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Food Allergies, Sensitivity & Intolerance – Symptoms, Causes & Natural Treatment

Food Allergies, Sensitivity & Intolerance – Symptoms, Causes & Natural Treatment

Food Allergies, Sensitivity & Intolerance – Symptoms, Causes & Natural Treatment

The incidence of food allergies and intolerances (including anaphylaxis), has increased dramatically in the last three decades. The exact cause of food allergy and sensitivity is unclear. There may be a genetic predisposition, but not in all cases.

Causes of Food Allergies, Intolerances & food sensitivities

  • Gut dysbiosis: compromises gut immunity, low beneficial bacteria, bacterial infections and pathogens, reduced digestive function and increase chance of intestinal permeability
  • Hygiene hypothesis: sterile, germ-free environments cause under-development of the immune system, which over-reacts when exposed to allergens. Allergies are much less common in rural environments.
  • Age of exposure / improper weaning: some theories suggest that children should be exposed earlier, while others propose that delaying exposure can decrease the incidence of allergies. Breastfeeding is a known preventative for development of food allergies. Early weaning of babies and introduction of grains and cow’s milk can give rise to the development of allergies and intolerances.
  • Chemical exposure: the use of pesticides and food additives creates a negative association with the food itself
  • Processing of food: the body cannot recognise altered proteins in GM or processed food.
  • Over-exposure: over-exposure to foods such as wheat and dairy may lead to the development of food intolerances
  • Poor nutrition: compromises immune system

Food allergy

  • IgE antibody-mediated reaction in which the body produces antibodies and histamine in response to the food.
  • Symptoms are relatively immediate, generally occurring within 2 hours of ingestion.
  • Only account for about 10% of food reactions
  • Generally allergic for life
  • The eight foods responsible for 90% of food allergies are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy.
  • Particularly involved in atopic diseases such as anaphylaxis, hives, allergic asthma, hay fever and atopic dermatitis (eczema).

Food sensitivity

  • A delayed form of reactivity, occurring up to 3-5 days after ingestion of food and lasting for a longer period of time
  • Mediated by IgA or IgG antibodies which form immune complexes that accumulate in tissues
  • Much more common than food allergy
  • Often dose-dependent and may be intermittent.
  • Often associated with compromised gut flora and integrity
  • The most common foods involved in sensitivity are casein, gluten, grains, eggs, nuts and legumes.

Food intolerance

All other negative reactions to food arising from non-antibody mediated factors, such as:

  • Enzyme deficiency e.g. lactose intolerance
  • Inability of the body to absorb nutrients e.g. fructose intolerance.
  • Chemical mediators in the food that cause dysregulation, inflammation or alteration of gut flora e.g. sugar, glutamates, salicylates, lectins, food additives, etc


Risk factors of food allergies, food intolerances and food sensitivities

  • Gut dysbiosis and intestinal permeability: increases the risk of absorption of larger food proteins which triggers an immune response
  • Family or personal history of allergies, asthma or atopic dermatitis
  • Under-exposure to germs and childhood infections early in life
  • Poor diet: deficient in nutrients and high in processed food
  • Over-eating and overexposure to certain foods
  • Stress
  • Drugs e.g. antibiotics, OCP, vaccines, alcohol
  • Exposure to chemicals and pollutants

Signs & Symptoms of food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities

Many and varied, depending on individual and type of allergy.

May include:

  • Skin: hives, angioedema, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis
  • GIT: mouth ulcers, bloating, cramping, flatulence, diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease
  • ENT: hoarse voice, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, ear infections, rhinitis, sinusitis
  • Respiratory: asthma, wheezing, shortness of breath, cough
  • Itching / swelling of lips, mouth, tongue and palate
  • Headaches
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Mood changes: irritability, poor concentration, learning difficulties, depression
  • Puffiness or dark circles under eyes
  • Chronic swollen glands

Investigations for food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances

  • USA based CYREX array testing exclusively through Advanced Functional Medicine in Perth
  • IgG and IgA food panels
  • Stool analysis, SIBO breath test
  • Skin prick test: IgE-mediated reactions only
  • Elimination diet


  • Investigate and identify gut issues – Stool analysis, SIBO breath test, intestinal permeability etc
  • Balance gut microbiome and treat intestinal permeability if indicated
  • Improve digestive function
  • Balance immune system / reduce allergic response
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Support adrenal function / manage stress

Diet plan guidelines for food allergies, food sensitivities & food intolerances

  • Identify / remove allergenic foods:

– May be done via food symptom diary, blood testing or elimination diet

– In true food allergy, the offending food may need to be removed for life

– In food sensitivities, the offending food may possibly be able to be reintroduced after 4-6 months at a low dose or on a rotation basis.

**Optimising gut function is critical before reintroduction of foods.

– Clients will need to be educated around appropriate substitutes and hidden sources of the allergen

  • Support digestive / liver function: bitter foods (rocket, radicchio, eggplant, lemon, artichoke); enzyme-containing foods (pineapple, papaya); apple cider vinegar and lemon juice with meals
  • Ideally follow an Autoimmune Paleo diet (AIP Diet).  This diet removes the most common allergenic offenders from the diet

Supplements that support food allergy, sensitivities & intolerances

  • Vitamin C  – inhibits histamine release, anti-allergy, immune, liver and adrenal support
  • Bioflavonoids (quercetin, bromelain) – stabilises mast cells, anti-histamine
  • Zinc – immune support, healing and repair of tissues, stomach acid production
  • Digestive enzymes: to support break down of food proteins
  • Pre- and probiotic supplement: to support healthy immune and digestive function and promote repair of intestinal lining
  • Glutamine – repair intestinal lining

Herbal medicine treatment that supports food allergy, sensitivities & intolerances

  • Anti-allergy: albizzia (stabilises mast cells), baical skullcap (inhibits PG, PAF, leukotrienes, histamine), chamomile, gingko (inhibits eosinophils and PAF), panax ginseng (inhibits histamine), licorice (inhibits histamine)
  • Immune modulation: echinacea, astragalus
  • Anti-inflammatory: turmeric (curcumin), ginger, boswellia – Studies show that curcumin has an antihistamine like effect and can target respiratory inflammation. If it helps reduce the frequency and severity of allergic reactions and asthma attacks (1)
  • Digestive stimulants: gentian, ginger
  • Repair / soothe gut wall: marshmallow, calendula, slippery elm, licorice, goldenseal, aloe


Food allergies, sensitivities and intolerances can fly under the radar for many individuals for years on end.  We commonly see in practice clients that have no idea that the foods they are consuming are causing such a negative reaction to their health. 

Only by removing these foods and addressing underlying gut function do these patients realise how much of a negative impact the foods were having. 

At our Perth clinic of Advanced Functional Medicine we have extensive experience in digestive disorders and dealing with patients with food allergies and intolerances.  We use a range of investigative measures to pinpoint what foods are currently causing irritation. 

Many foods can be reintroduced after a few months of abstinence combined with successful treatment of underlying gut dysbiosis and mucosa repair.  By improving a patients overall gut health, intestinal permeability and digestion many foods that were previously highly irritable become tolerable again. 

If you or a family member are suffering from food allergies and intolerances or have unexplained symptoms that may be caused by food intolerances we would love to hear from you, what symptoms are you having?  Have you completed food intolerance testing, if so what type?  After successful treatment, were you able to eat some of the foods you previously had an intolerance to?  Please write a comment below.

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The above information is intended to be general, educational advice only, on topics which are of interest to us. It is not intended to represent specific or individual health or medical advice and is not specific to your situation. The below information is educative and is not intended to advertise any service.

Before making any decisions in relation to your health, you should always discuss your individual situation with your own health practitioners to ensure that any advice you have read is right for you.

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper - ND is the founder of Advanced Functional Medicine Australia. He is a Naturopathic Doctor with extensive functional medicine training from leading practitioners in the USA and worldwide.

He is leading the way with advancements of functional medicine, clinically implementing worldwide best practices in Functional Medicine throughout Australia.

Jarrod consults in person from Perth, Western Australia and also online via Telehealth throughout Australia and worldwide.

If you are looking for personalised treatment, we highly recommend contacting Jarrod Cooper’s Advanced Functional Medicine clinic in Australia.

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