There is a difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity. Both can contribute to health problems, but food sensitivities are not always obvious and can cause problems that relate to the whole body, not just the digestive system. I test lots of kids for hidden food sensitivities, and it benefits issues like eczema, headaches, behavioral and learning disorders, and emotional states. Children and adults alike can suffer from food intolerances, and finding out what they are can be a turning point in one’s health.
A full-blown food allergy is mediated by a type of immune cell called an IgE cell. They are immediate and quite obvious, such as breathing difficulties after eating peanuts, or breaking out in hives after eating mangos. Most people who have those allergies know about them because the cause and effect are clear – eat X food, Y symptom happens.
There is another kind of food reaction that does not get much attention in Western medicine circles, and that is a Type IV Delayed Hypersensitivity reaction. It’s not really a true food allergy, which is why we call is a sensitivity or an intolerance, but it can still cause widespread health issues. These reactions can take up to 72 hours to manifest, making it harder to track the culprit. They can also cause diffuse and unrelated symptoms – everything from gas/ bloating, headaches, eczema, asthma, rashes, itchy skin, constipation, diarrhea, irritability, fatigue, insomnia, hyperactivity, inability to focus and concentrate, and many more.
Traditional Western MD’s only look at the IgE allergies. Blood testing or skin scratch testing routinely only checks IgE. Sometimes they also test the most common food allergens such as wheat, soy, peanuts and dairy, whereas people can have intolerances to any food at all, even seemingly “healthy” ones such as banana, garlic and pineapple.
To check for hidden intolerances, there are two main ways to go about it. One is to do a blood test, which can be done via a finger stick (drops of blood taken from the tip of the finger). These tests review the person’s reaction to 90 or so different foods, breaking down the different types of dairy products, egg white versus egg yolk, different nuts, meats, grains, fruits and vegetables.
This is typically done through an integrative doctor, and ordered through specialty labs. If you would like to get that test, send me an email and I can help you access it.
The other way is to do an elimination test, where all the major allergens are removed from the diet for at least 21 days, then reintroduced one by one, every 3 days, to gauge the reaction at each step. This can be long and laborious, so most people will opt for the blood test to see what’s going on. Sometimes an elimination diet is needed if a breastfed infant seems to be having digestive issues – something the mother is eating could be causing problems without them realizing it. I remember when Valentina was a couple of months old, she seemed to be quite congested, so I stopped all dairy for a month to see if it made a difference (that was a looooooong month!). It didn’t, so I started some dairy again and didn’t see any worsening in her. I would recommend mamas at least avoiding gluten too if that happens, I’m already gluten free otherwise I would have changed that too.
There are definitely more common food sensitivities – dairy (more cow than goat), eggs, sesame, soy, corn are among the top ones I see. Interestingly, I am seeing more almond intolerance levels come up high, possibly because we’re chugging almond milk as a healthier alternative to cow milk.
Hidden food sensitivities are so common. It’s one of the first thing I’ll test when working with kids on the autistic-spectrum, and I have seen massive behavioral changes when high-reaction foods are avoided. In kids and adults alike, if the immune system is reacting to something that you’re eating every day, sooner or later it is going to cause symptoms. Given that food sensitivities are not immediate and can be hard to pin to specific symptoms, I believe it is an important thing to check in any chronic, ongoing health issue, or even just to optimize one’s health and nutrition.