I recently did an episode where I answered your questions and invited you to ask more. I was flooded with emails (thank you!). One of the most common topics of these email inquiries was food allergies and sensitivities. From causes, to diagnosis, to how to deal with it – this episode aims to demystify food sensitivities and answer your questions.
Food Allergy vs. Food Sensitivity vs. Food Intolerance
These three terms often cause confusion because people are unclear of the differences. A food allergy means that there is a specific protein in a food that is acting as an antigen that is generating an immunologic reaction. Food without a specific protein (like sugar for example) cannot cause a true food allergy.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a reaction to it. Sometimes the body is unable to process certain foods properly. This could be caused by an immune dysfunction, build-up of toxins, or a deficiency in certain enzymes. These reactions can cause symptoms but may not always cause these symptoms everytime you eat the food. These are food sensitivities, not allergies because they can come and go depending on the environment.
A second misuse of the term ‘food allergy’ is when people actually mean ‘food intolerance.’ A common example of this is lactose intolerance. In this case, the body is not having an immunological reaction to an antigen but rather it has an inability to produce the enzymes to properly digest the food.
A food allergy is typically something someone is born with while food sensitivities and food intolerances can develop over time.
Symptoms of Food Reactions
Some of the most common reactions to food sensitivities or intolerances include dermatological symptoms (rashes and dermatitis), gastrointestinal problems, loss of appetite, mal-absorption syndrome created by inflammatory bowel reactions to the offending protein, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, ulcerations, autoimmune phenomenon (like arthritis, lupus, MS, autoimmune thyroiditis), neurological degenerations, migraines, anxiety, seizures, asthma and other respiratory disorders, as well as fatigue and obesity. A food reaction could involve one or several of these symptoms.
Testing for Food Sensitivities and Intolerances
It can be very frustrating trying to solve a health mystery caused by a food sensitivity or intolerance because conventional testing (the skin prick) doesn’t always reveal the true cause of an issue. It is quite possible to get a false-negative with this test when it comes to food.
My go to test is from Vibrant Wellness. It looks at both the IgG and IgA pathway in relation to common allergens like gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs, and nuts as well as each food’s breakdown products. By testing over 25 different markers, this test gives a much much more accurate picture.
Right now the test is only available to my patients however we are looking at ways that we can offer this test to my listeners. Email me if you are interested.
Causes of Food Sensitivities
- Lack of Variety. There are a lot of the same proteins in our food because of convenience and processed foods and we tend to develop delayed allergies to foods that we are overexposed to. For example, there is wheat, corn, soy and dairy in almost every packaged food. In addition, many of us do not have much variety in our diets. Seasonal availability used to help us with this but now all foods are pretty much available at all times of the year.
- Gut Biome Imbalance. Eating the same foods consistently can certainly be a big trigger but it’s not the only potential cause. The environment in our gut is another huge trigger. When we have dysbiosis (an overgrowth of bad bacteria, yeast & parasites in our gut) our microbiome becomes skewed. This microbiome imbalance will create inflammation which will then open up the spaces between the cells of our gut lining giving large proteins passage they should not have.
- Poor Digestion. Stress, nutrient deficiency, and toxicity can make it difficult for our body to digest food. Stress for example, can reduce the amount of digestive juices, stomach bile and can cause issues with the liver and pancreas (which are essential in digestion).
All of this can result in large proteins getting into the bloodstream. The body responds by attacking these which then produces an antibody. That antibody continues to respond to the food being eaten and a sensitivity is developed.
Solving Food Sensitivity Issues
Since food reactions are created by the digestive environment, we have to look there first. Usually, I will investigate by doing a stool test. We work on eradicating the bad bugs to bring the gut biome back into balance and eliminate any parasites that might be present.
Next, I focus on digestion because even if we avoid the foods causing the sensitivity, if we don’t correct the digestive environment, new food sensitivities will develop.
I often focus on supporting the ‘good bugs’ in the gut by introducing probiotics. I typically recommend ones that are at least 25 billion organisms or more, otherwise it’s just too weak. I also recommend selecting something that has a combination of strains.
Healing the gut is a long process that can take several months to a year. The good news is that most people start to feel better once the healing has started so you don’t have to wait a year to see the results. However, you want to keep up with it because it does take a bit of time to make sure everything is properly healed.
The final step is to adjust the diet. We don’t want to renew the problem after we fix it. For diet, we want to make sure to watch over-consumption of specific foods, replace processed food with whole foods and make sure there is enough diverse fiber being consumed.
Food sensitivities are very common and can often be overlooked. Now you know what to look for, how to test for them and what steps to take to overcome them. Remember, simply eliminating the food you suspect is the cause of the problem is not enough.
Eliminating Health Mysteries
Thanks to Sharon and all of you who emailed to ask me questions about food allergies and sensitivities – the root cause of so many health mysteries. Could a food sensitivity be the missing clue for you or someone in your life? Share this episode with them.
Related Podcast Episodes:
EPISODE #057 [Ask Inna] Your Uncommon Immune Questions Answered
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