Intolerance to various types of food has become something of a trend it would seem. Celebrities are cropping up intolerant to food, grandmothers are doing their best to accommodate their families during Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, and school lunches are becoming a minefield.

The question then becomes: Is it a trend? Or is it a large-scale reaction to some other phenomenon. It certainly has the markings of a trend: stores, products and restaurants cropping up left and right—and detractors. The health “hipsters” who seem offended by how other people choose to live their lives and run counter to anything that seems to approach “mainstream.” A prime example is a New York Times opinion piece entitled “This Column is Gluten Free,” in which the author declares “‘Narcissistic food intolerance epidemic’ rages among affluent.” He argues that the rise in food intolerance not-so-coincidentally seems to be occurring in the world’s “most individualistic, anxiety-ridden and narcissistic societies, where enlightenment about food has been offset by the sort of compulsive anxiety about it that can give rise to imagined intolerances and allergies.”

It’s an interesting point—and it rings true actually. While some people crying food intolerance are no doubt looking for attention, or just jumping on the bandwagon, folks like the New York Times journalist seem to miss that these societies where food intolerance is on the rise are the same ones with the most developed food industrial complex, the ones where high fructose corn syrup and GMOs fill grocery stores, refrigerators and pantries.

 Where does food intolerance come from?

The reason anyone would exhibit an intolerance to food is directly related to the bacteria cultures in their gut.

Our intestines are teeming with good bacteria, whose purpose is to provide enzymes, DNA, signaling and assistance for digestion. This inner culture is still very much a mystery to us, and we’re learning new things all the time (for example, some gut bacteria actually provide the genetic code our body uses to make proteins and enzymes necessary for digestion).

When there is a lack, or imbalance of these bacteria cultures, people develop food intolerances. Harvard University professor and expert on gut flora, food intolerances and inflammation, Dr. Art Ayers, said:

 “…food intolerance is based on missing bacteria in the gut rather than inadequacy of human enzymes, e.g. lactase, or altered immune system. The vast majority of intolerance can be cured by changing the bacterial composition of the gut’s microbiological community, the gut flora, rather than attempting to accommodate a permanent deficiency.”

We’ll get to how you can change the composition of your gut flora later. But if the composition and health of bacteria cultures in the gut is connected to food intolerance, the question that follows is: Why is everyone’s gut screwed up?

Another casualty of an antibiotic-happy society

The main culprit for the declining state of our collective gut is the overuse of antibiotics. And this comes from a couple of different sources.

For the last several decades, prescribing an antibiotic has been somewhat of a standard operating procedure. It didn’t matter to doctors if the problem was bacterial or not—they just figured they’d have you take one just in case. In fact, most kids in the U.S. are given three rounds of antibiotics during infancy, even when the infections they carry are viral.

Doctors are now becoming slightly more careful about prescribing too many antibiotics now that the superbug has become a reality, but that’s not the only source.

Antibiotics are commonly used in livestock, where they make their way onto our dinner tables. It helps the spread of infection in tightly packed factory farm facilities and it helps animals grow larger, therefore providing more meat—and more profits for owners.

Furthermore, many pesticides sprayed on the produce that makes it to market contains antibiotics as well. A very common one is called streptomycin and, in and of itself, is an allergen that doesn’t get washed off the produce properly and often stumps parents and doctors who wonder why their kids can’t seem to eat blueberries or tomatoes.

So, how do we fix this?

Fighting food intolerance

We could advocate a society-wide shift in how we plant, grow, protect, ship, sell and consume our food (we do advocate that, by the way). But it’s much more effective to focus on ourselves.

First thing you can do is ease up on the antibiotics—both for yourself and your children. Consider antibiotics a last resort when nothing else seems to be working and you and your doctors are absolutely certain that the problem is bacterial in nature.

Second, eat grass fed, wild-caught and free range meat. And only eat organic produce only. We know it’s more of a hassle. We know it’s more expensive. But it’s worth it.

Lastly, repair the bacterial cultures in your gut. You can do this by consuming probiotics, and namely fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir and pickled vegetables.

You might be tempted to eat a lot of yogurt and take probiotic supplements. That’s fine, but realize that many of the necessary gut bacteria cannot be found in these products. They can only come from a more natural source like fermentation.

In the event that your gut bacteria cultures are severely out of balance (causing leaky gut, autoimmune responses and severe food intolerance), a condition called dysbiosis, or you’ve got a case of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), it might be required that you kill off the bacteria in your gut and start from the ground up.

This generally involves fasting, various supplements and drinking bone broth. It can be a complicated process and something that must be tailored to the needs of an individual. Perhaps we’ll do another blog about that in the future, but if you feel that your food intolerance is to the point you might benefit from this process, have a chat with Dr. Sarah about it.

If you have any questions or would like to consult with the doctor about your food intolerance, feel free to contact us here.