Susie can't have gluten. Diane, no dairy. Jennifer, well, there seems to be more foods she can't eat than she can.
These days, it seems more common to have a food sensitivity than not. Megan Ashton, a holistic nutritionist based in Toronto, agrees. "Over the last 10 years or more, there are more and more people with sensitivities, I think partly due to lifestyle factors and that we're eating more and more foods with chemicals in them that we can react to, for example." She also points to the regular use of antibiotics and NSAIDs, too, as another factor playing a role in the rise of sensitivities.
There are a few issues when it comes to sensitivities, which are making them harder to diagnose.
Symptoms are not immediate. "Onset of symptoms can present themselves in half an hour, the next day or even five days later," says Ashton, making it particularly difficult to figure out what's causing you to react. Compare this to a food allergy in which your body reacts immediately.
What you react to may change over time. "It can depend on the state of health you're in at the moment," she says. You may have a tomato and be fine one day, but then if your body is run down and overloaded, you may have a reaction the next time you eat one.
There are a wide range of symptoms. "Seventy per cent of the population likely has one or two sensitivities and don't know it as there is no pathology," says Ashton. Food sensitivity symptoms run the gamut.
Testing for a sensitivity can be difficult.The skin prick test used for allergies doesn't work for sensitivities (this test measures the production of iGe in the body, which rises rapidly in the case of an allergy). An elimination diet is one option some professionals advise, but there are problems with this test. Eliminating the food you are thought to be sensitive to may have you eating other foods in its place that you then start to react to, for example. Also, notes Ashton, you may simply have a histamine intolerance (histamines are found in a variety of foods including pizza, fish, beer and cheese) rather than your symptoms being tied to a specific food sensitivity.
One common test for food sensitivities is the ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay)test -- a blood test that measures the levels of iGg antibodies and will let you what foods you're sensitive to and to what degree (however, shortcomings include the cost -- which can range from $100 to $500 -- and that false positives and false negatives are possible, as with all allergy tests).
Despite all of these issues, if you have symptoms you suspect may be linked to a food sensitivity, be sure to see a holistic nutritionist or naturopathic doctor for some help. Self-diagnosing is dangerous as you may eliminate foods and nutrients your body needs -- which could lead to other health concerns.
Karen Kwan is a health and lifestyle freelance writer based in Toronto. She also has a blog, Health & Swellness.