When I was in high school, I started missing a lot of school because of this unrelenting nausea. It was paralyzing. I saw doctors who put me on heartburn medication, and my school nurse thought its cause was hormonal change (cue sob story about time of red tide / weeping womb). Around this same time, I began having odd skin sensitivity, almost as if my stomach and arms were completely bruised. I saw endocrinologists and again, no conclusive diagnoses.
The skin sensitivity worsened around the time I would eat poorly or eat a lot. It made a sneaky return around holidays and hangovers, and was only remedied when I again returned to my usual health habits – eating relatively well, lots of veg, and minimal gluten, dairy, and processed foods. Now it rarely returns, as my diet for the most part is pretty plant-based and consistent.
Because I have largely removed top allergens from my diet (gluten and dairy), I am now highly sensitive when I include them, but I’ve never actually been tested for allergies. If I have a small amount, I feel okay. Maybe a little consti, but otherwise fine. This summer, however, I was in my bed, curled up with New Girl and a pint of Jeni’s strawberry buttermilk ice-cream in hand (if anyone has had Jeni’s, you know what a magical moment this was…BLISSED OUT). I slid into a delightful dairyed dreamy state. A few days later I discovered hives ALL over my body (which makes sense because food sensitivity symptoms may develop up to 3 days after consumption of food). The painful itchy kind. I’m not entirely sure if it was exclusively the dairy, as that weekend was fourth of july (read: ice cream, booze, pizza, etc.) but I’ve tried to limit my dairy intake since that unusual experience.
Flash forward to early November, and I decided to have a small yogurt bowl for breakfast, this time listening to my body’s symptoms. Almost immediately I had a headache. I put my hair down thinking it may have been due to a hybrid of unwashed hair/overly tight ponytail, and still it remained. A few days later, my right rotator cuff began aching. By the next day, I could barely move either arm higher than my belly button. The pain remained for a few days. I must be a masochist because it seems I still had not learned my lesson. The pumpkin cheesecake was seductively whispering to me over Thanksgiving. Within twelve hours of consumption the shoulder pain returned, again leaving my arms immobilized for a day.
And this is how food sensitivity often reveals itself: those unpredictable odd symptoms that you or a doctor can’t exactly pinpoint a root cause. These are things like moodiness, brain fog, headaches, migraine, cognitive impairment, fatigue, heart burn, joint pain, arthritis, asthma, eczema, acne, rosacea, dark circles, gas, bloating, constipation, autoimmune disorders, weight gain, difficulty losing weight, and even food cravings. Eating a food you’re sensitive to usually means you’re not digesting it well. These sneaky little undigested particles muscle their way through the intestinal lining (hence the phrase intestinal permeability / leaky gut) and enter circulation. Antibodies then come to the rescue, in turn creating an immune response. But the antibodies don’t just create enough to put out the immediate fire. They anticipate another offense, so often a surplus results. Antibodies like doing their job, and since there are extra, they crave more of the offender to break down, and so you start to crave the thing you can’t break down well – hence food cravings and further uncomfortable symptoms.
So blah blah blah, after having these odd symptoms, I decided to try the Pinner Test. This test measures up to 200 foods in your system, as long as you’ve had them in the past 6 months. It does this through IgG testing, which is a type of antibody that tests for delayed food allergies. In an IgG reaction, the IgG antibodies attach themselves to the food antigen and create antibody-antigen complexes. These complexes are normally removed by macrophages (type of white blood cell). But if they’re present in large numbers and the reactive food is still being eaten, the macrophages can’t remove them quickly enough, and so they accumulate and are deposited in body tissues. Once in tissue, these complexes release inflammation causing chemicals, which may play a role in food sensitivity symptoms. Continued consumption of reactive foods may contribute to weight gain and/or difficulty losing weight. Because IgG food reactions take hours or days to develop, this makes it difficult to determine which food is responsible for the reaction without doing testing.
There are four types of IgG – IgG 1, 2, 3, and 4. Allergens are often good inducers of IgG1 and IgG4 (1), and these are what the Pinner Test tests for. IgG2 and 3 are not recognized to bind allergens, and so have false-positive findings. There is demonstrated clinical utility with IgG testing, and this testing may improve adherence to specific diets. Individuals with IBS who adhered to an IgG elimination diet reported significant improvement in pain severity, pain frequency, bloating severity, and satisfaction with bowel habit at three months. Symptom improvement maintained at 6 months and there was an improvement in depression and anxiety scores at 6 months. Another study reported IBS patients had a 10% greater reduction in total IBS symptom scores than the placebo diet. There are, however, odd results in patients with seasonal allergies, so it is important to check for cross reactions.
If there’s a food you think you may be allergic to that you haven’t had in the last 6 months, it’s recommended to consume it 7 days before taking the test. This test is not testing for allergy, it tests for food intolerance. These intolerances usually manifest in the form of symptoms like acne, weight gain, arthritis, stomach ache, fatigue, nausea, bloating, diarrhea, and brain fog.
The problem with tests like these is there could be a misdiagnosis if intestinal permeability is at play, and IgG reactions may also suggest intestinal permeability. This is what I talked about above when undigested particles pass through the intestinal lining. This is why some food sensitivity tests have false negatives and/or positives – because of a damaged intestinal wall / permeability, many foods (even if you are not sensitive to them) pass through the intestine and into circulation, and so show up as a sensitivity on a test.
Once you know your sensitivities (or think you know your sensitivities), it is best to remove the trigger from diet for 2-6 weeks, then challenge one food every 72 hours. Functional medicine practitioners suggest doing this through an elimination diet, which removing common allergens like dairy, gluten, sugar, soy, and chemical additives of processed foods for three weeks. The diet is tailored to improving intestinal permeability and gut health – similar to the post I wrote HERE. It suggests eating whole foods, and prioritizing non starchy vegetables, lean proteins, and whole food fats. Vegetables, berries, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are essential, aiming for 30 grams of fiber a day. Individuals should supplement with 10-20 grams of glutamine per day, as this supports immunity and digestion by fueling cells that line the intestine. You could also try taking a digestive enzyme to help break down food and make nutrients easier to assimilate. It’s a good idea to eat more omega-3 fatty acids, as these soothe inflammation and help rebuild healthy cell walls (things like: cold water fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, and purslane), and a fish oil supplement – look for one with 3,000mg of EPA and DHA. Furthermore, add in probiotics (one with at least 50 billion cultures) and eat fermented foods. Finally, learn to control stress and eat mindfully. Cortisol immediately disrupts the immune system and gut balance. Here are a few PDFs regarding foods allowed on the elimination diet.
Okay. So much info so far.
Back to the Pinner Test. My results revealed I was sensitive to dairy (shocker), chickpeas, and pork. And this is why I would recommend the test. I truly felt I had a sensitivity to dairy, as evidenced by the shoulder pain anecdotes above. So I was happy that the results confirmed / matched with what I subjectively felt in my body. Dairy is suggested to be eliminated in the elimination diet, so I suppose I would have been able to figure this out without the test. Chickpeas, however, I had NO idea I was sensitive to, and I consume very regularly. These ARE permitted on the elimination diet, so if I had tried this method, I wouldn’t have known to eliminate these. Even if I had been keeping a detailed journal of when I started to feel not so good after eating, I do not think I would have been able to pick up on the unassuming little chickpea.
So here is what is really frustrating with food sensitivities. They could be causing intestinal permeability, and if you have intestinal permeability, your results won’t be accurate. So what is there to do?
- Keep a very detailed journal of your meals, paying mindful attention to when you start feeling symptoms (though this could be really difficult as sometimes symptoms reveal themselves a few days after consumption).
- Try an elimination diet – again, you may include a food that is permitted on the diet that you are actually sensitive to. UGH.
- Try an all apple diet – raw and baked apples, applesauce, apple juice, apple compote. Then slowly, one food at a time, add in other foods. If something eaten isn’t right for your body, you’ll experience a sensitivity symptom and know you’re sensitive to that food. LOL THIS IS MOSTLY A JOKE I WOULD SELF DESTRUCT ON A DIET OF ONE SINGULAR FOOD GROUP. But this is what Dr. Gerson did (creator of The Gerson Therapy: The Proven Nutritional Program for Cancer and Other Illnesses) when discovering the root cause of his migraines.
- Try the Pinner Test to pinpoint the foods you are sensitive to and eliminate them for three weeks. See if your symptoms alleviate. Then slowly reintroduce the foods to confirm if your body reacts negatively to them. My diet has been pretty free from common allergens for a while and I truly never would have guessed that chickpeas was a culprit. I have Pinner Test to thank for this, and I am eager to see how I feel upon eliminating them for a few weeks. Updates to follow!
Comparing food sensitivity tests:
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And to break up all that information, here is a recipe for comfort food, one that I’ve been using in lieu of my beloved hummus. Hummus if you’re reading this, I miss you entirely.
turmeric japanese yam mashed potatoes:
- 2 japanese yams, pre roasted
- 2 tsp ghee, melted.
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- pinch of black pepper
- pinch of salt
- Peel yams.
- Put all ingredients in food processor and blend.