Tag Archives: Eczema

IgG Food Sensitivity Testing and Reducing Inflammation

Food Antibody testing is one of my favorite tools for helping patients take charge of their own health, especially if there is a chronic inflammatory concern such as eczema, joint pain, digestive upset, or even mental agitation. Virtually all chronic disease has an underlying inflammatory component–that is, any long-term health issue, regardless of what system of the body it effects, is the result of ongoing inflammation.

So what is inflammation?  

It is the natural process the body uses to repair damage to the system and get rid of organisms that make us sick.  When an infectious agent such as a virus or bacteria enter the body, our immune system will recognize that foreign agent and attack it.  White blood cells are our immune cells that mount this attack. Specialized white blood cells will make a “flag”, called an antibody, that recognize certain proteins as foreign.  When they recognize a protein, those antibodies will attach themselves to those proteins (that often are part of a virus or bacteria) and signal the rest of the immune system to eradicate it.  Other white blood cells will engulf the protein, digest it, and then spit out the remains of that protein to be eliminated by the lymph system. This process produces inflammation, which we experience as redness, swelling, heat, and the production of mucus.  

How does this relate to foods?  

Well, in some cases, the body will recognize other proteins that come into the system as foreign.  This can include things like pollen, cat dander, mold spores, or proteins in foods. The body will mount a similar type of attack as described above on these proteins in the body even though they aren’t necessarily pathogens (bugs that will make us sick).  Instead, we call them allergens. If we are continually exposed to these allergens, the body will chronically produce inflammation. While a food may not be the agent that initially triggered the inflammatory response, the body may continue to have an inflammatory response if the food is eaten regularly.  Although foods may not be the only cause of chronic inflammation, they are one factor that can easily be changed without medication that can make a great impact on reducing the inflammatory response.

So what is IgG testing?  

IgG is a type of antibody–the “flags” the body uses to tell the immune system to make inflammation in a specific place.  Our body makes a range of types of antibodies that all do something slightly different. For instance, IgE antibodies are associated with immediate sensitivity reactions–if you know anyone allergic to peanuts or shellfish, for example, you may have seen that type of immediate reaction where the body reacts right away. IgG is a delayed antibody that may take several hours or even a couple of days to react, so it can be quite difficult to pick it out which food is causing the inflammatory response.  For this reason, a delayed food sensitivity can manifest as some of the more ongoing types of reactions, such as joint pain, IBS, eczema, chronic sinus issues, asthma, autoimmune thyroid disease, and even chronic mental agitation. Of course, we can eliminate and reintroduce foods to our diet without any testing, but elimination diets can be laborious and confusing. When we test first, it gives us an idea of the best foods to eliminate first instead of choosing blindly.  Several clinical trials in recent years have found that using IgG testing to guide food elimination can have a positive impact on many chronic issues, including inflammatory bowel disease, eczema, and migraine headaches.

Once I find out which foods I’m reacting to, what do I do?  

This is my favorite part, because it allows us to be scientists with our own bodies.  In a nutshell, the scientific method involves taking a system, changing something within the system, and observing the changes. When we actively change the diet, and pay attention to what happens, we do a little scientific experiment on ourselves that gives us the power to decide how we are going to feel each day based on the decisions we make.  When we do a food elimination, I like for you to eliminate all the potential offending foods that may be causing inflammation in your body. We give your body a few weeks–usually 4 to 6 weeks–to help the system come to a more neutral state. At this point, you note how you feel without all of those foods.

How Do I Reintroduce Foods? 

Once you have eliminated foods for an appropriate amount of time, we will  start to reintroduce foods one at a time. You will find that one of three things happens: 1. You take away a food, feel no different, then add it back, and feel no different.  2. You take a away a food, feel better, then add it back and feel obviously worse. Or 3. Somewhere in the middle–you take away a food, feel better, then you can add it back in a dose-dependent fashion and feel ok. (for example–you can tolerate eggs in baked goods but don’t feel well when you eat scrambled eggs for breakfast). When you reintroduce a food and find it bothers you, I recommend continuing to stay off of that food for at least 6 months.  For some people, a food intolerance will last for life, but for some, if the body becomes healthier and more robust overall they will be able to successfully reintroduce foods.

The knowledge you gain from eliminating and reintroducing foods helps develop what I view as the most powerful tool you have to maintain your health:  self awareness. The more aware we are, the more powerfully we can act. When we understand how our actions influence our overall state of health, we gain the ability to work as our own doctors.

Thank you for letting me be a part of your health journey!

 

Zar S1, Mincher L, Benson MJ, Kumar D. Food-specific IgG4 antibody-guided exclusion diet improves symptoms and rectal compliance in irritable bowel syndrome.Scand J Gastroenterol. 2005 Jul;40(7):800-7.

Aydinlar EI1, Dikmen PY, Tiftikci A, et al.  IgG-based elimination diet in migraine plus irritable bowel syndrome. Headache. 2013 Mar;53(3):514-25.

Alpay K1, Ertas M, Orhan EK, et al. Diet restriction in migraine, based on IgG against foods: a clinical double-blind, randomised, cross-over trial. Cephalalgia. 2010 Jul;30(7):829-37.

Mitchell N1, Hewitt CE, Jayakody S, et al.  Randomised controlled trial of food elimination diet based on IgG antibodies for the prevention of migraine like headaches. Nutr J. 2011 Aug 11

Liu Y1, Yan H2, Shao F3,et al. Correlation between childhood eczema and specific IgG antibody level. J Biol Regul Homeost Agents. 2018 Mar-Apr;32(2):341-344.

 

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?”