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Have you been diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome due to chronic diarrhea and/or constipation? What about eczema or a mood disorder such as anxiety or depression? The root cause of your symptoms may lie in your gut and reactions to the foods that you eat.

Food sensitivities and allergies are a common finding in my practice. As a population, we are consuming more convenience foods with preservatives, artificial colourings and flavourings. Further, some medications such as antibiotics as well as environmental toxins can damage the gut wall and the digestive ecosystem. The result is that I am seeing more and more people presenting with symptoms of food sensitivities and allergies.

Allergies vs. Sensitivities

It is important to note that food allergies and food sensitivities are very different. You may have been referred to an allergist by your medical doctor to check for food allergies. Allergists check for Type I IgE reactions to foods. These reactions are called immediate hypersensitivity reactions because they occur within 2 hours after ingestion of the offending food. It is estimated that 10-15% of all food allergies are Type I reactions. These allergies are easy to tease out because they occur relatively quickly and the symptoms are recognized as typical allergy symptoms:

  • Skin rashes
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Nasal congestion
  • Digestive disturbances

Top 8 Allergenic Foods

  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Eggs
  • Tree nuts
  • Soy
  • Fish
  • Wheat
  • Shellfish

Type III reactions are called immune-complex-mediated reactions. These reactions are a delayed type and symptoms may occur more than 2 hours or even days after exposure to the food. This type of reaction is called a food sensitivity and involves IgG and IgG4 antibodies. It is estimated that 80% of food reactions involve these antibodies even though allergists do not typically test for these reactions. Due to the delayed nature of the reaction, it is often difficult to discern which foods are responsible for your symptoms. Further, food sensitivities can present in a wide varieties of ways in addition to typical allergy symptoms.

Common symptoms and diseases associated with food sensitivities

  • Gastrointestinal System: canker sores, celiac disease, chronic diarrhea, duodenal ulcer, gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), malabsorption, ulcerative colitis
  • Genitourinary System: bed-wetting, chronic bladder infections, nephrosis
  • Immune System: chronic infections, frequent ear infections
  • Mental/Emotional: anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, inability to concentrate, insomnia, irritability, mental confusion, personality changes, seizures
  • Musculoskeletal: bursitis, joint pain, low back pain
  • Respiratory System: asthma, chronic bronchitis, wheezing
  • Skin: acne, eczema, hives, itching, skin rash
  • Miscellaneous: arrhythmia, edema, fainting, fatigue, headache, hypoglycemia, itchy nose or throat, migraines, sinusitis

Leaky Gut

Over time, as our digestive tract experiences repeated exposure to foods that inflame it or to toxins, the tight junctions that keep the lining intact can weaken. When this happens, a syndrome which naturopathic physicians refer to as Leaky Gut can occur. What this means is that food particles that aren’t completely broken down can be absorbed into the bloodstream. The body doesn’t recognize these particles as being nutrients and creates immune reactions to them. The next time we eat this food, the typical food sensitivity/allergy symptoms such as those listed above are experienced.

Over time, we may start reacting to more and more foods due to the leaky gut. The key is to heal the gut so that you stop creating immune reactions to the foods.

Healing the Gut

Healing the digestive tract is possible and is beneficial for anyone wishing to improve their overall health but especially for those suffering from many chronic conditions such as eczema and irritable bowel syndrome. There are four steps to accomplish this task:

  • Remove any food sensitivities and toxins from your diet
  • Repair the gut lining
  • Restore the population of beneficial gut flora
  • Replace any deficiencies that may be present in your digestive tract (e.g. bile salts, enzyme, etc.)


It is difficult to determine food sensitivities by just looking at a diet. To make this easier, in my practice I use a simple blood test to determine any food sensitivities that may be affecting my patients. The blood test checks for IgG4 and IgE reactions to 95 commonly consumed foods. Food sensitivity panels have proven to be invaluable for patients who have chronic gut disturbances or skin conditions that haven’t responded to conventional treatment.

Here’s to a healthier you!

Dr. Nicole Hartman

About Dr. Nicole Hartman

Dr. Nicole Hartman is a naturopathic physician, a world traveler, a hiker, and a blogger. She focuses her practice in digestion, women's health and weight loss and takes an integrative, evidence-based approach to healthcare.