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Food Sensitivities - Part One



WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FOOD ALLERGIES, FOOD INTOLERANCES & FOOD SENSITIVITIES?
There are a number of symptoms that my patients most often describe during our visits:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritable Bowel
  • Brain Fog
  • Weight Gain
  • Joint Pain
  • Rashes
Sound familiar?

In medical school I was taught to evaluate symptoms in order to form a diagnosis. That diagnosis was then used to determine which medication to prescribe - such as a pill for your headache or a cream for your rash.

20 years later my approach has changed. Rather than focusing on which medication to prescribe for your symptoms, I ask the question:
WHY are you experiencing these symptoms?

I use Functional Medicine to evaluate and treat the root causes of illness.

While there are many factors that can contribute to illness, perhaps none are more important than FOOD. I see it with patients every day - the food that you eat has an immediate and significant impact on the way that you feel.

Could food sensitivities or intolerances be causing your symptoms?

Many of the symptoms that my patients describe, including the most common ones listed above, are often the result of food sensitivities or food intolerances. Identifying these reactions and addressing their root causes can provide lasting symptom relief.

In part one of this food sensitivity series, we answer the question:
What’s the difference between food allergies, food intolerances, and food sensitivities?

FOOD ALLERGY
Food allergy reactions are immediate, within minutes of exposure to the trigger food.

They are immune-system mediated by IgE, a fast-acting immunoglobulin specific to particular foods.

Food allergy symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening and may include swollen or itchy tongue, runny nose, skin itching, hives, wheezing/shortness of breath, closing of the airway, abdominal pain or vomiting.

Common food allergy triggers include peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish.

With true food allergies, strict avoidance of trigger foods is critical, as reactions are potentially life-threatening.

While I have seen the terms food intolerance and food sensitivity used interchangeably in some media, I separate these terms into two different types of reactions when discussing with patients.

FOOD INTOLERANCE
Food intolerances are not mediated by the immune system, but rather are a result of the body lacking an enzyme or nutrient needed to properly digest or break down a particular food or a component of the food.

Symptoms of food intolerance generally occur within an hour of eating a trigger food. Common symptoms include gas, bloating, abdominal pain or cramping, nausea, and diarrhea, but may also include flushing, inflammation and flu-like symptoms.

One of the most common food intolerances is to lactose, a component of milk products. Those with lactose intolerance lack lactase, the enzyme needed to break down lactose, and will experience abdominal bloating and diarrhea after consuming milk products. Supplemental lactase may be given for better tolerance of milk products.

Less well-known trigger ingredients I commonly see with patients include histamine, preservatives/flavorings, sulfites and acidic foods.

Food intolerances are not immune system mediated. They are a result of the body lacking a substance needed to break down a food component.

FOOD SENSITIVITY
Like food allergies, food sensitivities are mediated by the immune system. Unlike food allergies (IgE mediated), food sensitivities involve reactions that are delayed and not life-threatening (IgG or IgA).

Food sensitivities essentially represent your immune system creating inflammation in response to foods you eat. Symptoms related to food sensitivities may occur several hours up to several days after eating a trigger food.

Symptoms will vary from person to person and and can include multiple symptoms outside of the digestive tract. Common symptoms of food sensitivities include:
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritable Bowel
  • Brain Fog
  • Weight Gain
  • Joint Pain
  • Rashes
Other symptoms can include mood changes, changes in menstrual patterns, migraine headaches, poor sleep, acne and nasal/sinus congestion.

Food sensitivities are common to gluten/wheat, dairy products, sugar, eggs, corn, nightshade vegetables and more.

Food sensitivities are most often the result of increased intestinal permeability - the breakdown of the intestinal barrier often referred to as “leaky gut”. This breakdown of the intestinal barrier, often associated with an imbalance of bacteria, yeast and other organisms in the gut, allows foods to more easily trigger the immune system, resulting in increased inflammation and symptoms.

Food sensitivities are the result of your immune system creating inflammation in response to food. Many symptoms throughout the body may be related to food sensitivities, and the root cause underlying most food sensitivities is increased intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut”.

Learn more about the root causes of food sensitivities in part two of the series, coming soon!

Are you suspicious that food sensitivities or food intolerances may be casing your symptoms? Are you ready to start your journey to feeling better? Contact our office to schedule an appointment! 231-638-5585


Carin Nielsen, MD Integrative Medicine I use an Integrative/Functional Medicine approach with my patients to treat a variety of chronic medical conditions. During the COVID-19 pandemic I continue to see both new and returning patients using our secure, easy video-visit format. If you are interested in learning more or if you would like to schedule a consultation, please contact our office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 231-638-5585.

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