Written by: Dr Erik Boudreau, ND FABNO
In a sense, having an allergy makes life easier. More dangerous, perhaps, but potentially less complicated. For example, if you have a peanut allergy, then you know without exception that you must avoid peanuts at all costs or face the consequences (hives, itching, swollen throat, coughing, etc). Same thing with allergies to eggs, strawberries, shellfish, bee stings, or pretty much anything else a person may be exposed to. And, once you become aware of the issue, then your allergy just becomes part of your identity-- complete with declarative alert bracelet, Epi-Pen, perpetual scrutiny of restaurant menus, and avoidance of any other potentially problematic situations. Finally, if you’re unfortunate enough to encounter the offending substance again, the anaphylactic reaction that quickly follows is your body’s (potentially fatal) way of telling you that something’s wrong.
Yikes--that was dramatic. Now let’s change the pace a little, and rather than discussing full-blown allergies (ie. your immune system’s powerful and immediate rejection of a foreign substance), let’s think about something a little less intense: a sensitivity. In the case of a sensitivity, your body’s reaction to a foreign substance is typically much milder-- so mild, in fact, that you may not even know it’s there.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. If a person eats a food they are sensitive to (let’s say asparagus), then once that food is digested and enters the bloodstream, it acts as something called an antigen-- a foreign substance that triggers the immune system to produce antibodies (whose sole function is to bind to, and eventually destroy, the substance). This binding of antibody-to-antigen is called a Type III delayed hypersensitivity reaction, and can occur hours or even days after eating the offending substance (making it even more difficult to pinpoint the offending food). The specific type of antibody produced is called immunoglobulin G, or IgG (which also combat bacteria and viruses). In normal circumstances (ex. fighting off a virus), these antibody-antigen complexes are broken down and eliminated, but if there is an excess supply of antigen (ex. if the person in question keeps eating asparagus), then the complexes can begin to be deposited in the body’s tissues. Over time, this process can lead to a host of issues including: IBS symptoms, allergies, heart disease, behavioural/learning disorders, anxiety or depression, psoriasis, acne and migraines.
How does this happen in the first place?
Well, this is a difficult question to answer. Factors including stress, medication, poor lifestyle habits and dietary choices, and heredity can all influence our body’s ability to properly digest and assimilate nutrients. The above factors can also lead to a condition called leaky gut syndrome, whereby the normally tightly-packed cells comprising the intestinal wall become lax, allowing larger particles (ex. Partially digested asparagus) to enter the bloodstream, instead of following the proper course of entry INTO intestinal cells for further metabolism. When these food particles prematurely circulate in the bloodstream, the immune system often takes offense, mounting the aforementioned IgG immune response.
So, what do we do about it?
The first step in addressing any problem is to identify the cause. Fortunately, food sensitivity tests (FSTs) are a quick and easy way to assess your immune reaction to a large number of commonly encountered foods. The Canadian lab Rocky Mountain Analytical has food sensitivity panels that cover up to 200 foods (with the option of a vegetarian only panel), with samples provided in-clinic via finger prick or blood draw. Rather than simply concluding “positive” or “negative” hypersensitivity reactions, the tests detail where on the spectrum of a sensitivity each food appears. In other words, you may have a high reactivity to asparagus (in which case, eliminate it from your diet), but a moderate reactivity to garlic (so eating it once or twice a week should be fine). By adjusting one’s diet based on the test results, combined with a personalized supplement protocol (possibly including a probiotic, and other digestive support compounds), individuals often see great improvement in a wide variety of health concerns, and some may even be able to reintroduce some of the foods after several months, once the digestive and immune systems have been adequately balanced.
Food sensitivity tests are an increasing popular option for people looking to improve their health. However, they are only one piece of the puzzle to understanding a person’s individual health concerns. For more information on food sensitivity testing, or to schedule an initial consult with one of our licensed naturopathic doctors, call Cheam Wellness Group at (604) 776-2432, or email us at: email@example.com.