Food allergies are a serious matter, and according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), more than 32 million Americans suffer from food allergies. However, don't confuse food allergies with food sensitivities or intolerances, which are also important to be aware of, especially if you're concerned about your gut health. An important first step if you feel that you might be suffering from food sensitivities is to identify what foods help and hurt you and then eliminate them from your body so you can begin to live a healthy and pain-free life.
Food Sensitivity vs. Food Allergy
You might think that food sensitivities and allergies are interchangeable, but they're two different diagnoses. Food sensitivity develops because your body has a hard time breaking it down. You have a reaction that's similar to that of an allergy, but your body produces a less dangerous type of antibody. These symptoms are usually gradual, delayed, and aren't immediately dangerous. As a result, food sensitivities tend to be more subtle and can even appear days later. You might experience chronic issues such as acne, fatigue, irritability, bloating, and diarrhea.
On the other hand, food allergies are usually immediate and can be dangerous because they affect the immune system. It occurs when your immune system mistakes a protein or other food ingredient as a threat and your body releases antibodies or proteins called immunoglobulin E (IgE) to fight it off. From the moment you ingest the food, you might experience itching, sneezing, and shortness of breath. In rare cases, you might go into anaphylactic shock in which you have difficulty breathing, experience throat swelling, and lose consciousness.
Common Types of Food Sensitivities
You're probably familiar with certain types of food sensitivities, some of which include the following:
- Gluten: This protein is found in rye, wheat, and barley. It's often confused with celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease, but gluten sensitivity isn't the same. With celiac disease, you experience damage to your small intestines from the gluten. Non-celiac sensitivity means your body has a harder time digesting gluten.
- Histamine: These naturally occurring chemicals are found in foods such as avocados, bananas, cheese, chocolate, pineapples, and certain red and white wines. If you have histamine sensitivity, you don't make enough diamine oxidase to break down this chemical.
- Lactose: If you're lactose intolerant, it means your body doesn't make enough of the lactase enzyme to break down lactose, which is a sugar found in dairy products.
Reasons for Food Sensitivity
When you eat certain types of food, you might feel uncomfortable and bloated because your body is having a hard time digesting these substances. However, not all the symptoms you might experience are related to the digestive system as you might also experience fatigue, acne, and joint pain. These symptoms might be attributed to one or more of the following reasons:
- Your body is reacting to the pesticides used on that particular food.
- Your body is reacting to the toxins that are naturally found in certain legumes.
- Your body is reacting to artificial ingredients or food additives.
- Your gut is lacking the specific enzymes needed to digest the food.
- Your body has a sensitivity to caffeine or other chemicals found in the food.
How to Test for Food Sensitivity
With a food allergy scratch test, a medical professional places a tiny bit of the allergen on your skin to determine if the area swells. If it becomes red, raised, and itchy, you're likely allergic to that substance. Another option is a blood test to measure IgE antibodies. If the tests for a food allergy come back negative, you can undergo advanced testing via a blood test.
To determine if you have food sensitivities, a different type of blood test will look for immunoglobin G (IgG) antibodies that attach themselves to a food antigen. If your body has a moderate to a large amount of these antigens, you might experience inflammation in your tissues. Testing for IgG sensitivities via your blood can help narrow down what foods you should eliminate from your diet to achieve total body wellness.
Certain tests can check the sensitivity levels of almost 100 different foods. For instance, say you believe you have sensitivity issues with coffee. Whenever you take a sip of coffee, your body creates coffee-specific IgG antibodies that signal coffee particles are a danger to your body. Certain parts of your immune system's cells look at the IgG antibodies as a way of combating this food and release chemicals called inflammatory cytokines that end up causing you issues.
Pair the results of the blood test with a food diary where you keep track of everything in your diet. Doing so can help you find a correlation between common foods and stomach pains. From there, you can begin to eliminate certain culprits, such as foods with gluten or dairy. Determine if your symptoms improve, and if they do, re-introduce one food at a time every few days and see if any symptoms return.
Keep in mind that food sensitivities can change over time, which is good and bad. It's good in that you might not experience issues with certain types of food forever, especially after you give your body time to heal by removing them from your diet. However, you might also find that you become sensitive to other types of food, so you might need to have another blood test done or undergo an elimination diet again to find the culprit.
To learn more about how your body reacts to certain foods, consider taking a convenient food sensitivity test. At the biostation, we offer several customizable tests that we base on your symptoms, needs, and medical history to give you optimal gut health. All testing is overseen by experienced staff members, which include nutritionists and food testing experts. Reach out to us today to schedule your consultation.