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Food Sensitivity Explained

What is food sensitivity

We typically think of big dramatic reactions when our bodies don’t agree with the food we eat—like an angry bout of hives, EpiPens and anaphylactic shock. Food sensitivities are different. Unlike food allergies, these reactions can be delayed and are rarely life-threatening. But what many people don’t know is that food sensitivities are growing in prevalence and can affect our health and our moods. What’s more, food sensitivities are largely undiagnosed and seem to be on the rise. While they are clearly less scary than a full-blown food allergy, these mysterious and highly individualistic conditions can still make us sick. Luckily, with growing awareness and testing capabilities, it’s easier than ever to get to the bottom of what is ailing you and do something about it.

Allergy vs. Sensitivity vs. Intolerance: Understanding the science behind the symptoms

There are a lot of terms thrown around and it’s easy to get confused, especially since food allergies, food sensitivities and food intolerances often present similar symptoms and there’s a general lack of accurate information on the internet.

A food allergy is an immune response to a specific food, triggering a histamine reaction with potentially severe symptoms like anaphylaxis or hives, with a near immediate reaction time. An example of this is someone with a peanut allergy, who requires an EpiPen simply by inhaling a tiny amount of peanut dust from a candy wrapper nearby. People who suffer from food allergies typically know about their allergies based on the extreme reactions and immediate response times.

A food sensitivity is a diffuse, and as yet poorly understood reaction to food that may be associated with increased levels of certain IgG class antibodies that are reactive to that food. Unlike a food allergy, the symptoms can be delayed for a few days after ingesting the trigger food. An example of this is a gluten sensitivity or peanut sensitivity. People who have food sensitivities can go a lifetime without ever knowing they have one due to delayed reaction times and vague symptoms that mirror common ailments.

A food intolerance happens when you lack an enzyme needed to break down a certain food, triggering a digestive response.An example of this would be those with lactose intolerance, meaning they lack sufficient quantities of the enzyme lactase to break down the sugars in the milk, resulting in gastrointestinal trouble. Intolerances commonly run in families.

The key difference is how your body reacts once a trigger food is encountered. For both allergies and sensitivities, your body may produce certain classes of antibodies to triggering substances. A food allergy prompts the production of IgE while a food sensitivity may result in the production of IgG. Testing for these two antibodies is the most definitive way to distinguish between an allergy and a sensitivity, and an IgG test offers more insights on what foods are making you sick. Here are a few tell-tale signs to look for if you suspect your body is reacting poorly to a specific food.

Key differences between food allergies and food sensitivities

Food Allergy:

Food Sensitivity:

Food Sensitivity Symptoms

Do you suffer from any of the following symptoms? A food sensitivity may be to blame.

Common Culprits

While food sensitivities vary from person to person, there are some common culprits often associated with food intolerance. These include:

How do you know if you have a food sensitivity?

If you notice certain ailments or aches on a regular basis like the ones listed above, you might have a food sensitivity. The tricky part is figuring out which food is to blame. Since symptoms can wait to show up until a few days after consumption, it makes diagnosis especially challenging and time-consuming. That’s why for many, food sensitivities last for decades and are largely undiagnosed.

Traditionally, you would keep a food journal and embark on an elimination diet, removing possible culprits one at a time for periods of two to eight weeks (the longer the better). Instead of that tedious process, we offer simple at-home health testing for 96 different possible triggers, with results in five days. The home health test, which detects an IgG immune response, will zero in on possible triggers and expedite your diagnosis. Our at-home health tests are designed to keep you empowered and informed without the hassle and cost of lab work. Everlywell provides advice specific to your sensitivity so you can be on your way to a healthier self.

Living (and eating) with a food sensitivity

The bad news is that there isn’t a cure. The good news is that by simply eliminating the trigger food, you can be symptom-free. After you receive the results from our at-home food sensitivity test, EverlyWell will provide tailored advice on how to move forward with your diet needs. While you might decide not to completely eliminate certain foods, scaling back on triggers will lead to a healthier relationship between your body and your food. It’s all about finding the right balance of minimizing symptoms and maintaining your desired lifestyle.

Here are a few tips to help you steer clear of those trigger foods and feel your best:


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