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What is the Difference and How to Know What Foods Are Causing Your Symptoms

My patient population and my dear readers are gloriously aware and curious. You no longer buy into the advice that your diet has no affect on your symptoms. In fact, you know that it is exactly the opposite. Not only are you trying to eat as much nutrition as possible (I hope you are heeding my unending nagging on this topic!), you also know that certain foods exacerbate or maybe even cause some of your symptoms. You often ask me about food allergy testing- wanting to be able to pinpoint which foods, exactly, are negatively affecting you so that you can diligently avoid them.

healthy food
Food reactions are very real and can contribute to any and all symptoms that you have. Food can cause ANY symptom, including but not limited to headaches, insomnia, fatigue and lethargy, depression, anxiety, irritability, numbness and tingling, bad breath, inability to focus and concentrate, joint and muscle aches, eczema, acne, heart palpitations, sinus congestion and runny nose, menstrual cramps, and even high blood pressure.

Unfortunately, untangling what foods cause problems for you is more difficult than a singular test. That is because there are multiple ways your body can react to food. There are food allergies, food intolerances, and food sensitivities. Let’s talk about the difference between these and how to tell what you have going on.

Food allergies are the most severe of the three reactions and involve the immune system’s response to specific proteins in foods. When someone with a food allergy consumes an allergen, the immune system sees it as a threat and releases chemicals, leading to symptoms that can range from mild to life-threatening. These reactions are triggered by Immunoglobulin E (IgE), a part of the immune system responsible for mounting an immediate response to an offending agent. Symptoms may include hives, swelling, itching, respiratory issues, and in extreme cases, anaphylaxis. These reactions typically occur within about 20 minutes of someone consuming the offending food.

Food allergy testing is done by a medical professional through scratch testing on the back or arm, introducing the potential allergen through the scratch on the skin, and watching the reaction occur within a matter of minutes.

Food sensitivities, also known as food hypersensitivities or non-allergic food reactions, occur when the body has an adverse response to certain foods. Unlike allergies, sensitivities can trigger a delayed immune response by triggering Immunoglobulin A (IgA) or Immunoglobulin G (IgG), or can set off an inflammatory response by releasing pro-inflammatory cytokines. In both cases, the reaction can take longer- hours to days- after a food is eaten.

Because of this, it is extremely difficult to pinpoint what foods are causing a problem, because so many different foods are eaten within a few days’ time. The best way to find a food sensitivity is to keep a detailed diet and symptom journal. Start an elimination diet by avoiding the most common food sensitivities: gluten, dairy, soy, corn, yeast, seafood, peanuts and tree nuts, citrus and eggs. Follow this strictly for 6-8 weeks while tracking your symptoms, then, reintroduce each food, one at a time, every 3 days. Reintroducing foods slowly and intentionally is the most important part of the elimination diet. This will be the key to identifying the foods you might be sensitive to.
apples and supplements
Food sensitivity testing is also an option. There are blood tests that look at specific immune reactions by measuring the IgA and/or IgG response to a panel of foods. There are other tests that look at the blood cell response or inflammatory response to a panel of foods. I enjoy the science and research behind several professional food sensitivity testing companies and primarily use Cyrex Labs in my practice. Cyrex tests IgG and IgA reactions and cross-reactions to many foods and environmental antigens. If you are looking for testing, please do your research before spending the money. Some companies and methodologies are better than others.

Food intolerances involve the body’s inability to properly digest or metabolize certain foods. The most well-known example is lactose intolerance, where the body lacks the enzyme needed to break down lactose, a sugar found in dairy products. This can lead to digestive distress, including bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Similarly, gluten intolerance (non-celiac gluten sensitivity) can cause gastrointestinal symptoms without involving the immune system as in celiac disease.

I rely on elimination challenges and/or breath testing for lactose intolerance. For gluten intolerance testing, I use Cyrex Labs testing. They test immune reactivity to over 20 different gluten proteins which is incredibly thorough.

For food intolerances, you can help to mitigate your reactions by taking enzymes that help the body break down the proteins that are causing issues. A broad spectrum digestive enzyme can help you break down non-specific proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
And I love the DG Protect to help accidental exposures to Dairy and Gluten.
Orthomolecular DG Protect

DG Protect
60 Capsules

Understanding the differences between food sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies is crucial for managing your health and well-being. While these reactions can be disruptive, the good news is that with proper identification and management, you can make informed dietary choices that help you avoid problematic foods and alleviate uncomfortable symptoms.

Identifying the cause of health problems is always of utmost importance, but it is certainly not easy, and when it comes to food it can be particularly frustrating and emotional. Please reach out to me today and I can help you sort through it all.

Call me today to schedule your appointment to help you find out what your food sensitivities, intolerances or allergies are and how to make it better.


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