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Doctor's Notes

So you think you react to what you eat. Perhaps you have a food intolerance, or allergy, or sensitivity? How do you uncover your food reactions?

The medicine around food reactions is changing. It used to seem so black and white: you have a peanut allergy, which is obvious, or you don’t. But these days we have blogs and news and conversations around other types of food reactions. First: lets start by breaking down the potential reactions to food you or your loved ones may be experiencing!

Food Allergy

This one seems familiar, although relatively uncommon. An allergy is typically an immediate-type reaction to a food. This one can also be very dangerous in the most severe forms. They may begin to swell in their airway and this can become a medical emergency. The most common allergies are peanuts and shellfish.

Food sensitivity

Hmmm, does this one exist? I have read a few well-meaning web articles that want to convince me that there is no such thing as a food sensitivity, especially in regard to gluten. However in my clinical practice I see food sensitivities every day! These are more delayed-type reactions. They can occur from 1 hour to several days later. The reaction itself may last for up to three weeks! These reactions can be harder to pin down since our body is pretty good at developing a tolerance while at the same time experiencing seemingly distant symptoms. I will explain more about how to address these toward the end. Common ones are wheat, egg, dairy and soy.

Food intolerance

This one is generally a problem of digestion or malabsorption. For example lactose is a common intolerance, but a celiac gluten reaction can also be called an intolerance, so this definition is not as well defined.

Although these definitions are useful they are not particularly precise. Ie: a food sensitivity can also be called an allergy…but for our purposes it allows us to speak the same language. Next, let me talk about the one that I see very commonly in my clinical practice.

Food Sensitivity

How to recognise

Do you have any of the following symptoms? Chronic sinusitis, itching on body, constipation, diarrhea, asthma, tingling around mouth, itching throat? Those are good indicators of a food allergy. But wait there are more!


  • Bloating and flatulence

  • Falling asleep after meals

  • Food Binges or Cravings

  • Irritable, lethargic or shaky upon awakening

  • Palpitations related to food

  • Symptoms after eating or relieved by food

  • Weight gain or fluctuations in weight

Some of these may seem unrelated to food, or you may think: ‘everyone gets that!’. Although its common to experience, say, fatigue or bloating after a meal, it is a CLUE that there may be a food sensitivity at play!

How to test

In my practice I use two testing methods both with their pros and cons. There are many more, that I won’t mention, that are also useful in determining your food sensitivities.

Elimination Challenge

I mention this one first because it is considered the GOLD standard in identifying any food reaction. This is a dietary approach where phase 1, elimination, will last at least three weeks. It has to be this long since an immune reaction will persist for this length of time. Phase 2, the challenge phase, can last longer, depending on how many foods were eliminated and how patient a person is!

Pros – it will determine a food reaction even if it isn’t immune based It will teach you how food triggers your body to misbehave. Many symptoms, even if they seem unrelated, will resolve!

Cons – It takes a strong commitment, plenty of time and patience to complete. The results can easily be muddled if a food slips into your diet by accident or if you introduce foods too closely together. Frankly, its tough… though doable and worth it!

Food Allergy Panel

See how the word allergy snuck in there? This is what I mean when I say that the above definitions are not precise! Onward :p

With a blood sample, taken from a needle in your arm or from a prick on your finger, a laboratory can test your immune reaction to a 96+ different foods. The lab that I use is found here (http://meridianvalleylab.com/). They use a method called ELISA that tests two types of immunoglobulins: IgE and IgG.

Pros – You get a nice print out that depicts your quantitative immune reaction to all of the foods!

Cons – Its can be cost prohibitive. There are false positive and false negatives, though we are usually able to determine those with a bit of focused attention.

How to treat

After you have discovered how to determine if you may react to foods and what foods you may react to, its time to treat! Treatment starts with avoiding your food triggers but should not end there!

I like to ask the question WHY. Why do you or your loved one react to these foods? What in your digestive health has led to food reactions? Is your diet too simple? Is your stomach producing enough acid? Do you have the right bacteria in the right amount in the right place? To learn more about creating a healthy digestive system see my blog post on the 5 R program!

Once you are ready to tackle you food reactions be sure to book an appointment with me to discover and treat them. Free your body from the clutches of a food sensitivity!

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