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Are Your Food Sensitivities Telling You Something Important? [E023]

Discover the difference between food allergies and food sensitivities. A delayed response to food could be causing certain symptoms or issues in your body. Dr. Olivia Joseph and Dr. Whitney Hamed reveal why some people are more ‘sensitive’ to foods or the environment than others and if your genetics could be playing a part.

Table Of Contents

Dr. Bryan: All right. In the height of allergy season in the city of St. Louis, today we are in the studio and we are going to be talking about the topic that so many people are coughing and sneezing and sniffling around here. Actually the last month it’s been like that due to allergy. So today, I am invited or not invited, I’m actually with my wife Dr. Olivia Joseph, and I’m with Dr. Whitney Hammond, and myself Dr. Bryan Joseph. And we are bringing the Wellness Connection show to you on a topic, subject matter around food sensitivities, food allergies, so welcome girls.

What Is Food Sensitivity?

What Is Food Sensitivity?
Photographer: Tom Hermans | Source: Unsplash

Dr. Bryan: Yeah. So let’s dive right into this because there’s a lot of subject matter here on what this topic of food sensitivities is all about, but can we just start off by actually defining what is a food sensitivity, what actually is that? Because everyone like walks around and says, “I know certain foods like milk hurt me.” Or, “I get gas from this.” Or, “I get cramping from this.” Like what is a food sensitivity?

Dr. Olivia: So a lot of people I think mistake like lactose intolerance, it means you don’t break down lactose properly. And a lot of people in that instance will still drink milk, but they buy lactose-free milk or ice cream or cheese. The issue is, is you can still have a sensitivity to milk protein. So the definition of an allergy is really the same definition as a sensitivity. It’s an immunoglobulin reaction.

Dr. Olivia: The thing is is there’s a lot of different immunoglobulin reactions. There’s IGE, IGA, IGG. So to be politically correct, they’re all an allergy, but to be politically correct, we call more immediate responses, allergies and more delayed responses, sensitivities.

Dr. Olivia: Now, if you have environmental allergies year-round, I’m going to call BS. It’s not environmental, it’s internal. Your internal environment is inflamed and irritated and it’s over reacting to your external environment. Because things like mold, things like dust, grass are never going to go away. They’re always going to be in your environment. There are certain things like right now, tree pollen, it’s got a very specific window of time.

Why is it different from everybody?

Dr. Bryan: So you start wondering. I know about the two of you, but I always wonder like, if we’re all in the same environment, why are we all so different? Like why is it that some people can walk outside and get massively affected by these environmental allergies or the internal food sensitivities? You know, where did things start to change or what’s different in an individual that it would actually make it so that somebody gets expressed in a poor reaction versus a good reaction or their immune system. Is it the immune system? Is it genetics? What do you see as the issue?

Dr. Whitney: You know I can attest and tell you and of course, I’ve worked with Olivia on this in my own family is having four kids and seeing one of those kids beyond sensitive to environmental allergies. And we’ve dug, and we’ve dug hard to find the cause, and the first thing I looked at was foods and food sensitivities. And doing those tests early on to determine, okay what is different about her? Is it genetics? Is it the way her gut is developing or developed? Where is the hindrance? Where is the weakness? And so that’s definitely something we’ve looked into.

Dr. Bryan: So do we know though? Like what what what is it though? Are we able to pinpoint? Or is it really just different for everybody?

Dr. Olivia: Not generally, no, it’s different for everybody because you just said, you could put a hundred people in the same environment and not a hundred people are going to react or even the ones that do, aren’t going to react the same way.

Genetics is not the whole story

Genetics is not the whole story
Photographer: Holger Link | Source: Unsplash

Dr. Olivia: One might be a skin rash, one might be swollen eyes, one might be tummy aches, one might be hives, eczema. So no, it’s not a one-size-fits-all, but it does have to do with the immune system. It does have to do with genetics. Food allergies are genetic. They’re not random. So when I review test results, tell a patient, “Don’t be mad at me, I didn’t give you these allergies. Go home and thank your mom and dad.” Right? So genetics play a part and environment plays a part. Not just your external environment, your internal environment. How much histamine your body is producing, how much inflammation is in your body, how well you let that immune system develop.

Dr. Bryan: So my mind got fixated on the idea of thanking your parents for these food sensitivities or allergies. It’s like I think every one of us can write our parents a laundry list of gratitude and thank you list for all the genetic imbalances that we’ve all accumulated over a period of years. Like unbeknownst to most people like things do get transferred and passed down, but I guess a lot of what we have available to us today is finding an opportunity to course correct some of these imbalances that maybe people in the past didn’t have or weren’t aware of.

Why we need to get tested for food sensitivities

Dr. Whitney: And that’s what I was thinking. Just a fantastic part of that we have testing available and we’ll get into the testing and what it is and how it test. But that’s fantastic because basically when you test, whether you’re testing your child or yourself and your child or your husband is you’re getting a profile of what’s there, what’s underneath the surface, what are we sensitive to. And then you change your life according to that. And it’s usually not just one person. Sometimes it’s multiple people in a family, which then makes it easier when you’re then matching that strategy and those new foods to combat the issues and the symptoms of food sensitivities.

Symptoms Of Having Food Sensitivities

Symptoms Of Having Food Sensitivities
Photographer: Hailey Kean | Source: Unsplash

Dr. Bryan: Before we go into testing, let’s talk about what are some of the more common symptoms that somebody might experience when they have food sensitivities. Because I know you’ve both heard this. When I brought up the idea to patients before that you might be dealing with food sensitivities, an immediate response frequently was like, “Well, I’ve already been tested with allergies with my doctor, and I don’t have this.” Or, “I’m fine with this.” Like food sensitivity testing and environmental testing or traditional allergy testing are not the same. Number one, can you speak to what somebody might be experiencing or would they experience and maybe they’re not experiencing with the food sensitivity?

Dr. Olivia: So the first category you’re going to think of is digestive, but there are so many people with food sensitivities that don’t have GI symptoms. But that’s just your first category. Indigestion, tummy pains, alternating constipation, diarrhea. Diarrhea is more common with a food sensitivity than constipation, right? Gas, things of that nature. Then the next category I’m going to say is environmental type allergies that are all the time, that are year-round and not seasonally. So things like, “I’m always congested. My ears don’t drain properly. I always have mucus drainage.” You know, “I’m always clearing my throat. My lungs always feel like phlegmy.” Think of that then we’re going to go skin.

Foods create inflammation

Dr. Whitney: Olivia, you use speak to the category of we’ll put it into mental health, whether that would be symptoms or issues with ADD, ADHD, depression. Like how is that tied to these types of issues?

Dr. Olivia: Yeah. So the most superficial or like the easy way to describe it without going too deep is so these foods create inflammation, and they create inflammation in your gut, and your gut is where your brain hormones are made, your brain neurotransmitters. Dopamine, serotonin, things of that nature. So when you have inflammation in your gut, it affect your neurotransmitter production.

Leaky gut and how it affects your body

Dr. Olivia: The other thing is, is if you leave that inflammation there for years and years, your gut can become a leaky, and then proteins from food get into your bloodstream, and then you start having more significant immune reactions.

Dr. Bryan: I know on episode, if I remember, episode 20, we actually spoke little bit more about leaky gut and belly bugs and some of the bacteria and what not. So if that concept of leaky gut is brand new to you, Google it or take a listen episode 20, and that might catch you up a little bit.

Dr. Olivia: And another comment to make is, which we’ll talk about this, is sometimes we start having reactions to food that we never had before, right? You hear about kids outgrowing reactions. That makes sense because their guts will develop and form. Their immune system will develop. But if you start developing allergies to things later in life, red flag, major red flag. It doesn’t go that way.

How a leaky gut affected Dr. Bryan’s brother

Dr. Olivia: So what that concerns you with is that, that person has overgrowth in their gut of something that’s breaking down their immune system or breaking down there mucosal lining. This happened to you brother. He ate shell fish his entire life, boom! One day, out of the blue, he’s anaphylactic.

Dr. Bryan: Growing up in the environment where you used to love to fish and actually go fishing and eat the fish, it was kind of heartbreaking to see when all the sudden one of my brothers couldn’t enjoy that aspect with me because he start having strange reactions to eating fish. And that didn’t happen … He was already probably what? 35 years old.

Dr. Olivia: He was in his 30s. Yeah. And we ran his testing, we saw he had like a major reaction to … I remember egg being one of them. And he said to me he’s like, “Olivia, I eat eggs everyday. I’m not giving them up.” I said, “Then you’ll never be able to eat fish again.” And so we cut his food … And his motivating factor wasn’t even eating seafood. If you remember his motivating factor was he had seasonal allergies so bad year round.

Dr. Olivia: We did a food allergy test, remove the foods, his allergies got better, but then he was … He’s able to eat seafood now for how many years, like 10 years.

Dr. Bryan: Yeah.

Dr. Whitney: And I think that’s what’s amazing about getting answers in the testing is you can connect something so different that’s need a solution and to give you the solution to something completely different, like shellfish or peanuts or outdoor allergies because you’re getting to the cause of the cause.

How long does it say in the body?

Dr. Bryan: I think what’s fascinating to me is you would never … Very few people would put like eczema or psoriasis in the same combination of dealing with an allergy. And although we’ve seen that transformation with patients and how if we heal things from within then the externals starts to heal also. It’s pretty fascinating. Because again, most people, when they think of allergies, I have to agree with what you’re saying is you think of gut irritation, gut pain, I ate this and I feel this. But you’ve shared with me before is a food sensitivity, you might not feel immediately, right? It maybe something that irritates or creates acid or inflammation in your body like later, right? So when you say delayed sensitivity, how delayed can these things be and how long foods sensitivity stay in your body after you’ve eaten something that you shouldn’t have?

You’ve been glutened

Dr. Olivia: So what we’ve been saying the 15 years I’ve been doing this, we’ve always set 48 to 72 hours, but the effects are also cumulative meaning they build up in your system. So sometimes it’s not eating a food once. It’s that you ate it breakfast, lunch, dinner, three days in a row, and then finally it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Too much inflammation and you react. But we do have research that I just stumbled upon, just in the last year. A little more specific to gluten.

Dr. Olivia: They find that with gluten, it’s such a delayed reaction that that inflammation, that low-grade inflammation can sit in your body for up to 21 days or three weeks. So if you have a true gluten sensitivity, which we’ll talk about because gluten sensitivity is different than celiac, and there’s all sorts of categories there. And you think, “Oh, I’m just going to eat a little bit.” Or, “I’m just going to once a week allow myself to have some.” You’re really never giving your body a chance to fully heal and recover from that last time you ate it.

That’s when we joke around and say, “You’ve been glutened.” – Dr. Bryan

Probiotics won’t fix your gut

Dr. Whitney: Right. And I just had a parent ask me this morning. We were talking about leaky gut and I was recommending really, again, just testing to get to the cause and find out what’s going on and she said and she’s trying her best, she said, “Well, I just give probiotics. Won’t that fix it?” Like, “I’m just healing the gut. I’m giving probiotics.”

Dr. Olivia: See, but probiotics don’t heal the gut. They don’t. That’s not what they do. Good bugs protect your gut, they don’t heal your gut. And we have so many disruptors against probiotics or those good bugs. We have glyphosate we have GMO food, we have antibiotics, we have fungicide sprayed on our foods, pesticide sprayed. Like our poor good bugs are under attack, which is why taking probiotics is so beneficial. But probiotics don’t heal the gut. That’s not what they do.

Different philosopy between practitioners

Dr. Bryan: So can we speak to the difference between if I went and saw my allergist and I got an allergy related test and they prick me with a bunch of different needles and my skin’s got all these little reactions or lack of reactions, versus being tested for food sensitivities. Like what is the big difference, and why is this, in your opinion, maybe not more mainstream? Why isn’t everybody being tested this way?

Dr. Olivia: Well, when you say more mainstream, it’s more popular now than it was before, but people still question the validity. And I hate to say this, but there is always a difference in philosophy from practitioner to practitioner. So literally, yesterday, we were talking to our friend, who had to undergo an endoscopy, a colonoscopy, a stool analysis for it to say, “Hey, we can’t find anything wrong. You should do a food allergy test.” I’m like, “Really? So we had to put you under anesthesia and do a biopsy to circle back to something as conservative as food allergy testing?” But that’s the philosophy. It’s back-

Allergy Test vs. Food Sensitivity Test

Allergy Test vs. Food Sensitivity Test
Photographer: Dietmar Becker | Source: Unsplash

Dr. Bryan: I get that. I’m with you. And I think that most people would be more inclined to start conservatively than go more invasive like that. Sometimes the order gets flip-flop, but let’s go back to that original question, if you don’t mind, like what’s the difference between an allergy test and a food sensitivity test?

Dr. Whitney: So I do want to say this, and I know Olivia will go into detail. When that was explained to me, that is how I really understood. It’s how the testing is ran. Once I understood how the testing is run versus skin pricking, traditional, even IGA run in a medical office compared to the way a true food sensitivity test is run in a lab, that explained everything to me. And I know Olivia will go into that.

Dr. Olivia: Yeah. So skin is really good at measuring those more immediate responses. And when you think about, when you go to the allergist, they only do a certain amount of things at a time. You can’t 95, 200 things at a time because you could kill the person. So you check about 10, 15, 20 things at a time, and then you sit there and you watch the skin for one to three hours, which is great for an immediate response. That’s going to be your more contact dermatitis, you’re more your environmental things or even foods like peanuts and shellfish and things like that. That’s what it’s good for. It’s not good for measuring foods that create inflammation in the body.

Skin test is limited

Dr. Olivia: Now, why a lot of allergist … There’s one I respect, I refer out to all day everyday, but we just agree to disagree on this. He’s an environmental allergist and he’s brilliant. He says, which I agree, skin is a better sample because it’s living. As soon as you take blood out of the body, it dies or it starts to die. Totally agree with that. Totally agree with that. But at the end of the day, you’re limited to what you can test on skin. You’re very, very limited. So with blood, you can test 95, 200 things at once.

Dr. Olivia: We’re also limited based on the labs we use. So if you take a blood sample to Quest or LabCorp, they have such a huge volume of labs that they do, they dispose of your blood sample usually within 24 hours. Well, if your reaction is occurring 48-72 hours after you ate the food, you’re going to get a false negative. So it’s about testing the right immunoglobulin and it’s about watching your sample long enough, and it’s testing for enough things.

Dr. Olivia: When people bring me their testing from allergist, I’m like, “You had like 10 foods tested. Do you only 10 foods? No, you eat like 50.” Right?

Dr. Bryan: That’s what I was going to ask you. Like what is common practice? When someone goes to get an allergy test done, like how many foods are really being tested on average?

Recommended amount of foods to test

Dr. Bryan: Compare to what a functional medicine practitioner, what would you test? How many on average?

Dr. Olivia: We test a minimum of 95 common foods to start with, and we do more than that, but that’s our minimum. What I traditionally see is maybe 15 to 20. Now, the other thing is is like when you look at our dairy test, dairy has multiple proteins. Our test looks at whey protein, casein protein, goat milk protein. They’re all different. So it helps you to identify which foods are really a problem, but then it shows you which foods are safe for you to eat. So you don’t feel like you have to restrict everything.

Dr. Bryan: So you’re going from … And I don’t want to speak this broadly, but it seems like you’re going from a general approach to just get an idea of what what zones to maybe look deeper into to a more specific approach, when you’re saying, okay, they may test a few food and you might have a category to try to pay attention to, but when you test a hundred foods with your blood immediately, we can break down and find this real specifically. We can get away from guessing real fast and we can start testing and getting accurate, an accurate plan in place.

Food sensitivity test as the first intervention

Dr. Olivia: So a food sensitivity test is the best test to approach your diet in your lifestyle, which we all believe should be the first intervention, not the last. If I’m working with a kid or an adult and a mom says to me, “Oh my gosh, my child is so allergic to peanuts or dairy or corn.” I am looking at food sensitivities and I still want that child periodically checked with a skin test for those things to see that they’re being desensitized to those.

Dr. Olivia: I think there’s value in both. They’re just so different that to poopoo one or the other, you’re looking at totally different data. You’re looking at totally different things.

Dr. Bryan: I’m no poopooing any of them. I’m simply just trying to say, I bet most people that are listening or just general public including myself, you want to be healthy, you want to be well. You want your body to operate. And I don’t know that the average individual knows all the different opportunities that are available to them on regards to how they could figure out how to get well. And it may not be as mainstream to actually really dig deep in your blood work to look at all the different food sensitivities you could have, but the benefit to knowing that, would be what?

Why get a food sensitivity test?

Dr. Bryan: Imagine if we did know that. I remember what I did it and I found out, but like for somebody that say like, “Why would I want to go that deep? You know I feel okay. I might be a little tired. I don’t have massive symptoms, but like what is the real value for me knowing that information? Like just so I could never eat these things again?”

Dr. Olivia: No, because you are always congested and clearing your throat and you just accepted that as your norm. But when we found out how sensitive you are to dairy.

Dr. Whitney: Well, going back to genes. So how I would answer that question or gives some input is you know we’re all so concerned, do we have the breast cancer gene? What’s the first thing that happens when we go into a traditional medical practice? What’s your family history? Any cancer? Any autoimmune disease?

Dr. Whitney: So if that’s in your cards, if it’s there, whether you’ve done genetic testing or not, what a simple and easy way to get down to what’s the integrity of you gut, what is your inflammation levels because we know teaches this, inflammation drives everything. So what if you were able to bring down that inflammation, which does affect your genes and your genetic expression, which I think is is pretty amazing.

Having multiple food sensitivities

Dr. Bryan: That makes sense. And again, that’s kind of what I was wondering in my mind is just the real value to accessing this type of information is let’s just say that you find this. An average person comes in and says, “I just want to be healthy and I want to be well. Can you run a panel of test including a food sensitivity test.” Now we get a printout that says on the 100 foods that you tested, 20 of them or 15 of them that I have a sensitivity to, what do I do?

Dr. Olivia: We won’t usually have that many. So only 60% of the population has a food allergy, not 100%, 60%. Of that 60%, if you have one, you usually have more than one. So it’s pretty common that we’ll see someone maybe has three. If you have 15 or 20, you’ve got a bigger problem and it’s probably leaky gut. So then you have to start testing the integrity of the gut because now you’re having reactions to benign foods, foods that you shouldn’t be reacting to.

Dr. Olivia: So what we do is we completely remove the foods for a period period of at least three months. And people say, “Why three months?” Because your intestinal cells regenerate every 60 to 90 days. So you want to give your gut a break from that inflammation so it can heal and regenerate healthy tissue. Pull out the foods completely for 60 to 90 days, and then we’re working on things to heal and repair the gut, to rebuild the good bacteria, to improve your body’s ability to digest food, and to heal the mucosal lining if we need to.

Elimination Diet With Food Sensitivities

Photographer: Thought Catalog | Source: Unsplash

Dr. Bryan: So the elimination process, and I can’t remember if you’ve shared this with me or somebody else has shared with me, but it’s the equivalent of like basically having a cut on your arm or a bruise on your arm and somebody constantly irritating it and not allowing it a chance to heal, right? So it’s not that you can never ever put pressure on that bruised area again, but if the bruised area doesn’t heal, then it’s going to linger for a long, long, long time.

Dr. Bryan: Elimination diet with food sensitivities would be very comparable to that, right? Where you just need to abstain or eliminate for a certain period of time so your tissue has a chance to heal, and then it’s not a life sentence. You get a chance to reintroduce and reinoculate some of these foods so your body can heal them better now.

Dr. Olivia: The ideal scenario is when you do reintroduce an allergen, you’ll never reintroduce it on a daily basis. So I’m going to use egg as an example. Very, very common allergy with skin conditions, right? And you’re like, “Oh my god, I eat eggs everyday.” We’re going to cut them for 90 days, “What am I going to eat?” All the food that doesn’t contain egg, right? Like there’s a lot of foods out there and we give alternatives of course. And then I say, when you do reintroduce it, it’s not going to be on a daily basis. It’ll be in moderation, which we define as once every three to four days or twice a week max. So you don’t feel like I can never have this food again, but it really shouldn’t come back as part of your daily diet.

Closing Thoughts

Closing Thoughts On Food Sensitivities
Photographer: Dan Gold | Source: Unsplash

Dr. Bryan: Got it. Got it. Anything else you want to share on the topic of food sensitives? I know around we just bounced around a little bit, but I …

Dr. Olivia: I think we touched on all testing is not created equally. We do all our food sensitivity testing through multiple labs, but they’re specialty labs, right? We run labs through LabCorp, Quest everyday. That’s not who we run food sensitivity testing through. Testing for celiac and gluten sensitivity is totally, totally different. You could have an overgrowth of bad bugs making you react to foods that are not a true food sensitivity. If you have leaky gut, you’re going to be more reactive to foods and things not a true food allergy. And I think what’s important too is that people understand the validity of the testing.

Dr. Olivia: For someone to say, “I don’t believe in that.” Or, “That’s not a good test.” Look at science. I mean these are FDA registered labs that have validation methods behind what they do. Like they would be shut down and some of them … Labs get shut down every day. They would be shut down if … You know it’s not based on a belief system. It’s really just based on science and chemistry.

The ideal age to get tested

Dr. Whitney: Last question I have, what age? What’s the youngest age or the the oldest I guess … How I would say that, that you would start testing?

Dr. Olivia: Sure. The youngest I would look is two, and I don’t recommend you start at two. Like the sweet spot would really be like age four or five, but if somebody’s really having issues, we’ll grab information as early as two, three years old so we have something to work on. But if you do food allergy testing on a kid that young, they’re going to have to be retested usually about a year later.

Your food matters

Dr. Bryan: You know as a close up today, I think it’s mind-boggling that I’ve heard doctors tell patients at times that, “Hey, you have all these health issues and you have digestive issues and you have … ” Whatever their issues are and, “Your food doesn’t matter. Your food doesn’t matter. Like it’s not influencing your health in any way, shape, or form, and you don’t need to pay attention to your diet.”

Dr. Bryan: And the longer I’m in healthcare or any of us are in healthcare, it couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s like the equivalent of you know your gas tank in your car or you have your car and your car needs to run off of gas and you’re actually pouring snicker bars and bananas in the gas tank and you’re expecting the engine to keep operating. Eventually, it’s just the mismatched. It’s going to choke out the engine, and so frequently if we don’t stop and actually just become aware through the test that are available to us and figure out what what is the right fuel for our bodies, we’re going to run ourselves down and see more and more people get sick.

Dr. Bryan: So thanks again for joining us you can find this episode. You can find this episode on And if you enjoy what you heard and you think somebody would benefit from it, be sure to pass the message along. Have a great day.

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