Could your foggy brain today be related to the macaroni and cheese you ate last night? Or maybe your chronic asthma is connected to your croissant habit?
Bellevue Club’s resident naturopath, Dr. Rachel Erickson, ND, MSOM, LAc, thinks you might be surprised at how the body’s reactions to food can sneakily disturb your well-being. “People’s symptoms decrease when they pay attention to what foods they’re eating,” she says.
We’re not just talking serious food allergies; your body doesn’t need to go into anaphylaxis or break out in hives to mean a certain food is bothersome. Severe immune reactions to food are just one part of the picture. Delayed immune responses, intolerances and sensitivities are just as real and can affect almost any bodily system.
Erickson has begun offering delayed immune response testing for clients at the Bellevue Club; this test could lead to some aha moments for those in pain or discomfort. “It’s just valuable,” she says of the test. “It’s a great tool to help guide people through this whole confusing arena.
”The exact definition and scope of food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances are points of controversy within the medical community, as the symptoms overlap and can be very tricky to dissect. To make it more digestible, Erickson likes to break the field down into two categories: immune-mediated (IgE and IgG) and nonimmune-mediated responses (intolerances and sensitivities).
Conventional medicine recognizes the existence of IgE immune-mediated responses, which encompass the more serious food allergies. IgE (immunoglobin-E) antibodies identify even small amounts of a particular food as a harmful substance and immediately trigger an allergic reaction by releasing histamine and other chemicals. IgE provocations usually include tree nuts, shellfish, fish, peanuts, eggs, dairy, soy and wheat. Symptoms can range from less severe—rashes, hives, itching and minor swelling—to life threatening in the case of restricted airways and anaphylaxis. IgE allergies are easily testable with a skin or blood test.
According to alternative medicine, another type of immune-mediated response exists thanks to the IgG (immunoglobin-G) antibody. This manifests as a delayed allergic reaction to a food or substance, sometimes even up to 72 hours after exposure. Symptoms can be similar to those of IgE, although IgG has a wider range and may affect almost any bodily system. As such, unlike IgE responses, IgG has a more subtle effect on well-being. “You usually don’t get to adulthood and all of a sudden have a major allergic reaction,” Erickson says. “These are the things that are harder to pinpoint.”
Symptoms of IgG reactions may include anything from the more predictable skin challenges like eczema, psoriasis and acne, or gastrointestinal complaints like gas, bloating, indigestion, constipation and diarrhea, to seemingly unrelated problems in the respiratory system like asthma, chronic sinusitis or congestion, joint pain in the articular system, and even nervous system imbalances like foggy thinking, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety and depression.
The varied acceptance of IgG reactions in the medical world doesn’t faze Erickson. “From a conventional perspective, they don’t believe in IgG. They only believe in IgE, and a lot of people are wary of [IgG] or of the scientific value of it, but the proof is in the pudding. People feel better if they just stay away from certain foods.”
On the other side of the equation are the nonimmune-mediated responses, more commonly referred to as food intolerances and sensitivities, which are almost always delayed responses. Much like with IgG, the symptoms are often delayed and can affect most any system in the body, so it can be difficult to suss out the difference without testing for immune-mediated responses first. In the case of nonimmune responses, an elimination diet is really the only way to test.
Food intolerances are the most widely recognizable nonimmune-mediated response, thanks to the press lactose intolerance gets; it affects about 65 percent of humans worldwide (most of East Asian descent) and manifests most often as gastrointestinal distress. Intolerances are usually due to an enzyme deficiency hindering the body’s ability to process a given substance.
According to Erickson, the hot topic of gluten allergies being fact or fiction can also boil down to intolerance. While some people do have an inherent IgE response to wheat, some simply lack or lose the enzyme necessary to digest it and due to this, “Celiac disease can also be viewed as an intolerance. It’s not necessarily an immune-mediated response.”
Sometimes this enzyme deficiency is genetic, especially in the case of lactose intolerance, but DNA isn’t the only cause. An underlying digestive issue such as parasites, candida or SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), or the aftermath from disease or an intense period of stress may also be to blame for enzyme deficiencies, especially those that arise in adulthood. This can also be the case for IgG reactions.
Lastly we have sensitivities, which are a broader category that sometimes can seem to defy logic. As Erickson says, “[They] are even more vague in the sense that people are just sensitive to a particular food. They are not necessarily immune-mediated responses or a deficiency. It’s just that there’s a sensitivity to that particular food.” More often than not, this is related to food additives like aspartame, parabens, food dye, and sulfites in wine or dried fruit.
If you’ve ever dealt with a set of chronic, uncomfortable symptoms that your doctor just can’t seem to figure out, consider pursuing an IgG test to expand your options. As Erickson says, “It’s nice to know what’s going on . . . Because the realm of food allergies is so broad, it can be confusing to figure out what’s going on. Many people try the elimination diet, which can be a long, arduous process. Whereas [IgG testing] is quickly valuable. I have found it useful in suggesting treatment of conditions.” And if steering away from wheat keeps that asthma away without medication, it might just be worth it.
IgG Test Logistics
Test: Immunoglobin-G antibody response to 96 different foods. Options for Asian, Japanese, Hispanic and vegetarian diets available.
Sample: Blood draw or finger prick
Insurance: Not always covered. Check with provider.
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Rachel Erickson, ND, MSOM, LAc