Food Sensitivities, Allergies & Intolerances - What the Heck is the Difference?

By Nikki Drummond, CCN

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Food sensitivity testing is one of my favorite tests to utilize with Wellnicity clients as it is a simple finger prick with a potential great impact on quality of life. Our immune system samples everything we consume to determine if it is okay for you to eat or if it is a risk to your health. I have seen all sorts of symptoms improve after client’s eliminate their personal food sensitivities. Many people assume that food sensitivity symptoms are digestive-related. Not necessarily true! Symptoms may range from panic attacks, anxiety, depression, skin rashes, uncomfortable bloating, aches, pains, all the way to stubborn weight gain. When we eat foods that we are sensitive to, our body gets inflamed. The inflammation from food sensitivities causes uncomfortable symptoms that vary depending on the person and their biochemical make-up. Research has shown that inflammation is a key initiator of many diseases. Therefore, identifying and reducing food sensitives is a great way to get inflammation in check!

In the world of food reactions there is a lot of confusion. A food sensitivity is NOT a food allergy. Food sensitivities and food allergies also differ from a food intolerance. Celiac Disease is not a food allergy, food intolerance or food sensitivity! The exact cause of adverse reactions to food may be difficult to pinpoint, as many of the reaction types share similar symptoms. However, the timing of the response can be a key indicator of the reaction type and testing can help to confirm. There are several types of adverse reactions to foods that will cause an individual to experience discomfort from an offending food. See below for some of the differences in food reaction types and how to test.  

Food Sensitivities: What are they?

Our immune system samples everything we consume to determine if it is okay for you to eat or if it is a risk to your health. There are three routes the immune system can take with the foods you eat: it can approve the foods resulting in no reaction, it can produce an IgE-mediated life-threatening histamine reaction (such as throat swelling and cutting off your air supply) indicating a food allergy, or it can sound alarm bells that start a cascade of inflammatory reactions throughout the body which is interpreted as a food sensitivity or IgG Type III, delayed, hypersensitivity reaction.

IgG food sensitivity reactions occur from about 3 hours and up to 3 days later after eating an offending food. The responses to IgG food sensitivities can sometimes be the same as an IgE response but will come on much more discreetly. Food sensitivities create systematic body inflammation which can make it difficult to lose weight. 

How do you know when you have food sensitivities?

When your body sends out a cascade of inflammatory compounds, your body becomes on high-alert because your immune system is telling the rest of your body there is a problem and that you’re at risk. These inflammatory compounds, also known as cytokines, prostaglandins, histamines, etc., trigger or mediate the symptoms of food sensitivities. If you think you have food sensitivities, it’s a good idea to keep a food/symptom journal so you can track patterns. The symptoms of food sensitivities can vary greatly from one person to another and may be indictors of another health issue, but the following list is what to watch for (Keep in mind that some food sensitivities can be delayed, so you might experience symptoms immediately or within 4 days of consuming a food or chemical/additive you’re sensitive to):

  • Headaches/migraines
  • Stomachache
  • Swelling (i.e. water retention)
  • Joint and muscle aches/pains
  • Fatigue – feeling “drained” within 30-60 minutes after eating a particular food
  • Skin issues (psoriasis, eczema, red/flushed cheeks, acne, itching, bumps on the back of upper arms appearing as “gluten rash”)
  • Digestive issues (gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation)
  • Testing negative for food allergies but still experiencing uncomfortable symptoms
  • Stubborn weight gain
  • Brain fog
  • Constipation/diarrhea
  • Heartburn/indigestion
  • Mood issues
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain
  • Testing negative for food allergies but still experiencing uncomfortable symptoms 

How do you get food sensitivities?

Sometimes you will experience a sensitivity to a food you’ve never eaten before with no clear reason for the reaction. Other times, your immune system will react to a food because it's mis-identified as a food you are extremely sensitive to. This is known as “molecular mimicry” or “cross-reactivity” reactions. For example, the body often mis-identifies dairy as wheat or gluten, which is one reason why many gluten-sensitive individuals may also experience sensitivity reactions to dairy.

Another common reason for developing food sensitivities results from a condition called “leaky gut syndrome.” What is leaky gut syndrome? Simply put, it’s excess permeability in the intestine that occurs when the protective elements in your intestine begin to break down and cannot protect as well as they used to. As this happens, gaps begin to form between the cells that line your intestinal tract (called tight junctions), and this allows food particles that are not fully broken down, harmful bacteria, viruses, or fungal elements, parasites, and other germs to be absorbed and gain access to your blood stream. Normally the protective elements in the gut are barriers that carefully screen for things from your environment that can harm your body. However, if your gut is inflamed or damaged these pathogens can more easily cross those barriers and into the blood stream where they can move into other organs, cells, and parts of your body. If your immune system identifies a food as a foreign invader, it will sound alarms and start an inflammatory reaction the next time you eat that food, and bam: a food sensitivity is born.

Where to Start:

  1. Get Tested! Contact Wellnicity. It’s very difficult for the gut to recover if reactive foods are still being consumed and consistently flaring up inflammation. Testing can tell you precisely which foods or food components you should eliminate to stop the inflammatory madness. Once your Wellnicity clinician reviews your test results, you will receive clinical and dietary guidance as well as supplement recommendations to support your gut health as you work to eliminate the reactive foods. If you or someone you know would benefit from food sensitivity testing try Wellnicity’s 44 foods, 90 foods, or 180 food sensitivity panels. 
  1. Keep a Journal: It can be very difficult to identify delayed-reaction food sensitivities because some symptoms may not display for 2-4 days. However, many reactions will display more rapidly, often within 30 minutes -2 hours of consuming the food. If you keep a food and symptom journal, this will allow you to more easily pinpoint which foods are causing problems, such as fatigue, headaches, skin issues, bloating, etc. Any foods you identify as being possibly reactive should be eliminated from the diet for a month, and then you can do a challenge with the food to see if you’re still having a reaction. Keep in mind that some food sensitivities will be quantity-based and may not react with minute quantities. Each person is unique, so it may take some time to figure out what works best for you. 
  1. Rotate Your Diet: Food sensitivities are much more likely and may worsen when the same foods are consumed frequently. Therefore, it’s so important to vary what you eat each day. If you are prone to food sensitivities, try to avoid eating the same foods for three days. For example, if you consume almonds or almond milk on a Monday, use different nuts or nut milks on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Most Common Food Sensitivities: Pay special attention to the top five foods likely to cause food sensitivity reactions: cow-milk dairy, wheat gluten, corn, soy, and chicken eggs. If you notice one or more of these foods causing symptoms, you need to eliminate them for at least 4-6 months before doing a food challenge. Some food sensitivities remain long-term while others cease to be an issue once your gut health has improved.

A note about testing for food sensitivities: If you have been avoiding or limiting a certain food from your diet, it is common to see an absent or low IgG response to that food. Also, keep in mind that food sensitivities and food allergies are different types of reactions. A food allergy will typically cause an immediate reaction that is IgE mediated. Our food sensitivity testing identifies IgG reactions.

Please note:  Anyone who is noticing immediate symptoms after eating a certain food is NOT a candidate for food sensitivity testing and should seek medical care (see Food Allergies below). IgG food sensitivities testing is not recommended for people taking oral, injectable, or inhaled corticosteroids and/or immune suppressing drugs for 3 months.  Use of these drugs may lead to reduced production of IgG antibodies which can correlate to lower reactivity on a food sensitivity panel. 


Food Allergies: What are they?

Where to start: Contact your healthcare professional.

Food allergies are immediate responses to offending foods. The symptoms can occur immediately to 3 hours from time of consumption. Food allergies can be a life-threatening medical emergency for some allergy sufferers.

Symptoms of food allergies can include: inflammation, itching, rash, coughing, runny nose, sneezing, digestive problems, headache, pain, swelling, congestion and/or throat closing (anaphylactic reaction).

How to test: To identify IgE meditated responses, seek medical care ASAP. Testing methods include both blood tests for IgE antibodies and skin prick tests to detect food-specific IgE. 

Celiac Disease

Where to start: Contact your healthcare professional.

Celiac Disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage to the small intestine. When individuals with Celiac Disease eat gluten (the protein found in wheat, rye, spelt, and/or barley) their immune response will attack the small intestine. Celiac disease has a genetic component, so it runs in families. Symptoms of Celiac Disease may include depression, anxiety, bloating, pain, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, weight loss, fatigue, ADHD, unexplained iron-deficiency anemia, unexplained infertility, fatigue, bone or joint pain and more.

How to test: HLA genetic test to evaluate the HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 genes and a blood test checking for antibodies in your blood. Please note: your doctor may prescribe a gluten reintroduction if you are on a gluten-free diet. If these tests are positive, then the next step is an endoscopy. The endoscopy will evaluate your small intestine for damage to villi and biopsy is often performed.


Food Intolerances: What are they?

Where to start: Contact your healthcare professional.

Food intolerances occur because the body is missing an enzyme to digest or assimilate a food. An example would be lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance occurs when an individual lacks the enzyme lactase to digest the dairy sugar lactose. The onset of an intolerance is delayed.

Symptoms of food intolerances may include: stomachache, rashes, sweating, diarrhea and/or nausea. There are also digestive enzymes that can help to support a missing enzyme.

How to test: To identify food intolerances such as lactose intolerance or fructose intolerance, seek medical care. Testing methods for lactose intolerance include the Lactose tolerance test, Hydrogen breath test and/or Stool acidity test (for children and infants). To test for fructose intolerance a breath test may be performed. 

Food Poisoning: What is it?

Where to start: Contact your healthcare professional.

Food poisoning is a toxic reaction to food and can occur because of natural poisons that are in food or from an infectious cause (bacteria, parasites, viruses). The onset is typically 3-5 hours from time of consumption.

Symptoms of food poisoning may include: fever, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea and/or sweating.

How to test: Seek medical care. Many times, a healthcare professional can diagnose food poisoning based on symptoms but will utilize additional tests if necessary. 

In Conclusion

If your body hurts, pay attention. Uncomfortable symptoms are a message from your body telling you something is off. There is a cause and effect for all things. If you do one thing, another thing will happen. There is a reason why it snows; ice crystals in clouds stick together to become snowflakes with a ground temperature below 32 degrees. There is a reason why black bears hibernate in winter; to conserve energy thru chilly months with scarce food by lowering body temp and slowing down heartrate. There is a reason why you are reading this article; you clicked on it, right? If you are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, follow them, and they will lead you to a root cause.

We would love to hear from you. Has food sensitivity testing made a difference in your life? Leave a comment below if you would like to share your experience! 

What our clients are saying about the food sensitivity test:

“I eliminated dairy and eggs and took my Wellnicity regimen and have noticed major changes in chronic pain that I had experienced for years.”

“I noticed a huge improvement in my skin since removing my triggers!”

“Within 10 days of eliminating wheat/gluten, eggs and soy, the bloating and stabbing pain was gone!!!”

“I can finally lose weight again!!!!!!”

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