Wellness Wednesday: What are Food Sensitivities?

Curious about food sensitivity testing? This posts answers all your questions, including what are food sensitivities, if you could have a food sensitivity, and how MRT and LEAP can help you!


Exciting news to share with you all today! After months of studying, one very time intensive test, and many, many cups of coffee, I am now a certified LEAP therapist. This means I can offer MRT, the gold standard in food sensitivity testing to my clients (and maybe to you!) as part of the LEAP program. I've always received many questions about food sensitivities, even before getting certified and there's just not a lot of great answers out there. Sigh, oh internet. So, I thought I'd break this post down Q & A style. Let me know if there's any questions you still have in the comments and I'll be happy to answer or direct you to more research!

First off...

What is a food sensitivity?

A food sensitivity is a type of immune reaction to specific foods or food chemicals. It causes immune cells to release inflammatory chemicals called mediators, some of which may sound familiar to you. Histamine, cytokines and prostaglandins are three of the roughly 100 different types of mediators. These chemical mediators are the direct cause of inflammation and symptoms.

There's a lot of confusion about food sensitivities, intolerances and allergies, probably because these words are often used interchangeably. But they shouldn't be because they're completely different, usually with different symptoms and absolutely different tests for diagnosing. So let's break it down.

Food allergies are also type of immune reaction. You can be allergic to many different things - food, pets, pollen, mold, medications, insect stings (as we sadly learned in My Girl). Without getting too deep into the science, allergies are caused by a specific immunoglobulin called IgE. Although symptoms can vary, they are usually fairly immediate and typically include hives, vomiting, wheezing, a drop in blood pressure, and most severely, anaphylaxis. Allergies are usually tested for using a skin prick test. Unfortunately, while this is pretty accurate for environmental allergies, for food allergies, it isn't the greatest. Since food sensitivities don't involve IgE, allergy testing won't pick up on it.

Food sensitivities are also an immune reaction, but somewhat more complex, caused by different and more types of immune cells. Symptoms are often delayed, rather than immediate, making it especially hard to identify without blood testing. The symptoms itself can also be quite varied, but are related inflammation, muscle contraction and edema (fluid retention) caused by the mediators.

Food intolerances, on the other hand, don't stem from the immune system. Lactose intolerance is the best known example of a food intolerance. Symptoms of lactose intolerance occur when the body doesn't make lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose, the sugar found in milk. When the undigested lactose enters the digestive tract, it causes symptoms of bloating, gas and diarrhea. Although MRT doesn't test for food intolerances, it's easy to identify them using the LEAP diet.

Could I have a food sensitivity?

If you have an inflammatory or autoimmune condition, especially one that's not responding to traditional treatment, you very likely could have a food sensitivity. Here's a list of the most conditions where the MRT test and LEAP diet are most commonly used:

  • IBS, especially diarrhea predominant
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Migraines
  • Arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis
  • Celiac disease
  • Lupus
  • Skin conditions like psoriasis or eczema
  • Hashimotos
  • Chronic rhinitis and sinusitis
  • Unexplained weight gain, especially fluid related

During your initial consultation, I'll do a careful screen of your symptoms to determine if food sensitivity testing can help you, or if there may be something else at play. There's other indicators I look for that scream food sensitivity, and I don't want to run the test if I don't think it'll help!

That said, I've heard from a few people who don't have severe or typical symptoms, but are curious about getting it done, mainly 'just to know'. This is 100% not science based, but I have chatted with quite a few dietitians who did the test on themselves, even though they weren't experiencing symptoms. What they all said was that they did notice an improvement in how they felt, some significant, noting improved mood, better skin, and less bloating. I plan to do the test on myself once I wrap up some recipe development projects and will definitely fill you in on the results!

How does MRT work?

The Mediator Release Test (MRT) is a blood test that works by directly measuring the quantity of mediators (those nasty inflammatory chemicals that cause your symptoms) released after exposure to 150 different foods and food chemicals. It tests foods that are commonly cited in food sensitivities, like wheat and dairy, to those you would never think would cause a reaction (but sometimes do) like turmeric, raspberries and quinoa. By measuring how much mediator is released, MRT is able to quantify just how reactive a food is, placing it into green (non-reactive), yellow (moderately reactive) and red (reactive) categories.

What is LEAP?

The LEAP (Lifestyle Eating And Performance) Immunocalm Diet is an individualized diet based off your MRT results. It's implemented in five phases, starting with limiting your diet to the least reactive foods and gradually moving to foods that are more reactive. In general, this part of the program lasts 90 days and the most restrictive part, phase 1, usually lasts about 2 weeks. I won't lie, this is the part that's kind of miserable. Depending on how many foods you test as reactive to and how severe your symptoms are, it can be quite restrictive for a period of time. Goodness knows I hate restricting and telling someone not to eat something, but when your quality of life is significantly impaired by your condition, it's worth dealing with for a few months.

And the good news is it's not forever. You can attempt to add back foods you tested positive for after your immune system has had a chance to chill out a bit. You might not tolerate them, but many do. Even better, you'll know exactly how foods make you feel, so you can make value based decisions on how to eat versus walking around feeling junky all the time and not knowing why.

How can I get tested?

Simple! If you're wondering if food sensitivity testing could help you, we can set up an initial 30 minute consult where you can learn more about it and I can screen you to see if you would be a good candidate. It's only $35 and if you decide to proceed with testing, the cost is taken off the price of the program. This service is also available virtually so you don't have to live in Columbia. From there, we'll schedule a blood draw and once we get the results back, start you on your path to wellness!