Testing for Food Allergies

Like many Americans, I have some food allergies. Despite suffering from them for years I was not even aware of them until recently. My only symptoms were a partially stuffed nose, which is why I never paid it much notice. Added to that was the fact that I usually consumed all of the four foods I was allergic to on a daily basis. This practice ensured the symptoms were constant, and I had mistakenly assumed they were due to airborne allergens.

Food Allergy Testing

While I had identified the foods to which I was susceptible by myself, I was looking into ordering a blood test to add to my sparse knowledge. The most popular type of food allergy testing is based on measuring for a marker called IgG. It is a fairly mainstream test, and multitudes rely on it to determine their food allergies and adjust their diet according to its results. Tragically, research has shown that this test has little basis for validity, and there is considerable clinical evidence that it not only is ineffective, but even plain wrong. This means that foods that show a response on the test may actually be foods a person can tolerate well.

This website states the case pretty well:

Food allergies are reactions to food proteins. They may be categorized as immunoglobulin E (IgE)–mediated (immediate) reactions, non–IgE-mediated (delayed) hypersensitivity reactions, and mixed reactions. IgE-mediated reactions are the ones we worry about when we hear about a “food allergy”: flushing, itchy skin, wheezing, vomiting, throat swelling, and even anaphylaxis. These reactions can occur immediately following exposure, and are the consequence of the interaction of allergens with IgE located on mast cells. The interaction causes the release of inflammatory chemicals like histamine and leucotriene, triggering the the allergic response which is typically skin related (itchiness, swelling and rash)  but may be anaphylactic as well.

Not all reactions follow this cascade. Non-IgE-mediated allergic reactions can cause localized (e.g., contact dermatitis) or generalized reactions, which are usually gastrointestinal or dermatological in nature. Celiac disease is a non-IgE related allergic reaction. Finally, some allergic disorders are both IgE and non-IgE mediated, such as atopic dermatitis (eczema).

Beyond the IgE mediated reactions, there are a number of possible reactions to food, which may be termed “food intolerances”. Not immune-system based, they’re more common than allergies. They include conditions like lactose intolerance, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), enzyme deficiencies, metabolic conditions, infections and other processes. It’s a catch-all term by definition.

So where does immunoglobulin G (IgG) come in? IgG molecules mediate interactions of cells with different cellular and humoral mechanisms. IgG antibodies signify exposure to products—not allergy. IgG may actually be a marker for food tolerance, not intolerance, some research suggests:

The Food Elimination Diet

The food elimination diet is the only sure way to test for food intolerances. In theory, it is quite simple – simply eliminate the foods to which you may be allergic for a few weeks, and then reintroduce them one by one, observing for symptoms to occur, which may take a few hours.

In practice, I found this test to be difficult. Without knowing beforehand to what foods one is allergic, eliminating all possibilities leaves little to eat. Since I eat some sort of wheat and/or dairy everyday (the two most common allergens), it was not easy. It took months of half-hearted attempts until I stumbled on the principle allergen for me – chocolate. Since this food was easy to eliminate and not go hungry, it really jump-started the process. My nose was now clear enough to perform meaningful experimentation.

You may have the same problem. All I can suggest is to muddle along, observing as much as you can until your symptoms subside enough to make observations easier. Like me, the problem may not be a common allergen, but one unique to you.

Once you get to the point where you can eliminate a food and then reintroduce it with a noticeable effect, the process will become much easier.

A Better Way

Normally, when eating a food to which you react, the symptoms may not appear for several hours. This delay compounds the difficulty in identifying the food responsible. I have discovered a better way, and it actually has a fairly sound basis. If a doctor discovered it, it might be called sublingual food response testing. To perform the test, we actually take advantage of the fact that the mouth is particularly susceptible to absorption of substances put into it directly into the bloodstream.

To perform the test, simply chew the questionable food slowly, holding it in your mouth as long as possible. That is all there is to it – it is that easy.

The reaction will occur within minutes. By using this process, I was able to discover some additional food allergies.When chewing problem foods, my nose started to clog. I was able to then test one food after another by simply waiting until my nose cleared again.

While this method may not be fool-proof, it can be a powerful tool in identifying food sensitivities. It sure is easier and less expensive than blood tests.

Eliminating Food Allergies

Food allergies are usually difficult to eliminate. However, the same sublingual approach I discovered to testing for them can also be used to desensitize the body to a particular food. Wikipedia even has an entry for this process, and you can read about a clinical study in which children allergic to egg whites were able to overcome it. In the study, the children were simply fed large quantities of egg whites daily.

While this process may work for children, I have doubts as to its effectiveness in adults. However, if instead of merely eating the problem food, one chews its slowly – allowing it to be absorbed sublingually, it would seem to be similar to standard allergy injection therapy. One does not need to limit themselves to foods either. This same process has been the subject of clinical studies that treat for airborne allergies as well.

I don’t know about you, but a safe, natural alternative to allergy shots sounds like a winner to me. For those risk adverse, be aware that severe allergic reactions (such as peanut allergies) are still possible with a sublingual approach, so please use caution. Nevertheless, I think the sublingual treatment is probably much safer than allergy shots and are a viable DIY solution to this widespread problem.

Please share your experiences in the comments below.

Disclaimer: I am not a Doctor, and this article does not constitute medical advice of any kind. Any information given is for educational purposes only and are not to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Testing for Food Allergies by Provide Your Own is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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