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Food Intolerance and Allergy Affecting Behavior

How Food Allergies & Food Intolerance Affect Behavior: A Look Inside Our Journey

    Like the title says, today I’ll be sharing a look inside our personal journey with food allergies and food intolerance. Whilst I can tell you that SO many people have reached out to me to share that they’ve experienced similar issues, it’s important to remember that no two people are the same. You may find your reaction to food to be completely traditional.

    I also want to be clear about this upfront as well: there isn’t a lot of scientific data to back up the information below. I’ve talked with thousands of people with food allergies & food intolerance and, coupled with my own journey, have a unique bird’s eye view. Since no two people are the same, it makes a clinical trial/study nearly impossible. Much of the information would have to be based on (biased) self-reporting. Not only that, everyone has different levels of tolerance.

    I mention this because this article is meant to inform, not diagnosis. If you’re struggling, start a food journal ASAP, then work with a team of professionals who can help you determine if there is a root cause. Also know that for some people, it’s not food. It could be environment, trauma, or a clinical nutritional deficiency that’s causing issues.

    If you’d like to more about my personal struggles, read Our Story. You can also watch a video on Kid Three AKA Mr. Low/No Sugar. He has had serious behaviour and mental health issues related to food, as well as a misdiagnosis of ADHD. Turns out, Kid Four has similar (but a lot less severe) issues as well.

    The Story of Kid Three by The Allergy Chef

    Brain Inflammation

    Before we dive in today, I have a cool story to share. I have a friend who has a child with food allergies and food intolerances. They happened to be part of a program at one stage in the child’s life where brain scans were happening regularly. On a particular day, this child was scheduled for a scan and had just had gluten and was having a total meltdown.

    Rather than cancel the appointment, the practitioner asked them to come in anyway, and WOW were the results something else. You could literally see the child’s brain on and off gluten. Whilst everyone “knew” this to be a problem for said child, now there was a clear before and after scan to make sure everyone truly understood the ramifications of gluten and the brain for this kid. Needless to say, slip ups didn’t happen after that fateful day.

    The Domino Effect: Unintended Health Consequences

    What’s neat in today’s world is that you don’t have to have a slew of initials after your name to gain access to research data, medical journals, and peer reviewed studies. I say that because we’re now seeing more studies that show the link between the gut and the brain.

    Our gut (mouth to anus) AKA GI tract plays an important role in our overall health. Did you ever hear as a kid, “you are what you eat?” Well, I wish we hadn’t stopped saying that as a society. Turns out, there was a lot of truth to that statement.

    Our gut flora (the bacteria that reside in the gut) can absolutely influence our mood and mental health. Additionally, a huge portion of our body’s immunity resides in the gut. The bottom line: take care of your gut and it can do a better job taking care of you.

    The thing about eating a poor and/or Standard American Diet (SAD) is that there can be a domino effect that you were never thinking about. In fact, these days, there’s more talk about the hidden and long term costs of eating the SAD way. Sure, that burger was $2.99, but did you calculate for the $50k heart attack in the future?

    To further drive this point home, I encourage to look into fecal matter transplants (FMT). What’s beyond fascinating is that recipients can take on traits of their fecal matter donors. In one instance, a woman who was naturally slim had an obese donor. After the transplant, she gained weight rapidly and was unable to lose much of it. Needless to say, she was not pleased.

    The point is, we know that the bacteria in our gut can influence SO much about the body. So, if you’re eating a poor diet and the good bacteria is pushed out by the bad, you’ll create a long term effect. Additionally, you can create intestinal permeability (leaky gut) which can lead to the development of more autoimmune issues and food allergy/intolerance. Will this happen to everyone? Nope. There’s no real way to predict who can eat the SAD way and get away with it and those who will suffer in the long run.

    I’ll say this though: eating foods that nourish your body will ultimately make you feel better. You’ll find that it’s easier to function daily, and some ailments can resolve naturally. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a burger, or foods we associate with cheating. Rather, make better-for-you versions and indulge when you feel like it.

    Can food affect your mood?

    In one short answer: ABSOLUTELY.

    You’re going to read this a lot today: food affects people differently. In some people, foods that their body can’t process properly can cause mood changes. If you want to learn more about the science of it all, look into gut health, the gut brain connection, and neurotransmitters. Honestly, it’s all fascinating.

    Can food affect your emotions?

    Yes, food can affect your emotions, but not necessarily in a straight forward way. It’s a bit complicated. First off, some foods will make you legit HAPPY. This is usually linked to their nutrition profile and how certain nutrients trigger the release of specific hormones.

    In other cases, eating a food that you have a deep emotional connection to can make you happy, simply because that’s how humans are wired.

    Now, most people asking this question are implying a negative connotation. The answer is yes, food can negatively affect your emotions as well. Here’s an example for you: When I eat specific foods, I want to kill myself.

    Yeah, kind of a heavy statement, but I’m not sugar coating anything today. One day, on my journey to neutral, after the crippling suicidal depression had cleared up, I was driving and SUDDENLY had the urge to die. I won’t go into the details, but hopefully you can get the idea. The point is, buffalo yogurt triggered it that day. The journey to getting neutral and my intense food journaling allowed me to make quick connections to foods. I was also methodical about food introductions so it was obvious what had triggered the response.

    Can certain foods make you angry?

    Oh man, this one is a loud and clear yes. And of course I have another story for you. It’s considered a more rare reaction when living with a severe corn allergy, but “corn rage” as we like to call it in the corn free community is a very real thing. I know people with other diagnoses have experienced a rage-like response when eating specific foods.

    One day, I was in the kitchen and I seemed OK. Within a few minutes, I was throwing handheld kitchen tools across the room. Corn rage (and total cringe when I look back).

    Another time, I was standing and cutting produce, and was overcome with corn rage to the point where I was pounding the countertop with the knife. Yes, the cuts are still there, and yes, I cringe when I see them.

    One more for you. I was walking with a plate of food and became so suddenly enraged that I threw the plate to ground as hard as I could, watched it all shatter, then walked away to take a nap. I was pretty pissed about absolutely nothing and I knew sleeping it off was the only option I had.

    Can allergies cause temper tantrums?

    Refer back to brain inflammation, and how a tantrum can be interpreted as a melt down. Too much input or the inability to communicate and solve the problem of internal chaos.

    Now think about my corn rage. See where I’m going with this? In some people, specific pathways in the brain are absolutely negatively effected by consuming certain foods and the result is what we would call a temper tantrum.

    Biggest Tip: I’ve personally found that complicated musical pieces and naps can really help with this. The only way I can explain the music component… it’s like the information is being rerouted on a different pathway and it’s a bit alleviating, and also allows me to think. When I do use music, it needs to be either a classical piece from an orchestra (with lots of distinct and overlapping instruments) or needs to be a piece that contains lots of complicated parts. I’m pretty sure the type of music is unique to me and how my brain works.

    I’ve had other people tell me that music helps, but no one else seems to need complicated music. 🤷‍♀️🤷

    Can allergies make you aggressive? Can allergies cause anger issues?

    I want to answer these together as I feel there’s a real link here. You’ll see why in a moment.

    So, first, let’s think back to corn rage. In my case, food allergies cause anger issues. However, I’ve never been aggressive towards others in those moments. In fact, assuming I’m aware of what’s happening, I go out of my way to remove myself from other people as to not cause more problems.

    Kid Three on the other hand, especially when younger, would ABSOLUTELY, OVERWHELMINGLY become violent towards others.

    The point I want to get across is that it depends on the person. I, at my core, do not want to harm others. So I take it out on objects and stay away from people. Kid Three, he’s a lot different, I guess. However, in his defense, he doesn’t seek to harm others when his head is on straight.

    I think people who have underlying issues or those prone to physical violence are more likely to become aggressive towards others if that’s their symptom.

    Can allergies cause depression? Can food sensitivity cause depression?

    Again, going to put two questions together because the answer is the same.

    YES. Both food allergies and food sensitivities can cause depression in SOME people. Remember, no two people are the same, and it’s not uncommon to have a build up response where depression is concerned.

    Interestingly, the suicidal thoughts for me happen within a few hours of ingesting food. For others, it’s a buildup response that starts with a little sadness here and there. It’s easy to not make the connection to food because it’s not intense. As time goes on, it gets worse and can become crippling. In these cases, the solution is to remove the offending food.

    I have no doubt in my mind that if I were on pharmaceuticals for my mental health issues related to food, I wouldn’t see much improvement. My theory is that it’s not an imbalance that needs correcting. In my case, it’s an inflammation issue, a pathway issue, an inability to process, digest, and cope. Removing the foods that cause those problems is what causes the mental health issues to resolve.

    Remember. No two people are the same. For you, it might be an imbalance and food has nothing to do with your depression. It could also be a post-partum issue, or deep seated trauma.

    Can food allergies cause behavior issues?

    People often ask if food allergies can cause kids to misbehave. The answer is: in some children, yes.

    Again, it’s rooted in the brain. It really comes down to “which receptors in the brain and body were affected by this food”. In some, it’s the inability to breathe so we know the lungs and possibly brain were affected. In others, it’s vomiting, so we know which system was involved. For people who have hives or rashes, the skin took the brunt of the reaction.

    So in children who have their brains “compromised” by certain foods, we would interpret the actions as misbehaviour, leading to some being able to say that food allergies cause behaviour problems. Here’s a better example for you: a few months ago, Kid Three cussed me out, called me all sorts of names, and overall made a complete and total fool of himself.

    I can honestly tell you, it was not normal, and those were not actions he would normally engage in. It’s a result of his brain being affected by the food he was eating. Now, the REAL issue: now that he’s an adult, he does what he wants. I don’t control food 24/7 and when he does what he wants, this is one of the results. Trust me, we’re working on it.

    What foods can cause behavioral problems?

    So, this is a great question, and you’re not going to like the answer. It depends on the person. If you’re wondering what food causes a bad mood, the answer will be the same. It depends on the person.

    Now, we know that in some people, artificial food dyes and artificial sweeteners are serious problems and need to be avoided. In other people, it’s linked to what they are allergic and/or intolerant to.

    I say that to say, I can’t give you a list because again, it depends on the person. Just know that when you see issues, starting a food journal may help you get to the root cause.

    Can gluten cause ADHD symptoms?

    Oh my goodness, YES! Please, do not get me started on my soapbox. The ADHD diagnosis rate in the developed world is much too high. It’s more of a catch-all at this point. It screams, “We don’t know the root cause so here, take this label”.

    Now, are there true cases of ADHD? Of course. My point is that there aren’t nearly as many as are being diagnosed. Case and point, we lived thru misdiagnosis not once, but TWICE. Watch this video on Kid Three to learn more.

    Can gluten cause mood swings?

    In some cases, yes. There are a LOT of symptoms that people who live with Celiac Disease and NCGS face. I will say, however, there are generally more reports of brain fog than there are of mood swings. Yet, this is all self-reporting, and it’s entirely possible that people aren’t picking up on the change in mood, or may attribute it to something else.

    The root issue is going to be the affect gluten has on the brain (in some people).

    Can dairy affect behavior?

    Yes, dairy can affect behaviour in some people. You’ll have to always remember that no two people are the same. For some, it’s projectile vomiting. For others, it’s brain inflammation. In some, it’s going to be anxiety, dizziness, and a whole host of other symptoms.

    An allergy or intolerance can affect behaviour for sure, but the underlying cause is the reaction on the brain. In other words, the food isn’t causing the child to scream at you. Instead, the food is causing brain inflammation, brain fog, cognitive function issues, and perhaps a decrease in higher order thinking. Those in turn are causing the child to scream at you, as they’ve lost their ability to cope and behave appropriately.

    Can food sensitivities cause behavioral problems?

    Yes. Like in the above example with dairy, in some people, the affect on the brain in turn causes a change in behaviour.

    Often times I tell parents that if you have a normally chill kiddo who flips out consistently after eating, start a food journal ASAP, get testing where possible, and determine the cause.

    How do food allergies affect the brain?

    There are a few ways that food can have an affect on the brain. First, there’s the hormone effect. Different hormones can be released and depending on the person, the effect can be incredibly negative.

    Second, there’s the connection to the nervous system. Think fight or flight. The brain and body are essentially being ramped up for a battle that’s raging inside your GI tract.

    Third, there’s the inflammation that I talked about earlier. We know that this is a reality for some people with food allergy and food intolerance.

    On top of these, there’s the long-term side effects. Think about learning for a moment. If we have a 3 year old, undiagnosed, who has a brain and body that’s constantly battling, there’s not a lot of room for cognitive growth and development. THAT will have profound, long-term side effects.

    The affect on the brain that I’ve not only witnessed first hand but experienced first hand is one of the reasons I’m a huge advocate for determining root causes and avoiding foods your body can’t tolerate/process.

    Can food allergies cause depression and anxiety?

    In some people, yes, absolutely. Remember, no two people are the same. Personally, I have suffered from crippling suicidal depression as a symptom of food allergy and food intolerance. It went undiagnosed for years and waking up one day feeling fine was a bizarre experience for me.

    I’ve talked with countless people who have shared that their response to foods they’re allergic to looks like a traditional anxiety attack. Many people with Celiac Disease also self-report that mental health issues including depression and anxiety are part of their reaction(s) to gluten.

    I’m a huge fan of making sure that if a person has mental health issues, that food is also part of the solution. In some cases, the food is the root cause. In other cases, a change in diet can help support their overall health.

    How do food allergies affect mental health?

    When we look at the two questions above, we have our answer for the most part. It starts with the individual diagnosis and symptoms. Remember, not everyone will have symptoms related to mental health. Also, for those that do, it can present as a range in severity.

    In some people, the brain is involved which in turn will have an affect on mental health. The thing about food allergies and food intolerance that’s often overlooked: any part of the body can have a symptom.

    The medical community has a clear guideline on anaphylaxis. We understand it, know it can be lethal, and have the tools to treat it. Everything else… it’s kind of the wild wild west unfortunately.

    Final Thoughts

    I hope this small look into our personal journey has helped you. It’s something I’ve researched for about 15 years (along with a long list of other topics). Research and experience has allowed me to really see the power food can have with some people.

    If something here resonated with you, start looking for YOUR root cause. Honestly, getting to neutral is something most people take for granted. Feeling fine each day when waking up, it’s a blessing I pray we can all experience.

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