Think you might have a food allergy, but aren’t sure what exactly could be to blame? Experiencing digestive issues or skin flare-ups, but can’t seem to figure out the solution to make them go away? Well, an elimination diet might be exactly what you need.
An elimination diet is a short-term eating plan that eliminates certain foods that may be causing allergies and other digestive reactions – then reintroduces the foods one at a time in order to determine which foods are, and are not, well-tolerated.
The main reason for doing an elimination diet is to pinpoint exactly which foods are the culprits for digestive and other health-related issues when someone is experiencing ongoing symptoms, and she can’t seem to figure out what’s causing them. Symptoms that might drive someone to do an elimination diet include anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction), allergic rhinitis (hay fever), asthma, atopic dermatitis (eczema), urticaria (hives), diarrhea, bloating, and constipation.
It’s estimated that 15 million adults in the U.S alone suffer from food allergies − about 4 percent of the adult population and about 8 percent of children. But these numbers don’t even take into account food “intolerances” or “sensitivities” that don’t show up on allergy tests, so this means the real numbers are likely a lot higher.
Eight foods account for about 90 percent of all food-allergy reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, nuts, wheat/gluten, soy, fish and shellfish.
Elimination diets range in terms of what exact foods are permitted and eliminated, but most will cut out all common allergens, including:
Most elimination diets last for about 3–6 weeks. It’s believed that antibodies — the proteins your immune system makes when it negatively reacts to foods — take around three weeks to dissipate. So this is usually the minimum time needed for someone to fully heal from sensitives and to notice improvements in their symptoms.
Even when someone may think that they already eat a healthy diet, if they still battle health issues that they can’t resolve, an elimination diet is usually extremely useful for identifying which suspected foods are truly the cause. Even if you’ve opted to have a food allergy test done at a physician’s office in the past, you still might be missing something because (at times) allergy tests do show negative results for underlying food sensitives that are not true allergies yet can still cause negative symptoms.
A food allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to a specific food protein that can be detected with food allergy testing. But similar effects can happen even when someone doesn’t test positive for an allergy. When food protein is ingested that isn’t well-tolerated, it can trigger a range of reactions that may cause symptoms like: rashes, hives, swelling, trouble breathing and various digestive pains.
Identifying and removing allergies and sensitives is vital to overall health. When you struggle with an ongoing, unidentified sensitivity, your body constantly sends out inflammatory responses that can cause harm in multiple ways. Food sensitivities and allergies are correlated with an increased chance for developing:
It’s very common to experience ongoing digestive problems even when eating an overall healthy diet. Why? Because all it takes is one or two unidentified food allergens to make a big impact.
For example, 52 patients with Eosinophilic esophagitis — an esophageal disorder predominantly triggered by food allergies — underwent an elimination diet as part of a 2014 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Seventy percent of patients experienced remission!
During the study patients cut out four major food-allergen groups for a six-month period: dairy products, wheat, eggs and legumes. In 65–85 percent of patients, just one or two food triggers were responsible for causing the disorder. Milk was identified as a major allergen in 11 patients (50 percent of patients in total), eggs in eight patients (36 percent), wheat in seven patients (31 percent) and legumes in four patients (18 percent).
The patients had no idea that they were allergic to such foods, so they didn’t respond to past treatment methods until the allergens were identified by allergy testing and elimination food diet. They only finally experienced improvements and relief when specific allergens were removed long-term.
When 20 patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) underwent elimination diets as part of a 2006 study conducted by University of Kansas Medical Center, 100 percent of patients experienced significant improvements in digestive symptoms.
Elimination diets were based on the results of tests done to identify patients’ food and mold panels. After six months of being on the elimination diets and also taking probiotics, patients were reassessed – and every single one reported improvements in bowel movements and control over IBS symptoms. Researchers also found that 100 percent of the patients had increased levels of beneficial bacteria present within the gut flora.
In many cases leaky gut syndrome is the underlying cause of allergic reactions, autoimmune disease and body-wide inflammation. Leaky gut occurs when the lining of the digestive tract develops tiny holes that allow specific substances to pass through into the bloodstream, damaging your system.
Leaky gut is a major contributor to autoimmune diseases like Chron’s and ulcerative colitis. Development of leaky gut can also cause malabsorption of vital minerals and nutrients – including zinc, iron and vitamin B12. It’s believed that leaky gut is commonly caused by gluten intolerance but can also result from a range of other food allergies and sensitives, too.
Strong evidence exists that skin conditions like eczema and acne are related to undiagnosed food allergies.
For example, a study done by the Institute of Special Medicine in Rome found a strong relationship between eczema symptoms in adults and food allergens. When 15 adults with eczema were put on an elimination diet, 14 of them experienced significant improvements in skin-related symptoms.
Nuts, tomatoes, milk, eggs and cereal grains were the most common allergens, with six out of 15 patients testing positive for allergies to at least one of these foods. Another eight patients were suspected for having at least a food intolerance to one food, resulting in 93 percent of subjects (14 of 15) improving when all foods were eliminated.
Common food allergens, such as gluten and pasteurized dairy products, may increase the risk of developing ADHD and autism because proteins from these foods can cause intestinal permeability. This occurs when substances leak through the gut and then recirculate within the bloodstream, sometimes acting in the brain like an opioid drug. Once substances make it to the bloodstream, they come into contact with large numbers of immune cells that trigger inflammation.
High intakes of sugar, in addition to deficiencies in zinc, selenium, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, also worsen ADHD symptoms. When researchers from the Developmental Brain-Behaviour Laboratory at the University of Southampton analyzed the effects of three different diets in children with ADHD, restrictive elimination diets were beneficial in lowering symptoms.
Many other studies, like one done in 2012 by the Division of Neurology at the Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, conclude that ADHD symptoms are lower in children when sugar is reduced in their diet, additive and preservatives are removed, and fatty acid supplements such as omega-3s are given.
Elimination diets are an effective and inexpensive therapeutic strategy for patients who suffer from frequent migraine headaches.
When 21 patients went on an elimination diet – removing common allergens that were identified as part of a pre-screening IgG antibody test – the majority of patients experienced significant improvements in symptoms compared to when they first began the diet. Following the elimination diet, patients reported significant differences in the number of migraine attacks they experienced monthly, the duration of attacks and the level of pain intensity.