When it comes to food allergies, dramatic consequences come to mind: hives, shortness of breath, the throat sealing closed, swelling, an inability to breathe, anaphylaxis, and possibly even death. While these things can and do occur, fortunately, incidences such as these are fairly rare. In fact, it is estimated that only 4% of the American population suffers from a true food allergy. That is the good news.
Unfortunately, there is some very not-so-good-news as well. While only 4% of the population is thought to have a true food allergy, the vast majority of us, an estimated 70-80%, have a different problem: food intolerance. What’s the difference? A true food allergy is expressed through a specific immunological pathway. It manifests quickly, with discrete and easy to recognize symptoms , primarily those listed above. Moreover, true food allergies tend to occur in response to common and predictable culprits – nuts, shellfish, wheat, and dairy. In contrast, food intolerance is harder to track down, often delayed in its presentation, and can occur in response to nearly anything, not only the foods we eat, but also the additives and preservatives packaged in today’s “food products.” Food intolerance can also be cumulative, meaning that someone with a food sensitivity might be able to tolerate a small amount of the problem food but would suffer some set of side effects if that food were consumed regularly or in large amounts. Finally, food intolerance can actually be caused by our eating habits and behaviors. Not having enough variety in the diet, such as eating the same foods day and day out, can cause our body to develop a sensitivity to the foods we over-consume. Worst of all, the side effects of food intolerance vary and are themselves often treated as the problem, which both ignores that their cause is rooted elsewhere and ensures that the side effects will persist.
Side Effects of Food Intolerance
Common side effects of food intolerance include digestive disorders, migraines, weight gain and obesity, chronic fatigue, depression, aching joints, skin conditions, asthma, autoimmune conditions, and behavioral issues such as ADD, an inability to concentrate, and autism. Take a moment and re-read that list. The implications are staggering. An estimated 1 in 5 adults have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, 12% suffer migraines, 10% are clinically depressed, 1 in 8 have chronic fatigue, 62% are overweight, and 53% are actively trying to lose weight. In children, the statistics aren’t any less concerning. Autism affects 1 in 88 children, 9.5% of children in the US have asthma, 7.5% of school age children have ADD or ADHD, and 1 in 3 are overweight or obese. Could sensitivity to the foods we consume be, in part, driving these numbers? We believe so.
Diagnosing Food Intolerance
A typical food allergy test administered by a traditional medical practitioner will uncover just that: food allergies. As a result, the test will be effective only for the 4% of the population who suffer from a true food allergy. For the 70-80% of the population who lack food allergies but who suffer from a food intolerance, this test is essentially worthless. Testing for food intolerance, in contrast, is done by assessing an individual’s immunological response to food stimulus as it occurs outside the one immunologic pathway associated with food allergies. Food intolerance testing, in other words, doesn’t test for a food allergy – it tests for histamine responses elsewhere.
The leading source for food intolerance testing is ALCAT Worldwide. Using a blood sample, ALCAT technology can detect an individual’s histamine response to up to 200 foods, 10 food additives and colorings, 50 functional foods and medicinal herbs (things like Echinacea, ginko biloba, kava kava, etc), 50 “female herbs” (evening primrose, wild yam), 40 male herbs, 20 common molds, and 10 environmental chemicals including chlorine, fluoride, etc. Results of the testing process take approximately 2 weeks, and based on the results, the individual doing the testing is prescribed a four-day rotation diet. Included in the rotation diet will be a list of foods he or she needs to avoid most, a list of foods that he or she may be able to tolerate in small amounts after the body has had a chance to take a break from consuming them, and a list of foods “safe” to consume, ie, foods that will not cause the body to have a histamine response. These safe foods, as well as foods to which the body has a very mild reaction, will be prescribed on an every four-day basis to avoid the creation of new food sensitivities from the overconsumption of safe foods. The rotation diet is clearly spelled out and easy to follow. On each day of the plan the person following the diet will have a list of proteins, starches, fruits and vegetables to choose from. That list changes each day for four days, after which the person following the plan returns to day one.
Reduction and Elimination of Symptoms
The rate at which an individual will notice a reduction in food intolerance symptoms varies by both the individual and the symptom. An inability to concentrate as a result of gluten intolerance, for example, may diminish or disappear in as little as a few days. Other symptoms make take as long as 6 months to vanish, and along the way, the body may develop additional detox symptoms as it heals from chronic exposure to the irritating stimuli. Food intolerance testing and the rotation diet are, therefore, not a quick fix solution to all of the problems that can manifest as a result of food sensitivity. What they promise, however, is a long-term and lasting one. By determining an individual’s unique food sensitivity profile, ALCAT testing allows the patient or client to eat according to his or her specific needs, reducing inflammation in the body, improving his or her ability to focus and perform both at work and in athletics, bolstering his or her immune system and mood, and manage his or her weight by avoiding foods that may be “healthy” for everyone else but poison for them specifically.
Alpine Integrated Medicine is a proud ALCAT practitioner. For additional information about food intolerance, common symptoms, or ALCAT testing, please give us a call at 425-949-5961. Additionally, please stay tuned for parts 2 -5 of this blog series on food intolerance. Coming up in part 2: a case study of our personal trainer Kindra, and her experience with food intolerance after following a strict bodybuilding diet. It’s an ugly tale. And an itchy one. Parts 3, 4 and 5 will update Kindra’s story at the one month, three-month, and six month mark following food intolerance testing in order to track her progress.