Episode 219: Food Sensitivities and Autoimmune Disease with Dr. Alison Danby

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When Certain Foods Trigger Symptoms

Food sensitivities are a common and frustrating side effect of autoimmune disease. What’s happening in our immune system when our body reacts negatively to a food? Do food sensitivity tests work? Can food sensitivities be healed? These are the questions we’ll be answering today. My guest is Dr. Alison Danby, a naturopath and functional medicine practitioner who specializes in helping people with autoimmune disease. She’s also an autoimmune warrior herself.

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Show Notes

  • Intro (0:00)
  • Thank You to Our Podcast Sponsor – Luminance Skincare (2:02)
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  • Meet Dr. Alison Danby (3:37)
    • Dr. Alison Danby is a naturopath, functional medicine practitioner, and fellow autoimmune warrior.
    • She was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s in 2007 during her fourth year of naturopathic medical school. It was a perfect storm of stress: full-time schooling, working multiple jobs to pay the bills, studying for her board exams, intense exercise, and her diet wasn’t optimal. She also had IBS since childhood and is sure that was a contributing factor as well. Now, she’s grateful Hashimoto’s happened when it did. She was able to use her education to get the testing and treatment she needed, and she had mentors and colleagues to guide her as well. Within 2 years, her condition was well-managed with lower symptoms and lower antibodies, and she was able to go off thyroid medication. This was 15 years ago. Since then, she’s had minor flares, but no major ones.
    • The main influences that helped her heal were: (1) Slowing way down. (2) Prioritizing sleep. (3) Cleaning up her diet. (4) Balancing her hormones. (5) Learning to listen to her body. (6) Calming her nervous system. (A tool she finds very helpful is monitoring Heart Rate Variability. )
    • For the first five years of her naturopathic career, she kept her diagnosis a secret. She felt ashamed of her illness, something many people with chronic illness feel. To anyone who needs to hear this: your autoimmune disease is not your fault, no matter what preceded your diagnosis. Eventually, it was Alison’s autoimmune patients that inspired her to share her own health struggles and make autoimmune disease a specialty in her clinical practice. She wanted to help the people who needed it the most, and sharing her story was an important part of that.
  • The Difference Between Food Allergies, Food Intolerance, and Food Sensitivities (13:16)
    • Food allergies are an IGE response by the immune system that happens immediately after consuming the food. Anaphylactic shock is a common reaction, which is dangerous and life-threatening. Food allergies are the most severe reaction to a food.
    • Food intolerance is the inability to digest a food that results in uncomfortable digestive symptoms. Lactose intolerance is a good example. If someone cannot break down lactose in the digestive system, they may experience diarrhea, nausea, and discomfort after consuming dairy. Food intolerance reactions are local to the digestive system – they don’t trigger an immune response bodywide.
    • Food sensitivities are a delayed immune system reaction (IGG) and can occur up to 72 hours after consuming a food. They aren’t life threatening, but symptoms are uncomfortable and reactions can appear throughout the body. You may experience pain, fatigue, skin rashes, and other symptoms, including increased autoimmune activity.
  • Thank You to Our Podcast Sponsor – Captain Soup (16:05)
    • Captain Soup sells nutrient-dense freezer meals, designed specifically to enable the body’s healing. They only use the highest quality ingredients including locally sourced, 100% grass-fed and finished meats, wild-caught seafood, 100% organic vegetables, and bone broth made in-house from the bones and organ meat from the best grass-fed lamb in the world.
    • They sell 7 flavors of soup which are paleo, keto, and Wahls protocol-compliant. 5 of those flavors also fit the elimination phase of the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol. 4 of the flavors are Low-FODMAP. And 2 flavors are GAPS-compliant.
    • Here are the flavors: Classic Lamb, Dijon Lamb, Italian Beef, Classic Beef, Dijon Beef, Green Machine & Tom Kha. (Tom Kha is a seafood soup that’s available in-season.) They also have the full ingredient list for every flavor on their website.
    • You can buy pre-selected variety packs or build your own custom box. They also have a nutrient-dense liver pâté that can be substituted for any soup upon request.
    • Order today and get nutrient density delivered to your doorstep! Use the code PHOENIX to save $25 off your first order.
  • The Science of Food Sensitivities (17:49)
    • Underlying them are digestive problems – an inability to completely break down food into its smallest particles.
    • This inability is often caused by low-grade chronic inflammation that damages the gut, impairing its function and altering the balance of the gut microbiome.
    • The digestive tract is actually considered part of the outside world, and it’s designed to protect the interior body. It has both an immune response and a protective barrier to fill this role. It’s also one of the most challenged systems of the body, constantly surveilling, screening, and filtering chemicals, viruses, and pathogenic microbes, striving to keep them out of our bloodstream.
    • Many things can impact the integrity of the gut lining and cause intestinal permeability (also known as leaky gut). Genetics plays a role (some people have naturally thick intestinal linings that protect them against leaky gut). While other people (especially people with autoimmune disease) have a gut lining that becomes more permeable under stress or as a response to an inflammatory diet.
    • Food intolerance can also cause food sensitivities if a person continues to eat foods that cause digestive symptoms. This irritates and inflames the digestive tract, making food sensitivities (and bodywide symptoms) more likely.
  • Food Sensitivities & Autoimmune Disease (25:35)
    • Inflammation is one of the tools the digestive system uses to protect the body from harmful substances, and in healthy people it’s a short-lived response that dissipates quickly. For people with autoimmune disease, we’ve often lost the “brakes” for inflammation and it can easily get out of control. Genetics plays a role, but trauma can cause this change as well.
    • Leaky gut is also considered a precursor to autoimmune disease. When digestion isn’t optimal and the intestinal wall is too permeable, food particles slip into the bloodstream that aren’t fully digested. The immune system doesn’t recognize them as nutrients and can mount an immune response to the food. This makes people more vulnerable to both food sensitivities and autoimmune disease. Then, once autoimmunity is activated, no matter the diagnosis, the immune system also attacks the gut lining which causes leaky gut. This creates a vicious cycle.
    • Lastly, we’ve already mentioned that stress can cause leaky gut, and autoimmune disease is stressful both physically and emotionally.
  • Food Sensitivity Tests vs. Elimination Diets (28:37)
    • Unfortunately, food sensitivity tests aren’t accurate.
    • False positives are very common. When people take food sensitivity tests, the report will often show sensitivity to all the foods they eat regularly. The problem isn’t the foods – this is a sign of leaky gut combined with digestive issues.  There are also some foods that are harder to digest than others, even when digestion is optimal. When food sensitivity tests are given to healthy people with no symptoms, these foods will often show up anyway.
    • False negatives are common as well, because there can be many factors behind a food sensitivity, not just the IGG immune response being looked for in the lab. Inflammation can come from other sources that don’t show up on bloodwork.
    • This is why elimination diets – like the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) – are considered the Gold Standard. They’re much more accurate than tests. The AIP also focuses on integrating nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods and lifestyle factors that support healing. It’s not just a list of foods to remove.
    • While elimination diets are hard to do, as you go through the reintroduction process, you learn to listen to your body, which is a skill that will serve you for life.
    • Resources:
  • Thank You to Our Podcast Sponsor – Fully Healthy aka ShopAIP (35:44)
    • Big News! ShopAIP is rebranding. Their new name is Fully Healthy, and their new website is FullyHealthy.com. Don’t worry. You will still find all of the AIP products you know and love, including hundreds of items for the elimination phase and AIP reintro products as well. Their new goal is to expand their inventory to include other healthy foods for diets beyond the AIP. Eventually, you’ll be able to shop not just for yourself, but your family as well!
    • If you have any suggestions for products you’d like them to stock, let them know! They’re looking to partner with small brands that support people on healing diets.
    • And if you’ve never placed an order before, use the code PHOENIX for 10% off your first order! Purchase here.
  • The Most Common Food Sensitivities (37:45)
    • Food sensitivities are unique to each individual, even people with the same diagnosis.
    • However, there are some foods that are more difficult to digest and therefore common sensitivities:
      • Dairy
      • Gluten
      • Egg whites
      • Nuts and seeds
      • Legumes
      • Lectins (although less common than the other sensitivities above).
  • Can You Heal Food Sensitivities? (40:01)
  • Are There Any Foods That Should Never Be Reintroduced? (50:26)
    • Dr. Danby has changed her mind on this over the years. Her recommendations are always unique to the individual, but she’s had two clients successfully reintroduce gluten this year after working on their digestive health. It doesn’t mean she would recommend this for everyone, but it does mean she no longer has a “hard no” list.
  • Outro (52:40)

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