One question I hear a lot from my patients concerns the difference between food allergies and food sensitivities. Can you have one but not the other? Can you have both? And what exactly sets them apart? Today I’m going to answer those questions, share how sensitivities and allergies are related to brain function, and give you a list of the top five foods that may be breaking your brain. But first, let's dive a little more deeply into the topic!
What are Allergies?
An allergy, whether it’s to food or pets or pollen, is the result of an imbalance in your immune system. Your immune system goes into overdrive when it encounters the trigger, producing unusually high levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Allergic reactions can be caused by almost anything, and may be present from birth or develop in adulthood.
So what do all allergies have in common? Speed! Allergies cause immediate hypersensitivity of the immune system. I was once stung by a bee and my entire arm swelled up in seconds! Most of us who’ve experienced an allergic reaction know how quickly our bodies react to the trigger, and that means that allergies can be pretty easy to diagnose with a scratch test or a blood test.
What are Sensitivities?
Sensitivities are also the result of an imbalance in your immune system, but in this case the body reacts much more slowly. When the trigger is detected, the body can take anywhere from one to five days or in some cases even longer to mount an immune response! That’s because Immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies take longer to develop and stick around longer than IgE antibodies.
What that means is that a lot of people never make the connection between their broken brain i.e. brain fog, headaches, irritability, anxiety, depression and certain foods or other triggers, even if they have allergies. That makes food sensitivities much more challenging to diagnose and, in many ways, much more troublesome than allergies.
Which is more dangerous?
You probably know that food allergies can cause anaphylactic shock and be literally deadly (especially in children) but in some ways, food sensitivities are much more insidious. That’s because a person can live with physical symptoms like headaches, bloating, stomach troubles, and fatigue as well as emotional symptoms like anxiety, depression, low motivation, and brain fog for decades thinking that’s their normal.
Every single day at my Functional Neurology practice in Northern California, I see patients who have undiagnosed food sensitivities that are the root cause for a lot of their chronic neurological symptoms. The most common symptoms and conditions related to adverse food reactions I see are:
Brain fog & fatigue
Memory loss/early dementia
Anxiety & Depression
Motion sickness, vertigo and Hashimoto's
Chronic migraines and headaches
Personally, I thought my bad mood, chronic depression, and irritability were just a part of who I was as a person. That is, until my brother, Dr. Timothy Chiu (an amazing chiropractor and natural medicine expert) suggested I try cutting out dairy. A few weeks later my life was completely transformed. It was like night and day! My depression lifted, I had tons of energy, and I stopped getting sick so often. And it’s not just about feeling good! Food sensitivities can actually be the root cause of chronic illness - and may even trigger food allergies by causing imbalances in the immune system!
Why worry about food sensitivities?
You may be thinking, well, allergies can kill me but what’s the worst thing that a food sensitivity can do other than make me feel bad? ‘Feeling bad’ is actually a sign that something negative is happening in the body! When your immune system identifies a trigger food as an invader, it can cause inflammation and the release of cytokines (small proteins that attract other cells to join in an immune response) - ultimately resulting in damage to your gut, your joints, your thyroid, and even your brain.
And that’s if you’re starting out with a healthy brain and body. If you are already dealing with physical health problems like fatigue or thyroid problems, or mental health issues like depression and anxiety, the immune reaction caused by food sensitivities can definitely make your symptoms worse. In cases where there’s already significant damage - as with Post-Concussion Syndrome, for instance - food sensitivities can trigger major flare-ups of symptoms and prevent the healing process from happening. On the other hand, eliminating foods that cause an IgG response may actually help alleviate the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome! That’s huge!
Is it an allergy or a sensitivity?
Doctors can run tests checking for IgE reactions and IgG reactions to determine if you have an allergy or a sensitivity. I usually run these specialized blood tests AFTER my patients have already tried getting rid of the most common culprits but still feel bad. Because you can usually figure out your own sensitivities without having to run any expensive tests at all. A true elimination or detoxification diet removes the most common food triggers from your diet for long enough to ensure your body is no longer reacting to a specific food.
But don’t take my word for it - try it for yourself! Go ahead and get rid of the most common food triggers from your diet for 30 days and see how you feel. You may be VERY surprised to discover that you’ve been dealing with food sensitivities without knowing it. As for what to eliminate, read on!
1. Gluten - This protein found in different grains like wheat, barley, or rye is in so many delicious foods but I know from experience that cutting gluten entirely or at least cutting down can change your life.
2. Dairy - We love dairy but it doesn’t love us back! It can negatively impact the digestive system, the immune system, and your mood.
3. Soy - It’s advertised as a health food but eating too much can cause hormonal imbalances and even neurological symptoms!
4. Corn - Today’s corn isn’t the same corn your grandma ate. It’s been so heavily engineered that it’s like a science experiment in your body. And it’s in pretty much every processed food so you may be eating a lot more of it than you realize.
5. Eggs - Believe it or not I actually don’t have a sensitivity to eggs, which are one of nature’s best foods. But for people who are sensitive eggs can be an undiagnosed root cause for digestive issues, skin issues, or even autoimmune reaction. Eggs can be a very strong trigger!
If you want to figure out if your health issues are related to a sensitivity but love the five foods listed above, try to think of them as that bad ex who keeps coming around. Sure, it might be fun in the short term but in the long run, they can cause a lot of damage. On the other hand, after trying an elimination diet you may discover you’re one of the lucky people who isn’t sensitive to these particular foods at all. In that case, if you've tried getting rid of the TOP 5 Foods but are still struggling, I suggest working with a holistic doctor trained in nutrition who can help guide you on your journey.
Identifying your food sensitivities by removing these TOP 5 Foods that may be breaking your brain can literally transform your life, like it did mine!
To Your Total Health,
Dr. Titus Chiu
p.s. know anyone still struggling with post-concussion syndrome, anxiety or depression? Share this article with them! It may just transform their life.