BayouHealth by Shannon Dahlum
M=odern science has shown that when it comes to wellness or disease, your genetics certainly matter. What matters more, however, is epigenetics, or the environment that is influencing how your genes express themselves. When your genes are living in a healthy environment, they’ll express themselves in the healthiest way possible, but when they’re consistently exposed to an unhealthy environment, they’ll express themselves in unhealthy ways. This is great news, because it means that regardless of the disease tendencies your genes are encoded with, you ultimately have control of whether or not your genes express those diseases or support a healthy state in your body.
Possibly the number one epigenetic influence you have control over is the food you eat. This means if there’s only one thing you can change to optimize the way you look, feel and function, it should be your nutrition. Food can either supply your body with genetically required nutrition, or it can create inflammation, immune system dysfunction or imbalance.
Nutrition can be such a confusing topic, though, full of conflicting advice. This is because you have a specific genetic make up that causes your body to respond to food in a different way than someone else’s. While a low protein vegetarian approach may help your friend’s genes express themselves in a healthy way, a high protein, low carbohydrate approach may be what’s best for helping you thrive. Even biological family members won’t share exactly the same nutritional needs. Not only is finding the correct macro- and micro- nutrient balance key, but also of vital importance is avoiding foods that trigger inflammation in your body.
Food-induced inflammation can be caused by food allergies and food sensitivities. It’s estimated that about 4-6% of the population suffers from food allergies, which always involves a protein based compound, and a reaction typically develops anywhere from immediately to one hour after exposure. Food sensitivities can include non-protein based compounds and are much more common, with about 30-40% of the population experiencing them. Unlike allergies, symptoms from a food sensitivity can take up to several days to be experienced, making the triggering culprit much more difficult to spot. It’s also possible that no symptom is ever experienced, even when damage is being done to surrounding cells and tissues.
Consistently exposing yourself to a food you have a sensitivity to leads to chronic inflammation in your body, which is not an environment that can support healthy genetic expression. Continued consumption of reactive food leads to damage to the intestinal wall which prevents healthy digestion and assimilation of nutrients, and inflammation of the entire intestinal area. This can result in unhealthy microbial balance in the gut, viral and/ or parasitic infections, liver congestion, immune impairment, reduced detoxification capacity, and even more food sensitivities. It can be a major contributing factor to a wide range of disease states involving the gastrointestinal, neurological, musculoskeletal, urological, endocrine and/or gynecological systems.
To make matters even worse, the foods you crave the most may be the ones that create the most inflammation for you. When inflammation is triggered, your body responds by releasing stress hormones and endorphins. The stress hormones help reduce inflammation, and you may feel a little burst of energy from them. Endorphins are a “feel good” hormone that help dull pain and may even give you a bit of a euphoric feeling. So if something you eat creates an inflammatory response, but you wind up feeling a bit of a buzz and a mild high from it, chances are, you’ll want more. In fact, offending foods can actually be addictive in this way, and lead to withdrawal symptoms when you avoid them.
There are tests you can have done to determine if you have any specific food sensitivities, which I won’t get into for the sake of time and space for this article. I personally chose for myself and recommend the Mediator Release Test (MRT) by Oxford Biomedical. You can find plenty of information online if you’d like to learn more about it. There’s also a simple, at home, unscientific, “test” you can try that may help point you in the right direction, called the Coca’s pulse test. It was named after Dr. Arthur Coca, an allergist in the mid 1950’s who discovered this simple way to identify possible food sensitivities. It’s based on the premise that your pulse is accelerated by foods you’re sensitive to. Remember that inflammatory responses trigger the release of stress hormones? Those stress hormones will slightly elevate your pulse, so seeing an elevated pulse after food exposure can indicate that there was an inflammatory response from that food.
Dr. Coca’s testing method involves checking your pulse at precise intervals several times before and after a meal, while watching for an elevation in pulse rate following the meal. There’s an even quicker, simpler way you can try it, testing individual food items, and here’s how:
1. Select a food to test. Remember that you may have pretty intense cravings for foods you’re sensitive to, so this is a good place to start. But rather than choosing a whole food, you should select a single element for this test. For example, rather than taking a bite of pizza, start with only cheese.
2. Have a seat at a table and give yourself several minutes to relax and allow your pulse to drop. Check your pulse for a full minute and record your result.
3. Take a bite of your selected food item and chew or hold it on your tongue for at least thirty seconds. Continue to hold it in your mouth while you take your pulse again for another full minute.
4. If your pulse rate rose more than 6 beats per minute after putting the food in your mouth, it indicates a stress reaction and that the food you tested should be avoided.
Learning about your food sensitivities can be overwhelming. It can be very discouraging to find out that some of your favorite foods are ones you need to avoid. Food sensitivities aren’t with you forever, though. If you’re diligent about avoiding your reactive foods for a period of time and work with a knowledgeable practitioner who can guide you on how to heal your gut, you will likely be able to enjoy those foods again without harm.