“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”
The most important thing the conventional model of mental health misses is how big an impact the wrong foods can have on your mental health.
Let me explain this by telling you about Tamara:
When Tamara came to see me, she was 35 years old with longstanding depression and OCD that had not responded to years of therapy and trials on many antidepressants and other medication. She had been in the mental health system since she was 16 and had even been hospitalized for depression in her early 20s.
The first thing I did for her was to give her a test that would show if any foods were causing an allergic reaction that could be causing or making her depression worse.
The test showed that Tamara had a few food allergies that registered as “low,” but the most notable finding was that she was severely sensitive to whey (one of the proteins found in milk and a common allergen.)
When I shared the feedback from the testing, she gasped. She told me she was a “workout freak” and that she had been drinking three whey protein shakes a day since her early 20s.
With all good intentions, she had literally been inflaming her body and brain, and making herself depressed and obsessed!
After stopping her protein shakes and all other dairy products for a month, her depression symptoms improved dramatically.
But, My Doctor Says I Don’t Have Any Allergies…
When most of us think about food allergies, we think about the kid who swells up or breaks out into hives when she’s near peanuts and if it gets really bad, may need an EpiPen to save her life.
This is a true allergy that can quickly become life-threatening, and if you have allergies like this, you know it for sure because they are so immediate and scary. The technical term for this type of allergic reaction is called an IgE mediated food allergy.
IgE is an antibody or marker that the immune system uses to identify a food that the body has an allergic reaction to, and histamine is released in response to it. In fact, IgE reactions are the only kind of allergy that MD allergists recognize.
IgG Food Allergies
There’s another kind of immune response to food that is almost always overlooked by the medical (and certainly the psychiatric) establishment.
This is a real shame because this kind of reaction often plays a central role in the physiology of depression and other chronic (mental) health issues, and if it goes undetected, symptoms gets worse with time and people and their doctors, have no idea why.
This reaction involves another immune marker called IgG which is commonly referred to as a delayed food sensitivity.
Where an IgE allergic reaction becomes apparent within minutes, an IgG reaction might take up to 48 or even 72 hours to cause symptoms. Instead of your throat closing or hives developing, symptoms might include depression or anxiety, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), or arthritis and often turns into chronic health concerns with increased exposure to the offending food.
So, while IgE allergies can be deadly, IgG allergies can wreak havoc on our physical and mental health by being a source of chronic low-grade chronic inflammation.
Furthermore, consensus among researchers is mounting that depression is often the direct result of a systemic inflammatory cascade often involving food sensitivities. So the chances that food allergies are playing a role in your depression is pretty high, and certainly worth exploring.
The Big Problem
The hard part of identifying whether foods are making your depression worse is that these kinds of reactions are delayed.
So, let’s say you eat a piece of toast on Friday and have a migraine and a dip in your mood on Monday. How can you connect the bread you ate to symptoms you experienced two days later?
You just can’t.
To complicate matters, let’s say you eat a food or multiple foods that you’re sensitive to every day or even multiple times a day.
It would be virtually impossible to connect all the dots.
You mean I can’t eat_____?!?
Here’s one of the hardest parts. We often have IgG sensitivities to foods we love and eat every day. So the food you “can’t live without” is often the one that you probably have the biggest sensitivity to.
While people can have IgG food allergies to any foods, there are four that most commonly affect people:
Notice anything interesting about these foods?
They are the most common ingredients found in the processed food that make up the Standard American Diet (SAD.)
These are the staples of our daily meals, and I’m sorry to say they’re making many of us sick and depressed.
The Two Ways of Figuring Out What Foods Are Making You Depressed
1) Do an Elimination Diet
An elimination diet, removes the most inflammatory and allergenic foods from your diet for at least a month. Then these foods are reintroduced, one at a time, so you can watch for any physical, mental, or emotional reactions.
The elimination diet that I typically use with clients is called the Whole30. I like it because it’s guidelines are easy to follow and it provides a very detailed reintroduction schedule, which gives you the most important information about your particular sensitivities.
Doing an elimination diet is generally considered the “gold standard” for identifying specific food sensitivities as the removal and reintroduction, when done correctly, provides accurate and clear information as to whether certain foods are contributing to your symptoms.
2) Do IgG Food Allergy Testing
Many functional medicine labs offer testing that can look at whether you have immune reactivity commonly consumed foods. Generally they look at about 100 different foods. I frequently use Great Plains Laboratory for this test though there are other labs that do a good job. While many integrative providers think that an elimination diet is a far better way to assess food sensitivities, I have been using this test for many years and have found it to be very helpful in identifying problematic food reactions.
The major advantage beyond it being so much easier to do than an elimination diet is that it looks at sensitivities to many foods not eliminated on even the most restrictive elimination diet.
Recently, I was at a conference where I heard a case of an autistic child who stopped banging his head (which was a big deal for him and his family) after an IgG food sensitivity test identified that he was sensitive to beef. This was a food unlikely to have been eliminated on any diet experiment and therefore would never have been discovered to be problematic for this little child. And boy were his parents happy it was!
I think the best way to use an IgG test is to find out which sensitivities you have and then to do an elimination diet on those foods for a month, reintroducing them one at a time (following the guidelines of something like Whole30.) Remember the proof is in the pudding.
Are you ready to figure it out?
If you’ve tried “everything” and are still struggling with depression or other mental health symptoms, what do you have to lose?
I challenge you to get an IgG food allergy test done and/or follow an elimination diet for at least a month. The information you get will empower you to take steps to fix your depression.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to hear more about integrative and “out of the box” approaches to depression, sign up for my email list at Alternative Mental Health Solution and/or follow my Facebook page.
In good (mental) health,
Dr. Josh Friedman has more than 25 years experience in mental health as a client, psychologist, and functional nutrition practitioner. After working in the field for a few years, he realized how many people were still struggling with depression and other mental health issues even after years of therapy and medication. Over time he became increasingly uncomfortable with the limitations of standard psychiatric treatment and knew there had to be a better way. Over the past decade and a half, he has committed himself to learning as much as he could about the root causes of mental health symptoms. To share this information and to help people get unstuck, he started Alternative Mental Health Solution.