Food sensitivities and allergies are commonplace among adults and children. But why? And how do we know it’s a food sensitivity and not something else? We’ve heard of leaky gut, gluten-free diets, and probiotics. Let’s tie all the pieces together and understand the full picture.
The difference between food sensitivity and food allergy
A food allergy causes an immediate reaction in the immune system. This reaction is mediated by a specific type of antibody in the immune system called IgE, or Immunoglobulin E. These immediate reactions are what we immediately recognize, such as a hives, swelling, itching, and the very scary anaphylaxis.
A food sensitivity causes a latent reaction in the immune system or in other words, the adverse reaction occurs several hours or days after the exposure. it is mediated by an IgG antibody in the immune system. Because these reactions are latent, it’s hard to trace back to the offender.
Let’s say your child develops mouth sores as a result of eating eggs. Mouth sores show up 2 Days Later, and as you reflect back on the things your kid has eaten in the last 2 days there’s a little bit of everything, right? Some gluten, dairy, soy, corn…and eggs. How could you possibly identify the eggs as the primary trigger?
What causes food sensitivity?
You might be thinking to yourself, “this all makes sense, but why is my kid sensitive to eggs?” Reasons for developing food sensitivities are vast and very difficult to pinpoint. What we do know is food sensitivities develop when food particles are leaking into the immune system.
There is a very thin layer of cells in the intestines that are supposed to keep food in the intestines and only allow microscopic nutrients to pass through the cell layer and into the bloodstream so it can be delivered where it needs to go. If we have damage to the intestines, also known as leaky gut, microscopic proteins from food sneak through the gut lining into the bloodstream where they do not belong.
The immune system recognizes these Invaders in the blood and targets them for destruction, meanwhile labeling them as invaders by creating an antibody. The next time that food is eaten and those proteins leak into the bloodstream, the immune system responds to the invader negatively.
So in short, food sensitivity is caused by damage and dysfunction in the digestive and immune systems.
Symptoms of food sensitivity
The symptoms of food sensitivity are very different from person to person. This is because our immune system has different ways of communicating with us that something is wrong. I mentioned the example of mouth sores. This is one way that our body shows us there’s a problem. Other common signs a food sensitivity are constipation, rashes, eczema, psoriasis, headaches, mood swings, stomach aches and frequent illness. The possibilities are infinite.
Recognizing signs of food sensitivity in your baby can be more challenging:
Diagnosing a food sensitivity
There are two main ways to diagnose a food sensitivity. One is more accurate and one is more practical. The gold standard and most accurate way is to enforce a food elimination diet. This requires reducing the diet down to just a handful of foods that are the least likely to be problematic and maintaining this diet for 2 to 4 weeks to allow time for the body to heal. Then you systematically add one food in at a time and assess to see whether the body is reacting negatively to that food. If so, there is a sensitivity and it needs to stay out of the diet.
This method can be cumbersome for a parent, and torturous for a child.
Fortunately, there is a much easier way to get accurate results. An IgG food sensitivity test can be as easy as a finger prick blood sample that tests for 90+ foods for sensitivity. You get the results back in a colorful chart that details the level of sensitivity, whether it’s none, low, moderate or high.
This is much easier on parents and children because you can immediately point to key foods that are problematic and eliminate those while keeping other foods in the diet that don’t cause any problems. It’s much easier to eliminate gluten and eggs, for example, if you don’t also have to eliminate dairy and soy.
Is food sensitivity testing accurate?
This is a cutting edge diagnostic method that has not been perfected. Testing is offered by many lab companies, some more reputable than others. One important detail to remember is that you will not test positive for a sensitivity unless you are actually consuming that food. If you’ve been avoiding gluten, it will not do any good to perform an IgG test for gluten sensitivity.
Is food sensitivity testing covered by insurance?
Not all, but some. Most insurance companies will not cover the entire cost for “eclectic” lab testing. Certain more reputable labs have strong relationships with insurance providers, which allows them to bill a large percentage of the cost. At The Organic Cure, we use Genova Diagnostics for the majority of our testing. Typically, patients pay an up front cash cost, ranging from $50-250, and the remainder is billed to insurance. Occasionally, when Genova does not recoup enough from the insurance provider, they seek minimal additional payment from patients to help make up the difference.
Unfortunately, it’s not a simple “yes” or “no” answer to this question because these eclectic labs are just not considered mainstream yet. Consumers drive demand and drive change, so don’t let lack of insurance coverage prevent you from obtaining testing that can change the course of your health for decades to come.
What happens after food elimination?
It’s a common misconception that sensitive foods have to be eliminated indefinitely. The truth is, once the offending food is removed and the gut has the opportunity to heal, the food can be added back in often times. The key is moderation. If the food causing aggravation before it is more likely to do so again. however the most likely cause for the sensitivity to begin with was eating that food in excess, or having a damaged gut.
With my patients we practice food avoidance for 30 days. During that 30 day period, we implement a gut healing protocol that strengthens the intestinal cells and modulates the immune system. As a result, the gut becomes more resilient so when we add foods back in they’re more likely to be tolerated. As long as you continue to maintain a healthy balance in your routine and nurture your gut, those foods may never be problematic again.
What is the next step?
If you think your child has a food sensitivity book an appointment with Dr. Hollister. A thorough evaluation of health history and current symptoms can point to food sensitivity as a possible cause. A simple finger-prick blood sample is shipped to the lab, and results come back in 2 weeks or less. Then you’ll receive a customized treatment plan centered around the results.
This could be the easiest solution to your health questions!