Despite our best intentions, the foods we consume and even chemicals in our environment can cause unpleasant and persistent reactions in our body. Our immune system, whose function is to keep out unwanted bacteria and viruses, sometimes mount an attack against non-infectious particles. Why this happens is not always known, but it can lead to annoying or even debilitating conditions that disrupt our quality of life as the immune system fights to rid our bodies of these "invaders," so to speak. While it might be easy to identify one or two foods that the body is reacting to by doing a simple elimination diet, oftentimes there are multiple foods and/or chemicals causing problems. The issue also becomes confounded by reactions being delayed by hours or even days and different doses of the offending food can cause differing severity of symptoms. This is why LEAP/MRT was created -- to help sensitivity sufferers identify their food sensitivities and learn how to create a diet that will eliminate these reactions from occurring.
What is LEAP?
LEAP stands for Lifestyle, Eating And Performance. It's a diet plan specifically tailored to each person to help calm down the immune system and eliminate symptoms associated with food sensitivities. It is a way of eating that helps support proper immune function and allows sensitivity-sufferers to lead normal, symptom-free lives.
What is MRT?
MRT stands for Mediator Release Test. It is a type of sensitivity test that measures the activity of the immune system after a particular food is consumed. It gives us an accurate assessment whether a food is causing a reaction and to what degree our immune system is creating "mediators" to fight off these particles in our bodies. There are 150 foods and chemicals tested for which give a baseline for starting the LEAP diet. Following MRT, you work with a Registered Dietitian to tailor your LEAP diet plan and start on your path to recovery.
For those of you science-minded folks that might want to know more specifically how MRT works, check out the cute little demonstration at this link: http://nowleap.com/MRT-animation.html
Food Sensitivity vs Food Allergy vs Food Intolerance
These terms can be rather confusing because they are interchanged quite frequently. In actuality, each one describes a different type of condition with different testing and management options for each.
A food allergy is an IgE antibody-mediated reaction. This type of reaction is immediate, coming on within minutes in most cases, and usually quite severe. A peanut allergy is one that people are most familiar with. We all know that someone with a peanut allergy cannot have a single bite of anything peanut-containing and some can't even come in contact with a single molecule. Their IgE antibodies create a reaction so swift and so severe that it can be deadly. Other foods and even environmental particles can be allergies as well. They do not usually create such a severe reaction but they can cause problems such as shortness of breath or asthma, swelling, vomiting and hives. These reactions are not dose-dependent. The smallest amount can cause just as severe a reaction as a larger dose. Testing for allergies usually involves a skin-prick test or a blood test. Both are not extremely accurate but do give a decent sense of what someone is allergic to. The one good thing, since allergic symptoms are so immediate, is that a person is usually able to tell, over time, what foods, chemicals or environmental particles they are reacting to.
On the other spectrum we have food sensitivities. These are non-IgE mediated reactions. They can involve other antibodies (IgG, IgA, IgM) or they can involve T-cells, otherwise known as type IV hypersensitivity reactions. These are delayed reactions in that the symptoms usually do not arise until hours or even days later. For this reason is can be extremely difficult to figure out which are the offending foods. They are also dose-dependent. While a person may be able to get away with eating a tiny bit of a food, a larger intake might go on to provoke symptoms. This is another reason it can be so hard and frustrating to figure out which foods are problematic and which are not. The symptoms themselves tend to milder than food allergies however they also tend to be chronic and often debilitating over time. Mild digestive symptoms, for example, might get worse over time leading to diagnoses such as IBS, Crohn's, or Ulcerative Colitis.
Testing for Food Sensitivities
Traditionally the elimination diet has been the "gold standard" for uncovering offending foods, however we now know that even the most healthy foods can be triggers. For many a standard elimination diet won't solve the case. Also there are IgG tests. These tests are very limited in their usefulness. For one they only test for IgG. As you already know there are other antibodies and even T-cells that can be implicated in food sensitivity reactions. We are missing out on that whole piece entirely. Also these tests look at the level of IgG present when the food antigen is introduced. Research has shown, however, that merely the presence of high IgG levels in the blood does not necessarily mean that a reaction took place. In actuality high IgG levels might be a protective mechanism for foods that we eat frequently and indicate tolerance, not sensitivity. It's a complex area that few understand, but it does not appear that the presence of IgG is something we should use as diagnostic of a food sensitivity. The newest player is MRT which was described previously. As you can now see, MRT is completely different. We now have a way to test if a reaction actually occurred and to what degree it is affecting our immune system. Once more people and practitioners understand how this process works, this will be and is the new "gold standard" for food sensitivity testing.
A food intolerance does not involve the immune system at all. Think if this as an enzyme deficiency. If someone is intolerant to a food they are unable to digest it properly. Maybe the fibers can't be broken down or proteins are left intact, causing unpleasant digestive symptoms hours after eating the food. Lactose intolerance is the classic example. Many people lack the enzyme to break down the milk protein lactose, which is called lactase. Lactose-free products are usually packaged with the lactase enzyme, thereby breaking down the protein before it is ingested. As you can see, the culprit behind the symptoms is not the food per se but the lack of enzymatic activity to break down the protein. There is no immune activity and therefore no symptoms beyond the unpleasant digestive effects occur. Still annoying, but not as damaging and much easier to treat.
Wondering Where to Start?
I understand, this whole discussion can be overwhelming for most. If you've read this far, for one congratulations and thanks, and two, more than likely you have some issues going on and you just don't know what is the cause and where to start. Give me a call and we can talk through the options. Usually within minutes of describing your symptoms I can get a good idea of what type of reaction we are talking about and what your best testing options are. I'm more than happy to refer to other well-qualified practitioners if your symptoms sound more like something else besides food sensitivity reactions. If they might be food sensitivities I'll suggest we meet and review your history. Then we can agree upon a way to proceed.
Food sensitivities are no fun. I know first hand. Let me help you wade through mess and find a path forward. I look forward to meeting with you!