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Now browsing: Hometown News > Columnist Archives > Counseling - R.J. Oenbrink

Is your food making you sick?
Rating: 2.78 / 5 (184 votes)  
Posted: 2006 Feb 23 - 21:29
• Feeling tired, bloated, achy, or run down? How about all of the above? Well, these symptoms, and many other common health complaints can often be caused by adverse reactions to foods and additives found in our diet.

A growing body of medical research has proven that chronic conditions,
such as migraine and other headaches, irritable bowel syndrome,
inflammatory bowel disease, fibromyalgia, joint and muscle pain, chronic
fatigue, depression, sleep disorders, asthma, attention deficit disorder,
autism, skin eruptions and a whole host of other symptoms and conditions
have been linked to food allergies, food sensitivities, and food
In fact, if you add up all the people with these conditions, it can be
stated that adverse food reactions may be the most common health complaint
of all.

Food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances
Research has shown that there are different types of adverse food
reactions. In some people, it may be due to an overactive immune response,
such as in food allergies and sensitivities. Others simply have a difficult
time digesting their food, such as in lactose or fructose intolerance.
Each of these different "pathways" is distinct from the other, and needs
to be better understood and properly diagnosed in order to provide the best
treatment solution. For example, someone with an anaphylactic food allergy
needs to completely avoid their trigger food or they could possibly die. On
the other hand, someone with lactose intolerance can safely eat dairy
products that have been treated with lactase (such as Lactaid brand milk).
In all cases, identifying your trigger foods is the first step towards
feeling better.

Food allergies
The least common type of reaction of the three listed above is food
allergy, but it is by far the most dangerous, as previously discussed.
Food allergy is typically a quick-onset reaction of the immune system to a
specific food. This hyper response leads to the release of histamine and
other chemicals from mast cells, resulting in a variety of symptoms.
Patients most commonly experience wheezing, constriction of the airways,
hives, swelling of the lips and mouth, and nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
within 15 minutes to a couple of hours after eating. Food allergies are
usually the easiest type of food reaction to diagnose.
Many times patients can figure it out by themselves, but in some cases,
skin testing or a simple blood test that measures IgE (the allergy
antibody), may be needed.

Food sensitivity
People suffering chronic conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome,
gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, fibromyalgia, headaches, chronic
fatigue, autism and ADD are often suffering the effects of food
Food sensitivities are also an overreaction of the immune system to foods
and food additives, but are much sneakier and more difficult to figure out
than food allergy.
Here's why:
Symptom onset can be delayed as much 72 hours after ingestion. Would you
consider that the headache you have right now was caused by something you
ate yesterday?
Reactive foods can vary widely from patient to patient. Even people with
the exact same symptoms can have completely different sets of reactive
There are often many reactive foods and additives for each patient, not
just one or two like in food allergy.
Reactions can be dosage related. A small amount of a reactive food may not
produce symptoms, but a medium or large amount will.
Usually, the fastest and best method of identifying sensitive foods is
through blood testing. There are a couple of tests that I've found useful:
the mediator release test, MRT for short, and ELISA IgG.
MRT is more accurate, will pick up a wider range of reactions and can also
test for additives, but is more expensive than the IgG testing, which I've
also had good success with.
Another approach is to go on an elimination diet, where all but a few non-
reactive foods are left in the diet for a couple of weeks until symptoms
resolve. Afterward, the patient undergoes a process of "challenging" one
new food every two to four days to identify triggers.
Elimination diets can work, but they take a long time and are often viewed
as impractical. Therefore, they are rarely used.

Food intolerance
Some people don't produce the enzymes necessary to digest the foods they
eat. In the case of simple sugars, such as lactose and fructose, which are
so common in the typical American diet, certain bacteria in the gut then
digests the food for us. In the process of that bacterial digestion,
abundant amounts of hydrogen gas get produced. In lactose intolerance in
particular, lactic acid, a gut irritant, also gets produced. The result is
diarrhea or loose stools, bloating, gas, distention and abdominal cramping.

Identifying lactose or fructose intolerance can be accomplished by an
avoidance period to achieve symptom resolution, followed by a challenge
period. Or, simply take a breath hydrogen test from your doctor, which is
covered by most insurance.

Allergies, sensitivities, intolerances: So which one is it?
Many patients with food sensitivities and intolerances come to me after a
long bout of suffering, having seen many doctors and tried every drug on
the market for their condition. Many times, the doctors they'd previously
seen had told them they didn't think diet had anything to do with their
condition. But, it turned out it was the main thing causing their
suffering. Just imagine how much pain and misery they could have been
spared had they taken the right approach in the beginning.
Trying to figure out on your own which foods are causing your illness can
be a long difficult task, but it can be done. There are many books that
describe a proper elimination diet and how one can approach it to be
Some other complications arise when a person has a combination of
allergies, sensitivities and intolerances. In most cases, the quickest and
best approach is to consult a physician who's knowledgeable in adverse food

R.J. Oenbrink of Tequesta Family Practice is a board certified doctor of
osteopathy. His offices are located at 395 Tequesta Drive, Suite B.Send
your questions to: pbnews@hometownnewsol.com.

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