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Leaky Gut and Allergies: A Tale of Woe

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Pollen, peanut butter, dairy, shellfish…

Parents of yore can’t help but mention that these allergies were hardly prevalent in their day. And they’re right – in the last century, we’ve introduced more new substances to our bodies than we have in the last five hundred years of humanity. With that innovation has come intolerance, as it so often does. 

Studies have been done reaching all the way back to the first real hay-fever epidemic in 1870 – the encounter with allergic diseases that may have marked the beginning of our troubles – and on up through the asthma epidemic of the ‘60s, the peanut allergy explosion of the ‘90s, and our increased gluten sensitivity today.

The curious brains of medical professionals are teeming with theories…

Hay fever coincided with increased hygiene and more pollen due to agricultural advances… Is there something to be said for getting dirty? 

Even the asthma onslaught seems to align with a shift from outdoor play to indoor, with shallower breathing and less exercise… Did our sedentary lifestyles make us asthmatic?

Peanuts can induce allergic reactions through skin contact… Did something in the last 50 years make our skin more permeable? 

And the more we learn about the omnipotent microbiome in the gut, and how involved it is in almost every one of our bodily activities…

The likelier it seems that the state of our guts has a lot to do with the state of our intolerances. 

We’ve talked before about how we evolved into gluten allergies and diseases, because the gut is an important piece in the allergy puzzle.

And in fact, society’s increasing dysbiosis does play a role in allergy development.

How an Allergy Forms

The consensus in the medical community is that an overactive immune system causes an allergy – your body attacks something that it thinks is an enemy, and the result is that it builds antibodies against that foreign substance.

When it encounters the substance again, those antibodies are ready to fight it. That’s called an IgE reaction, or an immunoglobulin E reaction. It’s permanent, so think pollen or latex. These are normally allergies you’re born with or develop in early childhood. 

Antibodies send messages to cells that release the chemicals that cause the reaction, which usually affects the lungs, nose, throat, or skin.

Now, this is different from an intolerance. An intolerance can affect the body up to 48 hours after contact with the offending substance, can be grown out of with a change of diet or lifestyle, and doesn’t attack with IgE – it attacks with IgG, or immunoglobulin G. 

But in either case, the immune system’s response to foreign bodies is what causes discomfort.

The question is, how and why does the immune system decide which offenders are worth attacking?

That’s where the gut lends us insight…

Intestinal Permeability and Macromolecules

When you’re afflicted with leaky gut – which can happen for reasons ranging from the gliadin compound in gluten, bacterial imbalance, overuse of non-steroidal antiinflammatories, excessive alcohol intake, or even an overgrowth of yeast – your intestines are permeated.

That means that as you’re digesting food, and it’s traveling through the colon, if there are holes, loose joints, or rips and tears, particles of that food called macromolecules sneak through into the bloodstream.

The body is designed to react when something isn’t where it’s supposed to be. In fact, almost every time you experience a symptom, it’s because something in the body is out of place.

When the immune system (70% of which is housed in the digestive tract) senses the macromolecule intruder, it develops the antibodies we talked about before. 

And when you consider the fact that leaky gut affects a huge portion of the population who may not even be aware they suffer from it (think of how many people have Celiac, IBS, ulcers, diverticulitis, etc.)…

It makes sense that we often develop intolerances to the foods we eat most frequently. 

The immune system develops antibodies for the macromolecules it finds in the bloodstream, outside of the intestines, the most often. If you’re a cheese lover, you may find after years of eating it that it now makes you sick – sore stomach, complex bowel movements, runny nose, cramps, etc. 

And sometimes, existing allergies and their reactions can even exacerbate gut conditions, just like the reverse is true that gut reactions can cause allergies. For example, peanut allergies are associated with intestinal permeability and loose joint junctions. 

The best way to correct an intolerance is to take a break from the specific food and use that time to heal your gut. Prebiotics, probiotics, proper diet, and glutamine to fuel intestinal cell repair can all help. 

Then consider returning to the offending food slowly, and make sure you chew before you swallow!

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