Tag Archives: Allergy

Figuring Out Food Allergies and Sensitivities

In my 12 years of seeing patients, it seems that the frequency of food intolerances has increased exponentially in all age categories.   I think this is perhaps due to a combination of increased sensitivity to foods as well as greater awareness of our bodies and the potential role food sensitivities can play in various ailments.  During the springtime, we focus on helping the body eliminate wastes more effectively by optimizing the function of our liver and large intestine.  One of the most powerful ways we can do this is to avoid any foods  to which we are sensitive.  This will decrease inflammation in the digestive tract and throughout the body and improve our ability to properly utilize the nutrients in our food.

What is the difference between an allergy and a sensitivity?
I like to make this distinction because there are clear differences between different types of food reactions.  This is because our immune system makes different types of antibodies. Antibodies are “flags” made by our immune cells; when these cells recognize a foreign protein in the body (from a bacteria, a virus, or an allergen like pollen or a food), antibodies are released which tells the body to make inflammation.

We have a few different types of antibodies that cause us to have different types of allergic reactions:  IgE antibodies are immediate sensitivity antibodies.  In people who have reactions to things like shellfish or peanuts, they react almost immediately and usually in a severe way such as vomiting, swelling, or airway restriction. IgE sensitivities are more of what we would call a true “allergy”.  They tend to be more severe and immediate, and often a person with this type of allergy can not tolerate any amount of the offending food.  They can be quite persistent throughout life, though kids can grow out of some severe types of food allergies.

IgG antibodies are delayed sensitivity.  These produce delayed reactions that may be difficult to find the cause of such as joint pain, asthma, eczema or a chronic stuffy nose.  These are more often what I would call a “sensitivity”.  This is because they tend to be less severe, and can vary in severity throughout life. Also, people can often tolerate some amount of these foods before they have a reaction.  The severity can also usually be reduced by using natural anti-inflammatories, periodic avoidance, and healing the lining of the digestive tract.

IgA antibodies are made in the digestive tract and are our first defense against whatever comes into our bodies.  These are important because diagnosing celiac disease can be partially based upon finding an IgA type antibody called anti-endomysial antibody.  Celiac disease is a genetic disease and will not change throughout life; someone with celiac will have to avoid all gluten throughout their lifetime to avoid damage to the small intestine.

How do I know if my children or I have a food allergy?
As I mentioned above, the symptoms of food allergies and intolerances can be widely variable.  Generally, it tends to be much easier to diagnose an immediate sensitivity because a child will have a severe reaction to a specific food that is easy to replicate.  Other types of sensitivites can be more difficult to figure out, though.The gold standard for testing for food sensitivities is an elimination diet; we take out all the possible foods for 3 weeks, see if there is improvement, and then add foods back 1 at a time for 72 hours to see if there is a reaction.  This is effective but cumbersome and time consuming.

My favorite type of lab testing for this information is a blood test for IgG antibodies to specific foods.  This is not perfect but gives us a very good place to start and frequently is very beneficial.  I often see infants who show reactivity to something in their mother’s milk, which manifests most commonly as colic, digestive trouble or eczema.  Often in this case we will test the mother because the antibodies she makes to those foods could be coming through the breast milk and causing a reaction in the child.

Check back next week for more on “I have food sensitivities, what do I do now?”

Listening to Our Bodies–Testing for Food Sensitivities

As I have mentioned before, one of the most profoundly satisfying parts of my job is watching people make choices that result in better health. Each of us is truly our own best doctor, but sometimes it can be quite confusing to figure out what signals to listen to. For example, often one part of our brain is telling us “I need coffee and cookies! Get them now and eat them all!” and another part of our brain may be saying “mmm…perhaps not.” One of these voices tends to be much louder, though and can make it difficult to ultimately make good choices.

Sometimes in order to really understand how our bodies respond to how we treat them it is helpful to take a break from our normal routines. There are many ways to do this, and frequently it involves dietary change. In my practice, I frequently will do blood testing for food sensitivities–when we get the information back, we will take the elevated foods out of the diet for 4-6 weeks. Generally, people will feel much better during this time–we frequently see a reduction in many symptoms including joint pain, skin problems, fatigue, allergies, and digestive complaints. However, one of the best parts of doing this, I have found, is the amazing sense of self awareness that people develop around what goes into their bodies. When they start adding foods back, I will often hear comments about how different foods produce different sensations in the body. This increased understanding makes it infinitely easier to make good choices because it becomes so clear how good we feel when we eat what is good for us. Additionally, we become that much more powerful as our own doctors because we know how to choose to feel good.