Updated: Jan 15, 2020
Are some of your favorite foods causing you undesirable symptoms like eczema, allergies, or acne? Did you know that food sensitivities can manifest in many ways other than intestinal discomfort? A flourishing body of research shows food sensitivities and other gastrointestinal imbalances may contribute to symptoms that at first glance, don’t seem related to the gut at all. However, when we look deeper, symptoms often labeled as a part of life, or getting older, such as stubborn weight loss, acne, respiratory allergies, asthma, migraines, skin rashes, joint pain and various autoimmune conditions may actually be stemming from a leaky gut caused by sneaky food sensitivities.
WHAT IS A FOOD SENSITIVITY?
A food sensitivity occurs when specific components of food cannot be properly processed by the digestive tract. When we continue to eat foods that we are unable to properly digest, we see an increase in inflammation, especially in the gut. Ongoing inflammation in the gut can lead to a weakening of the tight junctions that make up an otherwise healthy digestive tract. The weakening of these tight junctions leads to a condition commonly referred to as “leaky gut” or intestinal permeability. There is growing evidence to support that intestinal permeability plays a key role in exacerbating several chronic conditions we are all too familiar with today including acne, depression/anxiety, ADD/ADHD, Autism, obesity, various autoimmune conditions, chronic fatigue, brain fog etc.
Usually, a food sensitivity reaction occurs days after the food is ingested, which makes it difficult to pinpoint which foods are causing your unpleasant symptoms. Common sensitivities are to the proteins in various foods such as in the gluten protein in wheat or the casein protein in dairy, or sensitivities to different chemicals in foods such as food coloring, sulfites, glyphosate in pesticides, MSG, or histamines.
If you’re taking medication for acid reflux, GERD, etc. you may also be more sensitive to a wider variety of foods. Taking these medications for a long period of time (which many of us with GI issues are told to do) can actually lower the amount of necessary stomach acid and digestive enzymes that help us properly break down certain foods- leading to increased intestinal permeability, and therefore increasing the likelihood to suffer from food sensitivity reactions.
- Food sensitivities/intolerances occur when the body cannot digest specific foods properly
- Food sensitivities will usually produce symptoms 24-72 hours after the foods has been ingested
- Not everyone with a food sensitivities will exhibit digestive based symptoms
- Symptoms will vary greatly person to person from migraines/headaches, to skin rashes like eczema, autoimmune symptoms, joint pain, or chronic congestion
- If you have been taking medications for acid reflux, GERD, etc. for a long period of time, you may be more likely to have a multiple food sensitivity/intolerance reactions due to a lack of necessary stomach acid/a leaky gut wall barrier.
What is the difference between a food sensitivity and a food allergy?
A food allergy is NOT the same as a food sensitivity. I tend to think of food allergies as a immune mediated, potentially life-threatening reactions (such as shortness of breath, hives, or swelling) that happens almost immediately after eating a specific food. A food sensitivity, however, flies a little more under the radar. The reactions are varied (anything from skin rashes, migraines, joint pain, brain fog, chronic fatigue, etc.) and they may not rear their head until 24-72 hours after eating the specific food.
Below is a graph to depict the significant differences between the two types of reactions.
WHO SHOULD RUN A FOOD SENSITIVITY TEST?
Food sensitivity testing can be helpful if you’re experiencing chronic conditions such as stubborn weight loss, asthma, acne, fatigue, joint pain, persistent coughs, skin rashes, headaches, chronic sinus drainage etc. that have been unresponsive to other treatments. I always recommend working closely with an Integrative Health Practitioner or Functional Medicine/Naturopathic doctor not only to ensure you are running the lab testing that is best for you, but also to have access to a professional who can lead you in a plan of care that is tailored to your lab results and specific symptoms.
Misinterpretations of results, not eliminating foods for long enough OR eliminating a food group permanently, can lead you astray, and honestly, just be entirely too overwhelming. It is my highest recommendation to work alongside a professional healthcare practitioner who can develop a bio-individualized protocol for you based off of your personal results and who can guide you through a custom protocol to simplify the process and ensure your success. Depending on your symptoms and health history, I believe evidence based, physician approved, IgG food sensitivity testing, such as the Great Plains Food Sensitivity Test I offer in my practice, can work beautifully when used in conjunction with other interventions such as an elimination style diet, and other gut based tests, such as an Organic Acid Test (again, based off individual symptoms- this is not a one size fits all recommendation). If lab testing is not for you, diving into an elimination style diet (with the guidance of your Integrative Health Practitioner or Functional Medicine doctor) may also help to resolve food sensitivities over the course of three weeks to six months. You’ll read more about an elimination diet below.
- If you are suffering from symptoms like chronic migraines, acne, stubborn weight loss, persistent coughs/congestion/allergies, asthma, skin rashes like eczema, brain fog, chronic fatigue etc. that has been responsive to other treatments, you may want to lab test for food sensitivities
- Misinterpretations of lab results, not eliminating foods for long enough, not reintroducing foods appropriately, OR eliminating a food group permanently, can lead you astray and be overwhelming. Working with an Integrative Health Practitioner or Functional Medicine provider to guide you and ensure your success is HIGHLY recommended!
HEALING FROM FOOD SENSITIVITiES
An elimination style diet is the gold standard protocol when it comes to resolving suspected or known food sensitivities. An elimination diet works to remove the triggering foods, ease digestion, and reduce intestinal inflammation, all which help to strengthen the gut wall barrier and restore proper balance within your gastrointestinal system. Typically, the elimination period will last three weeks. The end goal of an elimination diet is to be able to safely reintroduce the problem-causing foods back into your regular diet once your digestive system has had time to heal and recover. Long term restriction of healthy foods is not ideal, especially in children.
If you have decided to lab test to know your specific food sensitivities, great! We start eliminating those specific foods for three weeks then slowly begin to reintroduce those foods one at a time, spacing the reintroductions out by at least 2-3 days and keeping track of symptoms/reactions to the foods. If you have chosen not to lab test, but suspect food sensitivities, you can work with an Integrative Health Practitioner or Functional Medicine doctor to create an elimination diet plan that is right for YOU. (Not everyone is a good candidate for an elimination diet- please make sure you check with your healthcare provider before beginning).
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this overview on food sensitivity testing I wish to convey is where there are multiple food sensitivities, there are more than likely larger underlying gut issues such as increased intestinal permeability that also need to be addressed in order for you to heal. I cannot recommend enough working one on one with and Integrative Health Practitioner or a Functional Medicine/Naturopathic doctor in order to help you instill clean, healthy, habits that support your gut microbiome on a daily basis. These practices not only help you feel your best quickly, but also work to optimize your long-term health, prevent disease, and promote longevity so you can truly live on purpose.
- A three week (at least) elimination style diet is gold standard for taking action toward resolving food sensitivities/intolerances
- Slow, reintroduction of foods is the end goal of an elimination diet- NOT permanent exclusion
- Not everyone is a good candidate for an elimination diet- check with your Integrative Health Practitioner/Functional Medicine provider to see if this nutritional therapy is right for you
- Where there are multiple food sensitivities, there are more than likely larger underlying gut issues such as increased intestinal permeability that also need to be addressed in order for you to heal.
Questions about food sensitivity testing or ready to run some labs of your own? Shoot me an email! I’d love to hear from you and help answer any questions/concerns you have!
As always, remember that the information provided on this website is for educational purposes only. Ikaria Integrative Health does not claim to treat, cure, or diagnose any disease or illness and should not be used as a substitute for personal consultation with your medical physician.
Cabral, S. Food Sensitivity Testing. (2019). Integrative Health Practitioner Certification
Food Reactions, Eczema, and Migraines: IFM. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.ifm.org/news-insights/food-reactions-eczema-migraines/.
Heal the Microbiome With the IFM Elimination Diet: IFM. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.ifm.org/news-insights/toolkit-heal-microbiome-ifm-elimination-diet/.