What are Food Allergies:
With food ALLERGIES, when you eat a contending food, there is an actual hypersensitivity reaction by the immune system leading to rashes, hives, itching of eyes or throat, or even anaphylaxis. This is the person that cannot even be in the same room as a dish of peanuts, for example. This is also the type of reaction some people have to a bee sting. This person should carry an EpiPen and be prepared to use it if they come in contact with the allergen.
How to test: Typically testing is relatively easy and involves either a skin-prick test performed by an allergist (a type of doctor specializing in allergies and allergic reactions) OR a blood test checking for IgEs to a certain type of food. IgE molecules indicate a hypersensitivity reaction to a food group or other allergen (pollen, dander, etc), and anyone with IgEs to an allergen should carry an EpiPen.
What are Food Sensitivities:
Food Sensitivities are much more common reactions, though not as immediately life-threatening. Though, I do like to point out that people that have food sensitivities that go unaddressed are likely to have inflammation that becomes chronic and leads to a myriad of other life-threatening illnesses (i.e. cardiovascular diseases, cancers, memory/brain issues, arthritis, etc.). Inflammation is key when considering your overall health, and eliminating foods that are causing inflammation is paramount in maintaining and optimizing your health.
Common reactions to food sensitivities include: rashes (eczema, psoriasis, acne), heart palpitations, asthma, hair loss, joint pain, digestive issues (reflux, diarrhea, constipation), post-nasal drip, sinus issues, headaches/migraines, and more.
How to test: Testing is a bit more complicated than it is for Food Allergies (IgE reactions). With food sensitivities, sometimes people will have elevated IgG or IgA levels (different types of molecules in the immune system that recognize more chronic antigens). While some people acknowledge that you could have IgG and/or IgAs for any food you've eaten since your body has "seen" it and responded to it, I have seen that too high of IgG or IgA could also be a problem. It makes sense that when these IgG and/or IgA levels get too high, this indicates an over-response of your immune system, and thus increased inflammation from these foods.
So, back to testing: Testing can be done with a blood test, an elimination/rechallenge diet, or a pulse test (or a combination of those). Each of these testing methods has pros and cons, but all of them do help guide you to understand your particular sensitivities.
1) Blood Test: Commonly done through private labs, this blood test takes an average of about 1-3 weeks to return and typically gives you a bar graph analysis showing the foods you have the highest reaction to. The pros: This is a very easy way to test and the data is pretty clear - it's easy to see which bar graphs are biggest, and thus it's easy to identify the foods you react the strongest to. Cons: This test costs money and it has a lot of false positives and false negatives by nature.
2) Elimination/Rechallenge Diet: This is a well-known way to strategically avoid foods that you are wanting to "test" for a food sensitivity. Typically, I recommend people avoid the testing foods for a period of 3-6 weeks, depending on their symptoms. After that time period, foods are reintroduced strategically and then we watch for symptoms to arise after the testing food. The Pros: This is the gold-standard for testing foods as the body doesn't lie. If you eat something and get a reaction, there's no question that you have a sensitivity to that food. This is a relatively inexpensive way to test, except the cost of wasted foods that you may find out you don't tolerate. The Cons: This test is difficult to adhere to for many people. It requires a lot of planning and strong-will to avoid the foods when not even certain if reacting to them or not.
3) Pulse Testing: This relatively simple testing method involves first counting your pulse for a minute, then tasting (holding in mouth but not swallowing) a questionable food and re-counting the pulse. If the pulse goes up by more than 6 beats in a minute, the person is likely to have a sensitivity to that food.
So, do you have any of the Food Sensitivity symptoms? If so, are you ready to explore your Food Sensitivities? Even if you cannot pinpoint a particular negative symptom but you're still interested in checking foods, it could be worth testing the 8 most common food allergens/sensitivities (wheat, peanut, egg, milk, fish, soybean, shellfish, tree nut) and possibly another common food group that tends to trigger inflammation (the nightshade family of fruits/vegetables).
Not sure where to start? Need help sorting out your data? Want to try a blood test? Great! I can help you with all of these and more. Simply fill out our Contact form here, and I'll get back to you right away.
by Dr. Jessica Corbeille Harris, ND
Physical reactions to foods are common, but not all physical responses are classified as a true “food allergy” – many are deemed “food intolerances” instead. What’s the difference?
Food Allergies: An immediate immune system response to a food (even a tiny amount of that food) that causes sometimes widespread involvement in the body including (but not limited to) hives, anaphylaxis (closure of airway), asthma reaction, swelling, itching, or immediate GI distress/diarrhea.
Food Intolerance: An immune system response that is often delayed and can cause wide-spread, non-specific, sometimes less severe systemic responses. Sometimes a little bit of the food isn’t enough to trigger symptoms (but sometimes it is!). Common food intolerance symptoms include: GI upset (most common), increase in muscle and/or joint pain, headache, irritability/mood changes, depression/anxiety, breathing difficulties (less severe than an asthma attack or anaphylaxis), heartburn, ear infections, sinus congestion, post-nasal drip, urinary pain or discomfort, skin reactions (eczema, psoriasis, rashes, etc.), heart palpitations, and more. Basically, many of the symptoms people experience regularly can be caused by the foods they are eating.
It’s important to understand the difference between a true allergy and an intolerance, but often in either case, the problematic food/foods will be avoided (obviously this is a much more serious recommendation in the case of anaphylactic food allergens!).
One important symptom that I like to point out to patients at my clinic is the association with food to pain.The majority of my patients seek treatment with me for their pain, but many of them are not expecting me to suggest a food allergy/intolerance test as part of the work-up for the cause of their pain. Yes, I do like to treat pain with injection therapies (i.e. prolotherapies, PRP, neural therapies, etc.), but if the patient continues to eat a food that is causing them inflammation (pain), then the treatments are not likely to have a lasting effect – and sometimes they don’t work at all until the problematic food(s) are eliminated.
For this reason, I often will order a food intolerance test for patients as part of their initial workup when I suspect food as a component to their pain problem. The testing I use is relatively inexpensive and results come back quickly. These tests are really excellent ways to figure out quickly the most likely problematic food triggers for their body – and I OFTEN see that eliminating problematic foods for a period of time (or for good) will SIGNIFICANTLY change their pain problem!
Are you ready to explore your food intolerances? If so, send us a message through our Contact page today!
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