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Understanding Food Sensitivities

Have you ever felt lousy after eating? The vast majority of us have, at one time or another, eaten something only to wind up with stomach cramps, diarrhea, fatigue, brain fog, nausea, and the list goes on. These types of reactions, and others, represent adverse food reactions. It should come as no surprise that eating can cause problems. After all, digestion is a complex and seemingly mysterious process. When food passes through the digestive tract, it encounters and interacts with immune cells, nerves, bacteria, enzymes, and more! It’s no wonder bad things can happen when we eat! So, how do avoid this? How do we know what is causing the problem and why? And how can we support the digestive process to make reactions less likely?

food sensitivity, food sensitivities, IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, registered dietitian


Well, first we need to understand the different types of reactions that can occur. Adverse food reactions fall into roughly three categories: food allergies, food sensitivities, and food intolerances. The first two involve the immune systems, whereas food intolerances do not. Because each type of reaction is different, they each require different testing and treatments. Below, we’ll look at why food sensitivity testing is effective at identifying root causes of inflammation and accompanying symptoms such as pain, swelling, GI distress and more. First, let’s understand food intolerances and food allergies.


Food Intolerances


In general, food intolerances occur because of an issue with digestion, such as an enzyme deficiency, dysbiosis, etc. The most common food intolerance is lactose intolerance. In this case, a deficiency in the lactase enzyme results in unpleasant symptoms when a person consumes cow milk or other dairy products that contain lactose. Typical symptoms include diarrhea, gas, abdominal cramps and bloating. Other intolerances trace back to deficiencies in enzymes, acids, bile salts and certain bacterial/yeast strains in the gut. Because intolerances occur due to issues with digestion, most symptoms are limited to the gut and include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, gas, nausea, etc. Of course, if left unchecked, these reactions can lead to other complications, often due to malabsorption of vital nutrients. Such secondary complications might include headache, irritability, and fatigue.

Breath tests are used to detect both lactose and fructose intolerances. For these tests, the patient ingests a certain amount of fructose/lactose in a clinic setting. The patient’s breath is measured after ingestion to determine the amount of hydrogen present. If the level meets or exceeds the threshold considered normal, intolerance is diagnosed. These tests are non-invasive and quite accurate. If an intolerance is diagnosed, the patient can either avoid or limit the food, or take an enzyme supplement. For other types of intolerances, food journaling often works well because reactions tend to be closely related in time to the ingestion of the food. In other words, you tend to get symptoms within of few hours of eating the food.

food sensitivity, IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, registered dietitian, nutrition counseling

Food Reactions & The Immune System


The remaining adverse food reactions, food allergies and food sensitivities, trigger immune reactions, and therefore involve multiple organ systems and warrant a different approach. In both cases, your immune system reacts to something that you eat by recognizing part of it (the antigen) as an enemy invader. In response, to this perceived invasion, white blood cells, antibodies and other components of your immune system launches a defense by releasing mediators, such as histamines, cytokines and prostaglandins. While these chemicals are released within your body to get rid of these invaders, they also cause inflammation, swelling, muscle contractions, and pain.


In the case of food allergies, reactions are concentrated in our bodies’ mast cells. These are tissue cells, primarily located anywhere our body contacts the external environment—lining of the nose, throat, GI tract, and our skin. This is why the symptoms we see in food allergies occur in these areas. Classic symptoms include, itching and/or swelling in the mouth and throat, hives on the skin and sometimes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Severity of reactions range from person to person. The most severe reaction is anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening swelling of the throat, which can block the airway. Symptom timing is rather predictable, usually showing up immediately, sometimes with a few hours’ delay. Treatment for food allergies is strict avoidance of the offending food. In addition, some clinicians treat patients using oral immunotherapy (OIT).


Registered Dietitian, nutrition counseling, food sensitivities, IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, Fatigue, migraine



Food Sensitivities


Food sensitivity reactions, on the other hand, are spread across the body because many different cells are involved, not just mast cells. Reactions occur anywhere there is blood flow: think joints, brain, organs, skin. Symptoms include: headache, pain, fatigue, brain fog, swelling and bloating, diarrhea, excess mucus production, etc. Not only do food sensitivity symptoms show up all over they body, but they can delayed in onset. So, that thing you ate yesterday might causing your headache today. Frustrating, right? That’s why specific food sensitivity testing, rather than allergy testing, intolerance testing and/or food journaling, is the best, most effective way to address some of these symptoms.

Food sensitivity testing test your reaction to up to 170 different foods and food chemicals (caffeine, food dyes, sulfites, etc.). Research has demonstrated that people who have been diagnosed with IBS, migraine, or fibromyalgia respond best to this type of testing. However, there are some other notable conditions in which food sensitivities may play a role. These include: autism spectrum disorders, eczema, hives, chronic fatigue and arthritis.


What to find out if MRT testing is right for you? You can book a thirty minute consultation, where we’ll look at your symptoms and background and make a plan that’s right for YOU!

food sensitivities, registered dietitian, Hudson Valley, nutrition counseling

Learn more about MRT testing here: https://www.nowleap.com/

Results of a trial using LEAP to treat patients with IBS.

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