Health Articles

How food sensitivities or intolerances can be hurting your health

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What is a food sensitivity?

A food sensitivity is an immune system reaction to a particular food, which can cause a variety of symptoms and poor overall health. This type of reaction is quite different from an true food allergy. Food allergies are immediate reactions, triggered by an antibody called IgE, that cause very noticeable symptoms such as skin rashes or hives, vomiting, diarrhea, breathing problems and can even be life threatening causing anaphylactic reactions. The same type of immune system occurs for seasonal allergy reactions to environmental allergens such as ragweed, pollens and to things like dust or animal dander.

Food sensitivities are triggered by an antibody called IgG, and are delayed-type responses in the body. Reactions can take hours and even up to days to develop, making it quite difficult for you to make the connection between foods eaten and symptoms that you have.

 

Symptoms or conditions related to food sensitivities:

  • Fatigue
  • Digestive issues (gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, etc)
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Poor memory or poor concentration ability
  • Grogginess upon waking
  • Joint pain
  • Eczema
  • Acne
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Sinus congestion
  • Poor immune function
  • Chronically low iron or B12
  • Infertility
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Autoimmune diseases

Many food sensitivities are hidden

You might be eating foods that you love and enjoy every day, without any obvious direct symptoms, but still have a high reaction to those foods internally. Sort of like a “silent” reaction that’s occurring in your body, that eventually leads to a symptom or disease years down the road.  Just because you don’t have any symptoms, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have any food sensitivities. It’s important to identify foods that are not good for your body in order to prevent disease and stay healthy. Many of those vague symptoms that you are experience, such as low energy, aches and pains in your body, or even just a general feeling of not being at your “best”, may actually be caused by food sensitivities.  Even if you do have a feeling that certain foods are related to your symptoms, it can be very challenging to pinpoint exactly which foods your are sensitive to, since the reactions can take place even days after ingestion of the food.

Food sensitivities are linked to Inflammation, now known as the “silent killer”

Repeated exposure to food sensitivities leads to generalized inflammation in the body. Inflammation in the body is like having your immune system active all the time. You can’t feel it, but it’s constantly attacking your body and throwing everything out of balance. Your brain, your heart, your hormones, are all susceptible to inflammation.

Chronic inflammation is now known to be a leading cause of chronic diseases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and even more. Now I’m not saying that food intolerances cause these “big” diseases, but imagine a lifetime of eating these foods on a regular basis – they will play a role in the development of chronic disease and overall poor health.  In fact, inflammation actually drives weight gain by altering various hormones in the body that are responsible for fat deposition and hunger.

 

The most common food sensitivities:

Dairy

Wheat or Gluten

Eggs

Corn

Soy

Yeast

Nuts

How can I find out if I am sensitive/intolerant to foods?

Unfortunately most mainstream doctors don’t value the utility of uncovering hidden food sensitivities. There is even quite the controversy over the validity of IgG food reactions, despite the growing body of scientific research proving its relationship to various health conditions and symptoms.  I’ve seen tremendous improvements in patient’s health and in my own personal health from discovering and eliminating food sensitivities, so going through the process is well worth it.

Here’s how you can find out what you are sensitive to:

1. Get a blood test

The most accurate way to determine if your body is sensitive to certain foods, is to do an IgG food sensitivity blood test. A blood test will objectively measure levels of IgG antibodies that YOUR body is producing to certain foods. This will help you target what to eliminate, and helps with overall compliance. Though these tests do have their limitations,  as long as they are interpreted by someone with experience and knowledge of the test… they can be quite useful tools to help identify the foods that are problems for an individual.
At Awaken Life Naturopathic, we use Gamma Dynacare Laboratories for IgG food testing. It’s $365 for the blood test, worth every penny when you feel the difference in your health after eliminating the highly reactive foods.

From my perspective, the blood test is the best way to measure and target food sensitivities, and results of the test are often motivating for patients to comply with eliminating those foods. Eliminating foods without an objective test showing you how your body is reacting to them is very challenging for most people.

2. Do an elimination diet

An elimination diet involves cutting out all of the top food sensitivities for a period of at least 6 to 8 weeks. This is enough time to notice an improvement for some symptoms (especially digestive issues). After the elimination period, foods are reintroduced systematically, one food category at a time, for 7 to 10 days. For example, re-introduce dairy alone by eating it 2-3 times daily for a period of 5-7 days. If you are reactive, you will notice symptoms, and that food should be cut out for another 3 days before reintroducing the next food.

The downfall of this method, is that not all food sensitivities create an obvious symptom; For example if we consider weight gain or general inflammation, or even hormone imbalances, eliminating foods for 6-8 weeks is not long enough to notice major changes. In the case of some symptoms, re-introducing a food for 1 week is often not long enough to re-create the symptom. You might have false negative or false positive reactions during the reintroduction phase.

The other downfall is that most people are not strict enough with the elimination and reintroduction phases. If you cheat here and there, or accidentally ingest certain foods (e.g. hidden ingredients), it can create confusion and then the whole diet loses its accuracy.  It is however free, so if you cannot afford the blood test this would be the cheapest way to uncover food sensitivities.

3. Eliminate only dairy and/or gluten

These are by far the top two foods that most people are reactive to. We tend to over-consume these foods, as they are everywhere and often combined together. By doing a strict elimination of these foods for at least 6 to 8 weeks, most people will notice some improvements in their health. It will also give your body a break, allowing your immune system and digestive tract to heal.

After cutting out foods, what can I expect?

Be patient, as it can take some time for your body to fully heal after eliminating foods. It actually takes time for the IgG antibody-antigen complexes to be completely eliminated from the body. While certain improvements can be seems within days or weeks of elimination, other conditions or symptoms gradually get better over a few months.  Most people start to feel more energy, stamina, better moods, better sleep, weight loss and a general sense of just “feeling better”.  Random symptoms that they used to experience seem to disappear.  Eventually a person may be able to even eat some of the foods again, just not on a daily regular basis.

This is one big step towards getting your body in balance and feeling your best. I find that the vast majority of my patient’s symptoms improve from identifying and eliminating food sensitivities based on an IgG blood test panel. If you’re interested in uncovering your food sensitivities, book a consultation to discuss the options and get proper advice on how make the right diet changes.

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About the Author:

Dr. Priya Prakash, MSc, ND, is a Naturopathic Doctor based in Ottawa, Canada. She blends her passion for healthy living and her skilled scientific background with effective natural healing methods. Her unique approach to primary health care involves addressing the body, mind and spirit, while incorporating current scientific research to guide her treatments.