People are often surprised to find out that I gave up gluten not because I have an allergy but because I have a sensitivity. On the scale of sensitivities it didn't rank especially high; the pharmacist who did my testing even told me it wasn't high enough to worry about. But I gave it up anyway, and I found out that little sensitivity was definitely enough to cause me massive amounts of pain and fatigue.
Gluten wasn't the only culprit, and in the years since I changed my diet I've found that other foods give me problems in different ways. Eggs cause me to break out. Dairy causes me some pretty serious gastric discomfort, yet neither of these showed up very high on the food sensitivity test.
There have been a lot of articles lately disparaging the idea of giving up gluten unless you have an actual allergy. Some doctors have even vocalized opinions that there is no such thing as gluten sensitivity; in fact, many don't even consider food sensitivities at all. The attitude seems to be that if you aren't having an allergic reaction you don't have a problem. I have to disagree.
A single food sensitivity can cause a variety of symptoms, from a slight cough that can be ignored (for a while) to gastric discomfort, fully-body pain, and fatigue. When you combine multiple food sensitivities or continue to eat a food you are sensitive to in large portions on a regular basis, the result can be something that resembles fibromyalgia.
Food sensitivities are not life threatening, but over time they may threaten your way of life.
Although some doctors discount the idea of food sensitivity (or intolerance), studies indicate that possibly 30 percent of people suffer from some sort of food sensitivity. Here are a few signs that you may have a food sensitivity:
Eczema. Eczema is often linked to food allergies, but even when food allergies are not present it's possible that your eczema may be caused by a food sensitivity.
Acne. Your body often uses your skin to attempt to clean and purge itself of the unwanted suspects. Uncontrolled acne can be a sign that your body is trying to detox itself of a food that it is sensitive to.
Fatigue. When food seems to be taking your energy instead of providing it, there's a problem. When you continually eat foods that you are sensitive to, your body will have an inflammatory reaction, leaving you feeling depleted and tired.
Joint pain. The same inflammatory reactions that cause fatigue also cause joint pain and swelling. While the pain may start in a single joint, it will eventually spread throughout your body.
Migraines/headaches. If you've ever found that you get headaches regularly after eating certain foods, you have a food intolerance.
Brain fog. If you feel like you are always in a fog, forgetful, or just can't think, it's possible that your problem is food related.
Food cravings. It's hard to believe that our bodies would constantly crave foods that are bad for us, but there's a reason. When you have just a little bit of that food, the body creates enough antibodies to deal with the next attack, anticipating it. That anticipation creates a craving.
What if you aren't sure what you are sensitive to?
You can begin by having a sensitivity panel run. If you use an alternative health practitioner they will likely do this for you. Otherwise, you may want to find a local compounding pharmacy. They usually have the kits and can send the test in for you. As a last resort you can find the kits online and do the test yourself.
A cheaper method, although not easier, is an elimination diet. In an elimination diet you reduce the foods you eat to only a few safe foods, then one by one reintroduce questionable foods while keeping a journal of how you feel. This allows you to pinpoint exactly which foods are causing which symptoms.
Food sensitivities sound like no big deal. That is likely true if you only have one sensitivity to a food you rarely eat. However, if you have multiple food sensitivities, or are sensitive to one of the foods you eat most often, you may be causing yourself much more harm than you think.