Itchy, watery eyes, hives, bloating, gas and even pain… all of these could point to some kind of allergy or reactivity to the food you are eating. You’re not alone with these kinds of issues and I’d bet you’d be surprised to find out just how many others like yourself suffer a similar fate.
Years ago food sensitivities whether allergies or intolerances were less common, with the occasional story of a peanut reaction at school or someone blowing up after eating shellfish. But recent reports suggest that food allergies are on the rise (and have been for years) and it’s estimated that about 15 million adults and children suffer from this condition. More women than men report having these kinds of issues and approximately 1:13 children afflicted; the latter is a growing concern for schools, daycare centers, and popular after-school activities attended by kids.1
Even more alarming are the escalating instances of food intolerances like gluten, dairy, corn, soy, etc. Don’t be fooled by information downplaying potential health risks with food intolerances, especially gluten. Often times you won’t encounter allergy-like symptoms immediately following an exposure to a problematic food, but that doesn’t mean the gut and immune system aren’t slowly being compromised. Also systemic gut issues triggered by food intolerances like leaky gut, malabsorption, and dysbiosis, can result in a host of “non-digestive related” symptoms and conditions in other parts of the body.
Do You Have an Allergy or Intolerance?
Many people are confused about the most common types of food issues and which one they might have. This is understandable because even the medical community has slightly different views on the topic.
So let’s just make it simple…
This is where you have an acute reaction to a food and the body (immune system) responds fairly quickly (usually within 30 minutes of eating the food). You’re probably familiar with these kinds of reactions e.g., hives, skin rash, asthma, sneezing, diarrhea, itching and even anaphylaxis (difficulty breathing) that may require a visit to the emergency room. Studies are also showing that your mood can also be affected, causing states of depression or anxiety. You can also have a delayed allergic reaction, which can produce more complex immune responses and antibodies.
Food allergens come into the body by several routes most commonly the mouth, but you can breathe in or encounter allergens on your skin, hair and lips. No matter where allergens enter, they can cause symptoms throughout the body because they travel in the bloodstream.
According to the Centers for Disease and Prevention, food allergies are estimated to affect 4-6% of children and 4% of adults.
Many people say they are “allergic” to foods when they are more likely intolerant. Food intolerances often occur when your digestive system has a bad reaction to a specific food like gluten or dairy because of difficulty fully digesting and assimilating it. Usually the intolerant issue is due to genetic factors (as with celiac disease), lack of enzymes (as with lactose intolerance), or exacerbating gut conditions (like leaky gut, IBS, etc.).
When you have a food intolerance, usually the gut is the first to call for S.O.S. Typical food intolerance symptoms can include gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, cramps, nausea, vomiting, headaches, etc. But while symptoms with a food allergy can often be immediate and acute, most food intolerance results in mild and slower degradation of the integrity and function of the gut.
Just because some of the common symptoms of food intolerance can possibly be ignored for a short time, be aware that these are signs of something more systemic (or deeper) going on within the gut (and possibly beyond). Some food intolerances (namely gluten) can result in a host of more serious and complex problems for some people. Gluten has been shown to cause issues outside of the digestive system, such as brain fog, rheumatoid arthritis or autoimmune thyroid.2,3
The most common food intolerances tend to be foods that you eat the most, like wheat (which is practically in everything), milk, corn, and more recently some preservatives, soy, and legumes.
Gluten Sensitivity & Celiac Disease
I bet you’d be surprised to find out that more people have celiac disease or a non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) than ever before and… strangely enough most of those afflicted have no idea what’s going on. This can be a real problem for long-term health, including potential risk for leaky gut and autoimmune disease.
Research done at Harvard University conducted by one of the top experts on gluten and celiac disease, Dr. Alessio Fasano, points to between 5%-10% of all people may suffer from a gluten sensitivity of some form.4 Those estimates are probably on the low side because gluten-related diseases can be complex and impact non-gut systems, so getting a proper diagnosis from a doctor can be challenging.
The notion that wheat and in particular gluten can cause an entire cascade of gut and immune health issues is not an urban myth. There are close to 2000 research articles linking gluten to a wide-range of degenerative health issues from heart disease to autoimmune conditions and asthma to chronic skin problems.
Common Issues & Symptoms
Most food sensitive and intolerant people don’t realize that their acute or long-standing symptoms are related to the food they’re eating on a daily basis. Many sensitivities to food can show up in the form of brain fog, fatigue, mood swings, depression, joint pain, skin conditions, IBS-like conditions and even belly fat that just won’t go away.
For some strange reason we’ve gotten into the habit of assuming these little nagging symptoms and discomforts are just a part of daily life, seasonal or perhaps just part of “getting older”, but nothing can be further from the truth. I see it time and time again with food-related issues… most people push dealing with these kinds of nagging symptoms to the bottom of their busy to-do list, allowing the body (and immune system) to deal with the on-going assault and ill effects throughout the body.
Get the Right Kind of Testing
Food intolerances are much more prevalent than allergies; however, because the symptoms are milder and often don’t show up symptomatically quite as rapidly, people are often not sure if a particular food caused a reaction. But there are ways to test for the differences.
Keep in mind there’s no perfect test used to confirm or rule out a food allergy. You’ll need to consider a number of factors before confirming any assumptions. These factors include: evaluating symptoms, addressing your family history, and performing a variety of tests including an oral challenge, elimination diet, skin prick, or blood test.
Probably the best home test for food sensitivities is an elimination diet. By eliminating a food for 2-3 weeks and then re-introducing it back into the diet, you can assess with a good deal of certainty if you have a food sensitivity. The simple steps of this process include removal of a particular food entirely from your diet, waiting for a period of time then slowly reintroducing it to see if you have any negative reactions.
Keep a journal of what you remove and how you feel with the food in your diet and with it removed. Make sure you look for both immediate and delayed reactions such as stuffy nose, itching, headaches and brain fog, joint stiffness, and constipation. If your symptoms go away even by a little without the food and come back when you reintroduce it, best to keep this food out of the diet for an extended period of time.
An elimination diet would not be ideal for instances where you already know you have a severe reaction to a food i.e., anaphylaxis (difficulty breathing). For this kind of known reaction, it is best to proceed with caution and work with a dietary professional.
Sometimes it is not obvious if a food is causing symptoms, so there are several kinds of tests you can do. For allergies, you can do a skin-prick test (most commonly done by doctors) or blood test to measure IgE antibody response. For intolerance, sensitivities and inflammation, I prefer to go a bit deeper with the investigation and recommend doing a blood test to check for elevated IgG, IgA, IgM, and IgE antibodies.
There is really no known “cure” for food allergies or intolerances. Many sufferers adopt a diet without the offending foods for a specific time period or even for life. Some people are lucky enough to outgrow their allergies, while others must be vigilant to keep even the smallest spec of problematic food out of their diet.
With food sensitivities that are not life threatening, you can usually get relief with antihistamine and over-the-counter medication, but it is best to pin point the problematic food and just eliminate it. Medications tend to cover up the symptoms rather than deal with the issue. If the gut or immune system remain in an irritated or overtaxed state for too long, conditions like leaky gut and inflammation may take root, setting you up for others kinds of conditions down the road.
If you are looking for alternative relief remedies, Acupuncture has been found to be beneficial for the treatment of hives and other allergy-related symptoms and eating a low-inflammatory diet or including things like apple cider vinegar, nettles, or quercetin in your diet could reduce the body’s immune response.
Recapping Allergies and Food Intolerance
- Issues with food are more common these days than you may think
- Get to the root cause of food sensitivities with the right testing and detective work
- Don’t mask sensitivities with medication (unless with the case of extreme reactions)
- A sensitivity to gluten can often go undetected for years and unfortunately cause real long-term damage
If you’d like to find out more about food allergy and intolerance testing and work with me to discover what could be at the root cause of your health problems, click HERE to join one of my functional nutrition or wellness programs.
1 Sourced (2018) from Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America at: http://www.aafa.org/page/allergy-facts.aspx
2 G.W., Yelland. Gluten-induced cognitive impairment (“brain fog”) in coeliac disease. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Mar;32 Suppl 1:90-93.
3 M., I., Liontinis, E., E., Mazokopakis. A concise review of Hashimoto thyroiditis (HT) and the importance of iodine, selenium, vitamin D and gluten on the autoimmunity and dietary management of HT patients. Hell J Nucl Med. 2017 Jan-Apr;20(1):51-56.
4 Fasano A, Berti I, Gerarduzzi T, et al. Prevalence of celiac disease in at-risk and not-at-risk groups in the United States. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2003;163(3):268–292.
Disclaimer: the views and nutritional advice expressed in this publication are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical advice. No information provided should be interpreted as a diagnosis of any disease, nor an attempt to treat or prevent or cure any disease or condition. All information in this publication is for educational purposes only and Aine-Marie and Advesta Health encourages its clients and members to continue to work in a partnership with qualified medical professional. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider or seek medical assistance. Reading, sharing, or downloading this publication does not establish a doctor patient relationship with Aine-Marie or any Advesta Health employee or consultant including any of our licensed health practitioners, coaches, dieticians or nutritionists.