How to Alleviate Chronic Illness with Food
The Rise of Chronic Illness
Over the last 10 years of my practice, I have seen a rapid increase in health issues from chronic illness. At first, it seemed to only be an issue with my middle-aged clients who were leading a somewhat sedentary lifestyle. Fast forward to today, and there is not a day that goes by that I do not have a young,“healthy” athlete come to my office.
Today, I have a more refined focus on sports in my practice, so my clients tend to be a bit younger and more active. So, this may partially contribute to why I see more chronic illness in young athletes though I feel it is just because it is becoming more common. I’ve also become much better at identifying the signs of food sensitivities and food intolerances which commonly contribute to chronic illness. I regularly see complaints of chronic fatigue, joint pain, excess mucous, stubborn acne, brain fog, constipation, headaches and mood swings. When these symptoms seem to be a flash in the pan, I do not focus much on the issue. However, when the individual says to me that this has been an annoyance for months or even years, that is a red flag that the immune system is on fire and food is likely throwing gasoline on that fire.
Medication, Only a Short-Term Solution
While I appreciate the sports medicine staff throwing medications at my athlete’s symptoms, this, unfortunately, is just a “band-aid” and it does not actually get to the root of the issue. Medication for the short term? No big deal, especially when it helps an athlete get through a tough practice or game, pain and illness free.
Medication for the long term? We are only making things worse. It’s kind of like when you were a kid and your mom yelled at you for leaving crumbs everywhere so you quickly brushed them under the rug. You did your part for the moment. However, if you leave those crumbs masked under the rug for a few months or even years, you will end up with a massive party of ants and maybe even a terrible stench.
In other words, just because someone is young, active, appropriate body weight/ composition, and “look healthy” from the outside, does NOT mean we can automatically assume that they are of optimal health status. Subtle symptoms that are ignored today or masked with medication may blow up into major chronic illness or autoimmune conditions 5, 10, 20 years down the line.
Why You Won’t Regret Giving Up Your Favorite Foods
I know it might sound terrifying to live a few weeks without some of your favorite foods, but wouldn’t it be worth it if it meant feeling better and possibly improving performance? Just because you have been eating a food every week of your life for the past ten years doesn’t mean it is not the culprit for some of your health concerns. Remember, when it comes to food sensitivities, it can take up to 4 days to experience symptoms! So, you may not even realize that particular food is the issue until you remove it for a month.
If you find that your symptoms are not responding very well to conventional medical therapy, that is often a major clue that food is to blame as well. When we remove foods that are inflaming us, we thereby decrease the overall immune system burden. As a result, symptoms start to subside.
I’m Still Not Convinced!
Fair enough, but more often than not, if you continue to eat the foods you are sensitive to day in and day out, you may end up with an even greater sensitivity to those foods. Over time, digestion and absorption will likely become impaired. So that means on the days you are eating great quality food and colorful fruits and veggies, you are not reaping the full benefit.
Food reactions due to food sensitivities have the ability to trigger low-grade inflammatory reactions in your gut. This inflammatory reaction causes the intestinal wall to become porous, allowing large undigested food particles to suddenly start slipping through the intestinal wall instead of remaining contained for digestion as it was meant to be. The true medical term for this condition is intestinal permeability but you may be more familiar with the slang term, “leaky gut.” These food particles now start to appear in the bloodstream and the human body develops an immune response (fatigue, pain, excess mucous etc.).
Once food starts to aggravate the gut lining, it opens the door for other invaders to start plowing through (bacteria, chemicals, yeast etc.) and this triggers yet another level of immune response, resulting in even greater inflammation. And guess what? While food sensitivities can lead to intestinal permeability, the reverse is true. Intestinal permeability can lead to an even wider array of food sensitivities if gone undetected. It is a very frustrating two-way street. Hence why the strict removal of inflammatory foods can significantly improve the human immune response.
OK, You Got Me! What Do I Do Now?
The first step is to search for a Functional Medicine trained physician and Registered Dietitian in your area. A qualified professional will help you safely remove your trigger foods and teach you how to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods that have the ability to heal. There is also good chance you will also be placed on a supplement protocol that helps to support the process. Sometimes the immune system needs a little extra boost and that is ok.
Think of supplements as training wheels. They help your body balance on the “bike” until it is strong enough to balance on its own. After combing these three pieces, the gut will have the opportunity to heal.
Fun fact: the cells in your intestinal lining regenerate and replace themselves every 2-4 days.
In other words, you can make tremendous progress in just a week’s time because of this secret hidden talent of the gut! When the gut tissue fully repairs, you will begin to feel less symptomatic and sometimes even stronger. Typically, symptoms decrease and might even resolve completely. You may find that foods which once made you feel poorly are no longer an issue. Furthermore, because the immune system is no longer heavily burdened, you may find that you no longer react to airborne contaminants, allergens, and bacteria! In other words, you can reduce or end your long-term relationship with allergy medications. You may find that you are no longer the person in your office or at school who experiences one cold or flu bug after the next!
Crazy, I know. I honestly never believed it until I started witnessing this on a weekly basis in my practice. For what it’s worth, I was actually working with a marathon runner earlier recently who had been taking Zyrtec and a few additional anti-histamine medications every day for 10 years straight. This told me her immune system was in overdrive so I helped her to remove foods from her diet with the top 8 allergens. We are now 3 weeks into the process and she is completely off all allergy medications.
Final Words of Wisdom
Whether you are contemplating the initiation of a comprehensive elimination protocol or you are in the thick of one as we speak, the best piece of advice I can give to you is to focus only on the positive. Think about what you can eat, not what you can’t eat. It will only make you miserable. Focus on the concept of using food as medicine. Making a few dietary adjustments today could actually save you thousands of dollars in health care spending and years of health-related stress in the future.
Are you trying to alleviate chronic health conditions through diet changes? Did you find this article to be relevant to your current situation? Great! Stay tuned because I will be walking you through an elimination protocol within the next few weeks!
Related Reading Because its Time to WIN the Battle with Chronic Illness and Food Sensitivities
What is the difference between a food allergy, sensitivity, and intolerance?
Expert Tips for Dining Out With Food Allergies
4 Amazing Gluten Free Pasta Alternatives for Athletes
11 Mindful Eating Strategies for Weight Loss and Improved Digestion