Understanding food allergies and sensitivities: a closer look

Understanding food allergies and sensitivities: a closer look

What is a food allergy?

Patients often ask me – “what is a food allergy?” Or “what is a food sensitivity?” Is that the same as a food intolerance? The word “allergy” is derived from the Greek word meaning “altered reaction”. These reactions can include headaches, nausea, vomiting, hives, migraines or difficulty breathing with exposure to the allergen. Some patients, however, can have no overt symptoms, but suffer a general malaise possibly due to an internal inflammatory reaction. The substance which provokes a reaction is called an allergen. There are many allergens we can be exposed to, the most famous ones being house dust, dog dander, and tree pollen, just to name a few. More often than not, a patient can have “hidden” food allergies, and these are known as IgG food sensitivities, which will be explained in the remainder of the article. Food sensitivities and intolerances are very similar, the main difference being that a sensitivity can produce little to no overt reaction, and an intolerance produces a reaction in the digestive tract. A food allergy is seen when the food proteins are recognized by the immune system as being harmful like a virus or bacteria. In my practice, I see dairy, eggs, gluten, pineapple and kidney beans as being the most common offenders.

For most people, the term “allergy” denotes images of itchy eyes, a runny nose, congested sinuses, etc. However, an allergy can affect any organ system, such as the digestive tract, skin or joints. Irrespective of how they present, allergies are common with an estimated 30 to 50% of the population affected. Allergies can begin or resolve at any point in life – patients can grow out of allergies or develop allergies at any time.

Having allergies impacts a person’s activities of daily living, and can cause low work productivity. Some individuals have a serious food allergy, such as celiac disease. Depending on the severity of this disease, associated treatments might be medications or even surgery.


Immune Response

A food allergy has a classic immune response with numerous IgE immediate hypersensitivity antibodies to a specific food protein being released. In these cases, the immune system thinks that the food protein is similar to a harmful pathogen, such as a bacteria or virus, and mounts an immediate immune response. With repetitive exposure, the immune system produces large quantities of histamine which adversely affect the lungs, heart, skin and gastrointestinal tract. If the histamine release exceeds a certain point, the person could suffer a fatal anaphylactic reaction.


Food Intolerance

In the middle, between the food sensitivities and food allergies, there are food intolerances, wherein a larger amount of food has to be consumed in order to produce symptoms. The most common example of this would be lactose intolerance, where the enzyme lactase is deficient. When taken in smaller quantities, most people with this intolerance can handle the lactose, especially when the lactose is combined with other foods. However, when larger quantities are consumed, a person will suffer from abdominal pain, diarrhea, flatulence, and bloating. Food intolerances can be considered a milder form of an allergy, even though there is no immediate allergic response like the classic food allergy – they tend to be delayed, sometimes up to 72 hours.


The top 10

Here is a list of the top 10 foods I see showing up on testing:

  1. Dairy
  2. Eggs
  3. Gluten/Gliadin
  4. Almonds
  5. Pineapple
  6. Garlic
  7. Avocado
  8. Mustard
  9. Green/Kidney/Navy Beans
  10. Kelp

If you are curious about which foods will be beneficial to your body, versus which foods can create an inflammatory reaction, a simple blood test at the clinic to detect these antibodies. Based on the results of the blood test, a treatment plan will be prepared to address the “damage” that the food intolerances have formed in the body. With time, the patient’s body recovers and the patient feels better overall. Feel free to contact me if you have questions, and I look forward to helping you in the future.

Dr. Sanjay Mohan Ram, B.Sc. (Hon.), N.D.

Surviving Stress

Surviving Stress

Some phases of life are more challenging than others. This could be because of an intensive workload, final exam season, a family crisis, life transition or recovering from an injury. The increased mental, physical or emotional fatigue can leave your body feeling like it needs a little additional support.

What can you do?

Make time to relax. This could be extra sleep, reducing your day-to-day commitments, or even a Netflix binge. Try to set aside at least one hour a day to do whatever feels right for you.

Say no, or ask for support as needed. Do you need alone time? Or some help with groceries? Be honest with your friends and family on how they can best support you.

Meditation. The research is in! Meditation can increase resilience, decrease burnout, improve emotional regulation, and decrease stress.

Exercise.  Exercise has been shown to improve cognition, memory and mental health. This is partially due to its ability to increase dopamine.

Nature time.  Time spent in natural settings has been found to decrease anxiety, anger, depression, and decrease blood pressure.

Eat a healthy diet. Aim for a diet which is 80% whole, unprocessed foods.  Neurogenesis, the formation of new brain cells, is partially regulated by brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Early studies show BDNF is increased by eating carenoid-rich fruits and vegetables. Neurogenesis is decreased by diets high in fat and sugar.


How can a health professional offer support?


  • A preliminary study found combining acupuncture with an anti-depressant, may result in better psychological health, compared to the anti-depressant alone.
  • Acupuncture may decrease perceived stress and improve energy.

Myers’ Cocktail IV

  • A blend of B vitamins, vitamin C and minerals such as magnesium, are administered intravenously and are tailored to an individuals specific needs.
  • Taking these nutrients as an IV, allows for a rapid increase in cellular levels. This can reduce fatigue, support immune function and decrease migraines.


  • Supplements contain herbs, nutrients, homeopathic extracts or other natural substances.
  • Your naturopathic doctor can chose supplements specific to your health needs.
      • Periods of stress can disrupt digestive function, alter mood or cause hormonal imbalances. Specific nutraceuticals can be prescribed as a part of a treatment plan.

Tailored diet plans

  • Skin concerns? Digestive upset?
    • IgG or IgA food testing may be recommended to assess for foods that are causing inflammation.


  • Can be prescribed as needed as part of a well-rounded healthcare plan.


  • Can provide a space to process and allow for self-reflection.
  • Can promote a healthy relationship with challenging emotions.

Massage therapy

  • Promotes relaxation and may decrease anxiety.