With an increase in awareness of food intolerances, particularly gluten and dairy, many people are now curious about food allergies. They wonder if they have food allergies, and if they too should be avoiding certain foods to improve their health. This can be a confusing topic, so let's look a little deeper into the difference between allergic food reaction and food sensitivity or intolerance and whether you might benefit from food sensitivity testing.
Before we continue, it is helpful to have a mini biology lesson and learn a little about our IgA, IgE, and IgG immune responses. IgA, IgE and IgE refer to immunoglobulins, or “antibodies.” These antibodies are part of our immune system, and are made in response to things we come in contact with on a daily basis. Our bodies make antibodies to foreign substances like bacteria and viral cells, but can also respond to foods, dust, animal dander, and pollen. Antibodies help the body prepare an immune system response (“fight”) against what is sees as foreign trespassers in the body.
IgA and IgG reactions are known as delayed response reactions, that include food intolerances or sensitives.
IgE responses are immediate and are considered a true food allergy.
IgA and IgG reactions may not be evident straight away, but can take hours to days to show up in your skin or intestines, and cause a wide range of symptoms which you might not even attribute to what you eat.
These symptoms can be related to inflammation like headaches, fatigue, brain fog, or joint pain. People with food intolerance may experience digestive upset like nausea, constipation, or diarrhoea, or skin rashes including conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
IgE immediate hypersensitivity reactions are characterised by the hives, and throat swelling that accompany anaphylactic reactions some people experience when exposed to certain foods. Other symptoms can include wheezing, coughing, a runny nose, vomiting, swelling of the lips or tongue, tearing or redness of the eyes, or even a weak pulse and loss of consciousness. Common foods that trigger IgE reactions are peanuts, shellfish, egg, dairy products, soy, tree nuts, wheat and fish.
IgA immunoglobulins are present in our mucus membranes and helps us fight bacteria and viruses. IgA increases in response to foods when the foods we eat cause inflammation, and in response to stress, disease, or alcohol.
An IgG reaction to food proteins suggests tolerance related to immune cell reaction. Repeated exposure, inflammation, and immune reactivity contribute to sensitivity and high IgG in response to food proteins.
Testing for Food Allergy and Sensitivities
IgE allergic reactions are tested with skin prick or patch testing as well as blood testing to know what foods and other allergens must be avoided and when an Epi-pen is an appropriate prescription.
While you can test IgG and IgA for rood reaction, this is not diagnostic of hypersensitivity or allergy. These tests may indicate a sensitivity and intolerance, as well as inflammation. While blood testing is available for food sensitivity reactions, these tests are controversial as the results are commonly not reproducible and are not as reliable as elimination diets for uncovering food sensitivity.
What About Coeliac Disease?
IgA and IgG testing can test for whether you might be gluten sensitive or intolerant. If you are not diagnosed with coeliac disease, you may be gluten sensitive (not gluten intolerant). Those who have a true allergy to gluten have coeliac disease, which is caused by an autoimmune response to proteins found in wheat and some other grains, and harms the cells of your small intestine. Testing for celiac disease is done with a blood sample looking for more specific immune reaction to gluten and gliadin and confirmed with a biopsy of the small intestine.
Why would you consider testing for IgA and IgG food sensitivities if the tests are not 100% reliable?
• You like to see lab data with recommendations on how to improve.
• Someone you know did the testing and it helped them to feel better.
• An elimination diet may not work for you for one of these reasons:
o They are time consuming and can take months to go through the process of eliminating and then challenging foods.
o You have a picky/growing kid who already avoids some foods. You don’t want to restrict kilojoules or food groups entirely, or risk food aversion, or tension that can go along with an elimination diet.
o You are busy, enjoy eating out, or don’t have time to cook, and have limited time for the shopping and meal planning that is required to follow a restricted elimination diet.
If food intolerance or sensitivity testing seems like it might be a good fit for you, or if you prefer to try an elimination challenge diet to address your symptoms, then book in for an initial consultation with me to get started and work out the best solution for you.
IRRITATED BY ALLERGIES?
Spring. At this time of year it seems like the world is divided into two groups of people. Those that don’t suffer from allergies. And those that do.
Now, if you are in the first group, then you have probably clocked the word allergies, and decided to skim past this article. But stay with me here, or at the very least, skip through to just before the last paragraph, because there I’ve got something just for you.
For those of you who DO experience the effects of allergies – sneezing, sniffling, watering eyes, itchy throat, coughs, headaches and feeling just damn irritated by it all, then here are some strategies to help you overcome your symptoms, and maybe even deal with the cause.
SO WHAT CAUSES ALLERGIES?
Allergies happen when your immune system has an abnormal reaction to a normally harmless substance (the allergen). The allergen will bind to antibodies, which then causes mast cells to release histamine, which in turn, causes inflammation. Where the histamine is released in the body will determine the symptoms experienced – a runny nose; itchy, watery eyes; shortness of breath and dry skin may all be signs of mast cells reacting in those parts of the body.
Typical allergens can include pollens, animal dander, dust mites and mould. You may be allergic to one or many things, and it is worthwhile getting tested to determine exactly what it is that your immune system over-reacts to.
GET YOUR PLUMBING HUMMING
A great part of our immune system resides in the gut, so it is important to take care of the digestive system. Probiotics can help to balance out intestinal flora, and adopting a clean-style of eating really makes a difference. When choosing probiotics, it is best to get advice as to which strain will work best for you. Probiotics with the LGG strain are often indicated for those with allergy-type symptoms.
An intolerance to certain types of food can make the symptoms of airborne allergies worse, so it may be worthwhile investigating this through food intolerance testing or trying to eliminate any foods you suspect may make allergies worse. Common foods which can cause problems are milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, soy and wheat.
And avoid sugar. It is very inflammatory and a high sugar intake has been shown to depress the immune system.
Eat up foods which contain high levels of vitamin C as it is a natural anti-histamine. Good sources include blackcurrant, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, citrus fruit, guava, parsley, pawpaw capsicum, pineapple, potatoes, raw cabbage, strawberries, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
Speaking of pineapple, the nutrient bromelain, found in the sweet fruit, is a great remedy for sinusitis and hay fever as it thins out mucus. Nice.
Anti-oxidants in general is helpful, so eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is the way to go. Also includes lots of garlic in the diet – it is great for the respiratory system in general.
Look after your liver. Spring is a great time to consider a detox and eliminate (or at least try and reduce) habits which add an additional burden on the liver such as coffee, alcohol, junk and processed foods.
Replace your morning tea or coffee with a daily fresh juice of parsley, pineapple, lemon, cucumber, carrot and ginger.
Don’t forget to consider herbal remedies too.
Albizia works to stabilise those pesky mast cells to treat a runny nose, itching and asthma, and as an added bonus, also has a positive effect on mood and memory.
Another important herb used to manage allergies is the prettily named Perilla, from Eastern Asia, which is anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic, and is used for hay-fever, itchy eyes and skin, and sinusitis.
Other herbs that help deal with allergies include Elder Flower, Eyebright, Golden Seal, Horseradish and Nettle Leaf. There are also herbs which can modulate the immune system such as Echinecea, Korean Ginseng, Shiitake and Withania.
Make no mistake – herbs have a powerful action and can interact with other medications, so seek professional advice before using. Your best bet is to ask your naturopath or herbalist to make up you up a custom herbal blend for you, or recommend a suitable tablet formulation. There are some very effective practitioner-only supplements.
Something also to try is peppermint and lavender oil in a diffuser – this can help to clear the nose (and the mind). Great to have handy on your work desk.
SOME COMMON SENSE LIFESTYLE ADVICE
Obviously, you will want to avoid as much as possible the airborne allergens. Avoid grassy areas in springtime. Use pillow case and mattress protectors to keep dust mites under control. Some people find that using synthetic materials instead of animal product materials in the home helps, or even going to the measure of eliminating carpets and curtains. An air purifier or dust filter can also be effective.
Ensure you get plenty of sleep and drink lots of water – it is surprising how these simple measures can make a difference to allergy symptoms.
And don’t forget to address the mental irritation that allergies cause. Where possible, work to adopt a positive frame of mind and look at meditation and yoga to help calm the mind. Take your mind off your allergies by keeping a gratitude journal, and perhaps also have a “happy list” of about 15 things that you make feel happy, and commit to doing one straight away.
HELPING ALLERGY SUFFERERS
Even if you don't suffer from hay fever, I bet that someone close to you does. Be the best friend in the world, and organise an allergy-free date for someone you know who suffers allergies.
Perhaps an indoor picnic followed by a movie, and bring a gift basket filled with some home-baked low sugar treats, fresh citrus juice, and don’t forget a box of tissues! You’ll feel great knowing you have helped someone take their mind off their allergy symptoms.
Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist