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The difference between food sensitivities, allergies, and intolerances

What's the difference between food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances? What's the difference when my body reacts in hives from nuts VS I have digestive issues & chronic pain vs when I get diarrhea from milk? 

Check out the recent Facebook Live video I did on this very topic!


There are a lot of ways that our BFF, food, can make us sick.

Today, I'm going to tell you about 3 types of food reactions and what we can do about each type:

FOOD INTOLERANCE | Example: diarrhea from drinking milk, or lactose intolerance.

FOOD ALLERGY | Example: Getting hives eating shellfish or nuts (common allergens), within about 30 minutes of eating that food.

FOOD SENSITIVITY | Example: Reactions up to 72 hours after eating and sometimes hard to pinpoint: Migraine, bloating and digestive pain/issues, chronic pain like fibromyalgia or joint aches. The immune system "guards" miscommunicate with any type of food or food chemical and send out "poison darts," or mediators, that cause inflammation until symptoms develop.



Let's start with the black sheep of the food issues, intolerance. A food intolerance, like lactose intolerance, has nothing to do with the immune system. It's caused by a lack of the right enzymes for digestion of certain foods. For exactly, those that are lactose intolerant don't have enough of the enzyme lactase to break down the sugar in milk, yogurt and ice cream which is called lactose.

Lactase deficiency, or lactose intolerance, is actually a pretty common in much of the world, with maybe a 60-75% prevalence depending on your sources, but the incidence is lower in the U.S.

Why? In the United States, drinking milk is part of our government recommended food plan. The more lactose-containing dairy you consume, the more lactase enzyme you produce to break it down.

I've spent a lot of time working with a primarily Native American population, one of the demographics that has a high prevalence of lactose intolerance within the United States.
There are some people that seem to flirt with lactase deficiency. I regularly have clients tell me that when they drink more milk over time, they have less of an issue with diarrhea than when their intake declines.

By the way, cheese that is processed like normal, aged cheese (I'm not necessarily certain about the processing of "instant" cheese) is not supposed to cause an issue for those who are lactose intolerant. That's because lactose is removed during the cheese making process. Regardless, clients still occasionally tell me that cheese gives them an issue, which could have something to do with the variety of cheese that person is eating.

Another example of a food intolerance that is related to digestion is bile salt deficiency. This can be related to poor digestion, heartburn, indigestion of fat.


Moving onto immune system reactions from food---allergies and sensitivities.

There are different kinds of sensitivities to food that are mediated by the immune system. For this discussion, we're going to talk about 3 types of food hypersensitivities and we're going to refer to them as "guns" for a better visual.


Food allergies involved type 1 guns, or hypersensitivities if you want to get technical. Type 1 is the make. The model of the gun is the mechanism of how it works. We'll call the food allergy model IgE. When it's shooting ammo, you're might be hives or a rash very quickly after eating the offending food. It works by breaking down a particular cell called mast white blood cells in the tissues of lungs, skin and GI lining. Those types of cells release histamine which causes inflammatory issues. By the way, it's thought that a blood test is the more accurate way to measure food allergies, rather than a skin prick test, which can vary significantly and apparently isn't exceptionally accurate (about 40%).

Allergies are fairly common and very well know because of the types of reactions they produce. You know the Big 8 allergens since it's mandated that manufacturers always put that cross-contamination info on the label. They include peanuts, tree nuts, cow milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. The vast majority of the time you have an allergic reaction, it's one of these common allergens.


Food sensitivities involve type III and type IV food hypersensitivities or guns. :) The models might include IgG, IgM, T-cells. These models of guns can put out a lot of different types of ammunition.

There are roughly 100 different types of ammo (or types of mediators) for these guns! Insane! These bullets, so to speak, like interleukins, TNF-alpha, prostaglandins, cytokines, etc are what travel through the body and produce damage. Makes sense, right? If the guns are shooting, there isn't any damage.

So while you always have the different types of guns, they aren't always shooting ammo or releasing mediators.

-----> So the reason that Mediator Release Testing or MRT food sensitivity testing is the best test for measuring food sensitivities? It measures the response of all the mediator reactions.

Ask yourself this question: Would you like to measure how many bullets were fired? Or would you just like to know how many of one gun model you have? Measuring how many bullets were fired and in turn, understanding the damage to the system, is like getting the MRT or mediator release test.

For example, when your blood gets exposed to a particular food, like garlic, and the response from all those different mediators increases? That's exactly what MRT measures. It measures the ENDPOINT inflammatory response to all mediators. It doesn't just measure A SINGLE mediator mechanism (or path) like some other sensitivity tests, such as IgG (my colleague Amanda writes about the shortcomings of IgG here and my own mentor Susan explains it here.

It measures the important part of all the mediators---the actual increase of inflammation.

Now, let's complicate this a little more. Different academies of professionals--academies of allergies, environmental medicine, etc have their own definitions

Let's review:

-->Immune system reactions: allergies (Type 1 IgE gun) and sensitivities (Type 3 & 4 guns in various models. This inflammation builds up as symptoms, like those commonly seen in IBS, fibromyalgia, migraines and far, far more.

--> Digestive issues: fats, sugars, etc are unable to be digested. This is a digestive issue.

Is there anything we can do about it?

Yes! We have had great success in decreasing sensitivities and healing the body of inflammation using both MRT testing to find out what is currently causing the bullets to go off + LEAP protocol, which is a method of healing the immune system. The goal? We want you to be able to return to eating foods that you were once sensitive to, even in small amounts.

That is amazing.

This does depend on the type of reaction you are having and whether it overlaps into other types of reactions and how closely you can follow the protocol for about a month. The best way to find out if mediator release testing is right for you is to schedule a call ( to discuss it with me.

You can also join the waitlist at to be notified about openings for testing, success stories and more.



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