of leaky gut? With leaky gut, exposure to even the smallest amount of a food can cause pain in some random place in your body.
Let me tell you a little about leaky gut: imagine that your intestines are a colander that absorbs just the good stuff from your food. There are different sizes and shapes in the colander. Each shape absorbs a different type of molecule, so the amino acids go in one hole, the sugars in another hole, and the fats go through another. Normally your food breaks down into tiny molecules and absorbs into the blood stream to nourish your body.
When you have leaky gut, these holes are broken. So the food may just fall into your blood without fully breaking down. When that happens, your immune system goes on alert. Its job is like the sentries at Fort Knox – to protect the fort at all costs. So when a foreign invader comes in, the immune system attacks. This is why you can have mystery symptoms and not even know that there’s a digestive problem at play. There can be many symptoms of leaky gut, including any of the following:
- Heart palpitations
- Skin rash
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Brain fog
If you suffer from any of these symptoms, try keeping a food journal. Write down everything you eat and drink, and log any flare-ups you have. See if you can find a pattern.
Common Food Sensitivities
Have you been gluten-free for a decade, but still experiencing bloating and loose stools? Is your body still reacting to your lactose allergy even though you’ve cut out all milk products? We often have more than one sensitivity at play. Pay attention to the following trigger foods, and see how your body responds:
Gluten-free diets have gained popularity in the last decade, due to an increase in Celiac disease, an autoimmune condition. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye, and most commercial baked breads and goods.
Lactose is the naturally occurring sugar in milk and milk products. Lactase is an enzyme developed in the small intestine that breaks down this sugar. Adults with lactose-intolerance have a lactase deficiency.
Found in preserved and packaged foods, as well as beer and wine, sulfites are a common food allergy. Bottled juices, canned foods, baked goods, and potato chips are hidden sources of sulfites. Be sure to check the label of anything you plan to eat!
One of the lesser-known triggers for food sensitivity, nightshades are a family of over 2,500 vegetables and fruits including potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. Many who experience unpleasant symptoms after meals are reacting to these foods, which are heavily featured in the standard American diet.
Occurring in high amounts in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and almost all nuts and seeds, grains, herbs, and spices, oxalates can be problematic for some. When the oxalate-digesting enzymes in the intestine are overworked or wiped out by antibiotics, oxalate sensitivities occur.
Reclaiming Your Life
If you’re ready to get to the bottom of your unexplained aches and pains, record your meals and refer to your journal for valuable insight into potential sensitivities. Once you’ve identified a troublesome food (or group of foods), work on healing your body by eliminating this substance and restoring your gut health. The good news is that if you are suffering from leaky gut and have to eliminate foods from your diet, you will not be allergic to them forever. Once you heal your gut, you will be able to go back to some of these foods and feel okay with them. Giving up some of your favorite foods may be daunting, but know that your body and mind will thank you. Consider this a fun challenge of your culinary skills! In time, your increased energy, mood, and health will be well worth it.