Food sensitivities have been getting increasingly serious over the past couple of decades. Not only are gastrointestinal conditions such as reflux disease, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s and colitis more frequent, food intolerances are more common, and food allergies are becoming more common, and the symptoms and reactions are becoming increasingly serious. We hear about anaphylactic shock more often, and most schools have completely banned peanuts from entering the premises.
The reasons for the increase in food sensitivities are unknown, although there are many theories. Many scientists and healthcare professionals believe that additives such as insecticides and preservatives have an effect, as well as how processed our food has become.
Types Of Food Sensitivities
There are two main types of food sensitivities: intolerances and the much less common allergies. The symptoms of these two types of food sensitivities can overlap, and can include conditions that you might not immediately associate with food sensitivities. The less obvious symptoms that can occur include chronic low back, hip or pelvic pain, joint pain similar to arthritis, digestive problems such as Crohns, ulcerative colitis, reflux or leaky-stomach syndrome, or irritable bowl syndrome. Some of the more obvious symptoms can include gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Allergic reactions can become increasingly serious for reason that will become clearer in our discussion about the difference between an intolerance and an allergy.
The primary difference between an intolerance and an allergy is the body’s reaction to the offending food. In the case of an allergy, the body reacts to the food (a protein or “allergen”) as if it were an invading bacteria or virus, initiating the immune system to neutralize the substance. The body recognizes the allergen as a threat and produces an antibody to fight it. The more your body is exposed to the offending allergen, the more readily body reacts.
True food allergies are very rare, affecting less than 2% of adults and 4 to 8 % of children. Symptoms come on quite quickly (usually within minutes or an hour of ingestion) and can include a swelling of the skin, hives, rash, runny nose, difficulty breathing, constricted throat, itchy mouth, and in very rare cases, anaphylactic shock. Anaphylactic shock is caused by a rapid series of symptoms that end in shock and cardiac arrest. It can be prevented with the administration of epinephrine, and, again, is a rare occurrence.
The second type of food sensitivity is called an intolerance. The primary difference is that the body’s reaction to a food intolerance does not involve the immune system. Symptoms of food intolerances are usually gastrointestinal, including gas, bloating, nausea, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. These symptoms can happen fairly quickly, or can be cumulative and occur over the following day or two.
Common food intolerances include lactose, gluten, tyrosine and preservatives and additives. Lactose, a sugar found in cow’s milk, is the most common, found in up to 10% of the adult population. The best way to avoid a reaction is to avoid foods that contain cow’s milk, such as cheese, milk, and cream. Taking a lactose enzyme supplement can also reduce the effects of the intolerance.
Tyrosine is found in fermented foods and cheese, sausage, chocolate, avocado, sour cream, red wine, beer, raspberries, yeast and pickled herring. Symptoms of this intolerance include respiratory problems (even asthma), hives, and migraine headaches (in fact, scientists believe that up to 20% of migrianes can be linked to tyrosine intolerance in the body).
Preservatives such as benzoates, sulfites, and hydroxytoluene and additives such as flavouring and dyes have been scientifically documented as fairly common sources of irritation and reaction in people. In light of this, governments have become stricter in enforcing detailed labeling practices. It is recommended that people who suffer intolerances to preservatives and additives try to follow a diet of fresh, organically grown foods whenever possible.
Finally, an intolerance to gluten (found in wheat, oats, barley and rye) has also become more readily diagnosed in sufferers over the last 20 years. The consumption of gluten affects people who suffer from a disease called Celiac’s disease, in which an individual is unable to absorb nutrients at a less effiecient rate than other individuals. Absorption is further prevented by the body’s reaction to gluten consumption, which can cause everything from skin irritation to violent vomiting.
Identifying Food Sensitivities
If you suspect that you have food sensitivities, then your first step should be a trip to your healthcare provider. If they think you have an allergy, they will likely start with the prick test, in which they will inject a small amount of the suspected allergen under your skin and observe any reaction. If you are allergic, there should be an immediate dermatological reaction.
If your problem is not diagnosed by the prick test, then they may move you on to diet control to identify the allergen or intolerance. The first, and most thorough, is an Elimination Diet. In the first phase of the Elimination Diet, all potential allergens or intolerances are removed from your diet. This diet is potentially quite strict to start off, and is best done under a health professional’s supervision. You will start by eliminating common allergens such as wheat, soy, corn, dairy, eggs, gluten, citrus, fish, chocolate, shell fish, caffeine, alcohol and artificial food additives from your diet. You will avoid problematic foods for as long as it takes for the symptoms to clear up, usually between 4 days and 3 weeks,
Once the symptoms have cleared, you will start the Challenge phase of the diet, in which you will systematically reintroduce foods one at a time. You should keep a diary of your reactions (mental, emotional and physical) to each food you reintroduce in order to monitor your reactions.
The Elimination Diet is fairly restrictive and can take quite a while to identify any or all of your food sensitivities. If you are less patient, you can try the less arduous Rotation Diet. In this version, foods are rotated so that the person eats a food or food family every 4 days. For example, if you suspect you cannot tolerate gluten, you would reintroduce wheat every fourth day to check for a consistent reaction. Keeping a food diary is even more important in this diet, as it does not isolate each food as strictly as the Elimination Diet does.
We often take the foods that we ingest for granted, believing our bodies are miraculous machines that can handle anything that comes its way. While the body is indeed a miraculous machine, you must listen to what it is telling you. Everything we put into our bodies affects all of the body’s systems, including your emotional and nervous systems. Everything is interrelated, and often, symptoms we didn’t even know we were suffering are alleviated by a simple modification of our diets.