Environmental and Food Sensitivities

Environmental and food sensitivities are usually the result of leaky gut syndrome. The prevalence of these sensitivities is more widely recognized today than in the past; 24 percent of American adults claim they have food and environmental sensitivities.

These sensitivities, also called delayed hypersensitivity reactions, differ from true food allergies, also called Type I or immediate hypersensitivity reactions. True food allergies are rare occurrences. They affect 0.3 to 7.5 percent of children and 1 to 2 percent of adults.

The foods that most often trigger these reactions are eggs, cow’s milk, nuts, shellfish, soy, wheat, and white fish. Food allergies trigger reaction of type IgE antibodies that bind to the offending food antigens. The IgE antibodies attach to mast cells that stimulate the release of cytokines and histamines.

This results in closing of the throat, fatigue, tearing, hives, itching, respiratory distress, watery or runny nose, skin rashes, itchy eyes or ears, and sometimes severe reactions of asthma and anaphylactic shock. These symptoms occur within minutes after the food is eaten and people usually know what they are (hives or difficulty breathing).

Physicians diagnose food allergies through the use of patch skin tests and RAST (radioallergosorbent test) blood testing, which are great for testing for food allergies but do not accurately determine food sensitivities. Sensitivity reactions, also called delayed or hidden hypersensitivities, occur when IgA, IgG, and IgM antibodies are triggered in response to foods, chemicals, and bacterial toxins.

The most common antibody reactions are IgG to mold and foods; exposure to molds and foods is quite high compared to pollens. For example, in an entire hay-fever season, we might inhale a teaspoon of pollen, but we take pounds of food inside us each day. It is estimated that 95 percent of all food allergy is of this delayed type.

In the past, these delayed allergies were called serum sickness. The sensitivities cause symptoms that are delayed, taking several hours to several days to appear, which makes tracking them down very difficult. Food and environmental sensitivities cause a wide number of symptoms typical of a leaky gut reaction.

Food particles enter the bloodstream through damaged mucosal membranes; the body recognizes them as foreign substances (antigens) and triggers an immune reaction. Prolonged antibody response can overwhelm the liver’s ability to eliminate these food antigens.

Subsequently, the antigens enter the bloodstream and trigger delayed hypersensitivity response, inflammation, cell damage, and disease. Almost any food can cause a reaction, although the most common are beef, citrus, dairy products, egg, pork, and wheat. These foods provoke 80 percent of food sensitivity reactions.

Antibodies and antigens form what is known as immune complexes. If you have many antibodies and few antigens, you have a small immune complex. Conversely, if you have many antigens and only a few antibodies, you also have a small immune complex.

The worst symptoms and cravings appear when you have moderate amounts of both antibodies and antigens—when you have a large immune complex. When you try to eliminate foods while in this state, you are left with enormous cravings for them, and symptoms often worsen before they improve.

It can take seven to ten days to get through this stage. These large immune complexes can cause rashes in the skin and cheeks, as those seen in lupus. Blood testing for IgG or IgG4, IgM, and/or IgA antibody reactions can help determine sensitivities to a variety of foods and environmental substances.

You may want to screen for food allergies with IgE testing at the same time. Some labs test for another indicator of delayed hypersensitivity: white blood cell blastogenesis, where lymphocytes are stimulated and produce protein, DNA, and RNA at a rapid rate.

Environmental screening panels measure antibody reaction to chemicals commonly found in our homes, yards, workplaces, and public places. People often test positive to household cleaning supplies and petroleum-based chemicals. Several laboratories perform antibody testing for foods, dusts, environmental chemicals, heavy metals, molds, and pollens.


Lectins that are incompatible with our genetics can also cause negative reactions to foods. We each have a genetically determined blood type—A, B, AB, or O. Our blood types contain specific antibodies that helped our ancestors live successfully in their environment.

We no longer stick to our ancestor’s specific environment and are continually exposed to new substances. When we eat a food that contains lectins that are incompatible to our blood type, they target an organ or tissue and begin to collect blood cells in clumps, a process called agglutination.

Peter D’Adamo, N.D., author of Eat Right 4 Your Type, hypothesized that when we eat foods containing lectins incompatible with our blood type, we experience negative health reactions. For example, if I have type A blood and drink milk, my body will begin to agglutinate and reject that milk.

When I drink milk, the next morning I wake up with a clump of mucus in my throat. I know this and usually avoid uncultured dairy products. The lectins don’t get digested and then cause reactions. According to D’Adamo, the lectin proteins settle somewhere in our bodies and have a magnetic effect on the cells there.

The cells clump together and are targeted for destruction as though they were foreign invaders. This can appear to us as irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, or nearly any inflammatory condition. Lectin reactions mimic food allergies. The digestive system and nervous system are especially sensitive to lectin reactions.

The people whose arthritis responds to elimination of the nightshade family of foods (potatoes, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers) probably have lectin sensitivities. If you want to know much more about blood type diets and lectins, read Eat Right 4 Your Type.

Elimination-Provocation Diet

If you wish to determine food and chemical sensitivities on your own, you can use the elimination-provocation challenge. Only eat foods that you are unlikely to be sensitive to for a week and then add back the foods you normally eat to “challenge” your system.

Removal of offending foods calms down symptoms, while careful addition of only one food every two days makes it easier to determine which cause reaction. Although the elimination-provocation challenge sounds simple, it can be tricky.

People usually have no problem with the elimination part—a restricted food plan for a week is easy. Slowly adding foods back into your diet may be more difficult, because recipes and restaurant foods have many ingredients. Sometimes it’s hard to determine which ingredient caused the distress.

Reactions that are delayed for a day or two also complicate the situation. It then becomes necessary to remove all suspected foods for four days and try them again one at a time. If you have the same reaction each time you add the food, you’ve found the culprit.

Unfortunately, if you have sensitivities to one food, you are often sensitive to all foods in the same family. For example, some people who are sensitive to wheat are sensitive to all grains in the grass family. It is common to be sensitive to more than one food or food family.

To cure food and environmental sensitivities, you’ll do best with a holistic approach. Begin by avoiding substances you are sensitive to for a period of six months, and your body will gradually stop reacting to most of them. That will help detoxify the body, especially the liver.

A comprehensive program of nutritional supplements will help in the healing process. The Elisa/Act Patient Handbook, provided by Elisa/Act Biotechnologies, reads, “Persons suffering from immune system dysfunction and overload due to delayed hypersensitivity reactions often have a need for even greater supplementation because of poor functioning of the body’s normal biochemical pathways.”

Organically grown and nutrientrich natural foods also help repair the body. Exercise programs and use of stress-management tools also play a part in recovery. With a holistic program you will find that over time you will become less and less sensitive to foods and the environment.