Making Sense of Food Sensitivities and How They Develop

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by Ryan Whitcomb, MS, RD, CLT

One of the most common questions I’m asked is “How do food sensitivities develop, and how did this happen to me?”

It’s a good question but not one with a simple answer. The reason is because many factors contribute to their formation. Depending on how many risk factors you have and how susceptible you are ultimately determines whether or not you’ll suffer from them.

Below is a brief list of the most common causes of food sensitivities:

  • Poor digestion is one reason, and this can occur from a variety of ways. The two most common are not chewing food thoroughly and/or the overuse of antacids. Not chewing food thoroughly decreases the effectiveness of the body’s ability to break food down, allowing undigested portions of food to enter circulation. It’s highly likely these undigested bits of food will not be recognized by the immune system and ultimately attacked. Relying on antacids in the long term to calm heartburn, indigestion or an upset stomach (common food sensitivity symptoms) also prevents food from being digested thoroughly since there isn’t enough acid in the stomach to break the food down.
  • Dysbiosis may also contribute to food sensitivities. Though the name might be hard to pronounce, it’s just a fancy way of saying there are more bad bugs in the gut than good bugs. When there are too many bad bugs in the gut, the lining of the gut can become porous and leak its contents into the bloodstream. When this happens, the immune system reacts negatively since these food items are not supposed to be there. A diet high in fat and/or salt, a diet low in fiber, or the use of antibiotics are some contributing factors that can cause dysbiosis.
  • Finally, loss of oral tolerance can cause sensitivities to develop. Oral tolerance is the process by which your immune system tolerates foods while at the same time defending against foreign invaders, like bacteria and viruses. In an individual that has lost oral tolerance, the body attacks the foods it perceives as unsafe, triggering an inflammatory reaction. Eating the same foods over and over again can result in a loss of oral tolerance, which is why it’s important to rotate the foods you eat on a daily basis.

Ryan Whitcomb, MS, RD, CLT, is the owner of GUT RXN Nutrition, a private practice where he treats individuals with digestive disorders and chronic inflammation related to food sensitivities. For more information, call 866-321-2035 or visit

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