Why do food allergies develop later in life?
A question we get all the time from our online followers and even our patients is, “Why are certain foods causing symptoms for me now, when I’ve been eating them my whole life without any problems?”
So I wanted to take a moment to address this, because I know you may have the same question.
In order to understand why this happens, it’s important to recognize two important concepts that pertain to your body:
The first is the cumulative effect and the second one is the total load.
These are two principles that we use as naturopathic doctors when we are gathering a picture of what is contributing to a person’s illness.
The cumulative effect is the idea that the IMPACT of something that irritates your body may not become evident until it’s been going on for an extended period of time.
For example, if a person smokes 5 cigarettes every day, there may not be any noticeable symptoms or damage from that until 20 years later.
Or if I rub my hand gently like this, I’m not causing any immediate harm. But if I keep doing this all day every day, eventually my hand will get irritated and I might even erode the skin away and cause an ulcer.
So what I’m conveying here is that even low-grade or subtle triggers or irritants can lead to slow, cumulative imbalances and damage over long periods of time.
Again, this is called the cumulative effect.
Now let’s talk about the other concept, which is the total load.
The total load is the idea that each variable that is putting stress on your body can add up so that you reach a tipping point.
The way I like to explain this is to think of your body as a bucket.
And this bucket represents how much stress and “junk” you can handle at any given time. It’s your physical and mental capacity to hold or tolerate all the things that put stress on your body or mind.
Every toxin… stress and worries…every night of poor sleep…every nutrient you’re lacking…your never-ending “to-do” list….every infection you’re battling… all of those things go into your bucket.
And the more toxins and stressors that go into your bucket, the fuller your bucket gets.
Eventually, if your bucket gets completely full and starts spilling over, that is when your system is truly overwhelmed and it will try to compensate, but at this point you will notice physical or emotional symptoms and maybe even develop a specific diagnosable disease.
Now, one caveat here is that we all have different buckets. Some people are born with a very large bucket, and their capacity for handling toxins and all the different stressors is very high. It takes a lot for them to get to a place of true overwhelm or sickness.
But other people are born with very SMALL buckets, or even just a little cup! And these are the people who tend to be more sensitive, they’re not as robust, maybe they were born with a heavy toxic load, or mom was really stressed out during her pregnancy, and so they can’t tolerate as much going into their bucket.
Some of this is regulated by our genetics, but also our life experiences and what we’ve already been through.
So how does our bucket get full and start spilling over?
One of the factors is how OFTEN we’re exposed to an irritant or a stressor. Going back to the cumulative effect, the frequency of an exposure contributes to the amount of raindrops that get into our bucket.
For example, there is a big difference between getting exposed to toxic fumes while you pump gas in your car once per week vs. breathing in gas fumes all day every day because you’re a mechanic.
Similarly, there’s a difference between missing one night of sleep versus staying up all night, every single night, for years on end.
If you have many repeated exposures to a toxin or a stressor over a long period of time, that harmful effect will build up over time, which is like adding just 1 drop of rain to your bucket each day.
That bucket won’t be filled overnight but, EVENTUALLY, one single raindrop – or irritant – will be the final straw that makes the bucket spill over.
Another factor on what makes our bucket full – and that’s when we show symptoms – is what KIND of raindrop or irritant is going in there.
For example, one traumatic event can be all it takes to make your bucket spill over, or perhaps one massive exposure to a toxic chemical, like if someone accidentally swallowed a mouthful of household cleaner.
Another scenario we see a lot is when a person gets food poisoning and then they have a bunch of food intolerances after that, where they never did before.
But for most of us, our buckets get filled up by the dozens or even HUNDREDS of daily toxins, irritants, and stressors:
Poor nutrition and sleep, emotional overwhelm, worry and stress, chemicals in our environment…
All of that adds up to our TOTAL LOAD, and they can have a cumulative effect over time.
So circling back to the question of why foods or even chemicals and fragrances suddenly bother you when they didn’t before, it’s most likely because your “bucket” is quite full, so you have a reduced capacity to compensate for any stressors or triggers.
OR, that thing was ALWAYS a problem for you, but it took repetitive exposures over time for the symptoms to manifest.
In our 8-week Body Bliss program, helping you identify the irritants that are filling up YOUR bucket and causing symptoms in YOUR body is one of the main things we do.
We also show you how to live in such a way that your body isn’t getting so stressed and sick all the time, so you can get relief from your current symptoms and rebuild your capacity to tolerate foods again.
So if that sounds like something you’re interested in, you can find more information about this program in the description box.
Thanks for watching. 🙂
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.