Food allergies and sensitivities are a hot topic in the health industry. Two things about hot topics: 1) they become one because of people’s positive experiences and 2) there are always misunderstandings and lack of accurate information that gets mixed up in the popularity. The idea of food allergies and sensitivities is no different. To address one of the misunderstandings first- food allergies and food sensitivities are different but the terminology often used interchangeable. Food allergies are IgE reactions in the body that are characterized by these factors:
- Immediate symptom onset
- 1-2 days of reaction then resolved
- Permanent allergy
- Histamine release in the body
- From food, inhalants or mold
- Anaphylactic reaction are possible
Food sensitivities or intolerances are delayed reactions in the body triggered by a number of different possible immune cascades. This is a different biochemical process in the body than a food allergy (IgE). Delayed food sensitivities are foods to which a person is producing an immune antibody, immune complex, or cytokine response too. This means the body is producing an inflammatory/protective response when the food is ingested. Sensitivity reactions are the cause or contributing factor in a variety of health issues including:
- Ear infections
- Diarrhea, cramping, bloating, constipation
- Autoimmune disorders
By identifying food sensitivities, inflammatory processes can be significantly improved or even eliminated. This means food sensitivities do not have to be permanent if they are addressed appropriately. This takes us to the other issue regarding hot topics. Many people have had such profound benefits from using the correct food sensitivity testing to identify foods their body is reacting to that they can’t help but tell others about it. Thus the popularity of the topic. Many people have had positive and even life changing results from considering foods as an inflammatory trigger. Things that work become popular. The medical community offers a wide scope of opinions on the topic of food sensitivities despite a large, reliable body of medical literature and research showing the physiological process of food sensitivities and documenting the improve health outcomes when food sensitivities are avoided.
The use of food sensitivity testing in the clinical setting does have its pitfalls because sensitivities can change and it does require removing foods from the diet. Removing foods or food categories from the diet can be problematic for some and is not an appropriate for some people even if it would be beneficial. Examples of this would be when the person does not have the capacity/resources to implement the modified diet successfully, and in cases of eating disorders and orthorexia where eliminating a food or food category can potentially trigger or exacerbate other unproductive behaviors around food. Using food sensitivities as part of a treatment plan should be done with a dietitian and functional medicine specialist who understands the limitations of food sensitivity testing, when is it appropriate to use, and can guide the client in a productive way that promotes healing and a positive relationship with food.