Food Sensitivities Could Be Hurting You

By Rebecca Kirby, M.D., M.S., R.D.

How many of us have reactions to the foods we eat?  There are any number of symptoms that one may attribute to food reactions or sensitivities.  It can be difficult to pinpoint what foods may be causing discomfort or contributing to poor health.  Reactions to foods can involve not only the skin and digestion but can also involve the respiratory system, the nervous system, and the musculoskeletal system.  This response is dependent on the antigen, the host, and the environment, in other words how healthy we are and how much exposure we receive.  The offending antigen which is a substance that stimulates the production of antibodies, can be a component of any food or an additive in the food product.  The antibody or immunoglobulin produced and its effect on the body is how these allergies are described.

There are any number of symptoms that one may attribute to food reactions or sensitivities.

The production of immunoglobulin E (lgE) produces an immediate allergic reaction that can range from a mild skin rash to fatal anaphylaxis. This immediate reaction that occurs within two hours or less is often called a true allergy. Very often only a small amount of the food is necessary to elicit a response. Since the response is so rapid after ingestion and only one or two foods are usually involved, the offending food is often self-diagnosed.

There are other food allergies however.  These can include reactions to 20 or more foods and additives.  The response is not immediate but delayed from 2 to 72 hours after ingestion.  It takes larger amounts of the food and perhaps multiple feedings to obtain a response.  This reaction is called delayed hypersensitivity.  This kind of allergic response is 60% to 80% of all food reactions and can affect any tissue, organ or system in the body.  It is difficult to self-diagnose these food reactions due to the number of foods that can be involved.  However, they are often the very foods that may be craved and eaten frequently, even eliciting withdrawal symptoms in some people.

The Bio-Center Laboratory has been testing this delayed food sensitivity for 30 years with the Cytotoxic Food Sensitivity Test.  The technique, first developed in 1956 and improved in 1971 by Bryant and Bryant, looks at 90 plus foods and food additives with additional testing available for any product ingested.  Sharon, the expert technician in our lab, was trained by the original authors of this technique and has been doing this test for over 30 years.  Antigens that have been prepared from the food extract or additive are observed with a suspension of blood from the patient after two hours.  Both positive and negative controls are run to verify that the reaction observed is due indeed to the food involved.  The reaction observed is graded from no reaction to 1+,2+,3+, and the most reactive being 4+. What is observed is the destruction of platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells in the patient’s blood sample. This reaction is how antibodies attach to antigens on the cell surface destroying the cellular membrane preparing the cell to be phagocytized. Oxygen radicals are secreted, and there is an increase in arachidonic acid release from membrane phospholipids.

What sort of symptoms could be experienced by a delayed hypersensitivity to a food? It could include a sensation of feeling sleepy after eating, unclear thinking, gastrointestinal bloating, congestion, headache, or hyperactivity. After repeated ingestion, symptoms could include joint pain, depression, bronchitis, eczema, acne, sinusitis, fatigue, recurrent infections, or weight gain. This is not a complete list because each person will experience sensitivities that are unique to them.

What is also distinctive are the foods that each person is sensitive to. It is as unique as a fingerprint.  Many of the delayed sensitivities will include the top eight allergens that most often cause the immediate IgE-allergic reactions. These include shellfish, peanuts, soybeans, mollusks (clams), nuts, milk, eggs, fish, and wheat. However, the list of foods that can cause delayed hypersensitivities is as varied as the food supply.

The more commonly eaten foods and additives that are tested in our laboratory which frequently cause a positive response are listed in this table.

Common Reactive Foods
• Pineapple, onion, whole egg, grape/raisin, vanilla, com, tea, hops, apple, navy bean, white potato, oats, coffee, rice, tomato, tobacco, wheat, soybeans, shrimp, carrots, chocolate, chicken, lettuce, banana, yeast
• Common additives – BHT/BHA, NutraSweet, sodium bisulfite, MSG, dextrose, sodium nitrite/nitrate, chlorine/fluorine

Many more additives have appeared in foods over the years as food processors strive to preserve shelf life, enhance color, flavor, and acceptability. Since chemical sensitivities can be acquired to these components, these are also tested.

Hypersensitivities, whether it includes a food or an additive, require careful label reading at the grocery store. Foods that are processed or packaged will have ingredients that may include an extract of the whole food. An example is corn from which high fructose com syrup, dextrose, and com starch are derived. A sensitivity to corn will include avoiding these additional food components. Another example would be if one is sensitive to olives, peanuts, or soy, it would be prudent to avoid the oils made from these foods. If there are problems with milk products, that would include the necessity to avoid cheese, yogurt, whey, and casein. Sensitivity to baker’s yeast will preclude eating bread unless leavened with baking soda or powder instead of yeast.

A good solution to avoiding reactions to additives in foods is to eat whole foods that have not been processed and manipulated. Although there may be some whole foods that an individual is hypersensitive to, there will be plenty of nutritious whole foods for good healthy choices. These dietary changes help many people lose weight.

The best way to begin on this journey of health is to avoid these reactive foods initially for one to three months, depending on the degree of reactivity. These foods do not necessarily have to be avoided for a lifetime. As the mucosal barrier of the digestive tract heals and becomes less permeable, as the lessened exposure reduces lymphocyte sensitivity and nutritional balance is improved, then occasionally eating one of these foods may not create such a strong reaction and may improve completely.

As Dr. Jackson, Director of the Bio-Center lab would say, many people are plagued by many symptoms, aches, joint and muscle pain and have been told it is all in their head, but it is not. Many times it may be in their food!

Ode to Allergies by Rebecca Kirby

In eating your supper
You’re now all a-dread
You’ve been told your reactions
Are all in your head

But your head’s all a-roar
You gurgle and brood
When in fact all these symptoms
Come from your food