Over the next few months, Bronwyn will be contributing a series of interest pieces, sharing insights on the treatment of common health concerns via the use of food, lifestyle and other natural treatments.
If you have any ideas for topics or questions for Bronwyn, forward them our way and she will address them in her column.

How can I determine if I have a Food Allergy, Sensitivity or Intolerance?

Last week, I reviewed the physiological differences between food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances; along with the signs and symptoms that would suggest each of the latter.  Identifying the problem and the offending foods is step one in the healing process, but how exactly do we achieve this?

First off, consider working with a Naturopathic Doctor to decipher what your symptoms really mean. Allergies, sensitivities and intolerances can all co-exist, but a trained professional can help identify what is what and how to best proceed. I find that most people are already aware or have been tested for allergies and intolerances; but sensitivities are more of a mystery.

Testing for food sensitivities is now widely available and increasingly popular in the Naturopathic field.  Sensitivity testing measures blood IgG levels (remember this is the immunoglobulin associated with delayed reactivity to foods), in response to various foods and environmental allergens. Rocky Mountain Labs (see footnote below) is a well-reputed company that offers non-invasive food sensitivity testing (this is the lab I work with at both of my practices), for about 100 different foods and environmental allergens.  In my clinical experience, this type of testing has been very insightful when used and interpreted correctly, but the results have to be taken with a grain of salt.  The testing cannot take the place of a good functional approach to improving gut health and immunity nor is it always 100% accurate!

In my opinion, the best way to identify sensitivities and improve health overall is by way of an elimination diet or hypoallergenic diet.  This is definitely more labour-intensive than the testing discussed above, but it really is a beautiful way to combine diagnosis and treatment in one effort.  A Naturopathic doctor can help guide you through the process, in which all common food allergens are avoided or eliminated for roughly 3 weeks. The elimination phase is followed by the reintroduction of foods one at a time, and symptoms are tracked to assess your response.  I have seen this type of diet hugely benefit those with gastro-intestinal disturbances (including IBS & inflammatory bowel disease), migraines, fatigue, menstrual concerns, and chronic skin conditions – which is demonstrative of the link between these symptoms and possible food sensitivities.

To review the therapeutic process involved in the "treatment" of food sensitivities:

A)     IDENTIFY the functional problem and REMOVE the specific triggers (via. Naturopathic assessment, IgG testing, hypoallergenic diet)

B)     REPLACE nutrients and other factors needed to encourage healthy digestive tract function – this may include B vitamins, fat soluble vitamins (Vit. D)-which are often depleted in cases of sensitivities and intolerances, and digestive enzymes.

C)     REPAIR inflammation in the gut (often a result of chronic immune system activation, "inflammatory foods" and poor digestion) with key nutrients like glutamine & omega 3 fatty acids.  Notable foods and herbs that help repair the gut include garlic, ginger, aloe juice, cabbage, licorice, and slippery elm.

D)    RESTORE healthy gut flora; aka "friendly bacteria"; that naturally exist and help maintain digestive and immune health.  This is typically accomplished via supplementation with fermented foods and a good quality probiotic capsule or powder.

The latter process really does make an impact on lasting overall health; not just of the digestive tract! It also minimizes the risk that future reactions to food will crop up – I find many people can eventually reintroduce particular foods that were in the past a trigger; without it causing as much disruption.

In any case, if you suspect that food is not agreeing with you – whether it be an allergy, sensitivity or intolerance – there are solutions for both identifying the problem and feeling better in the long-run. I can help determine what "testing" process is best for you, and how you can use the results to resolve your health concerns!

I hope that this information has been insightful and useful! Please get in touch with your questions!

For more info on RMA Labs and available testing, visit www.RMAlab.com

Bronwny Hill,
Naturopathic Doctor

Bronwyn Hill, ND is a Naturopathic Doctor & food lover. She is currently in practice in Toronto's Forest Hill Neighbourhood, at Mahaya Forest Hill Integrative Health. She specializes in using food as medicine, acupuncture & traditional chinese medicine & botanicals; and has particular experience treating digestive concerns, women's health concerns including menopause, stress management, insomnia, healthy detoxification, and chronic respiratory conditions including asthma.

She can be reached at bhillnd@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @drbronwynnd.