Our digestive and immune systems are constantly scanning for potential harmful substances that enter the body. Whatever we eat, the immune system is assessing for safety, and symptoms of allergies, intolerances and sensitivities reflect the immune system detecting a food as a threat. The way the immune system reacts to a substance can be as individual as we are, changing over time and becoming less or more sensitive to foods.
Food allergy reactions can be divided into two main groups:
1. Immediate hypersensitivity reactions (allergies)
This is a true food allergy which involves an immune reaction by IgE antibodies. These reactions develop within minutes to an hour or so from ingestion. The immune system (via IgE) responds by triggering mast cells to break open and release histamine, which then triggers more mast cells to break open, creating a chain reaction that causes symptoms like hives, coughing, sneezing, and watery eyes or anaphylaxis, a life threatening reaction requiring adrenaline (via an EpiPen) and emergency medical treatment. Susceptibility to allergies often runs in families.
Symptoms can appear anywhere on the body and can be very mild to severe and even life threatening. Anaphylaxis is a type of allergic reaction where the throat swells, restricting breathing, rapid loss of blood pressure occurs and the person goes into shock and can die.
Almost any molecule can be an allergen however, the most common food allergies include:
2. Delayed hypersensitivity reactions (food sensitivities)
These food reactions are also called non-IgE mediated food sensitivities, and can have a delay of 1.5 - 72 hours from the time of consumption to the time a symptom first appears, making these food allergens hard to identify. This type of food reaction involves the production of IgG antibodies and sometimes pro-inflammatory compounds, yet these reactions are not life threatening unlike allergies. An example of this is non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).
A food intolerance is where uncomfortable digestive symptoms are a reaction to an ingested food or substance. This type of food reaction does not involve the immune system - it is often due to lack of an enzyme or chemical required to break it down. An example of this is lactose intolerance.
Food intolerance symptoms are much more common than allergies, are predominantly gastrointestinal and are often a delayed reaction.
Food allergy symptoms can change throughout a person’s life, from no reaction to severe reaction. Some people never grow out of childhood allergies and some gather allergies as they age. Two people with the same allergy can have very different reactions, in both the symptoms and the severity.
Symptoms of allergic reactions may include:
Food allergy symptoms tend to appear either immediately or within a few hours of exposure.
Food sensitivity symptoms
Symptoms of food sensitivities can be similar to allergies, and include:
Symptoms typically are delayed, generally occurring within a 72 hour period post exposure to a food.
Whilst they are not immediately life threatening, food sensitivity symptoms can be severe and lead to complications such as nutritional deficiencies, dysbiosis of the gut flora. They have been linked to the development of autoimmune conditions when not detected and treated. They can have a significant effect on quality of life and enjoyment of food.
Food intolerance symptoms
Food intolerance symptoms can include all of the above allergy symptoms, but are most commonly:
Many triggers, or sometimes combinations of triggers cause the development of food sensitivities, food allergies and food intolerances. These can include:
Food intolerances can also include any molecules as triggers, however, common intolerances are:
Food intolerances can be related to the deficiency of particular enzymes and other molecules required for breakdown, such as:
When left untreated, food intolerances have been linked with development of autoimmune diseases, rheumatic diseases and neurological conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and cerebral ataxia. Therefore, identifying food reactions and addressing them can be essential for maintenance of long term health.
Research has found people with the ‘atopic triad’ have a defective barrier of the skin and upper and lower respiratory tracts.
These genetic alterations cause a loss of function of filaggrin (filament aggregating protein), which is a protein in the skin that normally breaks down to create natural moisturisation and protect the skin from penetration by pathogens and allergens.
Filaggrin mutations are found in approximately 30 percent of people with atopic dermatitis, and also predispose people to asthma, allergic rhinitis (hayfever), keratosis pilaris (dry rough patches and bumps on the skin), and ichthyosis vulgaris (a chronic condition which causes thick, dry, scaly skin.)If one parent carries this genetic alteration, there is a 50 percent chance their child will develop atopic symptoms. And that risk increases to 80 percent if both parents are affected.
The connection between the gut microbiome and skin health is complex, however, research has found the microbiota contributes to the development, persistence, and severity of atopic dermatitis through immunologic, metabolic and neuroendocrine pathways.
Deficiency of Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFA) has been linked with the increased incidence of atopic dermatitis, along with the inability for the body to efficiently metabolise EFA’s to gamma linoleic acids (GLA) and arachidonic acids (AA).
Changing weather conditions can certainly aggravate eczema symptoms, but the triggers are subject to change among individuals.
Mould exposure and susceptibility to mould can cause Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), of which dermatitis is a manifestation.
Mostly, your GP will be concerned with an IgE mediated allergy, or may need to differentiate from an autoimmune condition such as coeliac disease. Depending on the severity and type of food sensitivity, your GP may refer you for food sensitivity testing to identify your food triggers.
Food sensitivity testing used in Australia includes:
Permanent avoidance of the food allergen is likely to be the first recommendation, in addition to medications, which include:
Immunotherapy - a process of desensitisation by administering small, gradually increasing doses of allergens over 3 to 5 years, may be administered.
If a non-IgE food intolerance is identified, your GP will recommend lifetime avoidance of that food.
Due to the inaccuracy of some food intolerance tests, conventional doctors can be over-cautious in the assessment of good quality naturopath food sensitivity testing and evidence-based functional food sensitivity testing.
This is why it is important to seek help from experienced food allergy and food intolerance functional medicine practitioners. Functional testing for food allergy and intolerance from state of the art pathology labs, and experienced interpretation of those tests are important to effective treatment.
Food sensitivity testing and treatment by functional medicine specialist practitioners may include a range of different tests to identify allergies, nutrient deficiencies, intolerances and digestive function including: microbiome species make up and diversity, inflammation, parasites, motility dysfunction (speed of transit of food), barrier integrity of the digestive lining, sugar intolerance testing. The results of these tests can inform practitioners on which other body systems may be involved and the best course of treatment.
At Melbourne Functional Medicine, our specialist food intolerance practitioners use state of the art pathology labs, for the highest quality testing. Food sensitivity testing may include:
Functional medicine food sensitivity testing and treatment is holistic and personalised. Once testing has identified any food allergens, food intolerances or sensitivities then treatment strategies will include:
Functional medicine is perfectly placed to treat food sensitivities, allergy and intolerances. All treatments use evidence based methods to reduce reactivity, improve digestion and immune function and it is delivered within a holistic, and patient centred framework. Treatment may include:
In our supportive, personalised 6 month program, you’ll have the guidance of your practitioner and the support of your health coach to help you implement your treatment plan with ease and get the results you’re seeking. Find out more below.
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Food allergies are an IgE antibody reaction, and this is part of the immune system, but not an autoimmune condition.
The body mistakenly produces antibodies in response to a food that it has identified as being dangerous, and it is the food that causes the reaction. In an autoimmune condition the body is reacting to another part of itself, due to misidentification.
There is some emerging evidence of a link of untreated food reactions triggering autoimmune conditions in individuals that are susceptible or have a genetic predisposition.
Yes, food allergies can cause many types of reactions, including ones that disrupt neurotransmitter production.
These chemicals are the body’s mood chemicals, and when out of balance, can cause depression, anger, anxiety, hyperactivity and withdrawal.
This is particularly noticeable in children, but not limited to children.
Food allergy testing by functional medicine specialists is available in Melbourne to help identify foods and improve these symptoms.
Food intolerances, depending on the underlying cause and severity can sometimes be reversed, or at least reduced.
If a person is lactose intolerant to dairy because their body doesn’t produce the enzyme lactase required to break it down, then it is possible to take a lactase supplement - although this does not reverse the intolerance.
If another person is sensitive to a food due to gut flora imbalances, intestinal hyperpermeability, or other digestive condition, then repairing these issues may result in the complete reversal of food sensitivities.
Seeing a specialist functional medicine food intolerance practitioner can help clarify what the root cause of your food intolerance is, access food intolerance testing, and create a plan to treat it naturally and effectively.
Yes, any type of food sensitivity can result in maldigestion, and disruption of the gut flora and/or metabolism which can result in weight gain or weight loss.
Figuring out if you have a food intolerance, sensitivity or allergy, and the underlying cause, can help to reverse how it impacts on your body weight.
The food intolerance specialist practitioners at Melbourne Functional Medicine can help isolate what the issue is and how to treat it effectively.
Yes. Peri-menopause is the stage before the last period and this can last for 7-10 years. In that time, oestrogen is fluctuating wildly, and progesterone is dropping.
Oestrogen stimulates histamine, the chemical messenger that is released by immune mast cells, and histamine can influence food reactions.
Both oestrogen and progesterone are generally protective and provide a calming presence to inflammation, but when they are depleted, we lose this protection. In menopause (12 months after the last period) there is very little oestrogen, and no progesterone, so it is common to develop food sensitivities.
It is also a time of change in a woman’s life, where kids, parents and jobs are often in transition, and this can have an impact on stress levels. Stress can affect every part of the body, but in particular the digestive system, and so this too can contribute to food intolerances.
It is possible to have an allergic reaction to any kind of molecule, there are even people in the world who are allergic to water, or sunshine - though these are uncommon.
Often, common allergies are to proteins in food, however they are not limited only to proteins, so any food can provoke an allergic reaction.
There is a strong correlation in the research that shows that allergies, including food allergies, run in families.
This is also true of food sensitivities, however by a different mechanism, generally by disrupting digestive function.
The susceptibility to digestive disorders that can contribute to food sensitivities can be inherited, such as IBS, or autoimmune conditions such as IBD. With regards to food intolerances, genetically inherited is the likelihood of not producing sufficient enzymes for breaking down a particular molecule like the lactase enzyme, required for breaking down lactose in milk.
We offer food intolerance testing in Melbourne and across Australia. We offer food tests such as food sensitivity testing, food intolerance testing, and food allergy testing using a range of labs and at home tests.
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