Hidden Food Allergies: Can What You’re Consuming Be Contributing to Your Health Condition?

July 28, 2015

We are all aware of allergens such as pollen, dust mites, cat dander, chemicals in food or household products, mold, etc.  However, did you know that the most common allergens are actually in food?  This article is to help you better understand that some of your health complaints (migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, asthma, eczema, acne, psoriasis, fibromyalgia, etc.) may actually be due to an overlooked food allergy or food sensitivity.  Both of these involve an inflammatory immune response to foods, but let’s look at how the two differ:

First, we’ll start with Food allergies:  A food allergy, is an immediate-onset reaction to consuming a certain food such as what you see in people that get hives immediately after consuming a food, or an anaphylaxis reaction where the throat and mouth swell up and the person may have difficulty breathing (common in shellfish or peanut allergies).  These reactions occur right away, so if you have a classic food allergy, chances are you know it.

Other reactions due to exposure to food allergies are:

  • Angioedema (deep swelling of the skin, for example lips and throat)
  • Asthma
  • Hay fever
  • Hives

These allergies involve what are known as IgE antibodies-which are the same antibodies we see in seasonal allergies that release histamine.  These IgE food allergies are actually pretty rare, affecting only about 5 percent of the population; mostly children.  The most common type of food allergies are actually delayed-onset reactions, also now more commonly referred to as Food sensitivities.

Food sensitivities are not just a “buzz term” that’s arbitrarily become popular as of late, it’s actually a very real (and very common) occurrence.  Delayed-onset food sensitivities affect as many as one in three people-and particularly among those with chronic conditions unresponsive to conventional medicine, up to 70 percent or more!  So why the controversy?  Well, as opposed to the immediate reactions found in food allergens that involve the IgE antibody, delayed-onset food sensitivities involve a different antibody known as an IgG.  This antibody latches on to allergens and takes a longer time to generate inflammatory symptoms because it involves immune cells known as phagocytes, as opposed to mast cells that release histamine and other inflammatory chemicals due to the opposing IgE antibodies.  To avoid your head from exploding like a mast cell as well, just remember this:

  • IgE reactions are immediate-onset, meaning you feel the symptoms of eating an offending food right away. This is because they act on mast cells that release inflammatory chemicals much more quickly.  These are typical food “allergies”.
  • IgG reactions are delayed-onset, because you may not feel the symptoms right away due to the IgGs involving other immune cells such as phagocytes, which release inflammatory chemicals at a much slower rate.

The symptoms that accompany delayed-onset food sensitivities (IgG) can appear anywhere from two hours to several days after consuming an offending food!  For example, a migraine headache characteristically appears forty-eight hours after the allergen is eaten.  This makes it much more difficult to determine food sensitivities, whereas food allergies you know right away after consuming an offending food.

Here is a list of some of the more common conditions caused by an aggravated IgG food sensitivity:

  • Allergic rhinitis, nonseasonal (big one with dairy)
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • ADHD
  • Bed-wetting
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Fatigue
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches (migraines as well)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (common with gluten and dairy)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Sleep disorders (insomnia, sleep apnea, snoring, etc.)
  • Autoimmune thyroid disorders such as Hashimoto’s or Grave’s (gluten and dairy are huge offenders here)
  • And more…

So what can you do about food sensitivities that you may not be aware of?  Well, the quickest way would be to talk to your naturopath or functional medicine doctor about running a food sensitivity panel on you.  This is a blood test similar to a food allergy test, but instead of tracking the IgE antibodies to certain foods it looks at the IgG antibodies.  This will give you a detailed outline to which foods you are sensitive to and how bad you react to them.  These tests are nice because they can help you address some of the uncommon sensitivities, like to peppers, yeast, legumes or fruits.  Some people are even sensitive to avocados!  (My dearest sympathies to those folks!)

However, the most cost-efficient way to determine if you are reacting to certain foods is to do a rotational, elimination diet.  Now, I know some people here the “D” word and get freaked out, but think of this more as a science experiment as opposed to simply a restriction.  This is merely a starting point, and does not have to be a destination!  Here’s how it works:

  1. Start with eliminating the most common food allergens. This includes gluten (found in wheat, barley and rye), dairy, soy, corn, peanuts, and eggs.  There are plenty of gluten-free, dairy-free alternatives for some of your favorites (you can even add nutritional yeast to foods to give it a “cheesy” flavor).  You can sub almond butter or sunflower seed butter for peanut butter.  Stay clear of these foods for one month.  If this seems difficult, there are plenty of allergen-friendly recipes you can find online now or you can always work with a nutritionist to develop menu plans, recipes and shopping guides for you as well.  Think about it this way: if you can have kids, or own a house, or work 40 hours per week, then you can definitely do this diet!  When we learn to swim it can be scary at first and we may not want to be there, but it just takes some practice, guidance and actually getting in and giving it a try!
  2. After one month, you’re going to want to start re-incorporating these foods back into the diet, one food at a time for one week. Log how you look, feel and perform this week.
  3. After one week, incorporate another food, then after another week, incorporate another, etc. Be sure you are tracking how you feel throughout this process to see if you can pinpoint foods you may be reacting to!

Now although this may not be the most scientific approach (since there are labs you can order that can catch other foods you may be sensitive to like blueberries for example), it can at least help you gauge if you perhaps you do better without dairy, or without gluten, or soy, etc.  Sometimes, just listening to our body can be evident enough!

Now I would like to hear from you!  Do you think you may have food allergies or sensitivities?  Was this article helpful?  Leave a message in the comments.

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