Annoying, persistent symptoms? Food sensitivities!

Sandwiches on a tray

Do you often feel bloated, puffy, stiff, sore, congested, or heavy? Do you have the impression that you could feel a whole lot better than you do? Have you consulted your doctor about not being on top of your game, but she is unable to find conclusive results? These feelings of malaise could be related to your diet and you could be experiencing food sensitivities.

It is estimated that 15 million Americans have food allergies, which is the most severe version of an adverse food reaction.

This number does not include individuals whom are sensitive to foods but display less intense reactions. If the number for food allergies is so high, it makes sense that some people react to foods in a subtler way, perhaps never correlating their symptoms to food.

Furthermore, an individual who is extremely resilient in adolescence or their 20’s, could begin to experience reactions to foods as they age. Everyday stresses like inadequate sleep, overworking, lack of exercise, poor diet, alcohol and over-the-counter medications can lead to the development of food sensitivities.

There are two main types of allergies. The first are immediate onset immunoglobulin-E antibodies (IgE) allergies. IgE antibodies release histamine into the blood stream and cause a dramatic reaction like face and throat swelling. These symptoms appear suddenly and can be extremely dangerous if not treated immediately by administration of an EpiPen (epinephrine injection). Most people with this kind of a reaction develop it early on during childhood.

The more common food allergy or food sensitivity involves immunoglobulin-G antibodies (IgG). These antibodies attach to an allergen in the blood, like food, and create immune complexes which must be cleared by phagocytes, cells of the immune system. Immune complexes often cannot be cleared by phagocytes fast enough because the offending food is eaten multiple times each day.

With each meal, the offending food enters the bloodstream, where the immune system is activated, creating an immune response after each meal, but also causing immune complexes to accumulate. Immune complexes accumulate slowly in the body, settling in weakened areas of the body like joints or along the intestinal tract. These delayed-onset food sensitivities often go undetected by the person because symptoms develop slowly. Food sensitivity symptoms include:

Headaches, IBD, GERD, acne, food cravings, agitation, irritability, constipation, sinus problems, ADD/ADHD and anxiety.

Food sensitivities develop through an excessively permeable gut, called leaky gut. Leaky gut occurs when factors irritate the gut lining, which causes tight junctions, the areas between intestinal cells that are usually only semi-permeable, to become boggy.


Gluten free written out of flour

Factors which can irritate the intestinal lining are inflammatory foods like gluten and dairy, but also stress, alcohol, NSAIDs, excessive antibiotic use, antacid use, nutrient deficiencies, and poor digestion. These boggy intestinal cells lose their integrity and ability to discriminate large, undigested food particles from small, fully digested foods broken down into their simplest forms. If digestion is poor, which it often the case with leaky gut sufferers, food is not broken down into its simplest forms.

This means that large, whole, undigested food particles seep through the intestinal wall and enter the blood stream through these leaky and boggy intestinal cells. Once food particles are in the blood stream, the immune system reacts the way it knows how, by attacking anything foreign. Large, foreign, food particles are not supposed to be hanging out in the blood stream, so the body develops an IgG immune response. This immune response causes inflammation and a continued immune response every time the offending food is eaten. This inflammatory response can go on for years with the accumulation of immune complexes settling along the intestinal wall or in joints causing the poor person to feel worse year after year.

What can you do about it?

Conquering annoying and persistent symptoms is best achieved by identifying which foods cause sensitivities and eliminating them. Most commonly, people react to the foods that they consume every day. Common reactive foods, because they are so prevalent in many people’s diet include: wheat or gluten, corn, soy, eggs, dairy, and peanuts. Some other common food sensitivities are sesame, citrus fruit, and strawberries.

Working with a nutritionist to implement an elimination diet can help uncover particular foods sensitivities that you might have. Once these foods are identified, it is easy to exclude them from your diet, quickly putting you on a path to recovery and leaving you symptom-free.

* These recommendations are for educational purposes only. They are not intended as treatment or prescription for any disease, or as a substitute for regular medical care.




[1] Hidden Food Allergies. James Braly and Patrick Holdford. 2006

Stacey Gross smiling Stacey Gross Master Nutrition Therapist Stacey Gross is a Master Nutrition Therapist and owner of Real Food, Real Health, LLC. As a Master Nutrition Therapist, she counsels individuals on how and why to implement diet changes for improved health and quality of life.