Classic allergy reactions called IgE (immunoglobulin E) can occur under a variety of circumstances and are usually swift, obvious and can cause potentially life-threatening to somewhat debilitating symptoms —“ shock and awe” symptoms.
The sudden reaction is triggered by the IgE antibody binding to the offending object triggering a histamine response, which is the cause of the onset of symptoms ranging from runny nose, sinusitis, earache, or itchy eyes to itching of the skin, eczema, or shortness of breath. In most extreme cases, the immune response can lead to sudden death. Much of the time people with classic allergies know about them because the immune response is rapid and significant.
But the allergic reactions are not always so rapid. Sometimes symptoms of an allergic reaction are delayed, taking hours or days to become noticeable.
Delayed immune reactions or sensitivities can be broken into two types of immune responses. The first type of antibody is called IgG (immunoglobulin G). IgG antibodies can bring on symptoms that are hard to pinpoint because the response may take three hours to three days to become obvious and sometimes you may not be able to absolutely tell you are having a reaction through symptoms but the immune systems still sees that food as an enemy. In some cases the symptoms are vague such as fatigue, headaches, or digestive complaints that come and go or are chronic problems that seem to come and go regardless of what you eat.
IgG mediated food sensitivities are inappropriate immune responses to foods. However, sensitivities are more like the “occupying forces” than “shock and awe.” Sensitivities can often be dose-dependent — a little might be tolerated, but a lot or eating daily can cause prolonged symptoms. The IgG antibody produced during this type of response is the same immune system response we receive to invading pathogens like bacterial or viral infections. IgG antibodies also can cross the placental barrier and give passive immunity to a fetus.
The other immune-mediated response that often leads to delayed complaints is the IgA (Immunoglobulin A) class of antibody responses. IgA antibodies are found in the mucosal areas of the body such as the digestive tract, mouth, lungs, throat and urinary tract.
IgA antibodies are part of our immune system that prevents colonization of pathogens in these areas. This mucosal immune system is a central component of our defense, as a whole, any inflammatory reaction in the gut may results in a condition called Leaky Gut. Leaky gut is the entry of undigested dietary proteins into the blood circulation from damage done to the intestinal lining. Leaky gut can lead to an increase in blood-born IgG antibody reactions to foods.
Non-Celiac Gluten Related Disorders is the term used to describe individuals who cannot tolerate gluten and may experience symptoms similar to those with celiac disease but do not have intestinal damage to the villi as seen in celiac disease. Early research suggests that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is an innate immune response, as opposed to an adaptive immune response (such as autoimmune) or allergic reaction.
Humans are born with an innate immune system. An innate immune response is not antigen specific, meaning that it is nonspecific as to the type of organism it fights — it could be food, bacteria, viral, etc. Although its response is immediate against invading organisms, the innate immune system does not have an immunological memory to invading organisms.
On the other hand, celiac disease is antigen specific and includes antibodies to tissue-transglutaminase, endomysium, and deamidated gliadin antibodies and gliadin antibodies and does result in intestinal damage.
Non-celiac gluten related disorders may share many symptoms with celiac disease. However, individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity may also have a prevalence of non-GI symptoms, such as headache, “foggy mind,” joint pain, and numbness in the legs, arms, or fingers. Symptoms typically appear hours or days after gluten has been ingested, a response typical for innate immune conditions like non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity would not test positive for celiac disease based on blood testing, nor do they have the same type of intestinal damage found in individuals with celiac disease. The blood tests may show mild elevations in IgG or IgA antibodies but would not be strongly positive. Some individuals may experience patchy or minimal intestinal damage, and this goes away with a gluten-free diet.
Gluten sensitivities can wreak havoc on your body, especially your gut. As with any food allergies, eliminating offending foods is the only way to prevent an immune reaction causing minor to severe symptoms.
Betty Murray, CN, IFMCP, CHC is a Certified Nutritionist & Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner with the Institute for Functional Medicine, founder of the Dallas-based functional medicine clinic Living Well Dallas and Executive Director of the the Functional Medicine Association of North Texas. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutrition for autoimmune diseases, digestive disorders, MTHFR and weight loss. You can find her book “Cleanse: Detox Your Body, Mind & Spirit” on Amazon here.
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