As the general population is becoming more and more aware of the idea of food allergies more and more questions arise. While most people know about them, many people are not clear on exactly what food allergies are and the numerous ways they impact our health. For instance, many refer to food sensitivities as food allergies, even thought they are two different but similar immune reactions. Dr Christy Cline, a naturopathic physician in Phoenix Arizona, will address the 5 most important facts to understand about food allergies from a naturopathic medicine perspective.
1. Food Allergy or Food Sensitivity: What is the difference?
When we refer to food allergies it is important to distinguish between the different types of immune responses our bodies have to food. These responses to foods are what we experience as symptoms in our body which are the result of how the immune system is responding to the foods. As you might imagine the responses can be slight to mild to severe and life threatening.
Mild immune reactions cause more mild and subtle symptoms but once you recognize them they are easy to spot. These reactions are mediated by immunoglobulins known as IgG and cause symptoms such as headache, malaise, digestive disruption, and many other issues (discussed below).
Severe reactions cause a response known as anaphylaxis where there are profound immediate systemic changes in the body. This type of reaction is mediated by immunoglobulins called IgE. When IgE allergic reactions are severe and left untreated, they can lead to death. Not all IgE reactions develop into severe reactions, however.
2. The Best way to tests for Food Allergies and Sensitivities.
There are several ways to test for food sensitivities and food allergies. Some are more accurate than others and some are more expensive than others.
Allergy- IgE responce
Advancements in blood testing have improved the accuracy of food allergy testing but this method is still gives rise to false positives and negatives. This method of testing uses a sample of blood to determine the amount (if any) of the immune response (IgE immunoglobulins) to certain allergens. The blood is collected in the traditional format in a tube. Most insurance companies reimburse for this type of test.
Skin prick test is an older form of testing but remains in favor for its accuracy and low cost. This method of testing involves taking a small sample of the actual allergen and placing it just below the skin with a needle or by scratching the skin and placing the sample on the scratch. A positive and negative control are used to compare the bodies reaction to each substance. The more redness, the more allergies you are to the substance in comparison to the controls.
Sensitivity- IgG response
There is a blood test for food sensitivities as well. The advantage of using this to identify food sensitivities is that it is much simpler compared to other methods (see other method below). The down sides are that it is typically not covered by insurance and it is not as accurate as the "The Elimination Diet."
The empirical method of testing is called "The Elimination Diet." This is also know as the gold standard in testing for food sensitives as there are no false positives or negatives. It does require a healthy discipline and a dash of do-diligence.
Clinicians differ on the exact components of "The Elimination Diet", but the general theme is to avoid all potential food allergens for a period of 4-6 weeks followed by a challenge period. Most diets will include avoidance of:
If you plan on doing an elimination diet it is recommended to get some guidance from a naturopathic doctor that has experience with this. Using the help of a naturopathic doctor will eliminate a lot of wasted time and effort on your part, and lead to greater success rates.
3. How do Food Allergies and Sensitives Effect Our Health?
Our digestion is one of the most critical aspects of our health because it impacts many other systems and functions like metabolism, immune, neurological, and mental health. So when problems occur with the digestive system the rest of the body suffers. The digestive tract gets effected by food allergies and sensitives as the immune system reacts to these substances locally. Initially it creates fluid retention and inflammation. Over time this can damage the intestinal lining and interrupt the natural absorption process.
The systemic effect of food allergies and sensitivities is that there are more immune system chemical messengers floating around in the body. This leads to an alarmed immune system and a higher susceptibility to symptoms of all kinds (See below).
4. Common Signs and Symptoms of Food Sensitivity.
Because the immune system spans our entire body there are a vast awry of reactions one can have from food sensitivities. Below is a list of most common ones:
- Irregular stools
- Skin reactions
- Fatigue and malaise
- Chronic infections
- Sinusitis and Rhinitis
- Joint aches
- Generalized inflammation
- Puffy Eyes
- Excess mucus production
- Autoimmune Reactions
- Abdominal Pains
5. What to Do If You Suspect a Food Allergy or Sensitivity.
If you suspect you have a food allergy or sensitivity the best thing you can do is get tested, of coarse. When testing for food sensitivities it is important to have the guidance of an experienced clinician to have accurate diagnosis. Accurate diagnosis leads to treatment options that resolve or at least lessen your symptoms.
The testing methods mentioned above are sufficient to detect an immune reaction so what about treatment? The most basic form of treatment for your immune reaction is avoiding the reactive substance. For foods this is a straight forward but not always simple process since many of the foods we react to taste so good. So does this mean you have to avoid them forever?
For food allergies the food should be avoided completely forever, but for food sensitivities you may be able to consume the food on a periodic basis without too much of a reaction. The frequency and amount you can consume will depend on how strong your immune system reacts to the food and the health of your other bodily systems. A trial-and-error approach is typically used after a long period of avoidance. But don't confuse trial-and-error with wily-nilly. It takes deliberate and accurate trials and documentation to figure this out.
In summary food allergies and sensitivities are differentiated by the response your immune system has to them. They are bad for us because they create inflammation and immune signals both locally and systemically. These signals are what give us the vast awry of signs and symptoms that we notice as..... the heath issues that won't go away.
This is a very broad topic but hopefully it gives you a better awareness of what they are and what you can do about them. Let us know what you think about this topic, leave a comment below. Especially if you have questions about anything mentioned above.