Today I’m going to explore a topic that I talk a lot about in my clinic... Food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances are concerns that more people are dealing with every passing year. Studies show that by 2050, incidences of allergies in children will have risen by 70%. What’s going on? Why are we seeing more and more incidences of allergies in our society and children? Well, there have been a lot of theories trying to explain this phenomenon, but they all boil down to one thing: modern diets and lifestyles. Reactions caused by the foods we eat is a complex subject. There are three main types of reactions you will likely come across, they are true food allergies, food sensitivities and food intolerances.
IgE mediated food reactions are true food allergies involving the release of histamine. Food allergies range from mild to life-threatening. Reactions such as nausea, coughing, trouble breathing, chest pain, itchy tongue or lips, hives, vomiting, or stomach cramps occur rapidly.
Food sensitivities involve the immune system but are not true food allergies. They are mediated by the IgG antibody and are delayed, so reactions occur hours or even days after the offending food has been ingested, making identification tricky. Food sensitivities are accumulative so you or your child may be OK with consuming a small amount of the food but have problems when too much of it is consumed. Symptoms also vary wildly from person to person.
Food intolerances, while often confused with food allergies and sensitivities, are unique. They do not involve the immune system and are usually due to the lack of certain digestive enzymes.
If you or your child has suspected food reactions, a holistic approach that focuses on the root cause of the problem is the best approach. There may be underlying root causes that need to be addressed.
The main aim of a holistic strategy is to improve you (or your child's) tolerance to foods and other environmental substances by supporting the immune system. A standard solution that many practitioners propose is to restrict the types of foods that you or your child consumes, through an elimination diet. Unless you or your child has an IgE mediated food allergy to a food, there are several problems with this approach for children:
Strict food avoidance can make you or your child’s immune systems more sensitive
Strict food avoidance places you or your child at risk of nutrient deficiencies
Strict food avoidance can disrupt the gut microbiome
Strict food avoidance is not sustainable
The collection of bacteria that live in the gut is called the microbiome. An essential part of addressing food reactions is increasing the diversity of your gut microbiome. Several food sensitivities and intolerances are a result of the body not producing enough enzymes to help break down food properly. For example, lactose intolerance is a result of having too little of the enzyme that breaks down lactose. A holistic solution for this is to enhance the body's ability to produce the enzymes that break down these specific foods properly.
Vanessa Vanderhoek is a functional medicine nutritionist specializing in the gut microbiome, biochemistry and nutrigenomics. She helps people to regain their health by taking a “food as medicine” approach that's unique to their body.
Whilst based in Canberra (Australia), Vanessa sees clients around the world in her virtual clinic. To get started book an initial consultation by clicking here.