You are what you eat. This is not just a cliche. Food can be nutritious medicine. It can also be the driving force behind your uncomfortable symptoms and health issues. Food allergies and food sensitivities are some of the most common underlying causes of chronic symptoms.
We see patients with food allergies and food sensitivities at our office all the time. The good news is that once we identify your food allergies and food sensitivities, we can come up with a plan to improve your health naturally. Spoiler alert: once you improve your gut, you may be able to reintroduce these foods without symptoms.
What Are Food Allergies and Food Sensitivities
In short, food allergies refer to an immunologic hypersensitivity (IgE reaction). Food sensitivities are characterized by immunologic delayed reactions (IgG and IgA reactions), and food intolerances are non-immunologic reactions to food. Let’s learn about the differences between them in detail.
The Difference Between IGE and IGG Reactions
To understand your body’s reactions to food, first, you need to understand what immunoglobins are. Immunoglobins are proteins created by your immune system. They function as antibodies to fight various pathogens your body encounters, including viruses, bacteria, and toxins.
When your body encounters something that it recognizes as a foreign substance or pathogen, it will respond with an immune response. This substance may be food, pollen, a toxin, or something else.
Your body makes a number of different immunoglobins to fight various invaders. To understand the difference between food allergies and food sensitivities, you need to know about two of these immunoglobins:
- Immunoglobulin E (IgE): IgE creates an immediate response to a foreign or dangerous substance entering your body.
- Immunoglobulin G (IgG): IgG creates more prolonged, more subtle, and delayed reactions to a substance.
What Are Food Allergies
Food allergies are IgE allergies. They cause an immediate response to food. For example, if you are allergic to peanuts or if you accidentally eat something with peanuts in it, your body will recognize it as a harmful pathogen, not as food. The B cells in your body will start making IgE antibodies. After exposure, these IgE antibodies will attach to your mast cells. The IgE antibodies will stay there until your next contact with peanuts. When you are exposed to peanuts again, the IgE antibodies will trigger your mast cells to release histamine and other chemicals to create an immediate allergic response.
You may experience hives, itching, wheezing, or other symptoms. Your symptoms may become life-threatening. In severe cases, you may experience an anaphylactic shock, which can be life-threatening without treatment.
Symptoms of IgE Food Allergies
Symptoms of food allergies tend to appear within a few seconds or minutes after exposure. Symptoms of food allergies may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Throat closing
- Anaphylactic shock
What Are Food Sensitivities
Food sensitivities are IgG food allergies. Unlike IgE food allergies, IgG food allergies are delayed food allergies.
Instead of producing IgE antibodies resulting in a sudden and more serious allergic response, your immune system produces IgG antibodies. IgG antibodies trigger inflammatory processes that don’t result in symptoms until hours or days after exposure. Your symptoms will be delayed and may not appear until up to three days after eating a food that you are sensitive to.
Because IgG food allergies or food sensitivities cause a delayed reaction, it is difficult to spot them. Chances are, you won’t connect your skin rashes, headaches, or tummy aches to a food that you consumed three days earlier. Most people go for years, if not their entire lives, without realizing that food sensitivities are behind their symptoms.
Symptoms of Food Sensitivities
Symptoms of IgG food allergies or food sensitivities are usually much more subtle and longer-lasting than IgE food allergy symptoms. Symptoms can become chronic if you are regularly consuming a problem food. Symptoms of food sensitivities may include:
- Gas or bloating
- Diarrhea or loose stool
- Heartburn or acid reflux
- Rashes, eczema, or swelling
- Joint pain or inflammation
- Headaches or migraines
- Congestion or runny nose
- Sinus infections
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Fatigue or poor sleep
- Brain fog or cognitive issues
- Poor immune defenses
- Malabsorption of vitamins and minerals
Food sensitivities can also intensify or lead to the symptoms of certain health conditions, including:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Ear infections
- Autoimmune conditions
What Are Food Intolerances
Understanding the difference between food allergies, food sensitivities, and food intolerances can be confusing. While food allergies and food sensitivities trigger your immune system, food intolerances do not.
Food intolerances may have similar symptoms to food allergies or sensitivities, but they usually develop because of a deficiency of an enzyme necessary to digest a certain food. For example, if you have lactose intolerance, your body doesn’t have enough lactase enzyme to deal with lactose, a sugar found in cow’s milk. If you have histamine intolerance, you may not have enough DAO or HNMT enzymes to break down excess histamine, leading to a histamine build-up and histamine-related symptoms.
If you suspect that your symptoms are coming from food, we recommend that you start by testing for food allergies and food sensitivities. If you are still experiencing symptoms after addressing underlying food allergies and food sensitivities, it’s time to check for food intolerances and other potential issues.
Symptoms of Food Intolerances
Symptoms of food intolerances are often similar to symptoms of food sensitivities or food allergies. They may include:
- Bloating, gas, or cramps
- Stomach pain
- Other digestive issues
- Headaches or migraines
- Rashes or other skin issues
- Runny nose or congestion
- Irritability or nervousness
- Joint pain
How to Overcome Food Allergies
Food allergies and food sensitivities can change over time. You may develop a new food allergy at any point in your life, but you may also overcome them. Supporting your health, creating a healthier gut, and building a more robust immune system, will allow your body to reverse IgG food sensitivities and tolerate any accidental exposure to IgE food allergies better.
Testing for Food Allergies
Your first step to better health is accurate food allergy testing. At our clinic, we recommend and use the P88 Dietary Antigen Test. We love this test because it combines IgE, IgG, IgG4, and complement (C3d) reactions to 88 of the most common food allergens within a single test.
This highly comprehensive test can identify both IgE food allergies and IgG food sensitivities. It also tests for immune complexes containing C3d. C3d can increase immune responses to fused antigens and is a major underlying cause of inflammation. Looking at all these potential underlying problems behind your symptoms allows us to create a precise treatment plan and ensure a better patient outcome for you.
Trying an Elimination Diet
Once we have your food allergy test result, our next step is to tailor an elimination diet with our licensed dietician. Since food allergy testing only tests for common food allergies and false results can happen, an elimination diet can help us gain personalized insights into your body’s needs.
First, you need to eliminate all foods that showed up as allergies or sensitivities on your test. Second, your dietitian may recommend that you remove certain other foods that may be causing symptoms for you.
We generally recommend that you remove these foods for about six weeks. It’s critical that you completely avoid these foods for this period. Even small bits of a certain food can result in reactions and throw off your efforts. Keep a food diary keeping track of your diet and symptoms.
After six weeks, with the guidance of your dietitian, you can start reintroducing these foods one by one. Allow three days between introducing a new food. Note any symptoms in your food diary. If you notice any symptoms, back off, and remove the food from your diet.
By the end of the reintroduction phase of your elimination diet, you should have a list of all foods that may be triggering for you. Remove any foods that are still causing problems and focus on recovering your gut health.
Improving Your Gut Health
IgG food sensitivities are often linked to gut health issues, including leaky gut syndrome and gut microbiome imbalance. In a healthy body, your gut lining has tiny holes to allow nutrients to pass through to your bloodstream, but stop larger food particles, bacteria, and toxins. Leaky gut syndrome is also referred to as intestinal permeability, which means that these microscopic holes become too big, allowing food particles, bacteria, and toxins to escape into your bloodstream as well.
Leaky gut syndrome can trigger inflammation and overburden your immune system. It can also change your gut microbiome leading to the overgrowth of harmful bacteria in your gut. Gut microbiome imbalance and leaky gut syndrome can increase the risk of food allergies, food sensitivities, chronic inflammation, chronic symptoms, and the development of various chronic diseases. For example, leaky gut syndrome is one of the underlying risk factors for autoimmune diseases. If you visit our office, our team can test for gut microbiome imbalances and other underlying gut problems.
To support your gut health, follow an anti-inflammatory, gut-friendly, nutrient-dense diet. Remove any inflammatory foods, such as refined sugar, refined oil, additives, unnatural ingredients, and highly processed food. Eat plenty of organic greens, vegetables, fruits, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, whole grains, pseudograins, pasture-raised eggs, grass-fed meat, pasture-raised poultry, wild-caught fish, and wild game.
Consume plenty of probiotic-rich fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented vegetables, yogurt, kefir, and kombucha. Eat prebiotic-rich foods, such as apples, bananas, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, garlic, onion, and jicama. Take a daily dose of high-quality probiotics. You can also find probiotic supplements with prebiotics.
Once your gut lining heals and your gut microbiome becomes healthier, your immune system will improve as well. With the help of your dietician, you will be able to safely reintroduce foods that you used to be sensitive to without causing any reactions.
Remember to continue to take care of your health. Continue following an anti-inflammatory and gut-friendly diet and avoid inflammatory processed foods. Remember to rotate the food in your diet. Rotating your food can support your gut microbiome and immune health.
Food allergies and food sensitivities are common underlying causes of chronic symptoms and health issues. After testing for food allergies testing and trying an elimination diet, we recommend that you focus on improving your gut health. If you are dealing with symptoms of food allergies or food sensitivities, we invite you to make an appointment with us here. Together, we can uncover the root causes of your problems and improve your health naturally.