Physical reactions to certain foods are common for many Americans. You might not know it, but your body might be reacting in a negative way to certain foods that you are eating, leading to dysfunction and inflammation. The reaction and symptoms can change depending on the food and how strongly your immune system will respond to the food. Some people get stomach discomfort or changes in bowel movements, however, many people experience symptoms that are not related to their digestion, such as headaches or pain. Many of these reactions might be caused by allergy or sensitivity to certain foods. The worst part is that you might not know it and keep eating these foods.
How do food allergies or sensitivities affect our body?
Food allergy or sensitivity is caused when your immune system responds to a certain allergen in the food. It could be a certain protein, such as lactose in milk or wheat in gluten. If someone with an allergy eats a food they are allergic to, their body creates antibodies that would normally help fight parasites or bacteria. The over-reaction of these ‘solders’, the antibodies, leads to inflammation and symptoms. Both food allergies and sensitivities can cause certain foods to create symptoms, however, they are different in the response and in the damage they can cause your body. In this article, I will teach you about the differences between them and how to identify and test yourself. You might ask yourself, “Why is this important?” The reason is: you might be eating something that your body does not like, and the inflammation that your immune system creates might lead to discomfort, destruction of tissues (such as joints), and diseases.
What is a food allergy?
In food allergies, the immune system ‘turns on fighting cells’, such as the antibodies IgE. The reaction could be benign or highly dramatic and could range from a rash on the skin, difficulty breathing, and gastrointestinal issues to anaphylactic shock, which is life-threatening if not immediately treated. (1)
The most common food allergies in the United States include allergies to egg, milk, peanut and other tree nuts, shellfish and soy. (2) Another common allergen is the wheat protein gluten. People with celiac disease, for example, have a strong immune reaction to gluten. Consumption of even the smallest particle of gluten triggers immune antibody cells to attack and destroy the intestinal cells and the villi, the “hair” in your intestine that absorb nutrients. (3) This prevents celiac patients from breaking down the food and absorbing the nutrients needed. Most celiac patients will suffer from diarrhea, fatigue, bloating, stomach pain, weight loss, liver dysfunction, deficiency of nutrients and loss of bone mass, and a skin condition called Dermatitis herpetiformis (a red rash typically on the elbows, knees, back, and buttocks). Celiac presents an example of harsh symptoms due to a violent reaction of the immune system. It is important to mention that not all food allergies are expressed as strongly and some people experience symptoms that are not related to their digestion. With that being said, can food allergies cause you headaches, joint pain, or other symptoms?
The answer is YES. An inflammatory process might start and migrate to other places in your body, such as your joints, head, or back. A study conducted at the University of Florida showed that food allergies can trigger inflammation and pain in the joints of arthritis patients. (4) It is also suspected, that prolonged consumption of foods that your body is allergic to might lead to inflammation in your arteries and cardiovascular diseases. (5)
Food sensitivity can, in some cases, lead to more problems than food allergies. Consumption of food that you are allergic to will most likely cause a less serious reaction than in a food sensitivity, though. So why can food sensitivity be a bigger problem than food allergy?
The problem with food sensitivity is that the immune reaction and the inflammation might be so mild that might go unnoticed. For example, people who are allergic to milk (the protein lactose), feel sick after consuming dairy products. It might be within a few minutes or hours. In either case, the strong immune response will lead to symptoms. People with sensitivity will eat dairy and still develop an inflammatory response, however, it will be a minor response. The inflammation might still cause problems, but since the reaction is mild, they won’t know. Also, they might get symptoms, such as headaches or increased joint pain, days after consuming food that their body does not like. Since the reaction is so mild and might be delayed, you can eat foods that you are sensitive to and you won’t even know that it is causing you symptoms. That is why sometimes, food sensitivity is bigger problem than food allergy.
Food sensitivity might trigger the following conditions:
Digestion conditions, such as discomfort, diarrhea, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. (6)
Metabolic conditions, such as obesity and inability to lose weight. (7)
Chronic inflammation, such as arthritis, asthma, and autoimmune conditions.
Chronic discomfort, such as headaches or cognitive dysfunction.
How can you test for food allergies and sensitivity?
Food allergy testing is done by most conventional doctors, nutritionists, and neuropathic doctors. It usually involves checking specific antibodies for food, (IgG or IgE) which causes a mild to strong reaction when coming into contact with the allergic food.
Food sensitivity testing a very specific process. It starts with ‘pulling’ your active immune cells (white blood cells) from your blood sample and placing them in several tubes. Then, one food is introduced to each tube (e.g., chicken in one tube, celery on the other, etc.), up to 357 tubes or types of food, followed by a camera that will be tracking the reaction of your immune system in each of these tubes. If you get a strong reaction to certain food, you will see it and the computer will mark if it is low, medium, or strong reaction. The test is called ALCAT test. From our experience, this test is the most accurate to find ‘hidden’ immune responses that you might not be aware of and is causing irritation or inflammation in your body.
For more info on these tests or on specific conditions that you might be experiencing, please contact us at (503) 545-6285.
Panush RS. Food-induced ("allergic") arthritis: clinical and serologic studies. J Rheumatol. 1990 Mar;17(3):291-4.
Bergmann K, Sypniewska G. Is there an association of allergy and cardiovascular disease? Biochemia Medica. 2011:210-218. doi:10.11613/bm.2011.030
Fell PJ, Soulsby S, Brostoff J. Cellular responses to food in irritable Bowel Syndrome- an investigation of the Alcat test. Journal of Nutritional Medicine. 1991, 2, 143-149.
Akmal M., Khan S, Khan A. The Effect of the ALCAT Test Diet Therapy for Food Sensitivity in Patients With Obesity. Middle East Journal of Family Medicine. 2009;7(3)