Food sensitivities are different from food allergies, though they are commonly mistaken as the same thing. An allergic reaction is a different chemical process, then an inflammatory reaction, which is why food sensitivities don’t show up on food allergy tests. Food sensitivity symptoms may begin within a few hours to the next day after consuming that food, whereas allergies tend to happen right away. There can be a delay of up to about 48 hours with inflammatory reaction and the symptoms can last for a few hours or for days. This can make it really hard to pinpoint exactly which food is to blame. If you frequently consume foods you are intolerant to, it may be difficult to even realize you’re experiencing a negative reaction, because it’s always there. People can get used to and tolerate a lot of things for a long period of time, without connecting the dots, that there’s really something wrong.
Symptoms will most often be something directly related to the gut, the skin and/or the respiratory system but not always. Some common symptoms include diarrhea, bloating, rashes, headaches, nausea, fatigue, abdominal pain, runny nose, reflux and flushing of the skin. Other symptoms may include physical pain like back pain or joint pain, brain fog, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances or hormonal imbalances.
One of the most common, safest, and least expensive ways to diagnose a food intolerance is with an elimination diet. This removes the foods most likely to be causing the symptoms, for a period of about a month. Foods are then gradually reintroduced in a controlled way, to determine which are causing symptoms. You can work with our Naturopathic Physician to come up with a plan that is right for you.
You can also complete this quick FREE FOOD SENSITIVITIES SURVEY online. Your results are completely confidential.
About Food Allergy and Food Intolerance Testing
“I’ve been tested for food allergies already. Isn’t that the same thing?” Nope. Food allergy testing is looking for an allergen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody response. Remember, food intolerance/sensitivity is not a food allergy. Read more about the reliability of these testing options below, before you fork out your cash to anybody. Some people still choose to get tested for various reasons. We would recommend you do it the good old fashioned way, with an elimination diet, but if you do decide to get tested, take those results with a grain of salt.
Blood Tests for Food Sensitivities
Food intolerance testing, which is usually a blood test, is looking for an IgG or IgG4 response. The problem with this kind of testing is that it’s highly inaccurate and usually a big waste of your time and money.
“Researchers have found that IgG levels go up as the severity of an allergic reaction goes down. It’s thought that we produce the most IgG antibodies to foods that we eat regularly—“like getting a constant booster shot,” says allergist Stuart Carr. That’s why common foods, like dairy, wheat and egg, will often show up positive on an IgG test.” -https://healthydebate.ca/2017/01/topic/igg-tests-science/
“Unlike IgE antibodies, which are responsible for allergies, IgG antibodies are found in both allergic and non-allergic people. IgG are the normal antibodies made by the body to fight off infections. The creation of IgG antibodies is thought to be a normal response to eating food. For example, IgG antibodies actually go up during successful research studies on food immunotherapy.” -https://www.foodallergy.org/resources/unproven-diagnostic-tests
There are also hair analysis tests, such as through Canada Food Intolerance available, but at the moment they are also considered unreliable. “Physicians should caution patients about the controversy surrounding testing for food sensitivity. Recent position papers from European and American allergy and immunology societies have emphasized the limitations and potential misuse of IgG4 testing, indicating that these tests are not appropriate for making a diagnosis of food allergy. Updated guidelines for the diagnosis and management of food allergy list food-specific IgG4 measurement as an unstandardized and unproven procedure, along with other tests such as hair analysis, cytotoxicity assays or electrodermal (“Vega”) testing.”-https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3314037/
And there are also genetic tests, which are looking promising, but need further research. Read more about the research here. You can have this done through Ancentry.ca or 23andMe. (They often go on sale around Black Friday and Christmas, FYI). Each site will give you some general genetic information about where your ancestors came from and some genetic markers for diseases and health conditions you might be prone to.
FYI: All of this is stored on USA server, not in Canada, so it’s up to you to decide what you’re comfortable sharing with your neighbor. You can register anonymously, as the results are sent via email and you can create your account with a fake name or your real name. Whatever floats your boat. Your information can then be downloaded from one of these sites, and run through another program called Pure Genomics.
Remedy Wellness Centre has an account with Pure Genomics and can set you up with a username and password for FREE. (To be clear, we don’t profit at all from any of these tests.) You then get an email with your log in information to view your results.
Our naturopathic physician can use this information to help put the puzzle pieces together, interpret the data and get you started on a treatment plan, if needed. Keep in mind that just because you have a genetic marker for something, it’s not necessarily being expressed or is active. There may be no need for intervention on some or all of these things, at the moment. If we think something is a factor, further lab work may be recommended to confirm or deny these results. For example, your genetic test may indicate you’re prone to Vitamin D Deficiency but because of your active lifestyle, you get lots of sun exposure and your bloodwork shows normal Vitamin D levels. Therefore, no need for intervention. Or, you live primarily indoors, don’t get much sun exposure and your bloodwork confirms that your Vitamin D levels are in fact very low. Therefore, you should be supplementing Vitamin D, or getting outside a lot more.
“I don’t think I can handle an elimination diet right now, so I got tested. So why do I still need a plan from a Naturopathic Physician or other Nutritional Professional?”
You might not need a plan if it’s something very simple. You might be able to handle it on your own by simply eliminating that food from your diet. If your results are a bit more complicated, then you might need a plan. For example, one of the underlying problems is often an unhealthy micro-biome, which is an imbalance of the good bacteria in your gut. If that isn’t addressed, the diet changes likely won’t be enough.
If you need to eliminate a lot of things, or if you’ve been living primarily on processed white foods for years, your body will likely go through a detoxification process, which can be quite unpleasant. A naturopathic physician can help support your body systems, especially your elimination systems like your gall bladder, pancreas, liver and kidneys, with homeopathy, tinctures or supplements. This can make the whole experience a lot more comfortable and set you up for success. It can be very hard to stick to a lifestyle change if you feel awful right from the start. Your naturopathic physician can also help you to be accountable, which further helps you to stay on track.
The other major consideration is pre-existing health conditions. If you have diabetes, chrones, IBS, high or low blood pressure, are taking medications, have chronic pain, suffer from anxiety or depression or any other complication, you should really have professional guidance. Major diet changes can be a strain on your body at first, and can cause spikes or drops in blood pressure or blood sugar. You will see changes in your bowel movements, especially while your body is eliminating.
Your emotional relationship with food and your beliefs about your health and food, may also be part of the picture. A Naturopathic Physician is qualified to help identify when there is a negative relationship with food and can refer out to a counsellor for further help in this area. We do also offer counselling at Remedy Wellness Centre Online.
The Most Common Food Sensitivities Are
Dairy/Lactose intolerance is caused by a shortage of lactase enzymes, which causes an inability to digest lactose and results in digestive symptoms. Lactose is a sugar found in milk and dairy products. It is extremely common, affecting 65% of the world population. There are tests available for this, such as a lactose-tolerance test, lactose breath test or stool Ph test. Symptoms may include:
Other Skin Problems
GLUTEN INTOLERANCE & FODMAPS
Gluten is a type of protein found in grains like wheat, barley, rye and triticale. There are several common terms for gluten intolerance including:
Celiac Disease: autoimmune response to gluten that causes the immune system to attack the small intestine and seriously damaging the digestive tract.
Wheat Allergy: an allergy-producing antibody is produced when gluten is consumed, which causes similar symptoms to Celiac Disease.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: a milder form of gluten intolerance that affects about 13% of the population.
FODMAPS are also worth noting here. FODMAPS, (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols) are the types of carbohydrates (lactose, fructans, galactans, polyols) found in wheat, beans, fruit, milk, spelt, rye, barley, legumes, and sugar alcohol like xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol and mannitol. Symptoms can be the same as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but with further investigation, the testing results are different. For some people, simply eliminating gluten isn’t enough. They still experience symptoms, and it’s hard to pin point where it’s coming from. This is where a well planned elimination diet is very useful.
FODMAPS are poorly absorbed in the small intestine, so they make their way to the large intestine. Here, the bacteria break down or “ferment” the FODMAPs, which produces gas and causes bloating and discomfort. These carbohydrates also have osmotic properties, meaning they draw water into the digestive system, causing diarrhea and discomfort.
86% of people diagnosed with IBS experience a reduction in digestive symptoms when following a low-FODMAP diet. There are many foods high in FODMAPs, including:
Fructose is a type of FODMAP, is a simple sugar found in fruits and vegetables. It’s also found in sweeteners like honey, agave and high-fructose corn syrup. It has been linked to obesity and heart disease and liver disease, when consumed in excess, which has become very common in the last forty years with the introduction of sugar-sweetened beverages. There has also been a significant rise in fructose malabsorption and intolerance, which means it’s not efficiently absorbed into the bloodstream. It finds its way to the large intestine where it ferments, causing digestive distress. Symptoms of fructose malabsorption include: People with an intolerance to fructose are often also sensitive to other FODMAPs and can benefit from following a low-FODMAP diet.
In order to manage symptoms related to fructose malabsorption, these high fructose foods should be avoided:
Apples, apple juice and apple cider
Foods containing high-fructose corn syrup
Watermelon, cherries and pears
Sugar snap peas
Sulfites are found naturally in grapes and aged cheeses. They are primarily used as chemical preservatives in foods, drinks and some medications. They delay browning of dried fruits, and prevent wine spoilage from bacteria. Most people can tolerate them, but some are sensitive. It’s quite common in people with asthma, though people without asthma can also be sensitive. Sulfites can even cause airway constriction in patients with asthma. Common symptoms include:
Swelling of the skin
Sulphites are found in:
Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, some teas and dark chocolate. It is also added to soda and energy drinks. It reduces fatigue and increases alertness by blocking your receptors for adenosine, the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles. For most adults, up to 4 cups of coffee or 400 mg of caffeine a day is considered safe, but some people are sensitive to caffeine and will experience a reaction after consuming a small amount. This has been linked to a genetic incapability to metabolize caffeine. This is different from an allergy. Symptoms may include:
Salicylates are produced by plants to defend themselves against insects and disease. They are found in many foods including fruits, vegetables, teas, coffee, spices, nuts and honey. They are also used as food preservatives and are used in some medicines. They have anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to protect against colorectal cancer. Most people have no problem consuming them in normal amounts, but excessive consumption can cause problems. There are some who are extremely sensitive and will react to very small amounts. Completely removing salicylates from the diet is impossible, so it is recommended to avoid foods high in salicylates like spices, coffee, raisins and oranges, as well as cosmetics and medications that contain salicylates, if you are sensitive to them. Symptoms may include:
Nasal and sinus polyps
Gut inflammation (colitis)
Amines are produced by bacteria during food storage and fermentation. There are many types, but histamine is the most commonly associated with food related intolerance. It also plays a role in immune, digestive and nervous system functions. And it helps protect the body from infection by creating an immune response which triggers sneezing, itching, watery eyes in order to excrete harmful invaders. Some people are not able to break down histamine properly, causing it to build up in the body. This is often due to impaired enzyme function of diamine oxidase and N-methyltransferase. Amines are found in a wide variety of foods like:
Soured foods like buttermilk
Fermented alcoholic beverages like beer and wine
The most common reason for histamine intolerance is impaired function of the enzymes responsible for breaking down histamine — diamine oxidase and N-methyltransferase.
Symptoms of histamine intolerance may include:
Flushing of the skin
Low blood pressure
OTHER COMMON FOOD INTOLERANCES
The food intolerances listed above are among the most common types. Here are some other common foods and ingredients that are known to be not well tolerated by some people.
TREATMENT FOR FOOD SENSITIVITIES
You may be feeling a bit overwhelmed after reading all this, and wondering where you should start. You may have read that Keto is great or Paleo or Plant Based, or Fasting. There’s so much information out there and it’s really hard to decipher it all. Keto is very trendy right now, and might be a great option for some people, but not necessarily for you. A lot of these extreme diets can actually be quite dangerous if you don’t really understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Which is why we recommend you work with a professional who understands this stuff in great depth.
Some food intolerances can be treated and reversed by addressing underlying gut issues. Some can not, and you may have to adjust to a new lifestyle and diet. In many cases it doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat whatever it is you’re sensitive to. You just need to recognize and understand that you’re making a conscious choice to consume it, and will suffer the consequences, mild, moderate or severe, over the next 24-48 hours. The frequency of how often you do this will affect how you feel. There are also options available to help manage symptoms and inflammation with homeopathy and supplements that counteract inflammation.
You also don’t want to waste your time and energy on experimenting and just hoping you get it right. Our Naturopathic Physician can make sense of your symptoms, your health history, your lab work, any testing you may have had, and set you on the right path.
FOOD SENSIVITIES QUESTIONAIRRE
If you’re ready to dive in, you’re welcome to book an initial visit with our Naturopathic Doctor. Consults are all online so you can be anywhere in BC. If you’re not sure, we also offer a one time, free 15 minute consult, so you can chat briefly with our ND about your symptoms and what a treatment plan would look like.
Research & Sources for Food Intolerance
Food Specific IgG Antibody Guided Elimination Diets Followed By Resolution of Asthma Symptoms: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4311561/
IgG Testing: https://healthydebate.ca/2017/01/topic/igg-tests-science/
Unproven Diagnostic Testing: https://www.foodallergy.org/resources/unproven-diagnostic-tests
Genetics of Food Allergies: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19851108/
The Implications of DNA Methylation on Food Allergies: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28848217/
Genetic Determinants of Food Allergies: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30835860/
Lactose Intolerance: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310267/
Celiac Disease: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3725235/
FODMAPS:https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fodmaps-101, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1440-1746.2009.06149.x, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2010.04237.x,
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4406911/, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25753138/
Caffeine: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20164566/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3368971/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4242593/
Salicylates: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21879102/, https://pubs.rsc.org/en/Content/ArticleLanding/2011/FO/c1fo10128e#!divAbstract, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2696737/
Histamine: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16354958/, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17490952/
Fructose: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23482247/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2991323/,