If you have been experiencing prolonged digestive symptoms you might be wondering if a certain food is behind your symptoms. While this isn’t the case of everyone with digestive discomfort, it can certainly be at the root of many digestive conditions, and can contribute to other symptoms such as fatigue, migraines, and skin health. This article will take you through what a food sensitivity is, what your symptoms might look like, and how to diagnose them.
What is a food sensitivity?
A food sensitivity, generally speaking, is an adverse reaction to a food that is typically tolerated well by other people. Food intolerances can be caused by a number of different reactions in your body.
- Enzyme deficiency – our digestive system produces proteins called enzymes that work to chemically break down and digest our food. Genetic differences in how much or how little of these enzymes we produce leads to differences in how we digest these foods. Lactose intolerance is the most common example of this, and is caused by a deficiency in the lactase enzyme.
- IgG food sensitivity – this is a food sensitivity caused by an immune reaction in our digestive tract. While this may sound like a food allergy, an IgG food sensitivity is very different from a classic food allergy, which is IgE mediated. The difference between and IgE and IgG reaction is the antibody (an immune system messenger) that mediates them; those antibodies being either IgE antibodies or IgG antibodies. IgE reactions cause immediate anaphylactic symptoms, such as swelling in the lips and face, vomiting, and hives. IgG reactions on the other hand, are milder and non-life threatening. IgG antibodies are produced slowly, often taking hours to days after an exposure to reach peak levels, causing delayed food reactions that can occur up to several days after eating a food that you are sensitive to.
- Celiac disease – celiac is technically an autoimmune disease, and not a food sensitivity, but it deserved a mention in this list given that symptoms can be similar to those of food sensitivities and the two are often mistaken. Celiac disease however, can be much more dangerous, and requires stricter elimination of gluten compared to a food sensitivity. What symptoms do food sensitivities cause?
Food sensitivity symptoms vary from person to person, and can also vary depending on what bodily process is causing the reaction, and even how much of that food you are consuming. For example, a lactose intolerant person will likely experience gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea after eating a large quantity of dairy. But if they eat only a small amount of dairy as a part of a large meal, they might only have mild bloating, or no symptoms at all. As another example, a person with Celiac disease may have only mild digestive discomfort when eating gluten occasionally, but might suffer from extreme fatigue and nutrient deficiencies when eating gluten on a regular basis. IgG food sensitivity symptoms can vary as well, but generally present with some digestive discomfort.
How do you know if you have a food sensitivity?
Food sensitivities can be difficult to diagnose, given that symptoms of food sensitivities can be similar to symptoms of other digestive conditions such as IBS and SIBO. Naturopathic doctors are equipped to evaluate and diagnose different digestive conditions using a comprehensive approach to healthcare. This often involves a detailed health history, and specialized testing or an experimental elimination diet (which remains the gold standard for diagnosing food sensitivities). Food sensitivity tests measure levels of food-specific IgG antibodies in your blood to give an indication of foods that might be causing immune reactions in your body. While this testing is sometimes less reliable than an elimination diet, it is a great option for those who want an easier route, or for someone who may not be able to do an elimination diet due to disordered eating, or limited grocery access for example.
If you are curious about where your digestive symptoms might be coming from, or are looking for personalized nutrition and health advice, I offer comprehensive naturopathic care at Jericho Integrated Clinic, including specialized food sensitivity testing, and expert customized nutrition plans.
If you are curious about food sensitives, or have questions about treatment, you can contact me for a free 15 min introductory consultation.
Dr. Elena Moore, ND