THE BLOG

7 Surprising Facts About Food Sensitivities

03/20/2015 04:15 pm ET | Updated May 20, 2015

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You've heard the saying, "One man's food is another man's poison."

In women with chronic disease this couldn't be more true.

Often, addressing the unconventional things -- like food sensitivities, chronic infections, environmental influences, self-love and our relationships -- make the greatest shifts in your health.

Addressing these issues plays a pivotal role in helping you find answers, feel renewed and gain the new chance at life you've been craving.

The relationship between food sensitivities and chronic disease is a fairly new phenomena, which is why some health care providers don't routinely address this issue. However, it's one of the most common things I address in my practice.

If you suffer with chronic disease, and the conventional approach hasn't been enough, consider addressing your potential food sensitivities. These seven facts will help.

Fact #1: Food sensitivities aren't the same as food allergies or food intolerances.
Many people use these terms interchangeably, but they're not the same thing. They each elicit a different kind of response in the body.

A food allergy triggers an immune response. Symptoms can be mild or lead to a severe life-threatening anaphylactic reaction. Approximately 4 percent of adults in the U.S. have food allergies. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) these eight foods account for 90 percent of food allergies in the U.S.: peanuts, milk, eggs, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. Symptoms usually appear shortly after the food has been consumed.

A food intolerance is the only food reaction that doesn't involve the immune system. The body is missing the enzyme to properly digest the food. It may be possible to replace the missing enzyme via supplementation. The most common is lactose intolerance. Food intolerances are permanent.

Food sensitivities elicit an specific antibody-mediated immune response that differs from a food allergy. They can be difficult to diagnose as symptoms are often delayed until two to three days after the food was consumed. Reactions can vary dramatically, even when consuming the same food. They can and do change over time depending on stress levels and the overall health of the body (especially the digestive tract).

Fact #2: Symptoms of food sensitivities aren't always digestive-related.
Most people assume that symptoms are related to the digestive system such as acid reflux, gas, bloating, cramping, diarrhea or constipation. But that isn't always the case.

In my clinical practice, women more often have symptoms outside of the digestive tract and in every system of the body.

Common symptoms include: fatigue, sleep disturbance, hormone disruption, mood disorders, anxiety, depression, headaches/migraines, joint pain, allergies/asthma, acne and weight issues.

Additionally, food sensitivities usually play a key role in women who have difficulty losing weight.

Fact #3: Symptoms of food sensitivities can be delayed.
Food sensitivities can be hard to identify because symptoms often don't manifest until two to three days after the food is consumed.

This is often why women may overlook foods as the trigger for their symptoms. Even if you're suspicious that foods are contributing, it's not always easy to go back and discover which ones they are.

If the food is eaten daily, you may always feel symptoms but not necessarily correlate them with the foods you eat.

Fact #4: There are several ways to find out if you have food sensitivities.
A blood test and/or an elimination diet are the most common ways to discover if you have food sensitivities.

Ordering a blood test is a simple way to diagnose sensitivities, but there are limitations with this test:

  • Not all foods are tested. On average, the different labs will have panels ranging from 75 to 300 foods. These may or may not be the foods you commonly eat.
  • You must be eating the food in significant quantities to get an accurate result.
  • A negative result doesn't necessarily rule out the food.
  • Not all health care practitioners know how to order or interpret these test results.
  • Insurance usually doesn't cover the cost of these tests. The out-of-pocket expense can be anywhere from $150-$450.

An elimination diet is an essentially free way to discover what your potential sensitivities are, but it may require several months of eating a fairly strict and regimented diet.

The most common way to do an elimination diet is to remove the top triggers from your diet (corn, dairy, gluten, eggs, nuts, and soy) and see if symptoms improve. If they improve, re-introduce one food at a time (every few days) back into your diet and notice if symptoms return.

In general, I recommend doing a combination of the two... a blood test and an elimination diet. The blood test helps you create parameters for doing an elimination diet. And, it helps to identify uncommon sensitivities that may be overlooked with an elimination diet such as spices or condiments.

Fact #5 : A negative test doesn't necessarily rule out food sensitivities.
As I mentioned above, there are limitations to the testing methods available. With the blood test, a food that produces a negative result can still create a reaction in the body. And a food that comes back positive may have little effect on symptoms.

This is why I usually recommend doing a combination of a blood test and an elimination diet.

Food sensitivities can change over time. So a negative result today may not necessarily mean that a food will never create issues in your body.

It's important to work with a health care provider that can correlate the results with your symptoms and who understands the limitations in testing methods.

Fact #6: Food sensitivities can be overcome
The good news is that you're not necessarily destined to have these food sensitivities forever. When the offending foods are removed from the diet and the body is given time to heal, many people no longer react to the same foods. It takes time, diligence, and discipline.

At first, making changes can be difficult. But when you discover how good you can feel when you eliminate the offending foods it becomes easier.

One of the best ways to overcome food sensitivities is to heal the digestive tract by addressing potential parasites, digestion and absorption issues, and lifestyle and dietary choices.

Fact #7: Scientific research can be inconclusive for food sensitivities.
The study of food sensitivities and its role in chronic disease is a newer area of research.

This is partly why some health care providers overlook or downplay the significance foods play in the disease process.

Two people with the same chronic disease may or may not be affected by food sensitivities. And, if they do have food sensitivities, they could be with completely different foods and they can elicit completely different reactions.

In my clinical experience, food sensitivities always contribute to symptoms of chronic disease. Find a naturopathic or functional medicine physician who understand the role and clinical significance of food sensitivities and chronic disease.

WHAT'S YOUR TAKE?

Has your health been impacted by food sensitivities?

I'd love to hear your story in the comments below.

Have a burning question about food sensitivities? Feel free to ask in the comments as well.