Article at a Glance
- An elimination diet is a strict regimen that involves the elimination of certain foods and their reintroduction later to identify food intolerances.
- Bloating, migraines, constipation, loose bowels, gassiness are common symptoms whose cause could be identified using an elimination diet.
- In addition to identifying trigger foods, an elimination diet may also mitigate the symptoms of diseases such as ADHD, chronic migraines, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Do you often find yourself with symptoms like bloating, gassiness, recurring mild stomachaches, nausea, migraines, constipation, and diarrhea? If so, you might want to try an elimination diet to find out if you have any food sensitivities. Here we’ll lay out what an elimination diet is, how to do it, and what benefits it has on health and even longevity.
What is an Elimination Diet?
Food sensitivities are relatively common, affecting between 2-20% of people worldwide [R]. An elimination diet is a technique used to identify food intolerances, sensitivities, or allergies one may have. It lasts 5-6 weeks and involves the removal of all foods that are known to potentially cause undesirable symptoms, then slowly reintroducing them while monitoring how the body reacts.
An elimination diet has two phases: the elimination phase and the reintroduction phase. During the elimination phase, which typically lasts between 2-3 weeks, foods you think your body can’t tolerate, as well as foods known to commonly cause symptoms, are removed completely from the diet. Examples include soy, corn, nuts, dairy, citrus fruits, nightshade vegetables, wheat, gluten, pork, eggs, and seafood [R].
During the reintroduction phase, eliminated foods are reintroduced back into the diet one by one over a period of 2-3 days (per food group). At this point, you should be on the lookout for symptoms like rashes, headaches, fatigue, joint pain, sleeping problems, bloating, stomachaches, and changes in bowel movements. When any of these negative symptoms are observed after reintroducing a certain food, then you have successfully identified a food that triggers a reaction [R].
It’s important to note, however, that an elimination diet may cause nutritional deficiency and should, therefore, be monitored by a health professional
Who Should be on an Elimination Diet?
Individuals suffering from symptoms of an unknown cause may benefit from an elimination diet to discover which foods could be to blame. However, it may be beneficial for those who may not even be bothered by symptoms to do a form of an elimination diet at least once in their life to see if their health could improve [R]. Often, we don’t even realize some symptoms we may have until we experience life without them. Examples may be frequent headaches or acne breakouts that might seem normal but could be diet related.
What Conditions Can an Elimination Diet Help?
In addition to general food intolerances, an elimination diet also helps reduce some disease-related symptoms including those of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), eosinophilic esophagitis (EE), chronic migraines, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). By pinpointing foods that trigger unwanted symptoms, an elimination diet can help mitigate disease.
IBS is a common disorder, affecting 10-15% of people worldwide, that causes abdominal pain and bowel dysfunction (loose bowels, constipation, or both) [R]. Its symptoms significantly affect quality of life, and current pharmacological therapies are often ineffective. Researchers evaluated whether certain foods may trigger IBS symptoms and thus whether an elimination diet could be beneficial to help IBS patients identify which foods they should avoid. One study of IBS patients found that the group who followed a strict elimination diet, which involved the removal of foods that increased a certain antibody called immunoglobulin G (IgG), noticed up to a 26% reduction in their symptoms [R].
EE is a condition that involves the inflammation of the esophagus (the tube between the mouth and the stomach), triggered by an allergy. This condition increases the risk of choking and makes swallowing difficult. Elimination diets have been shown to aid in finding (and avoiding) the foods that induce a reaction and hence reduce the symptoms of EE [R, R]. In one study, patients with EE followed an elimination diet that was based on the elimination of foods that caused a reaction on skin prick tests, and results showed that over 75% of the subjects had substantial improvements in their symptoms when the trigger foods were removed from the diet [R].
Chronic migraines may also be mitigated using the elimination diet technique to pinpoint trigger foods. The causes of chronic migraines are still unclear, however, researchers found that inflammation likely plays a role [R]. An elimination diet aimed at reducing inflammation was found to help reduce the occurrence of migraines [R, R]. In one study, a group of chronic migraine patients applied an elimination diet that removed pro-inflammatory foods for 6 weeks which led to significantly fewer migraine attacks [R].
ADHD is a neurodevelopment disorder that is characterized by inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive behavior. Its causes are unknown, but diet is a potential risk factor [R]. As a result, elimination diets have been evaluated for the effects on ADHD patients and have been shown by multiple studies to be a promising intervention [R, R, R]. The technique offers a personalized solution for patients to identify which foods are linked to ADHD symptoms.
Will it Help me Live Longer?
Can an elimination diet be used to improve longevity? At first glance, that might be a difficult conclusion to make because an elimination diet is a short-term eating plan that simply pinpoints foods that cause food intolerance or unwanted, disease-related symptoms.
But identifying and eliminating inflammatory foods from one’s diet can have significant benefits even beyond symptom relief. Chronic inflammation has been implicated in the aging process and often contributes to disease development [R].
An elimination diet can be useful to identify the source of and reduce unwanted symptoms, whether they are due to food intolerances or underlying disease. Find the right clinician with whom to discuss your elimination diet by browsing through our directory of health and longevity clinics.
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