Food Sensitivity

Malgorzata Sypien, M.D., FAAFP, Integrative Family Practice, Chicago IL

It seems there is a lot of discussion on social media about gut health and those mail in kits that test for food sensitivities and it is with good merit.  Many people are being treated for ailments with medications when, in many cases, they are having a reaction to the food they are putting into their body. Treatment could be as simple as stop eating the food(s) that is causing your symptoms.  I have been treating food sensitivity in my integrative practice for many years with success.  In the following blog entry, I will give a little education on what it means to be allergic vs being intolerant to food and then will go into what the most common symptoms are and how to get tested to determine if you think you may have a food sensitivity. 

While often used interchangeably, the terms “food allergy” and “food sensitivity” actually have different meanings. A food allergy is a specific immune system response that occurs after eating certain foods which involves either the immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody or the T-cells. Food sensitivity is a more general term which refers to an unpleasant reaction a person has after eating certain foods. This reaction can range from acid reflux to cramps and more, but it is not the same immune response as food allergies.  One of the most talked about examples of food sensitivity is Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s response to gluten creates an inflammatory attack against the intestinal lining. 

Food sensitivity symptoms often come on slowly and may involve an immune system response. For some food sensitivities you may be able to tolerate small amounts of the food without trouble.  

Common symptoms of food sensitivities 

  • Dizziness 

  • Foggy thinking 

  • Bloating 

  • Irregular digestion 

  • Runny nose or excess mucus 

  • Muscle or joint pains 

  • Depression and mood swings 

  • Chronic fatigue 

  • Headaches 

While these are some of the most common symptoms of food sensitivities, there are many other possible reactions a person may experience. Not every one person is the same and you may not react in the same way as the next person.  Keep this in mind when trying to determine if you (and your doctor) want to look into whether you have food sensitivities. 

Commons causes of food sensitivities 

The most common cause of food sensitivities is the body reacting to chemical components of the food it has ingested. These chemicals can occur organically in food or be the result of additives, preservatives, colorings, or flavorings. Additionally, food intolerances can be caused by a deficiency in certain digestive enzymes as in the case of lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the lactose in milk. When it comes to being lactose intolerant, the lactose is not alone in causing food sensitivities. Other common causes include salicylate, tartrazine, benzoic acid, amines, nitrates, and sulfites. 

Elimination diet and/or get tested 

The best way to determine once and for all what you’re sensitive to is to see an expert. In the meantime, however, you can try an elimination diet at home. Simply cut out the foods you think are bothering you and see if your symptoms clear up after several weeks. If you reintroduce the foods and the symptoms flare up again, then you know that you do not tolerate that food well. 

Right now, millions of people are living with food sensitivities and don’t realize the cause. But you don’t have to. If you think you might be suffering from food sensitivities, simply contact me, Dr. Sypien, at Integrative Family Practice, who has extensive experience in food sensitivity testing utilizing the “whole-person” approach to healing gastrointestinal problems. 

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