There are so many people that suffer from allergies. You could probably count five people you know who have allergies- maybe yourself included. Allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S and it’s estimated that over 50 million Americans suffer from allergies, with more than 32 million of these people suffering from food allergies. This includes 5.6 million children affected. That’s 1 in 13 children (or 2 per classroom)! The CDC reported between 1997-1999 and 2009-2011 food allergy prevalence increased in children by 50%, and pediatric hospitalizations for food allergies TRIPLED between the late 90s and mid-2000s.
Now that you can see how many people are affected by allergies. Let’s talk about how this process happens.
There are 5 different types of immunoglobulins in our body. Immunoglobulin G (IgG), IgA, IgM, IgE, and IgD. Immunoglobulins are antibodies produced by plasma cells (white blood cells). They recognize and bind to particular antigens.
We’re only going to be discussing a few of them today.
IgE measures ALLERGIES. This is an immediate onset- and causes hives, stuffy/itchy nose/eyes, diarrhea, vomiting, anaphylaxis, etc. IgE mediated allergies trigger mast cells to release histamine, which is what causes the above symptoms.
IgA and IgG are commonly used to test for food SENSITIVITIES. They are known as delayed response reactions, which means symptoms may take anywhere from hours to days to show up.
IgG and IgA mediated sensitivities activate the complement immune system and do not trigger a histamine release. They aren’t diagnostic for a specific condition, but can indicate a response to a certain food. IgA are present in mucus membranes, so increases of this immunoglobulin likely affect mucus membranes.
When we start to see a lot of IgG and IgA sensitivities, this may suggest that there is increased intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut). Tight junctions line the intestinal tract, and they pick and choose what are allowed through them and into the bloodstream (like electrolytes). When the immunoglobulins enter the bloodstream, they can travel systemically (this is how we may see an increase in acne, headaches, or other symptoms that may seem “random”).
When the junctions don’t work properly due to poor diet, infection, chronic NSAID use, stress, etc. this allows larger particles like IgG antibodies to “leak” through creating an immune response (therefore the reactions are delayed because the food must get to the GI tract).
Symptoms of IgE Allergies:
- Red eyes
- Itchy rash
- Runny nose
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms of IgA sensitivities:
- Chronic sinus problems
- Post-nasal drip
- Always feeling like you need to clear your throat
- Crohn’s Disease/Ulcerative colitis (which affects mucous membranes)
- Digestive issues
Symptoms of IgG sensitivities:
- Eczema/skin rashes
- Digestive issues
- Joint pain
- Brain fog
- Sleep problems
So, the take home- IgE allergies are permanent and lifelong, whereas sensitivities may improve by healing the gut. Testing is an easy place to start, because you can remove the exact offenders while healing the gut. However, elimination diets can be effective as well.
Now that we understand allergies vs sensitivities let’s dive into the mechanisms on how this relationship can impact your seasonal allergies. One of the largest issues is going to be that of inflammatory load. Inflammation is something our body creates to deal with injury or to assist in immune reaction. If this inflammation reaches too high of levels, or is around too long, it can have significant health consequences.
Food can be a contributor to this inflammatory load and we like to use the analogy of the inflammatory bucket. Think of your capacity to handle the day to day in context of a water bucket. Everyone’s bucket is a different size depending on many factors but once it is full symptoms will show up. Essentially food sensitivities slowly fill this bucket and given the amount of times we eat in a day it’s easy to see how this can lead to a significant amount. Don’t forget that there are other things that are naturally contributing to this load such as environmental impacts.
Let’s put some numbers to this concept to make it a bit clearer. Let’s say your bucket can handle 100ml before you will experience symptoms and you don’t get the worst sleep but it’s also not the best so you wake up each day with 20ml of “inflammation”. We now have 80ml of volume we can fill before we’re in trouble. Unfortunately, unlike your car we don’t really have a meter to be able to tell you how much room is left so this becomes one big guessing game and is where many get frustrated. Don’t get upset yet, we’re going to show you how to best estimate this as well as nutrients to allow more volume into your bucket if necessary! Ok so we have 80ml left. You make a couple eggs and a cup of coffee with creamer. Unbeknownst to you, cow dairy is a sensitivity and naturally is mucogenic (produces mucous) so that’s 30ml with just breakfast!! It’s only 7am and we are half full! Add some stress from traffic on the way to work, a donut from the break room and that Diet Coke before lunch and we are topped off before lunch. Now don’t forget this whole time you were being exposed to your allergens; pollen, dust grasses etc. it’s lunch time and you are a red-eyed, mucous draining mess. So, what do we do? We take anti-histamines to try and dry it all up, unfortunately these antihistamines don’t empty ANY of your bucket and once they wear off the cycle continues.
Now the above was an example with arbitrary numbers used to relay a point but let’s really talk about the science. Your immune system functions in multiple divisions with a variety of cell types. The main cells responsible for allergic response are your plasma cells (they produce and release antibodies) and your mast cells (that release histamine among many others).
As stated previously there is a clear distinction between a sensitivity and an allergy both in cells involved and the products that are released. The concept of the inflammatory bucket is what commonly amplifies the response to these environmental allergies but there is a more direct mechanism that has been speculated. IgE antibodies that target different cells to release histamine, may not be the only ones with that capability. IgG, the main driver in food sensitivities, may also trigger a histamine release via an immune cell called a basophil. Interestingly enough, these IgG antibodies are actually working with your existing IgE antibodies and ENHANCING the allergic response to certain substances.
Let’s give an example to make this clearer. Let’s say you have an allergy to pollen. If that is the case then right now, you have a bunch of circulating IgE that are trained to recognize pollen. When you encounter, such pollen, the IgE are released at high level, they bind to histamine producing cells and the rest is history. Now we have the other group of antibodies, IgG that may be increasing due to your consumption of one of your food sensitivities- let’s say soy. These IgGs that were triggered from your soy consumption may have the ability to complex and what’s called cross-link other IgE antibodies and trigger histamine release even in the absence of a large pollen exposure. There are some references that indicate that the major cell in our body that release histamine, the mast cell, may even have receptors on it for IgG antibodies.
All of the exact mechanisms are beyond this article and honestly get a little dry (that was an anti-histamine pun 😉 ). The big question is what do you do about it? Well, if you’ve been living with allergies for some time there is a good chance you know what substances bother you: grasses, trees, mold etc. If not, your doctor can test you for IgE reactions to nearly any food or environmental allergy. The piece of the puzzle you’re likely missing is that of the sensitivities. Even though they are not as popular to recommend in a traditional medical setting, those who practice a bit outside the box have access to many great labs that will report your IgG sensitivities. Keep in mind there are many other benefits to figuring out your sensitivities and avoiding them: healthier skin, more energy, less brain fog and a more efficient immune system.
J Immunol. 1992 Jun 15;148(12):3929-36.
Moodley, I. & Mongar, J.L. Agents and Actions (1981) 11: 77.
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Image 2: https://www.gdx.net/product/igg-food-antibodies-food-sensitivity-test-blood
Image 3: https://www.vectorstock.com/royalty-free-vector/mechanism-of-allergy-vector-2174419