Chances are you know someone with a food allergy or food sensitivity. In general, food allergy is obvious while food sensitivity is usually hidden. Topping the list of common food allergens in Canada are wheat and milk. Alternative health practitioners also report these to be very common sensitivities.
I’m sensitive to both, as many people are. But don’t feel pity for me! I’m lucky for having discovered this. First of all, avoiding foods you react to will result in less inflammation in your body. Secondly, food reaction is a sign of weakened intestinal function. Discovering my food sensitivities spurred me into working on my gut health, which ultimately freed me of the need for pain medication.
They say knowledge is power, and discovering I had food sensitivities literally changed my life! So this blog lays out everything you need to now about discovering and addressing hidden food sensitivities. My hope is it will help you or your loved one turn their health around too!
Aside from wheat and dairy, other top food allergens include:
- Tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts/filberts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts/pignolias, pistachio nuts, and walnuts)
- Sesame seeds
- Seafood (including fish, shellfish and crustaceans)
Statistics on food sensitivity and intolerance are scant, probably because this issue is foreign to many physicians, leading to under-diagnosis. Yet, anecdotally, people of all ages are discovering they are sensitive to certain foods.
Acclaimed author and physician, Kenneth Bock, M.D. states there is overlap between milder IgE (food allergy) and IgG (food sensitivity) mediated reactions to food, and both kinds of food reactions have “exploded” in the last twenty years.(1)
What accounts for the upward trend?
[box] A number of factors have been identified, including (but not limited to) the thousands of chemicals in our food supply, compromised digestive function (which accompanies aging), dysfunctional immune systems, and an imbalanced microbiome. [/box]
To help you better understand the food – reaction continuum, I’ll use the analogy of the public safety paradigm in Canada. Our federal police force (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) deals with higher level criminality, like trans-national organized crime and terrorism. Provincial and municipal police officers investigate criminal activities at the local level. Then there are a host of other agencies that contribute to public safety, like Transport Canada, the Canada Border Services Agency, local parking enforcement etc. (Note, I’ve over-simplified the paradigm for the sake of making my point. It’s actually more convoluted than this). So these agencies all work under the realm of public safety and law-enforcement, but they react to different threats. In a similar vain, our bodies contain different players that react to different levels of threats, all in an attempt to maintain harmony throughout our bodies. A subset of these players are active in food allergy and sensitivity; and they are called immunoglobulins.
Food Allergy: IgE-Mediated (akin to the federal authorities)
Food allergies refer to a person’s immune system mistaking a food protein for something harmful, and creating immunoglobulins, known as IgE antibodies, in response.
True food or IgE allergies create an immediate response; which can range from mild to severe. Examples of mild symptoms include headaches, hives, shortness of breath, and digestive upset. A severe reaction would be anaphylaxis. Reaction can also be brief or last for hours.
Food Sensitivity: IgG-Mediated (akin to provincial and municipal authorities)
IgG antibodies are less aggressive than their IgE counterparts, so the physical response is more muted. Further, a food sensitivity typically results in a delayed response that might not appear for hours or even days after you consume an offending food. This type of food reactivity is worrisome because the slowness and less severe nature of the reaction allows it to remain undetected more often than not, causing needless suffering.
Common signs of food sensitivity extend beyond gastrointestinal distress. Multiple body systems are affected by inflammatory responses, and symptoms can include:
- gastrointestinal problems, including bloating and gas
- stubborn weight
- itchy skin and skin rashes like eczema
- brain fog
- irritability, behavioral issues
- muscle or joint aches
- sleeplessness and sleep disorders
- chronic rhinitis (runny nose), congestion, and post-nasal drip
Most people are well aware of a food allergy due to the immediate response after eating the food. They can simply avoid the food in order to avoid symptoms. In contrast, with food sensitivity, you unknowingly eat foods which are slowly and insidiously depleting your health. The muted and delayed response to those problem foods makes it difficult to draw links between the food and health symptoms.
So if you’re eating problem foods consistently, your immune system gets stuck in overdrive, spitting out immune complexes which lodge themselves anywhere in your body and create inflammation. And as Dr Christiane Northrup, MD, points out, inflammation is behind so much chronic disease and countless ailments(2).
Non-Immune-Mediated Food Reactivity (akin to the various other agencies falling under the public safety realm)
Adverse reactions to food can also occur without the immune system involvement. Examples include chemical sensitivity (things like food dyes and MSG added to our foods) or food reactions due to enzymatic deficiency (i.e lactose intolerance).
How to Identify Food Allergies and Sensitivities
True food allergies are easiest to identify, as symptoms occur shortly after the offending food is ingested. If in doubt, your physician can help you confirm a food allergy. Food allergy testing (which looks for IgE antibodies) is covered by provincial health plans.
To my knowledge, food allergy testing here in Canada only uncovers IgE antibodies. If you are curious whether one or more food sensitivities (i.e. IgG antibodies) are interfering with your health, food sensitivity testing is available through a Holistic Nutritionist or other alternative health care provider.
A cheaper alternative to food sensitivity testing is to eliminate the most common food allergens for three weeks, followed by a methodical re-introduction of those same foods with close observation of resulting symptoms. This is known as an elimination diet, and it can dramatically demonstrate that a particular food you’ve always believed was harmless is actually behind your symptoms.
I personally found the elimination diet to be incredibly daunting. Finding suitable replacements for the staple foods in my diet was toughest. Also, I unknowingly ingested problematic food during the elimination phase because foods are disguised under different labels. For example, maltodextrin, a common ingredient in packaged foods, is often wheat-based. And some people fail to properly re-introduce the foods back into their diets, which is critical to an accurate assessment. For these reasons I recommend working with a Holistic Nutritionist or other qualified health professional if you go this route.
How to Address Food Sensitivity
If you do discover foods to which you are sensitive, your life is not over! In fact, relief would be a fantastic first reaction; as this information just might be the key to solving your health puzzle!
[box] Food sensitivities indicate a/ some level of compromise within the gastrointestinal system which needs your attention and b/ the necessity to be mindful of the frequency with which you consume that food in the future. [/box]
By avoiding problem foods for at least three months, while simultaneously supporting gut health (with help from a qualified health professional), you create the opportunity for your digestive system to heal and hopefully decrease reactivity to those foods.
Bottom Line: It is imperative to identify food sensitivities, as they promote inflammation throughout the body. Temporary avoidance of problem foods, while simultaneously working on intestinal health, is the best strategy to minimize food reactivity.
Dr Ann Wigmore, world renowned Naturopathic Doctor and pioneer of the natural health movement, said: “The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”
I know this to be true, and I love helping people discover it for themselves. I invite you to book a FREE consultation with me here, to begin your journey to optimal health. This is a limited time offer, book today!
1.Robyn O’Brien, The Unhealthy Truth – How Our Food is Making Us Sick and What We Can Do About It, 27, Broadway Books, 2009.
2. Dr Sara Gottfried, The Hormone Cure, Foreword by Dr C Northrup, Scribner Press, 2013