Allergies occur when our immune system is confused and attacks non-harmful substances which can manifest as:
- Seasonal pollen allergies
- Dust mite allergies
- Animal dander allergies
- Food sensitivities
- Chemical sensitivities
Allergies can sometimes be a stepping stone to autoimmune conditions as well as increased susceptibility to infections (seen as more frequent colds, flus, yeast infections, skin infections, etc).
It’s important to rebalance your immune function not only to eliminate allergy, but to be sure you’re fighting what needs to be properly fought off.
The Lewis Family NDs do a great job of outlining the mechanism of allergy and how to treat it.
Allergy testing can help us pinpoint where our immune system has gone astray, and we use diet, herbs and supplements to sort it out!
What is the difference between food allergies and food sensitivity?
A food allergy refers to an IgE-mediated immune response. This branch of our immune system initiates the release of histamine from our mast cells. It is rapid, short-lived, and it is often intense. It can manifest as hives and swelling, which is why it is deemed more dangerous than a food sensitivity as it can rapidly cause swelling of the throat and risk life. We test for IgE-mediated food allergy subjectively by exposing open skin pricks to the allergen and watching for swelling (skin prick test). The severity of the reaction is quantified based on the intensity of the swelling.
A food sensitivity refers to an IgG-mediated response. This branch of our immune system is slower acting and can be delayed, which can make it much more difficult to narrow down as you may have to consume the same food multiple days in a row to notice the reaction, but then you think “I haven’t eaten anything different today, so I’m not sure why I’m feeling unwell”. We test for IgG-mediated food sensitivity by a blood draw. The lab tests for the number of antibodies that have been created for the various foods, and we get a list of the food that your immune system is reacting to.
When food sensitivity testing is not appropriate
I often see new patients coming in to test for food sensitivity, but sometimes I discourage them from doing the test as it’s not the best use of their resources. I separate food reactions into two categories:
- Phase 1 reactions are isolated to the gut. They often occur between 0-6 hours of consuming the trigger food and are the result of low levels of digestive juices, imbalanced bacteria (including SIBO) or an inappropriate diet. This reaction does not spill over systemically, so testing the blood for an immune reaction would not be warranted. Instead, doing an elimination diet and healing the gut would be a more effective route to take.
- Phase 2 reactions begin in the gut, but progress to the blood stream as damage is done to the gut wall, inflammation occurs and immune cells migrate through the body. This is a more global response to a food, and though it also requires work on the diet and healing the gut, we often need to address the systemic immune response as well.