Managing Food Sensitivities

Lucky Bennett, ND and Jacques de Broekert, M.Ed.

Interviewer:            And welcome to another edition of the Clinician’s Corner, a weekly podcast brought to you by Natural Horizons Wellness Center.  Today, we are going to be talking to Dr. Lucky Bennett.  Dr. Bennett is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor.  She is a graduate of Bastyr University and has been in practice for a number of years now.  Welcome Dr. Bennett. 


Dr. Bennett:            Thank you. 


Interviewer:        Thank you for coming in today and talking to us.  I think what I would like to talk to you about today is fool sensitivities and how that kind of affects people and what they can be aware of and making some decisions about how to deal with that. 


                        So tell me a little bit about food sensitivities.  I know that we use the food allergy kind of nomenclature a lot of times when we talk about food and how people are allergic to it, peanut allergies and dairy and egg, and those kinds of things.  And those are the ones that we typically hear about.  But what’s the difference between food sensitivity and a food allergy? 


Dr. Bennett:            Food allergies and food sensitivities are often referred to… those terms are used interchangeably.  So I will do my best to keep food allergies separate from food sensitivities.  But, when we’re talking about a food allergy, we’re talking about a very specific type of immune reaction.  And generally speaking, when somebody has a food allergy, for example, you hear about people that are allergic to peanuts, so a child eats some peanut butter and goes into anaphylactic shock or something like that, or people that develop hives in response to a food or any other substance.  These are generally lifelong immune responses too…


Interviewer:            And anaphylaxis is life-threatening, right.


Dr. Bennett:            Yes. 


Interviewer:            That’s the… the breathing issue, the closing of the windpipe that kind of thing. 


Dr. Bennett:            Yep. 


Interviewer:            So, it’s really serious. 


Dr. Bennett:            It’s very serious. 


Interviewer:            This is a life-threatening reaction to a food. 


Dr. Bennett:            Right.  And food allergies can run the spectrum from being life-threatening to being, you know, that would be the extreme, but also less extreme reactions, more of a nuisance, but those reactions can progress over time with repeated exposures.


                        Food sensitivities on the other hand, we don’t necessarily understand exactly what’s happening in the immune system when somebody develops a food sensitivity and a food sensitivity that you develop may have a totally different immune response than a food sensitivity that I develop.  And that’s one of the reasons it makes it a little bit trickier to specifically identify foods that somebody has become sensitive to. 


Interviewer:            So people who have food sensitivities, they’re going to manifest in different ways.


Dr. Bennett:            Yes. 


Interviewer:            I’ll get patients that come in and they’re complaining about upset stomach, headaches, you know, a little nausea, fatigue, problems with their sinuses.  Those can all be signs of food sensitivity, so can be reactions a somatic response to the foods. 


Dr.  Bennett:            Absolutely.  I also see them coming out in the skin, so with things like eczema and sort of the non-specific atopic dermatitis diagnosis.  Those are frequently linked to food sensitivities.  And the other area where they come into play is in autoimmune conditions.  Certainly there are other things going on in autoimmunity, but I find more often than not, identifying a food irritant and removing that from the person’s diet tends to really improve their symptoms dramatically in many cases.  


Interviewer:            and the person who has the suppressed immune system issue, if they have a primary infection or something they’re dealing with, that really can ramp up those reactions to the food sensitivities is basically what’s happening there. 


Dr. Bennett:            Absolutely. 


Interviewer:            So, food sensitivity is, it’s not something you’re necessarily born with, is that correct?


Dr. Bennett:            Correct. 


Interviewer:            So you can develop them. 


Dr. Bennett:            They’re developed, right. 


Interviewer:            How does that happen?


Dr. Bennett:            Again, you know, the way you develop them can be very different from the way I develop them, but the shot story is, anytime there’s inflammation in the gut, those cells become inflamed, the barrier that we have between the outside world and basically anytime you’re in the digestive tract, from the mouth on through to the other end, you’re still in the outside world, it’s just a tube that goes through us.  So anytime there is a breakdown in the gut barrier that basically protects the inside of our body from the outside world, we have the opportunity to… the opportunity to develop a food sensitivity.  So that could be anything from a physical trauma, say from abdominal surgery, car accident with the lap belt going across the abdomen, it could be an infectious process, you know, a bacterial or viral infection that you know, impacts the digestive tract and causes some inflammation.  And in fact, sometimes it can be a local reaction to food.  So for example, if anybody picks up a lemon and they develop some sort of contact reaction to the lemon, and they eat a lemon, that lemon is going to potentially have that same contact reaction in other tissues that it touches.  So it’s not necessarily just the skin, but also the intestinal wall as well. 


                        So the other time that we see this happening is after people who have been on antibiotics because it disrupts the natural… it disrupts the normal makeup of the bacteria of the digestive tract. 


Interviewer:            So, when… and we certainly have seen a lot of that, there are a lot of manufacturers of food products they’re touting the benefits of probiotic content of food.  And I think that actually this last week, Dannon got into a lot of trouble and the government went after them with their claims that Dannon was a pro –


Dr. Bennett:            Dan Active, yep. 


Interviewer:            Dan Active, not being, you know, what they’re claiming it can do for you.  But there is something to that with a high dose antibiotics or frequent use of antibiotics, trycyclene or the Z-Pak, for you know, an infection, a three-day dose, a high dose, can wipe all the good bacteria as well as the bad or a lot of it. 


Dr. Bennett:            Yeah it…


Interviewer:            That can certainly affect your ability to deal with food. 


Dr. Bennett:            Absolutely.  You know, it’s very common for people to take a course of antibiotics and then the next thing you know, they’ve got diarrhea and gas and bloating and that’s because they’ve wiped out a descent size of… you know, a descent portion of their good bacteria. 


Interviewer:            Right.  You know, let’s say that somebody’s coming in and they’re you know, presenting with these issues of what was apparent food sensitivities.  How do we know for sure that they have it?  Is there a test that can be done, I mean, what… what can the person do? 


Dr. Bennett:            A couple of different ways that we go about investigating this.  You can do an elimination challenge diet where they basically remove the top offenders from their diet for a period of time and then they very carefully and methodically reintroduce these foods and look for a reaction, either a flare-up of their symptoms or development of new symptoms.  Something like that or… go ahead. 


Interviewer:            And we also would do that over time.  It’s not something you would do over a day. 


Dr. Bennett:            No…


Interviewer:            It’s a week long, two week long process. 


Dr. Bennett:            The elimination, I like to go anywhere from two to four to sometimes even six weeks, depending on the situation.  And the reintroduction actually is the phase that takes the longest.  The elimination is really intimidating for people, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty straight forward.  But it’s the reintroduction that can be tricky. 


Interviewer:            Because you’re reintroducing one at a time. 


Dr. Bennett:            One at a time and it’s a very careful process because we don’t want, you know, we don’t want confounding factors coming back. 


Interviewer:            Right. So it’s really a process.  But for someone who is concerned about that, it’s a very effective way of figuring that out.  And then there’s also a couple of blood tests you can do.  There’s the IGG and IGE tests. 


Dr. Bennett:            Yes. 


Interviewer:            What… tell me the difference between those two. 


Dr. Bennett:            So, IGE is looking for food allergies, those responses that result in an allergic reaction; the anaphylactic reactions, that sort of thing.  That isn’t necessarily appropriate when we’re looking for food sensitivities.  Oftentimes, people are already aware of their food allergies by the time they come to me because they’ve already had some sort of dramatic response and they’re currently avoiding those foods. 


                        When we’re looking for food sensitivities, we can do a test for IGG, which is looking for a very specific response from the immune system when the blood is exposed to different food samples in the lab.  The other test that’s available looks at a change in the size and shape of the white blood cells when they’re exposed to these different foods.  And all that tells us is that something is happening in the immune system.  We don’t necessarily know what, we don’t have a specific… oh, this is an IGG reaction; we just know that something is happening.  And…


Interviewer:            I call that the body not being comfortable with what they’re eating, and that’s not exactly hugely reactive, but you know. 


Dr. Bennett:            That’s exactly what’s going on.  Yeah. Yeah.  And you know, one test isn’t necessarily better than the other.  You know, they all have their pros and cons.  So it depends on the specific situation as we’re deciding which route to take if we’re going to do one blood test over another of if we’re going to do an elimination and challenge diet. 


Interviewer:            And those tests, they cover a pretty broad range of food types and you can go fairly broad with that or you can go very narrow, it depends on which type. 


Dr. Bennett:            Absolutely.  Absolutely. 


Interviewer:            You draw what type of test you want to do.  The person who’s done the IGG test saying they’ve discovered there are some sensitivities there, what do they do? 


Dr. Bennett:            Yeah.  So, at that point, we are having them eliminate food.  The short story is, there’s no way around eliminating foods at some point in this process.  So, you know, the report comes back and it says they’re highly reactive to this list of foods.  They’re moderately reactive to this list of foods and they’re mildly reactive to another list of foods.  So we have them basically cut those foods out for a period of time, anywhere from three to six, sometimes months.  Three to six months, sometimes longer.  Just, again, depending on the situation.  At that point, after they’ve eliminated, we will start and we will work backwards and we’ll start having them reintroducing the mildly reactive foods, and then once they have made their way through that list, we’ll go to the moderately reactive foods and then we’ll do the highly reactive foods and see how they respond when they, you know, introduce these foods into their diet again. 


                        And then there’s also the option of retesting, of repeating the blood test if they, they want to do that.  But we don’t always do that. 


Interviewer:            Yeah.  And that’s an easy… easy test to do.  It’s just a simple blood draw and off to the lab it goes, it comes back and we start the process of working on that.  And I think the… what I’ve seen in the patients that I’ve worked with that have had these tests is that it’s pretty profound the impact on the immune system in particular.  You know, simple colds and flues and things all of a sudden become not so big of a deal because their immune system is not being attacked, or they’re immune system is not being activated constantly from these foods that they’re reactive to. 


Dr. Bennett:            Absolutely.  And seasonal allergies, those symptoms go way down, and especially in this part of the country where people just suffer from their allergy symptoms.  That’s a big deal. So…


Interviewer:            Right.  Yeah thanks Dr. Bennett.  If you would like further information about IGG tests or food sensitivities, please contact Dr. Bennett at the Natural Horizons Wellness Centers located in Fairfax, Virginia.  And you can find that contact information on our tags here on the podcast.  We really appreciate you taking the time on the Clinician’s Corner to tune in and understand more about your health.  Thank you for tuning in. 

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