The foods you eat have a profound effect on your health and well-being. Food and nutrition can be the best medicine, and the right food choices can help you feel and look your best. However, some foods, even ones, most of us would consider healthy foods can negatively impact your health and cause a slew of symptoms. When your body reacts to food, it is considered a food intolerance.
Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance: What’s the Difference?
Although food intolerances are sometimes called food allergies, there are some differences in the way our body reacts between these two. For example, a peanut allergy, which results in anaphylactic shock (when your airways close up), is referred to as an IgE food allergy. These are obviously very serious and require immediate medical intervention. Food allergies can be life-threatening or they can cause serious rashes like hives.
On the other hand, a food intolerance also involves the immune system, but the reaction is quite different. These types of food allergies, or food intolerances, are IgG-mediated. IgG and IgE are two different immune cells the body creates in response to food or other external stimuli that activate the immune system. Although the symptoms of IgG food intolerances are often delayed and can present very different between individuals.
How Food Intolerances Affect the Body
Food intolerances are seen as stress to your body and trigger your immune system, which prevents proper absorption of nutrients, increases body inflammation. They can ultimately cause damage to the digestive tract, not to mention cause brain fog, weight gain, heartburn, or rashes!
This cycle can also result in intestinal dysbiosis – an imbalance in the gut bacteria, which leads to additional inflammation, gut motility issues, and changes in gut permeability. The result? Chronic symptoms which can affect multiple systems of the brain and body. In fact, food intolerances are often liked to autoimmune conditions, digestive issues like IBS, and skin disorders like eczema.
Because of the chronic inflammation food intolerances cause, people may develop more and more food intolerances. This is because the digestive tract becomes inflamed, and the integrity of the lining of the intestines becomes compromised. In other words, the gut can become “leaky.” Once the gut lining is damaged, the enzymes that breakdown food which are located in the intestinal wall (AKA brush-border enzymes) cannot function. Also, larger than normal food molecules can enter the bloodstream where they alarm the immune system. The outcome? Your symptoms get worse, and more foods trigger you!
Signs of a Food Intolerance
While signs of a severe food allergy are typically easy to spot – shortness of breath, a rash, difficulty breathing, etc., a food intolerance may go unnoticed for a long time. This is for a number of reasons. First of all, the signs and symptoms of a food intolerance may not seem related to eating. While feeling bloated and gassy after eating a particular food may seem obviously connected to what you just ate, other symptoms may not be so obviously related. For example, if you eat one of your food intolerances, and the next day you are feeling more tired and achy or have a flare-up of your eczema a few days later, it may not click that it could be due to the food you ate a few days ago.
Common symptoms of food intolerance include:
Mucus in stool
Bags under eyes
Water retention (feeling puffy)
Insomnia or sleep issues
Weight loss or inability to lose weight/weight gain
As you have probably noticed, there are many different symptoms of food intolerances, and they can look like numerous other conditions. This is one of the main reasons that food intolerances are hard to spot.
The other reason why they are a challenge to spot is that the symptoms may be delayed. In other words, if your food intolerance causes you joint pain, you may not immediately get joint pain after eating, it may take a couple of days for the pain to intensify. Also, if you are eating your food intolerance daily, you may never get relief from your food intolerance symptoms, which then makes it hard to connect to the foods you are eating.
How to Know if You Have a Food Intolerance
There are two ways to identify food intolerances/allergies:
The first is by running an IgG food intolerance panel. This is a blood test which looks at the immune response to specific foods.
- Easy to do
- Does not involve strict dietary changes to identify intolerances
- About 78-85% accurate. This means that some of your food intolerances can be missed, and some that are reported may not be an issue for you.
- Price. Food allergy testing costs between $200 to $275
We offer a handful of different food intolerance panels at our office.
Schedule your appointment online or call us to set up an appointment to discuss your health concerns and see if a food intolerance panel could help you with your health.
The other way to determine if you have any food intolerances, and what they are, is through an elimination diet. This involves adhering to a stringent diet for six weeks. After the six weeks, a single food group is introduced into the diet to see if any symptoms result.
An Elimination Diet
This can be done at home. Avoid gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, and peanut/nuts (and anything else you are suspicious of) entirely for six weeks. Then introduce one of the above food groups by eating one serving, waiting three days, and seeing if any symptoms occur. Repeat for each group, continuing to avoid any that result in symptoms.
- The ‘Gold Standard’ of identifying food intolerances
- Does not cost any money
- Involves strict adherence to dietary changes, which may be challenging to follow.
Removing your food intolerances from your diet can be a game-changer in terms of your health. Many health conditions are improved by eliminating foods that activate the immune system (i.e., food intolerances). In Naturopathic Medicine, we call these ‘Obstacles to cure’. Once food intolerances are eliminated from the diet, your body can then begin to repair itself. Sometimes herbal or nutritional support supplements can help this process along. Learn more about our approach to digestive issues HERE.