Allergy vs Sensitivity

It's estimated that 12 million Americans are suffering from diagnosed food allergies? 90 percent of them are caused by these eight foods:

  • milk

  • eggs

  • peanuts

  • tree nuts

  • wheat

  • soy

  • fish

  • shellfish

Allergy vs Sensitivity

If you're one of these people, you probably know it, says Steven Lamm, M.D., a New York internist.

"When you say 'allergy' to a Western doctor, that denotes a very specific thing - an immediate and violent response by the body mediated by immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies,"he explains. 'IgE triggers a cascade of events that are hard to confuse: hives, wheezing, swelling, vomiting, even anaphylactic shock. The symptoms are very serious and potentially deadly."

When you have these kinds of pronounced food allergies, there is only one cure: Avoid the trigger food at all costs.

Much more common, but harder to diagnose, are food sensitivities. This is mediated by another kind of antibody, immunoglobulin G (IgG), the body's response to a food sensitivity is slower and milder - although no less harmful to long-term health, says Steve Nenninger, N.M.D., N.D., C.D.N., a naturopathic medical doctor with practices in Phoenix, New York City and San Francisco.

"With IgG, you might experience the detrimental effects four or six days later," he says. "That means something you ate last Thursday might be causing headaches or reflux on Monday. It can be very difficult to make the connections between specific foods and your symptoms."

But it's worth making an effort to find out, especially if you're suffering from, any chronic disease with no definitive answers from Western medicine, such as fibromyalgia, fatigue, arthritis, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome, migraines,,sinus congestion, depression, unexplained rashes or signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

All of these conditions and many others have been associated with food sensitivity, says Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D., author of 'From Fatigued to Fantastic' and medical director of the Dallas-based Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers Inc.

"If you've been to four doctors, and nobody seems to be able to help you, you need to consider looking into food sensitivities," he says.

Why gut health matters:
An IgG reaction, though it may be barely noticeable, is still a reaction meaning your body treats the offending food as a hostile invader, and unleashes an immune response to deal with it. "In order for food to be properly digested, it has to be completely broken down and absorbed in the intestine," explains Susan Engel, M.O.E., R.D., L.D., founder of Nutrition Matters in Exeter, N.H. "But if there's an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut or a state of long-term inflammation due to a food sensitivity, you can develop leaky gut syndrome."

Think of your intestinal walls as a kind of armor, a defense mechanism composed of densely packed cells that keep food contained. When an allergen is detected, though, the body overrides that basic function to allow immune cells into the intestines. The result is leaky gut syndrome, a condition in which the intestinal walls fail to do their job as barriers and let undigested food molecules get into the bloodstream. "When the body perceives something it sees as a threat in the digestive tract, it opens up the tight junctions in the intestines to allow immune cells in," says Nenninger.

"The irony is that it also allows food molecules out into the bloodstream which will exacerbate the food sensitivity. Since the digestive tract is so closely linked to the neurological system, and because it has so many blood vessels running through it, you can literally get symptoms anywhere else in the body." Hence, the mysterious headache or baseless anxiety attack.

Youth tends to mask the symptoms, which can go on for years without causing trouble, Nenninger says. But the effects of long-term inflammation caused by a food sensitivity will invariably start to show in middle age and are likely to only get worse if you're taking medications such as acid reducers or pain pills to mask the symptoms without grappling with the underlying cause.

Finding solutions:
Keeping a food journal is one way to connect the dots. If you're feeling bad on one day, you can flip back and see what you've been eating that might be causing your problems. You can look for patterns over time. A food elimination diet can also be an effective tool

Avoidance is the most effective approach, and the one Nenninger recommends most, especially if your sensitivity is to eggs, dairy or gluten.

Nenninger says he thinks these three foods are the cause of most problematic sensitivities, and that ongoing exposure to them may kick off other sensitivities by causing leaky gut.

Still, cutting out dairy, eggs and gluten can be a painful process especially since they are so pervasive in our culture. Doing so unnecessarily can also remove needed nutrients from your diet, says Ruth Frechman, M.A., R.D., spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

"Yes, there are intractable food allergies, but you should be able to resolve sensitivities," she says. "We were designed to be omnivores so our bodies should be able to handle all foods. And the truth is we need these foods to get the nutrition we need."

If you discover a food sensitivity, yet want to keep everything on the menu try these strategies:

1.Eat a variety of whole foods "When we eat too many packaged foods, we get overexposed to wheat, soy, dairy and corn," says Reardon. Choose foods without labels and increase the variety of whole foods, including fruits, grains, vegetables and protein sources, and you'll naturally decrease your reactivity?nd over time, your sensitivity.

2.Pump up the probiotics  If you have a longstanding sensitivity, a good first step is to re-establish the proper balance of healthful bacteria in your intestines. Try a broad-spectrum probiotic for best effect.

3.Explore enzymes Another byproduct of our fast food nation is that the pool of natural enzymes in our food has'decreased, says Teitelbaum. "When we don't have proper enzymes to digest our food, we end up with partially digested food fragments in our bloodstream that look like invaders to the body?nd trigger food sensitivity," he says. Restore your natural enzyme reserves with a plant-based digestive enzyme supplement taken with each meal.

4.Detox Sometimes, sensitivities are a result of toxicity in the gut, says John Douillard, D.C., an Ayurvedic practitioner based in Boulder, Colo. "We blame milk, or eggs or gluten?ut real the problem is that our digestive strength is compromised," he says. The solution? A detox.

5.Knock it out with NAET Teitelbaum is a believer in this desensitization technique (shorthand for Nambudripad's Allergy Elimination Technique), which involves a combination of chiropractic manipulation, acupressure, muscle testing and energy medicine. To find a practitioner near you, visit

6.Supplement yourself Food sensitivities can cause inflammation, which then causes the body to hold on to water which can cause weight gain and high blood pressure, says Bison M. Haas, M.D., author of The False Fat Diet.

He recommends vitamin C  and quercetin to reduce reactivity to foods. "Vitamin C will help reduce allergic-type reactions and eliminate excess fluid," he says. "Quercetin will reduce allergy reactions and inflammation, and help heal the gut lining." Take 500 milligrams of vitamin C and 300 milligrams of quercetin three times a day.

19 July 2011