Is food intolerance affecting you? What we put into our bodies is a HUGE component of optimal health. There are two main categories of a healthy diet; getting enough of the right nutrients, and avoiding food intolerances. A food intolerance is a food that your body has a negative reaction to. These negative reactions can include:
As chronic ingestion of an intolerant food fundamentally disrupts the body’s homeostasis by frequently ramping up an immune response to an actually benign antigen (foods are meant to nourish us, not trigger an immune reaction), identifying and eliminating that burden result in massive improvement in a patient’s wellbeing and symptom picture.
Rather than trying to force a reduction in inflammation by adding in medications and supplements, identifying and eliminating food sensitivities removes the body’s obstacle to cure and thereby let’s the body heal on its own. Often no added intervention is needed!
A “food allergy” is an acute, immediate, and intense reaction to a food, mediated by an IgE reaction and a histamine response. This is what we typically think of when we imagine an allergic reaction. A person undergoing an allergic reaction is usually having a swelling of tissues, and depending on the intensity, this may manifest as hives, an itchy mouth, or even put them at risk of their throat swelling shut. For anyone who has this tendency, they should always have an immediate-acting anti-histamine medication nearby.
These people can usually easily figure out what the trigger was because the reaction was so immediate. Testing for IgE-mediated food allergies is often performed via an allergist and is a skin prick test where a small amount of allergen is applied to broken skin and the degree of swelling is visually gauged and recorded.
A “food intolerance” or a “food sensitivity” refers to a delayed response, which often makes it harder to determine the offending food. For example, let’s say a person’s symptom threshold for migraines is 80 antibodies (per measurement unit, simplifying here for clarity). On Monday they make a delicious sweet potato curry, and after eating it make 30 antibodies. Tuesday they have it for lunch as it was just so yummy, and 30 + 30 antibodies = 60 antibodies total. Wednesday there’s a little left over so, you guessed it, they eat the rest. 30 + 30 + 30 = 90, and they’re over their symptom threshold, boom they have a migraine but can’t figure out what the trigger was because they hadn’t eaten anything new that day.
This is the type of situation where blood food intolerance testing can be helpful. Sweet potato is not a common allergen, so no one would think to do a trial elimination of such a nutritious food, but if the test comes back positive to sweet potato, it has to at least be eliminated for a few months while we heal the leaky gut, close the tight junctions, rebalance the bioflora, re-ignite the digestive enzymes, and improve gut motility. The patient is then able to reintroduce some, if not all, flagged as intolerant foods.
Another type of food reaction is a digestive intolerance. This type of reaction is isolated to the digestive tract. Usually an acute (or rapid) reaction would be diarrhea, and is often caused by a deficiency of enzymes required to break down the ingested food. Lactose intolerance presents like this. Lactose is a sugar in dairy, and most adult humans have low levels of lactase (the enzyme required to breakdown lactose), and therefore it leads to maldigestion of the dairy, and thus gas, bloating, and sometimes diarrhea.
A different, and more slow, digestive intolerance would be the chronically constipating effect of the protein in dairy (casein). These people are also reacting to the same food group, but manifesting their reaction in a very different way because the mechanism is very different.
Often patients book with our naturopathic doctors with the goal to do a food intolerance test, but after the thorough initial intake appointment the naturopath has already figured out the root cause or the trigger food. Other times a patient has already done a food intolerance test and needs the support of a naturopath to help them interpret the results. Either way, naturopathic doctors are a great resource to help you understand what your body needs.
When the body starts to react to foods by creating antigen-antibody complexes, these complexes can then circulate in the blood stream and lodge into tissues. Depending on where the complexes land, food intolerances (or food sensitivities) can manifest in a multitude of ways including:
Food intolerance, or food sensitivity testing, is done via blood draw at a local specimen collection lab (either Dynacare or Lifelabs). The sample is then tested at the primary testing lab (we use either Dynacare or Rocky Mountain Analytical), and it tests for antibodies against many different foods. There is also the option of adding on testing of candida as an antigen, to point towards longstanding yeast overgrowth.
We are here to help you figure out what the best fuel for your body is. Our naturopaths will calculate your nutrient intake, and based on your symptoms, help you determine if food intolerance testing is the right type of testing for you.
Eating the proper diet for your unique body is ground shifting and truly the most powerful intervention you can do for your health. Let us help you figure it out 🙂