Why gut health matters
An IgG reaction, though it may be barely noticeable, is still a reaction—meaning your body treats the offending food as a hostile invader, and unleashes an immune response to deal with it. “In order for food to be properly digested, it has to be completely broken down and absorbed in the intestine,” explains Susan Engel, M.O.E., R.D., L.D., founder of Nutrition Matters in Exeter, N.H. “But if there’s an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut or a state of long-term inflammation due to a food sensitivity, you can develop leaky gut syndrome.”
Think of your intestinal walls as a kind of armor, a defense mechanism composed of densely packed cells that keep food contained. When an allergen is detected, though, the body overrides that basic function to allow immune cells into the intestines. The result is leaky gut syndrome, a condition in which the intestinal walls fail to do their job as barriers and let undigested food molecules get into the bloodstream. “When the body perceives something it sees as a threat in the digestive tract, it opens up the tight junctions in the intestines to allow immune cells in,” says Nenninger. “The irony is that it also allows food molecules out into the bloodstream—which will exacerbate the food sensitivity. Since the digestive tract is so closely linked to the neurological system, and because it has so many blood vessels running through it, you can literally get symptoms anywhere else in the body.” Hence, the mysterious headache or baseless anxiety attack.
Youth tends to mask the symptoms, which can go on for years without causing trouble, Nenninger says. But the effects of long-term inflammation caused by a food sensitivity will invariably start to show in middle age—and are likely to only get worse if you’re taking medications such as acid reducers or pain pills to mask the symptoms without grappling with the underlying cause.