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Depending on which study you read, roughly one third to one half of Americans suffer from insomnia. (1) For both children and adults, this can mean trouble falling asleep, frequently waking up at night, or difficultly getting back to sleep after waking.
So, what causes insomnia? There is no one single cause of insomnia. And it often arises with other disorders.
New research is pointing to food allergies as a common source of insomnia. (9)
Sleepless nights and daytime exhaustion eventually take their toll on your overall wellbeing. (10) If you have a food allergy, or if you mount an immune response to a specific food, the only symptoms may be in your mood, behavior, or quality of sleep. (11)
According to the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease (NIAID), a food allergy is defined as, “an adverse health effect arising from a specific immune response that occurs reproducibly on exposure to a given food.” (12)
In other words, if you consistently feel lousy after eating a specific food and the immune system is involved, you’ve got a food allergy.
A food allergy can be severe and life-threatening. Or it can be chronic. An IgE-mediated food allergy is immediate and life-threatening, whereas a non-IgE-mediated food allergy is delayed, and symptoms usually show up within 4–72 hours after eating.
In both types of food allergies, the immune system responds to the proteins in certain foods. These foods (and specifically the proteins they contain) are called allergens.
Up to one half of Americans lie awake at night, suffering from chronic insomnia. While there is no one cause of insomnia, it could be related to an underlying food allergy that is affecting your quality of life.
Common allergens include:
The list doesn’t end there.
The immune system will often cross-react with foods that contain similar proteins—making the mistake that these foods are the same as the allergenic food. The proteins in wheat gluten, for example, cross-react with a long list of foods. (14) And according to the NIADA, cross-reactions are common between shellfish and tree nuts.
Common foods that are cross-reactive with the proteins in wheat include:
On the other hand, food intolerance is slightly different. The NIAID defines food intolerance as a “nonimmunologic adverse reaction.” This means that the immune system plays no role in the flare-up of symptoms that happen in response to food.
One good example of food intolerance is enzyme deficiency: If you are unable to digest the milk sugars—or lactose—in milk, you may be missing a key enzyme called lactase. This would mean that you have a food intolerance to milk, otherwise known as lactose intolerance.
Both types of food allergies (IgE and non-IgE-mediated) will usually show up in the form of gut distress. This includes diarrhea, abdominal pain, and nutrient deficiency.
But that’s not all. When it comes to a food allergy, you may also notice:
Researchers have found that gut disorders may be occult, or hidden. This means that clinically and in the doctor’s office, a physician will see little to no signs of gut distress. (15)(16) Insomnia may be your only clue that you have a food allergy.
If you are desperate to get a good night’s sleep, you may visit your doctor and leave with a prescription.
But according to sleep experts and researchers at Ryerson University, Heather Hood and Dr. Colleen Carney, this may not offer much relief. (17) Hood explains, “Poor sleepers who engage in what we call safety behaviors, such as taking sleep medication or drinking alcohol, are actually disrupting their sleep in the long term.”
In fact, sleep medication is notoriously unhelpful—possibly giving immediate short-term relief but almost always with long-term consequences, such as drug dependence or memory loss. (18)
If you suspect that a food allergy may be at the root of your insomnia, it is essential to first address the food allergy. Unfortunately, according to NIAID, there is no test to diagnose delayed-onset (or non-IgE-mediated) food allergies. Skin prick tests and blood tests are not reliable. Only invasive procedures—such as endoscopy and biopsy—can confirm a food allergy.
If you do have a food allergy, your doctor will find inflammation along your gastrointestinal tract—whether or not you show signs of a gut disorder.
NIAID suggests an elimination diet—beginning with common allergens—to treat food allergies. This means that if you have insomnia and think a food allergy may be the cause, the Body Ecology Diet may assist you in ruling out the common allergenic foods and cross-reactive foods.
Rebalancing the inner ecosystem is at the core of the Body Ecology Diet. Beneficial bacteria and yeast have been shown to reduce the inflammation of the intestinal wall. Fermented vegetables and probiotic beverages with every meal are a convenient way to get high-potency probiotics into your digestive tract.
So far, doctors haven't been able to pinpoint a single cause of insomnia. The sleep disorder is often related to a number of other health issues and may affect one third to one half of Americans. Related health issues include autoimmune diseases, gut disorders, hormonal imbalances, and mood imbalances, like depression or ADHD.
Research recently linked food allergies to insomnia. Some of the most common food allergens are egg, cow's milk, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish, soy, and corn. The immune system is also known to cross-react with other foods that may contain similar proteins to make those foods equally allergenic.
If you are in desperate need of a solid night of sleep, it may be difficult for your doctor to detect a food allergy at the root of your insomnia. There are currently no tests to diagnose delayed-onset food allergies, so an elimination diet is recommended.
To rebalance your inner ecology and get to the bottom of insomnia that may be caused by food allergies, focus on fermented vegetables and probiotic beverages in the Body Ecology Diet. A hardy inner ecosystem means improved health in all areas of life!