Are You Over-Sensitive? Four Key Points on Reactions to Foods
Many many people come to a naturopath feeling something they are eating just isn’t agreeing with them, but are unsure what the trigger is. Here are a few simple points that I discuss with many clients seeking some answers to their health problems:
- Reactivity (and sensitivity, and intolerance) is different from a true ‘allergy’
On this important point, it is essential to be clear that an allergy is an immune-mediated reaction that can be life-threatening (as in the case of anaphylaxis) or is at the very least usually rapid. Often, you know what your ‘allergies’ are, because you can see the welts you get after eating a strawberry, feel your nose and eyes itch when it’s pollen season, or feel your throat get scratchy and irritated when you eat hazelnuts. Other forms of sensitivity and reactivity, including intolerances, are more subtle, and may not involve an immune reaction at all. I prefer to use the term ‘reactivity’, because even ‘sensitivity’ and ‘intolerance’ have come to mean very specific things.
Because of this difference, standard medical allergy tests that are wonderful (and essential) for determining true allergies, may not have turned up any answers for you if you don’t have any allergies! This doesn’t mean you aren’t reacting to something.
- Reactions can come in many shapes and sizes
The more common reactions to foods or food substances may be digestive problems, but equally common are skin reactions, headaches and energy fluctuations. Almost any physical ailment can be in some people linked to eating the wrong foods. Sometimes foods are not a cause but are a contributing or exacerbating factor.
Because reactivities are not the same as allergies, they can be slower to develop, and often aren’t immediate. The most sensitive people I have seen can be waiting up to four days for a flare-up from something they have eaten! This can make working things out on your own rather tricky!
- Sometimes there is more than one ‘trigger’
Quite often people are frustrated with trying to be their own food detective, because they try removing ONE food from their diets at a time. Sometimes at best they will see a slight improvement but not the miracle cure they had hoped for. Frequently, we see that people have more than one trigger. It may be that a person is very sensitive to dairy, for example, but also a little bit sensitive to certain preservatives and tomatoes. Additionally, sometimes a little bit of your trigger food is ok but not a lot. So in this case they might only have a significant flare-up or reaction when they’ve had a milkshake, a salami and brie sandwich and picked all the ripe cherry tomatoes off the vine for immediate consumption!
- Reactivities Are Not a Life Sentence
One of the most important points to make is that unlike true allergies, which can be lifelong (in some cases), reactivities are often not. This is especially true when under the care of a naturopath or health practitioner, people are guided through a process of:
Removing, Rebalancing, Reintroducing: This involves removing the trigger foods for a period of time, rebalancing immune function, nutrient levels, gut flora, and generally healing and re-balancing the body, and then systematically re-introducing the removed foods. This process is unique to each person, both in terms of the time frames and the natural medicines that may be useful for the healing process. Unfortunately many people simply take foods out of their diets and never do the work to determine why they are sensitive in the first place. This is not a long-term solution, and excluding foods from the diet must be done with real care and knowledge.
In short, listen to your gut. If you suspect you are reacting to something, you probably are. Seek support to help determine what is triggering you, and what you can do to re-balance your system to reduce reactivity overall. Support is here for you when you need it, so let this be a healthier, more vital new year!