making the connection between nutrition & health

What is a Food Sensitivity?

Could I Have One?

People generally have a better understanding of a food allergy than they do of a food sensitivity.  Food allergies typically cause pronounced symptoms soon after eating certain foods.  This allows the individual to associate the symptoms directly with the food consumption.

Food sensitivities in contrast are delayed food responses typically delayed from several hours to a day or more.  This makes associating them with food very difficult as we have typically eaten several times before the symptoms begin.

Sensitivity Symptoms









Two additional factors often cloud the diagnosis of a food sensitivity.  The first is that the symptoms often are not in the digestive tract.  This is the result of the mechanism through which the symptoms occur.  The intestinal immune cells misread the surface of a food component as something dangerous and initiate an immune attack against it.  While this often causes local digestive symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea/constipation or reflux symptoms the dominant symptoms may be in some other area of the body such as the skin, brain, joints and others. 

However, although the immune system is activated locally, it creates a systemic response.  This is why when someone has the flu, the exposure may be activated through the respiratory tract yet they ache all over.  The hallmark rule of the immune system is that it is activated locally but often the body’s response is systemic. The common non-digestive symptoms include:

  • Skin rash, eczema
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety/depression
  • Autoimmune disease (thyroid is the most common)
  • “Brain fog”

The second factor that makes the diagnosis of food sensitivities difficult is that they cannot be diagnosed with standard medical allergy testing.  This testing involves measuring an antibody that is made against the food called “IgE” or looking for a reaction IgE causes by injecting different foods under the skin.  Food sensitivities are caused by other immune mechanism different from IgE antibodies.

This lack of appreciation with standard medicine was highlighted in a recent study comparing gluten sensitivity with gluten allergy.   Patients who were eventually diagnosed with a food sensitivity completed questionnaires about the disorders.  The eventual process that led to diagnosis was initiated by their physician only 10% of the time. A striking 80% had to initiate the diagnostic testing on their own from an outside source or with a less than highly co-operative medical provider.

The result of all of these properties is that food sensitivities often go undiagnosed for decades causing considerable suffering and expense looking for answers about “strange, unexplained symptoms”.

Sensitivity Symptoms 2









Fortunately more suitable methods for diagnosing food sensitivities have been developed allowing the problem to be isolated.  These include acupuncture meridian response testing , white blood cell reactive testing and testing of other antibodies (IgG, IgM, IgA).  Each method has its pros and cons, and a skilled practitioner will generally correlated it with a thorough history, focused clinical suspicion and other factors.  This typically leads to an accurate plan to resolve the patient’s symptoms and halt the disease process.

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