As hormones begin to change in perimenopause, new food sensitivities or intolerances may begin to crop up. These are different than true food allergies. A true allergy to a food is when exposure to a food triggers a harmful immune response in the body. The immune system attacks the proteins within the food, thinking it is being harmed. From this, we experience symptoms ranging from mild (such as a rash or an itch) to more severe reactions such as difficulty breathing.
Food intolerance or sensitivity happens when the digestive system does not break down certain foods properly. There can be various underlying causes of food intolerance, such as the absence of an enzyme to digest some foods.
Food sensitivities can manifest as weight gain (from inflammation), headache, fatigue, sinus issues, GI problems like bloating, or anxiety.
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What Causes Food Intolerances and Sensitivities?
There are several things that can cause food intolerances:
- Lack of digestive enzymes that are needed to digest certain foods.
- Stress can directly affect your gut lining making it more sensitive to certain foods.
- Chemicals in foods (natural or additive) – some people are more susceptible to certain chemicals found in foods.
- Inflammation can lead to changes in the gut lining which may contribute to food intolerance.
How Is This Related to Perimenopause?
The hormone changes that occur during perimenopause can affect digestion directly. Food travels more slowly through the digestive tract. Your body also produces fewer digestive enzymes and less stomach acid as you age. Other menopause-related symptoms like increased anxiety can also lead to poorer digestion. Food intolerances can increase the severity of menopause symptoms.
What Are The Most Common Foods That Cause Intolerances?
The most common problem foods include grains (most likely gluten), dairy, eggs, soy, corn, citrus, yeast, sugar and artificial sweeteners, nuts, and nightshades (tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes, eggplant, and ashwagandha, which is an herbal supplement).
Identifying Food Sensitivities
Food sensitivities can be identified by an elimination diet or by food sensitivity testing. If you choose the elimination diet, you remove the foods that you suspect trigger your symptoms for a short period of time, typically 2–3 weeks.
Eliminate foods that you think your body can’t tolerate, as well as foods that are notorious for causing uncomfortable symptoms (see list above).
During this phase, you can determine if your symptoms are due to foods or something else. If your symptoms still remain after removing the foods for 2–3 weeks, it is best to notify your doctor.
The Reintroduction Phase
The next phase is the reintroduction phase, in which you slowly bring eliminated foods back into your diet.
Each food group should be introduced individually, over 2–3 days while looking for symptoms. Some symptoms to watch for include:
- Rashes and skin changes
- Joint pain
- Headaches or migraines
- Difficulty sleeping
- Changes in breathing
- Stomach pain or cramps
- Changes in bowel habits
If you experience no symptoms during the period where you reintroduce a food group, you can assume that it is fine to eat and move on to the next food group. However, if you experience negative symptoms like those mentioned above, then you have successfully identified a trigger food and should remove it from your diet. The entire process, including elimination, takes roughly 5–6 weeks.
Food Sensitivity Testing
The other way to identify food sensitivities is to test. There are various testing methods for this. The measurement of both IgG and Immune Complex containing C3d (IC-C3d) simultaneously is the key to assessing food sensitivities. Measuring both IgG and IC-C3d at the same time improves the sensitivity over other tests that measure only IgG. The KBMO FIT test measures both. All other food sensitivity tests measure only IgG and ignore IC-C3d measurement and its effect on food sensitivity. The FIT test determines sensitivity to 132 foods and additives.
The testing sample is obtained by using a finger stick to get a few drops of blood. When you discover which foods you are sensitive to, you should begin an elimination diet and take out reactive foods for at least 8-12 weeks and assess if there is improvement or reduction of symptoms. If the test shows a reaction to a large amount of foods or shows a reaction to yeast, you should consider testing for intestinal permeability. One important thing to note is that you must be eating the food for it to show up on testing. So, if you have eliminated gluten from your diet already, it is unlikely to show up as a problem or it may show up as a minor sensitivity.
Dr. Anna Garrett is a menopause expert and Doctor of Pharmacy. She helps women who are struggling with symptoms of perimenopause and menopause find natural hormone balancing solutions so they can rock their mojo through midlife and beyond. Dr. Anna is the author of Perimenopause: The Savvy Sister’s Guide to Hormone Harmony. Order your copy at www.perimenopausebook.com.
Dr. Anna is available for 1-1 consultations. Find out more at www.drannagarrett.com/lets-