The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology defines food sensitivity as a reaction that occurs when a person has difficulty digesting a particular food. However, the standards of classifying the severity of these reactions is very commonly misunderstood. Let's take a deeper look into what food sensitivity is, the best tools to identify it and methods for correcting or alleviating symptoms based on blood test or elimination diet results.
The Food sensitivity timeline
On time or another, you've probably experienced some form of gastrointestinal upset. Maybe it was from undercooked food, maybe it was too much food at once or maybe it was the start of a sensitivity. Regardless, various reactions may have then occurred such as:
- Itchy Skin
You see our intestinal lining is a massive network of microbes, mucus, enzymes and the biological hub of our body. There are also millions of neurons connected to the system every step of the way. When we ingest a pathogen, our mucus notifies the immune system, the neurons and sends a signal back up to the brain to let other organs in the body know there is an invader on the loose! Our immune system infantry sends out mediators from a "mechanism" (white blood cell) to attack and destroy the invader and bring peace back to the GI system. It's the process of the mediator release that stimulates local neurons which causes the symptoms we feel (such as the ones above).
This is a normal process that we definitely want to happen, but we don't want it to happen all the time. In the case of food sensitivities, that's what we see happening. Your system has become "sensitive" to a food item, which your body now identifies as a pathogen every time you eat it. The crazy part is that this can happen to any food! Even the healthy spinach salad you had for lunch the other day could be setting off a destructive chain of events leading to chronic headaches, bloating, gas and more. When left unchecked, this destructive process can strip away mucus, enzymes and our "rainforest-like" environment of the GI tract, leaving your system barren and defenseless against real pathogens, and causing serious autoimmunity to occur.
TODAY'S MODERN SCIENCE TOOLKIT
Over the past decade or so, science has evolved tremendously in the case of understanding our immune system and gut health, confirming all kinds of relationships associated with the gut, including brain health, fertility, ADHD, depression, obesity and more. The most modern science available stems from what immunologists title as "mediator testing".
Today, there are a variety of tests now available on the market and a view different avenues for collecting data. These include:
Blood Tests, At-Home Skin Pricks, Stool Samples (to address pathogens)
RANKING THE TOOLS
Currently there are plenty of ads, marketing tactics and pyramid schemes for getting people to buy certain tests or tools but let's review the facts about certain types of tests:
The most important quality for selecting the test that can most appropriately identify food sensitivities are the types of mechanisms/mediators being tested, cost and collection method. After doing lots of research, the test found to be most comprehensive was the Mediator Release Test that tests over 170 different food antigens. This test is a blood collection test and reviews all components of IgG, IgM, C3, C4 and Type 4 hypersensitivity. This test should usually run around $400-$500. Test prices vary as a result of the healing program with which they are being paired.
Cheaper tests include the Everly Well which has decent marketing for a great at-home test taking concept, but is not nearly as comprehensive being that it ONLY tests for IgG reactions. The price points for these tests are $190-200.
Last is the non-test option referenced as the autoimmune protocol that serves as an elimination style diet. For anyone having mild cases of headaches or infrequent bloating, this low cost options is a great place to start, but provides very limited factual data as to what sensitivities are causing the symptoms. Price point to follow this kind of protocol could be anywhere from free to $97 for an online resource, cookbook or seminar.
CREATING A PLAN WITH YOUR RESULTS
Once you've selected your method of testing or elimination, the key here is to TRACK data daily! Food sensitivities can actually be corrected when the approach is done correctly so it's important to collect data that will serve as your navigating guide to what foods should be eliminated from the diet and which can stay.
In my experience from counseling many individuals through the MRT test, the most important concept is to "clear your canvas" as well as find hidden sources of offending foods. By clearing canvas I mean wiping out foods down to the least reactionary items for at least 7-10 days. In fact, individuals who follow the protocol will find symptoms can be alleviated by up to 55% just within the first week (data collected through my own private practice!). This can be incredibly relieving, especially when someone has suffered from symptoms for years! Second is to set up a meal plan and lifestyle guidebook.
Did you know 93% of all clients who have taken our MRT test came back reactive to soybean? When you begin to dig around you learn that many of the common places they were going out to eat, cook with soybean oil! In any case, start to build your list of "safe foods and places to eat" so you aren't left to just cooking in the kitchen for every single meal.
Methods for identifying hidden foods while eating out include searching for the "allergy list" on the company website, typing in Paleo or Allergy Friendly when looking up a product list, or just flat out calling the product or restaurant to learn more! I believe we could all be a little more connected to our foods and food sources so often times I will call up brands myself on behalf of a product I'd like to recommend to clients!
Sure the novelty of the testing process may be fun, but no one's laughing when you find out the Thanksgiving Turkey is pumped with corn and wheat, you two biggest reaction foods. We know that food sensitivities can actually be corrected but it's more a matter of "when" than it is "if". As far as the MRT test is concerned I recommend clients begin testing out their Yellow reactive foods after 90 days or so from initial start of the program. For red foods however, it's recommended to wait at least 180 days or 6 months. Since both yellow and red foods can cause severe reactions, rather than measuring severity, I describe yellow and red foods as the length of time they should be reintroduced based on the systems they are effecting. Overall, most people find it's empowering to have a method to approach symptoms of GI dysfunction, bloating, headaches and more than to resort to Advil, pain relievers, Metamucil or poor advice from an ill-informed practitioner about the true power of food!
WHAT IF MY I STILL HAVE SYMPTOMS
This occasionally happens. Food is essential to creating a gut flora baseline but it could actually be something way more severe than just a sensitivity. In the rare case my clients do not find relief from food sensitivity testing (and they are following their protocol), I generally recommend they have a GI Mapping Test completed as a more significant pathogen could be signaling gastroenteritis. GI mapping is an amazing science for discovering even MORE about the gastrointestinal tract, but we'll save for that another information session!
If you have been experiencing inflammation symptoms and want to learn more about the protocol for gut healing, relief of symptoms and overall better understanding of your health, I invite you to visit our page for more information on functional nutrition or read news from leading experts in the field of gastroenterology through the Institute of Functional Medicine.
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Linzi Cruz, RDN, LDN, CDE, CLT , is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator and Obesity Expert based out of Austin, TX. She is the Co-Founder of the premier functional nutrition private practice, Whole Cruzine Nutrition, where she counsels clients on healing and caring for all types of diseases including diabetes, IBS, Hashimoto's, bariatric weight regaining and more. In her spare time she is an avid member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as well as a free-lance writer for Eating Well, Prevention Magazine and various Media Outlets in Texas. Visit www.wholecruzine.com to learn more or follow her story on Instagram and Facebook: @the.domain.dietitian