William Cole, DC, a functional medicine practitioner, is an expert at identifying the underlying factors of chronic conditions. Join Dr. Cole for an exclusive webinar on May 24, 2016, and learn how to uncover your food intolerances, heal your gut, and feel your best again. Check out his mindbodygreen course, The Elimination Diet: A 60-Day Protocol to Uncover Food Intolerances, Heal the Gut, and Feel Amazing.

Our immune systems are meant to protect us from harmful viruses and bacteria. But sometimes, they go haywire. Autoimmune diseases, in which the immune system attacks the body, have grown significantly in recent years, with an estimated 24 to 50 million people now struggling with one or more of the 140 autoimmune spectrum problems. At the same time, the rate of food allergies is growing, and many more Americans have food sensitivities and intolerances.

These terms—food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances—are often confused and used interchangeably. In my previous article, I explained the differences. In short, they all happen in the body in different ways, but how they make you feel can be similar.

Many people have health problems that are caused, triggered, or perpetuated by the foods they eat every day—and some don't even know it. Here are the most common symptoms of food reactivities that I see people struggling with:

  1. Acid reflux
  2. Arthritis
  3. Bloating
  4. Brain fog
  5. Constipation
  6. Chronic fatigue syndrome
  7. Diarrhea
  8. Eczema
  9. Fatigue
  10. IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
  11. Headaches
  12. Hives
  13. Inflammation
  14. Migraines
  15. Muscle/joint pain
  16. Nausea
  17. Rashes
  18. Sinus infections
  19. Skin problems
  20. Stomach cramps
  21. Weight gain
  22. Weight loss
  23. Wheezing

To understand food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances, we have to look where the majority of the immune system resides and where digestion occurs. It just so happens that both of these are in the same place.

The gastrointestinal system is home to around 75 percent of your immune system and is also where your food is digested and absorbed. As Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said, "All disease begins in the gut." That's why I believe that overcoming food reactivities has to be centered around healing your gut.

Your microbiome, the trillions of bacteria and yeast in your gut, regulate the immune system in many dynamic and intricate ways. Research suggests that bacterial imbalances in the microbiome can lead to immune dysregulation and allergies or intolerances with foods. Other gut problems like candida overgrowth, SIBO, and leaky gut syndrome can all be added stressors to the balance of the immune system. In leaky gut syndrome, for example, if foods are passing through the gut lining into the bloodstream, this can cause the immune system to react to just about any foods, triggering inflammation throughout the body. I've seen even the healthiest foods cause food reactivities in people with these underlying gut problems.

If you are going through some of the problems listed above, it's important to uncover which foods your body is not tolerating. I recommend the elimination diet, which can help you pinpoint which specific foods might be causing you issues.