As adults, we generally assume that by this point in our lives, we have a solid grasp on which foods we can eat, and which ones we can’t. However, both adults and children alike fall victim to hidden food allergies and sensitivities, some of which are responsible for some pretty serious symptoms.
The fact of the matter is, food allergies and sensitivities can be hard to discover. First of all, often the signs and symptoms of a food intolerance are not experienced as typical GI (gastrointestinal) symptoms that we would easily connect with a food being problematic. For example, if we eat something and then immediately feel stomach pain or bloating, our first thought is a food reaction.
What we don’t always connect to food reactions are the myriad of other symptoms that can be related to a food intolerance, such as:
- Energy dips and spikes
- Increased and uncontrollable sugar and carb cravings
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Acne and other skin conditions
- Headaches and migraines
- Seasonal allergies
- Inability to lose weight, or unexplained weight gain
- GI symptoms such as excess gas and bloating
Now, let’s take a closer look at how food allergies and sensitivities develop, and what is actually happening in the body to cause reactions.
How Do Food Allergies Develop?
It is important to distinguish between a food allergy and a sensitivity. Allergies are often easier to detect as they involve the presence of IgE antibodies, and more commonly show up on food allergy tests. Sensitivities; however, often go undiagnosed as they are related to IgG antibodies, and in many cases cannot be accurately tested for. It is for this reason that taking food allergy testing at face value can be risky, as false negatives are quite common.
Simply put, when either one of these reactions occur, the body recognizes trouble foods as foreign invaders, and attacks them with immune antibodies. Various chemicals such as histamine are then released into the bloodstream, causing a host of symptoms, like the ones mentioned above. Interestingly, sometimes symptoms do not occur for up to 72 hours after a food is eaten, making it that much more complicated to uncover hidden food allergies.
Both sensitivities and allergies can develop for various reasons, for example, a weakened immune system, nutritional deficiencies, genetic factors or repeated exposure to irritating foods. Several interesting theories have come about recently that attempt to explain a perceived rise in food allergies, one being the hygiene hypothesis, which states that children raised with repeated doses of antibiotics along with an overly hygienic environment never build up a healthy, normal immune system and are therefore more prone to food allergies and other illnesses.1 Other studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency (and therefore weakened immunity) have a significant impact.2
Most Common Food Allergens:
While we can react to just about any food, the most common include dairy, wheat, soy, corn, sugar, and peanuts. Those who are especially sensitive to gluten (the protein in wheat), might also react poorly to all grains, whether they contain gluten, or not.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
This condition (more technically known as increased intestinal permeability) is just about as fun as the name might lead you to believe, and its host of problems is at the root of food allergies and sensitivities. When we eat a diet of low-quality, processed foods that are low in nutrient value, and/or continue eating foods that we are allergic or sensitive to without knowing it, this can damage our gut lining. The lining of our digestive tract is filled with microscopic villi, which are responsible for the filtration of nutrients into the blood stream, and keeping undigested particles and toxins out. However, when this barrier is compromised, the body alerts the immune system to respond, causing a reaction.
A poor diet is not the only cause of leaky gut syndrome, other factors include a potential parasitic or bacterial infection, yeast overgrowth (candida) and chronic stress.
How To Address Food Allergies And Sensitivities
First, you must pinpoint your particular trigger foods. One way to do this is via testing (but again, many tests don’t always provide accurate results, but can certainly be helpful. Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) excel in this area), or the less expensive way to do it is to undergo an elimination diet. This is the process of cutting out all foods that are common allergens for a minimum of one month, and then carefully reintroducing them one by one in order to learn which provoke symptoms. More on this in a future article, as it can be a somewhat complicated process.
Healthy Gut Flora Is Key
Fascinatingly, 70% or more of our immune system is housed in our gut, so making sure we have a healthy balance of gut bacteria is essential in both healing the gut, and preventing food allergies. Healthy gut flora (probiotics) actually help your body in distinguishing between pathogens and non-harmful particles (antigens), therefore decreasing the likelihood of food allergies and sensitivities.
To optimize gut flora, eat a diet of whole foods, avoid processed and packaged foods, include fermented foods in your daily diet (raw sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha tea and whole fat, plain yogurt), and supplement with a high quality probiotic.
- Scandinavian Journal of Immunology. “Increased Levels of IgE and Autoreactive, Polyreactive IgG in Wild Rodents: Implications for the Hygiene Hypothesis.” Retrieved February 15, 2016. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-3083.2006.01785.x/abstract
- Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. “Prevalence of eczema and food allergy is associated with latitude in Australia.” Retrieved February 15, 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22305679
If you suspect a hidden food allergy or sensitivity, first thing is to clean up your diet and add in nutrient-dense foods, such as the fermented foods mentioned above, and super foods such as seaweed. Remember, food intolerance’s are largely connected to a healthy immune system, so the more nutrient reserves we have, the healthier we will be.