Food sensitivity tests are popular now. It seems everyone is reacting to gluten, dairy, nuts, or something else. You might need a food sensitivity test if you have unexplained symptoms that are NOT in your GI tract. But if your primary complaints are digestive in nature, it’s smart to check out other options first.
But first, what is a sensitivity?
A food sensitivity is NOT an allergy or an intolerance. It is the most difficult of these 3 reactions to detect. Let me illuminate.
- An intolerance is not an immune reaction. You simply don’t have the enzymes necessary to digest a particular type of food. There is no associated inflammation. All distress will be in the digestive tract: gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, stomach cramps or pain, and reflux or heartburn. Using supplemental enzymes will solve the problem. For example, lactose-intolerance means you don’t have lactase to break down milk sugar. Taking Lactaid will fix the issue.
- An allergy provokes an immune response on the mucous membranes guarding entry to the body. So, you will often have inflammation, fluid leakage, and constriction of nasal passages, lungs, or throat. Since the skin is also an entry point into the body, your response may manifest as a rash or hives. The reaction only takes a molecule of the antigen and happens within minutes. Very likely, if you have an allergy, you know it!
- A food sensitivity is also an inflammation-provoking immune reaction. But your body makes a different kind of antibody with this reaction than it does with an allergy. The inflammation may take up to three days to appear, and may impact any body system. For instance, you might feel moody, get a headache, have joint pain, or being overwhelmingly fatigued. Having a little bit of your trigger food may not set you off. But when you eat it again, gives you a marked response.
What are some typical symptoms of food sensitivity?
Here are what I would consider the top 12 indicators of a food sensitivity:
- Headache or migraine
- Brain fog, inability to focus
- Skin conditions such as eczema or adult acne
- Strong fatigue, unexplained low energy
- Mood swings, especially when they tend toward depression, anxiety, anger, irritability, or weepiness
- Weight gain not attributable to a poor diet, medications, or hormone imbalance
- Post-nasal drip and/or sinus congestion (especially common with a sensitivity to the proteins in milk)
- Achy joints or arthritic symptoms (pain & swelling in the join) – often apparent with grains in the diet
- Tight or sore muscles that don’t respond to massage, acupuncture, magnesium therapy, or other relaxing techniques
- Canker sores
- Heart racing or shortness of breath, especially after eating or when at rest
- GI pain, nausea or reflux – only in some cases. There may be no digestive distress at all!
What foods commonly trigger sensitivities?
The list of likely antigens for sensitivities is different from the list of typical food allergens. While fish, dairy, eggs, nuts and wheat appear on both lists, a catalog of food sensitivities holds some unusual foods, too. Frequently, individuals have sensitivities to oranges, pineapple, or other citrus fruits. Corn and non-gluten-containing grains may also appear on the food sensitivity index. Nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant may be prevalent, too. Both plant and animal proteins triggers sensitivities, including kidney beans, peas, all forms of soy, beef, and pork. But perhaps most surprising are yeast and the cola nut – the flavoring in your beverage.
When NOT to take a food sensitivity test
If your symptoms do not correlate well with the list above, try exploring these other cheaper options.
To begin with, keep a food and symptom journal to see if you notice some patterns. Do you feel worse after a high-fat meal? Late at night or first thing in the morning? Or when you eat out? Depending on what you find, you may try one of the following strategies:
With lots of reflux in the absence of other GI symptoms, remove those foods that weaken or relax your lower esophageal sphincter (caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, mint, citrus, spicy foods, fatty foods, and cooked tomatoes). Then strategically test each one without any other change to the rest of your diet to find out which one(s) brings distress.
However, if you are more prone to a problem at the other end (diarrhea), refer to your food journal to see if fats could be triggering you. Fats are a likely culprit if you have had gall bladder attacks or cholecystectomy. Since cheese and cream are high fat foods, these may bring symptoms that drinking milk or eating low-fat yogurt don’t.
More hacks to solve digestive distress
When raw foods, such as broccoli or salad, cause you a lot of bloat within an hour or two of eating, start with digestive enzymes, taken mid-meal. Notice whether you tolerate cheese better than milk. If so, try Lactaid because milk is higher in the milk sugar lactase.
If you wake up with a headache after a night of take-out (especially Chinese food), you may be reacting to the MSG. Just make sure to order MSG-free food. But if headaches persist despite MSG removal, go easy on cultured and cured cheeses and meats, which are high in tyramine. The amino acid tyramine may trigger head pain, especially migraines.
You may have negative emotional associations with certain foods. This is especially true if your primary symptom is nausea or vomiting. While removing that food is an obvious solution, you may also want to seek counselling to recondition your response.
Finally, if eating causes heart palpitations, start with caffeine removal first, then move onto other items in your food journal that seem to correspond with your symptoms.
How do I take a food sensitivity test?
Food sensitivities are measured by IgG antibodies in the blood. A food sensitivity test that measures IgG plus complement (an immune complex) will be less prone to false positives. This is because it will show foods that actually provoke inflammation. Therefore, start with one of these tests, if possible.
The kit includes instructions, a finger pricker, a blood spot paper for your blood sample, and a bio-hazard envelope in which to mail your sample. Simply follow the instructions in the kit, then sit back to await your results within 10-14 days. When you order your food sensitivity test from me, I will discuss your results with you and give you recommendations for managing your diet.