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Immunology 101

29 Apr

What if you could have more energy, less pain, fewer headaches, or even reverse the effects of your chronic illness just by changing the way you ate? Would you do it? Most people find the idea a bit far-fetched and wonder how something like diet could possibly impact such a variety of symptoms and so dramatically, but when you think about how our ancestors ate and how we currently eat, well, it starts to become a bit less hazy.

Our bodies are equipped with various antibodies that may mount defenses based on our exposure to things that we ingest or are exposed to in our environment. When you think about all of the things you’re exposed to on a daily basis, you have to really give your immune system a lot of credit. Pesticides, molds, toxins, artificial flavorings, preservatives, and the list goes on and on. A true allergy to a food or substance is indicated by an elevated level of the IgE antibody for the protein in that substance, but there is another antibody that has been receiving more attention as of late. The IgG antibody is believed to be directly related to what we’ve come to label as “delayed reactions” or “sensitivities”. IgG levels fluctuate based on exposure, and over-exposure combined with a semi-permeable and sick gastrointestinal lining can lead to a state of inflammation in the body as a result of partially digested or whole proteins leaking into the boodstream. Suddenly, you’re run down all the time, experiencing headaches, mood swings, joint pain, stomachaches, depression, and anxiety. Yes, the food you are eating can cause all of these symptoms and more.

A research study conducted by Dr. Drisko et al in 2005 evaluated 20 patients who had been diagnosed with IBS and had been unsuccessfully able to control their symptoms. Every single patient had abnormalities in their IgG levels, particularly to: brewer’s yeast, corn, pork, wheat, and soy. While there is some controversy over what the elevated levels actually mean, many doctors are at least willing to admit that an abnormally high IgG level to a substance is a good indicator that the body needs help fighting something.

Shortly after I started waking up feeling as if I’d been starring in the movie Run Lola Run all night long (good movie, by the way), my GI symptoms got completely out of hand. I was experiencing everything from excruciating pain to cramping, nausea, diarrhea, and because I doubt you want to read about all the details, I’ll stop there. Anyway, my GI doctor suggested a workup for Celiac disease because as crazy as I thought it sounded at the time, I told her that I felt like everything I was eating was making me ill. The clincher came when I began having cyclic panic attacks, so for those of you struggling with anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, or other chronic mental illnesses, I am living proof that changing your diet can play an integral role in alleviating your symptoms. I felt like I was on an adrenaline rollercoaster 24/7 and it became so excruciatingly unbearable that I checked myself into the hospital for a 72 hour hold where they doped me up on Klonopin. The Klonopin caused its own issues over the three short months I was on it, but I was desperate to “beat the panic trick” and worked through Dr. David Carbonell’s book. It was immensely helpful at taking the edge off after the Klonopin was finally out of my system (which was a nightmarish experience that I absolutely never, ever want to relive), but the constant feeling of being “on edge” still lingered.

When my Celiac workup came back negative, my GI doctor suggested a gluten free diet anyway. I spent hours over the next two weeks researching everything I could get my hands on, and I started noticing that a lot of the neurological symptoms of Celiac seemed to fit the ones I had been experiencing. I eliminated gluten from my diet and followed a very, very strict gluten free regimen. For two weeks I felt like I had been hit by not 1 – but 2 – semis. I thought I was dying. I stuck it out, and after about 3 weeks sans gluten, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My anxiety dissipated, I was less tired, in less pain, and my GI symptoms? Vanished. My GI doctor was so thrilled that she paraded no fewer than 3 residents into my exam room at my follow up appointment because she couldn’t believe the transformation. In hindsight, I should have paid more attention to how drastically my body responded to diet therapy, especially when many of my symptoms began creeping back up about 6 months later…

The incidence of gluten intolerance, and even Celiac disease, is growing in the United States and it really comes as no surprise since our commercially

Your standard loaf of bread contains more than 20 ingredients and is highly processed. Many patients with autoimmune diseases, chronic illness, and mental illness consume diets heavily ladened with sugar, preservatives, and mainstay ingredients that may be damaging the GI tract and resulting in food and environmental sensitivities.

manufactured food is satiated with wheat and other gluten-based fillers. By the time the wheat has been harvested and turned into a blue box of mac n cheese or a loaf of Wonder Bread, it’s not even wheat, it’s more like a stripped down synthetic form of the grain with little nutritional value. Unless of course it’s enriched. Because you know, it makes a hell of a lot of sense to strip a whole food of its nutrients and then spray synthetic versions of them back on later (insert eye roll here). Our country’s commercial food system is causing a lot of problems for a lot of people and most of them don’t even realize it. Our bodies were not made to eat the way most of us currently eat and we have not evolved enough to handle most of the processed crap that has become our mainstay

What can you take away from this very much abbreviated immunology lesson? If you have been diagnosed with any sort of “catch-all” syndrome, mental illness, neurological impairment, or you just plain feel like crap all the time, there is a strong possibility that part of your problem is one or many dietary sensitivities. Sometimes the answer is not to throw a pill at a symptom and hope for the best. Sometimes the patient has to do a little (or in my case, a lot) of leg work to get to the bottom of obtaining a better quality of life and wellness. It makes sense to start with the fuel you’re putting into your body. Step back and analyze what sort of “gas” you’re pumping in. This week, I challenge you to take an extra minute to read the packaging on the foods that you’re purchasing and consuming and think about where the ingredients came from. A loaf of bread isn’t what it used to be anymore.

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