If you’ve tried elimination diets to overcome food sensitivities, but you’re still reacting to a bunch of different foods that trigger IBS symptoms, drowsiness, skin breakouts, headaches, etc., it’s possible that an infection is actually at the root of your problems.
Over the years we’ve worked with hundreds of people who came to see us for a variety of health complaints, and many of them had some degree of food intolerance.
And while there are several underlying factors that contribute to food intolerance, there’s one cause in particular that is very common, but easy to miss:
H. pylori infection.
H. pylori is an extremely common bacterial infection of the stomach. Nobody knows exactly how we end up with an H. pylori infection, but it’s thought to be transmitted through saliva or food.
The thing is, most people with H. pylori don’t know they have it, because it doesn’t always create obvious symptoms. When a person’s immune system is strong and their body is generally balanced, it can really help to keep infections like H. pylori in check.
But when H. pylori is a real problem, the symptoms can be all over the place: stomach pain, ulcers, unintentional weight loss, nausea, and burping – just to name a few.
You can also have “extraintestinal” manifestations of H. pylori, which are symptoms OUTSIDE of the gut. These include random itchy skin (urticaria), rosacea, anemia, asthma, and migraines.
A big reason H. pylori matters when it comes to food intolerance is because it can lower your stomach acid levels.
If your stomach acid is too low, you won’t fully break down food proteins. These undigested food proteins will then get into your bloodstream and activate your immune system.
Once your immune system is activated, your body will release histamine. Histamine is the chemical that causes itching, drowsiness, watery eyes, and even stomach upset, diarrhea, or headaches – all of the classic symptoms of food sensitivities.
But if you have strong levels of stomach acid, your food will be broken down completely and won’t trigger a response from your immune system.
That’s why, if you suffer from food sensitivities or intolerances, it’s important to find out if you have low stomach acid caused by an H. pylori infection.
H. pylori is often diagnosed with a breath test, and sometimes the doctor will perform a GI scope and take a sample of tissue from the stomach or small intestine. If any of the testing comes back positive, the doctor will recommend a course of antibiotics – sometimes along with acid-blocking drugs – to help kill the infection.
This sort of testing and treatment is what most people who go through their insurance-based health care will be offered, yet there are several problems with approaching H. pylori this way.
First, most conventional practitioners won’t test for H. pylori unless you have obvious GI-related symptoms. But as we just discussed, H. pylori can cause symptoms throughout the body – even if they don’t seem gut-related.
Second, the breath test is thought to be quite accurate in detecting H. pylori, but we see many patients with negative breath tests who we later find out actually do have the infection. Even if a biopsy is taken, the accuracy of the result depends on where the doctor took the sample and other factors.
Third, treating H. pylori with antibiotics can be helpful in some cases, but antibiotics can lead to more health issues down the road. Using acid-blocking medications will suppress your stomach acid even more, which creates a vicious cycle of poor digestion and food intolerance.
Let’s be clear: You do want to get food reactions under control, because the long-term assault on your immune system and the resulting production of antibodies against those foods can eventually lead to neurological conditions, psoriasis, type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease, multiple sclerosis.
That’s why at Attune we see food intolerance as much more than just discomfort or inconvenience.
It’s an important indicator that something is “off” within your gut, your digestive capacity, and your immune system.
So, our approach is to start with a comprehensive assessment of your case. We explore all of the possible reasons you’re having food reactions, including a workup for H. pylori and other infections.
We order a non-invasive stool test that you can collect at home. It not only looks for H. pylori, but it also gives us a snapshot of how much stomach acid you have and how well your immune system can fend off gut infections.
From there, we recommend targeted natural therapies to clear up infections, help you break your food down better, and balance your immune system so that you stop reacting to everything you eat.
Rather than further blocking your stomach acid, we help your body produce the stomach acid that it needs to digest your food, absorb your nutrients, and prevent food reactions.
By addressing the problem this way, you not only get relief from the symptoms of food intolerance, you actually rebuild your overall health so that your energy increases, your brain fog lifts, your skin clears up, and your body becomes stronger because it’s finally getting the nourishment it needs.
Treating H. pylori and other infections is one of the main things we work on in our 1-on-1 Health Transformation Program to help our patients go from scrutinizing every bite that goes into their mouths to enjoying foods that used to be “off limits.”
We also work on normalizing gut motility to get relief from bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
If you’re someone who can’t tolerate many foods, and you’d like some help repairing your digestion so that you can eat normally again, you can go here to learn more about our program and see if it sounds like the right fit for you.
The naturopathic doctors (NDs) at Attune Functional Medicine proudly serve the Denver metro area including Broomfield, Boulder, Arvada, Louisville, Thornton, Lafayette, Westminster, and Erie. Telehealth is also available.