A food allergy or intolerance can severely compromise your health in ways you may not realize. Could your symptoms be caused by your food?
Allergy or Intolerance?
Although the phrases food allergy and food intolerance may be used interchangeably, there is a difference. With a food intolerance, the body lacks the ability to properly breakdown a certain component of a food. A perfect example of this is lactose intolerance – if you lack the necessary lactase enzyme to breakdown the milk sugar lactose you are lactose intolerant. With a food intolerance there is no immune reaction.
A food allergy, on the other hand, is when the body mounts an immune attack on a certain food. There are two types of allergies: immediate-onset and delayed-onset. An immediate or IgE-mediated allergy creates symptoms immediately to within 2 hours, and those symptoms – hives, throat closing, etc. – are noticeable enough to not want to eat that food again! A delayed-onset or IgG-mediated allergy may take 2 to 72 hours for symptoms to present and these symptoms may be more subtle, such as brain fog, fatigue, headache, and bloating.
A Tricky Diagnosis
It is estimated that as many as 1 in 3 people have delayed-onset allergies, yet many remain undiagnosed. This is because symptoms are so varied and might not show up for days. Also, most doctors are only aware of how immediate-onset food allergies present. So your physician may not think to look at your diet, especially when your symptoms are low-grade, intermittent or not in the digestive tract. Many of the symptoms caused by an IgG-mediated allergic reaction could be passed off as being under the weather, just getting older, or hidden under another diagnosed medical condition. Delayed-onset allergies can present as:
– Diarrhea, constipation, bloating and gas
– Abdominal pain
– Weight gain and water retention
– Nasal congestion, sneezing, running nose
– Recurrent colds, sore throat and sinusitis
– Asthma and non-seasonal allergic rhinitis
– Headaches and migraines
– Muscle and joint aches or pains
– Insomnia, sleep apnea and snoring
– Skin rashes, itching and eczema
– Depression, anxiety, brain fog
– Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia
– Rheumatoid arthritis
– ADHD and autism
– Inflammatory bowel disease and IBS
– Autoimmune diseases
– Craving foods you are allergic to
– Alcoholism and substance abuse
As you can see, it’s no wonder diagnosis is tricky!
Another difficulty with IgG-mediated allergies is that it is common for someone to be addicted to the very food they have an allergic reaction to. This is partly because some foods – gluten, dairy and sugar – can create an opioid “feel good” response. So if you are eating a food you are allergic to, you may experience an addictive high, develop a tolerance which requires more of that food to get “high”, and if you ever try to remove that food from your diet you will get withdrawal symptoms and feel awful. In your eyes, it seems like the food actually makes you feel better because you feel worse when you try to remove it. In reality, the opposite is true.
Why Symptoms Are So Varied
As you can see, there are many ways IgG-mediated food allergies can present. If the reaction is from a food, why isn’t the response just in the gut?
When your body senses an IgG allergenic food substance, the thymus releases T cells which then activate the production of IgG antibodies. These antibodies bind directly to the allergen and create “immune complexes” as it enters the bloodstream. The more exposure you have to the allergenic food, the more immune complexes you will create. As they accumulate in circulation, your immune system becomes more sensitive to the food. This process takes time, which is why IgG reaction symptoms are delayed for two hours to several days after consuming the offending food. When more and more complexes are formed, this also creates inflammation in the body. This inflammation can then attack any organ system in the body, usually the weakest link in that specific body. Every body has a weak link and immune complexes settle in that area first. So IgG food allergies may present as digestive issues in one person, depression in another, chronic sinus infections for someone else, or insomnia in a fourth person. No wonder diagnosis is so darn complicated!
Common Food Allergens
You may know about some of the more common food allergens such as gluten and dairy, but there are almost 200 foods tested on an IgG food allergy panel. The 20 common delayed-onset IgG food allergies, in descending order are:
– Cow’s milk – especially nonfat and low-fat
– Gluten grains – wheat, rye, barley, Kamut, spelt and triticale
– Gluten (gliadin) – found in wheat, rye and barley
– Yeast – both baker’s and brewer’s yeast
– Egg whites – children are most affected
– Cashew nuts
– Egg yolk – older adults are most affected
– Brazil nuts
– Oats (which contain gliadin-free gluten)
– Chili peppers
– Sesame seeds
– Sunflower seeds
There are also other healthy foods like strawberries, tomatoes, lemon and fish that may be causing a delayed allergy reaction.
Know Your Allergens
If you suffer any of the symptoms listed and you eat any of the common food allergens, you may have a delayed-onset allergy. There are simple ways to test for food allergies. To determine IgG-mediated allergies, talk to your doctor about ordering an IgG ELISA blood test. This test is the most accurate, however, there may still be some false positives or negatives. The gold standard is still an elimination diet – removing any suspect foods from your diet for 3-6 weeks then reintroducing them one at a time to notice any return of symptoms.
The most common reason for food allergies is a leaky gut. A leaky gut could be caused by gut bacteria dysbiosis; poor digestion due to low HCl and/or digestive enzyme production; nutrient deficiencies from a poor diet; damage to the GI tract from use of antacids, antibiotics or NSAIDs; and even excessive stress.
If you determine you do suffer from one or more food allergies, you should not only remove the offending foods, but also identify the cause of what’s upsetting your system. If you can get at the root of the problem you may be able to actually reverse some of your delayed-onset IgG allergies.
THREE easy steps can reduce symptoms and possibly reverse your food allergies:
– Identify your food allergies
– Heal the gut
– Strengthen/rebalance the immune system
Don’t feel like you have to go through it alone! Contact me to schedule a consultation and get your health back on track.
Stephanie Walsh, MNT, CEPC, CPT
Master Nutrition Therapist
Certified Eating Psychology Coach
Certified Personal Trainer