3 Strategies to Heal Food Sensitivities Naturally

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Heal Food Sensitivities - Woman Eating Healthy Food

Yes, you can heal food sensitivities and it all begins with learning about healing food intolerances.

Food is a powerful tool for transforming our health…unless you are “that person” with multiple food sensitivities–even to healthy foods.

Beyond gluten and dairy, many people suffer from food sensitivities to foods we are often told are “good” for us…But for some reason their body doesn’t tolerate them…

Broccoli makes you bloated.

Eggs give you brain fog.

Sweet potatoes trigger IBS.

Almonds make you break out.

Apples give you severe gas.

What gives?! Is healing from food sensitivities really possible or are you bound to food restriction and eating the same 5 to 10 foods forever?!

Read on for all-you-need to know about food sensitivities, and my top 3 strategies to conquer food sensitivities naturally.

How Food Sensitivities Happen

Heal Food Sensitivities - Different Kinds Of  Healthy Food

In order to understand how to overcome food sensitivities, you need to first understand how food sensitivities often happen in the first place.

Four words: The gut-immune connection.

Food sensitivities are an immune-related issue that often start in your gut. In fact, 70-80% of your immune system—your immune cells—are actually created and housed inside your gut microbiome—specifically your GALT (gut associated lymphoid tissue), the fluid-rich lymphoid tissues lining your GI tract, especially your small intestine.

If your gut is out of balance (such as leaky gut, SIBO, gallbladder congestion, low stomach acid and enzymes) or your immune system is overly stressed…then hello food sensitivities!

This explains why some people follow an elimination diet (like the Whole30 or keto) religiously and do not experience sustainable improvement.

In fact, some patients develop even more food sensitivities and see their symptoms worsen. In this case, they aren’t addressing the real underlying issues at play: like these 5 triggers of food sensitivities.

5 Triggers of Food Sensitivities

#1. Digestive process dysfunction

Remember, 80% of your immune system is in your gut. If you have low stomach acid, low enzymes, a congested gallbladder or a leaky gut, this invites the perfect opportunity for undigested food proteins to accumulate and trigger immune reactions in your gut.

#2. Gut bacteria imbalances

Beyond the functions of digestion, imbalanced gut bacteria and yeast, such as SIBO and fungal overgrowth, lead to imbalanced immune function.

Gut bacteria are key players in absorbing nutrients, so if you have food intolerances, you may lack certain gut bacteria that help digest cherries, almonds or red meat…or you may have an overabundance of bacteria and yeasts that steal food from you the host and inhibit digestion…or both.

Low SIgA (secretory IgA) levels also trigger reactions.

SigA are antibodies in the small intestine lining that attach to proteins to tag it as a foreign invader, and alert other cells in the immune system to remove it. SigA are produced by gut bacteria…if gut bacteria are low, your immune system loses its ability to distinguish between foreign invader vs. nourishing foods, explaining why even healthy foods like spinach, yogurt or strawberries may cause flares.

Lastly,  restrictive diets themselves can cause gut problems—then lead to lingering food intolerances. Remember a healthy gut microbiome thrives upon a variety of nutrients…the more restrictive and limited your diet becomes, the more your gut microbiome dwindles and the less able your gut bacteria are able to absorb and digest foods.

#3. Underlying autoimmunity.

Autoimmunity is a cool word for an “up-regulated immune system,” when the body attacks its own tissues when it encounters a threat—like a food particle that looks like a foreign invader. You don’t have to have a full blown stage 3 autoimmune disease to have underlying autoimmunity. in fact, many people go years if not a lifetime with unaddressed lingering autoimmunity in stage 1 or 2 without realizing it…people with an autoimmunity presentation are more likely to be sensitive to gluten, dairy, eggs, peanuts, soy and shellfish—some of the top most allergenic, immune stimulating foods.

#4. Blood sugar imbalances

Every time blood sugar goes too low or high, this causes a stress response that suppresses SigA cells in the intestines—preventing your body from a healthy immune response—a balance of proteins, fats, non starchy veggies and finding your just-right amount of starch with meals is crucial.

#5. Hormone imbalances

The 5th primary trigger for overreactive immune cells and lost oral tolerance is hormone imbalances.

Hormones affect inflammation and oral tolerance because all immune cells ALSO have receptors for hormones. This is why hormone fluctuations in women (PMS, perimenopause) can cause inflammation.


First: estrogen. Women need sufficient and balanced estrogen levels to regenerate the gut lining, keep inflammation in check, and help the brain communicate with the gut. It’s common to see women who struggle with hormone fluctuations also struggle with an inability to manage their immune function, tame inflammation, or improve oral tolerance.

Estradiol in particular, the most active form of estrogen, is necessary for good oral tolerance…it helps the lining of the small intestine to stay healthy and be able to regenerate and to keep inflammation in check.

That said…You want the just-right balance of estrogens…and the ability to break down and clear estrogens from the body is also important to oral tolerance…Estrogen not properly metabolized by the liver can turn into a more more toxic and inflammatory form.

Next high testosterone, this too also cause oral tolerance issues. In fact, most common hormone imbalance in women is high testosterone. Excess testosterone is a result of blood sugar and insulin highs and lows often caused by eating too many sweeteners, carbohydrates, overeating, or the opposite—long term low carb-high fat diets and under-eating—

Excess testosterone then promotes insulin resistance in a vicious cycle playing a significant role in loss of oral tolerance.

Lastly, the thyroid—If you suffer from a thyroid hormone deficiency, many health problems may arise, including loss of intestinal integrity, immune function, and oral tolerance.

Thyroid hormone consists of two primary components, T3 and T4. T3 the active portion of thyroid hormone and is vital for intestinal integrity and repair, and thus oral tolerance. Unfortunately, many thyroid patients take medication that is T4 only because that is the health insurance model. It is believed the body converts enough T4 to T3. However, chronic inflammation hinders conversion of T4 to T3. As a result, many thyroid patients end up deficient in T3 and suffer from continued inflammation, leaky gut, and loss of oral tolerance.

If any one of these 5 conditions are present, food sensitivities can occur; and, if you have multiple underlying stressors, this can result in loss of oral tolerance and multiple food sensitivities.

What is Loss of Oral Tolerance? (Multiple Food Sensitivities!)

Oral tolerance is your immune system’s ability to appropriately tolerate foods while protecting the body from bacteria and other harmful compounds.

If you have reduced oral tolerance your immune system loses its ability to distinguish between “healthy foods” vs. “foreign invaders”…and it inappropriately responds to certain foods.

As a result, loss of oral tolerance triggers undesirable reactions when you eat all sorts of foods—even “healthy” foods (from apples to broccoli) such as  fatigue, brain fog, IBS, constipation, headaches, skin breakouts, blood sugar surges and drops, hair loss, just to name a few.

How Do You Test for Food Sensitivities?

Ok so there are the triggers…now how do you know what foods are bothering you?

Food sensitivity testing can help you in your quest to restore oral tolerance, but keep in mind: not all tests are created equal.

Warning: Not All Tests Are Created Equal

For one, if you go to your general doctor for a check-up and ask them for a food sensitivity test, they can test you for allergy—IgE antibodies that are an immediate reaction to foods, but they do not test for delayed and food sensitivities (IgG, IgA, IgM).

Number two, if you randomly order a food intolerance test online or do a blood spot or saliva sample, most of these tests are not the gold standard and have poor reliability (not always accurate). Most food tests out there only test foods in the raw—not cooked—forms. But dietary proteins change their antigenicity if theyre cooked or raw. Some people won’t react to one type of version of a food versus another. For example, sensitivity to bacon increases ten times when it is cooked versus raw…But raw bacon, who eats that? How many people eat raw egg or chicken or raw broccoli vs cooked?

Additionally, dietary proteins can change their inflammatory properties when theyre combined with other foods vs alone—for example, you may do fine with chicken or turkey…but when it’s combined with the ingredients of sausage, like soy, MSG, wheat…you have a different response.

Or look at donut. Wheat, barley, yeast, soy.  Maybe you’re not individually sensitive to these, but when they’re mixed together as a donut, completely different…

Or one more” gluten-free Kung Pao Chicken from Mr. Chung’s Chinese Kitchen…it may not have any gluten, but you still react to it… Maybe it was just the combining of those food proteins for them in the meals …. most panels don’t show you this.

Lastly, most food intolerance tests do NOT show cross-reactivity foods. For example, if a person reacts to cow’s milk, 92 percent of people will also react to goat’s milk because they have the same amino acid structure…If they react to melon, 92 percent of them will react to avocado, fruits, or watermelon because of that amino acid sequence…

For all these reasons, most food intolerance tests are unreliable…and I only recommend the gold standard in food immune reactivity testing—Cyrex Labs, well known to be extremely sensitive and consistent and developed by the father of food sensitivity testing himself out of UCLA. Cyrex is aware of the problems of food intolerance testing and tests the cooked/raw forms of foods and many additives and ingredients in food combinations.

Lab testing is not the end all be all but can be useful if you’re stumped about what foods may need to be causing issues.

Food Swap Challenge

Heal Food Sensitivities - Woman Thinking Of Food Swap Challenge

If you’re not going to run a food intolerance test, one of my favorite at-home food intolerance tests is the Food Swap Challenge. This is an easy way to heal food sensitivities.

If we are not feeling well, it may be as simple as looking to the foods we are eating every single day to see if there is something there…in this challenge, you’ll identify the top 5 foods you eat daily—even healthy foods—then swap em out for 3 to 7 days…observe if anything changes.

For example: Sweet potatoes every day? Opt for butternut squash or beets instead. Apple every day? Switch it out for grapes or berries. Chicken breast daily? Try chicken thighs—the dark meat, or ground turkey instead.

This is your project this week.

Ok…we’ve talked about alot here…stick with me a little longer: How to hack your food intolerances

3 Strategies to Heal Food Sensitivities

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to avoid all foods forever! Here are my top 3 strategies to heal food sensitivities.

#1. Improve the Breakdown of Food Proteins

First—rebuilding your gut and improving your digestive mechanics is essential. A rich diversity of gut bacteria and the ability to digest food in the first place is essential to maintaining oral tolerance.

  • Supplement with hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes. Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is the stomach acid and enzymes are vital for digestion of all foods. DPP-IV enzymes in particular can be helpful for gluten and dairy proteins should your food be contaminated, such as when you eat out.
  • Support your gallbladder and liver. Dendritic cells carry food proteins to the liver for detox and clearance through the gallbladder. Inflammatory food reactions can happen if your liver and gallbladder are congested and have poor detox function.To improve gallbladder and liver health, take digestive bitter herbs with meals, drink a fresh green juice or celery juice daily, and sip dandelion tea.
  • Diversify Your Gut Microbiome with Probiotics, SCFAs and Pre-biotics
    One of the pitfalls of going on a very limited diet is you lose your diversity of gut bacteria, which is why some people get more food intolerances after an elimination diet! Probiotics and prebiotic supplements can help…but don’t discount your diet—especially fiber! Eat a diet that consists primarily of vegetables—at least 5 to 7 servings…if not the upper limit 10 to 12— and vary the vegetables you eat; just don’t eat vegetables you noticeably react to and cook them to help break em down if needed. Cooking and cooling starchier veggies before consuming can also help with digesting them if needed…Note: If you feel bloated when you eat plant foods, this is most likely due to gut dysbiosis and low gut bacteria—not the foods necessarily themselves. While repairing your gut, a short-term 14-30 day low FODMAP diet can be helpful…However, avoidance of plant foods or FODMAPs long term is NOT advised— this kills bacteria more and will further perpetuate gut problems.

#2. Boost T-Reg Immune Cells Cells

Regulatory T cells decide whether the immune system needs to mount an inflammatory response to a protein the dendritic cells have transported to the lymphatic system. Immune support supplements and foods that balance T-reg cells include:

#3. Avoid Sneaky Inflammatory Stressors

Sometimes it’s not the food itself, but others triggers that up-regulate your immune response and further degrade oral tolerance.

Table salt, food additives, BPA’s & hydrogenated vegetable oils—most packaged foods and restaurants use these sneaky ingredients—canola oil, gums, food colorings and funky names. This goes back to how food combinations can reduce oral tolerance. Observe this for yourself—do you react differently when you eat chicken and broccoli at a restaurant vs. home…there may be something in the way it’s prepped or packaged…Also the container itself may be the issue—BPA, a chemical most commonly found in plastics, has been shown to cause loss of tolerance in infants and have a huge impact in general on immune tolerance.

High Histamine Foods

Excess histamine—the chemical that produces an inflammatory immune response in your body—can also be found in certain foods—even healthy foods, further exacerbating intolerance issues for some folks—particularly those with suppressed immune systems.  Histamine reactions occur when immune cells come into contact with a food and also activate mast cells,  releasing more histamine like a wildfire in the body. Symptoms of a histamine reaction can vary but some of the more common include:

  • Sinus issues and congestion
  • Asthma or shortness of breath
  • Hives or skin breakouts
  • Hair loss
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Brain fog
  • Migraines/headaches
  • Joint pain
  • AnxietyA short term low histamine diet may be helpful while you rebuild your gut biome. See your Bonus High Histamine Food List for the details

Under-sleeping & Overtraining

Notice if you are more reactive to foods on days you are under-slept or the meal you eat after your training sessions. Sleep deprivation and overtraining increases the levels of stress hormones and temporarily depletes normal reactions of the critical inflammation response molecules and immune cells.


Food intolerances are not your destiny forever. Heal your gut, boost your immune system  and gradually expand your diet.

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