Food Sensitivities & Intolerances

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By now you’ve likely discovered that we have struggled with many food sensitives and food intolerances.  To clarify,

  • Food allergies  (IgE) typically result in an immediate physical reaction (anaphylactic response, hives, swelling, tingling of lips, vomiting, dizziness, shortness of breath) and are often life threatening.
  • Food sensitivities (IgG) can, not only result in physical symptoms similar to a true allergy (IgE), but also include a wide array of behavioral and/or developmental symptoms due to specific foods. The primary difference between a food sensitivity and food allergy is the amount of time between consumption and when the symptoms occur.  Food sensitivities often cause a behavioral or physical reactions in the days following consumption.  Because of this delayed reaction, food sensitivity (IgG) testing and/or a food or behavior journal is key.  Food sensitivities are often associated with “leaky gut” and the more inflamed the body is, the more sensitive/reactive they will be.  The body can easily become very reactive, particularly if one is consuming a lot of the same restrictive foods over and over again.
  • Food intolerances often are representative of classes of food, and may present similarly to an IgE food allergy and/or an IgG food sensitivity because of the ability to create an immediate and delayed onset of symptoms.  However, the intensity of an immediate onset of symptoms related to a food intolerance are often less severe and more behavioral than a food allergy. Symptoms of a food intolerance can vary from head banging, rashes/hives, developmental delays, GI discomfort, fatigue, dark circles under the eyes, hyperactivity, sleep issues, red face/ears, etc   Food intolerances may often originate from lack of specific enzymes, inability to metabolize certain foods, gene mutations, imbalances and inflammation.  Some examples of food intolerances are reactions to histamines, phenols/salicylates, sulfur, oxalates, gluten and dairy.

Some of the most common foods to cause the above reactions are:

  • Tree nuts (almonds, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, cashews, hazelnut, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, chestnuts)
  • Peanuts
  • Chicken Eggs
  • Soy
  • Gluten
  • Casein/Dairy
  • Corn
  • Fish

Biggest takeaway, is that food sensitivities and food intolerances present similarly by often having an immediate and delayed behavioral, physical and developmental reactions. The why does my child do this post may help determine which foods you may be reacting to. During the time we’ve worked to overcome his reactions, I have been able to connect some of the dots but please remember I am just a mom and I just trying to share some of our discoveries. Also, please keep in mind that this doesn’t address any behavioral reaction caused by an imbalance in diet triggering an overgrowth of other pathogens like yeast, clostridia, etc. ( and/i.e. drinking a cup full of juice and causing a surge in sugar). These are also just the most common issues discussed and doesn’t fully address the role of gene SNP’s. Again, we found a food/behavior journal (see this post for more info.) and/or a REID compliant rotation diet may be beneficial in discovering/resolving some of these issues.


Phenols (salicylates are a type of phenol) are a chemical compound naturally found in foods. Typically the brighter/more colorful the food, the higher in phenols. One becomes more sensitive to these if their bucket is already full from phenols produced by various metabolites or if they have trouble with phenol sulfotransferase deficiency (PST) which should be indicated on a 23 & me SNP’s test. I think of the phenol issue like a bucket. Small amounts of phenols can start to fill the bucket with no reaction, but once the phenol level gets so high, that the bucket tips/overflows, you’ll see a reaction.  A typical reactions to phenols and/or salicylate may be overly giggly, red ears or flushed cheeks, aggression, irritability, night waking, tics, defiance, emotional, dark circles under eyes, and hyperactivity.
We did briefly struggle with a phenol/salicylate intolerance when his diet was low in fiber and high in meat. Aromatic amino acids concentrated in meat protein are the biggest culprit of phenol metabolites that interfere with dopamine metabolism. Clostrida (which can also be a result of a high protein diet) and SIBO (often associated with carbohydrate fermentation) will also create phenols as a byproduct. As these proteins ferment in the gut, phenols will be produced. The proteins are broken down into amino acids and metabolites/bacteria that metabolize these amino acids create phenols/inflammation as a byproduct.
These high levels of phenols will easily fill the “bucket”, resulting in a reaction to additional phenols from diet. In my opinion, this is why many cannot tolerate any additional phenols in diet. Glutamate signaling is also created in this process due to the inflammatory response and fermentation of the protein in the gut. I would try balancing the diet further (increasing high fiber leafy greens and reducing meat) to eliminate the possibility of excess phenols from this process. Dr. Reid recommends roughly 75% of diet to come from high fiber green veggies. We try to make that’s goal, although it doesn’t always happen. We also limit meat to once a day. We still eat phenols/salicylates but do not go overboard so that our “bucket” doesn’t tip resulting in a reaction.
Dr. Reid also recommends using herbs to combat some of the underlying inflammation (clostridium, SIBO, etc.)
“Protein fermentation mainly occurs in the distal colon, when carbohydrates get depleted and results in the production of potentially toxic metabolites such as ammonia, amines, phenols and sulfides.”
“One mechanism that could explain the association with meat is increased colonic protein metabolism due to increased protein intake from high meat diets. Products of colonic protein degradation and metabolism include ammonia, phenols, indoles and amines which have been shown to exert toxic effects in vitro and in animal models. These compounds are present in faecal samples suggesting that they may exert gut mucosal effects. Human studies have shown that colonic protein metabolism via the gut microflora is responsive to dietary protein as fecal ammonia and urinary phenolic compound concentrations increase in response to increased intake of protein rich foods.”

TACA Resource on Phenols & Salicylates:


Many with autism and various other health issues are very sensitive to oxalates and there may be many reasons for this (glyphosate, oxidative stress, lack of proper bile production, vitamin K, etc).  I found the glutamate and oxalate connection rather interesting. Glutamate induces oxidative stress which is an endogenous producer of oxalate. While magnesium is good and can sit on the glutamate receptor, it needs to be higher than calcium levels. Leafy greens are necessary for vitamin K, magnesium, fiber fermentation, etc. If you are struggling with oxalate issues (sandy stools, oxalate crystals in diapers, frequent urination, etc.) you may want to choose leafy greens lower in oxalate, lower consumption of nuts and other high oxalate foods. Bifido bacteria can also degrade oxalate, which often comes from the metabolism of olgiosaccharides- asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, oats are some of the foods that contain it.
“Vitamin K is very important for GABA and glutamate balance as well, as it is needed for healthy calcium metabolism where it reacts with glutamate and calcium to deliver calcium to the bones and teeth, and it prevents accumulation of excess calcium which would contribute to cell death. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin; however, unlike other fat soluble vitamins, it is not stored in the body and must be consumed on a daily basis. Typically, vitamin K is produced when the friendly flora in our gut process leafy greens, but if dysbiosis is present or you’re not eating leafy greens, then vitamin K is not produced in sufficient numbers and deficiency may develop.
The pancreas uses Vitamin K abundantly for sugar regulation. In addition to the brain, the pancreas is also very vulnerable to accumulation of excessive glutamate or other excitotoxins, which will further impair regulation of sugar. As we discussed previously, too much or too little insulin or glucose can both contribute to excess glutamate Therefore, keeping glutamate and GABA in balance is critical for the health of the pancreas and all its functions and the health of the pancreas is vital for maintaining the balance.”…/how-to-increase-gaba-and…/

“In this paper I am proposing that a deficiency in Vitamin K causes unregulated calcium movement and deposition in the body of the autistic child, and that unregulated calcium is a cause of many of the symptoms associated with autism. I am also proposing that a Vitamin K deficiency is the cause of the calcium oxalate crystals found in many autistic children.
Calcium, in tandem with the neurotransmitter glutamate, is essential to the functioning of the excitatory cells of the nervous system: once glutamate opens the neuronal cell’s calcium channel, calcium pours into the channel and triggers the neuron to fire. The concentration of glutamate within the nervous system is therefore carefully regulated by the nervous system (specifically the astrocytes, which can be negatively affected by mercury and by neurotoxins produced by Lyme spirochetes) because excess glutamate will keep the calcium channels open, allowing calcium to continue to enter, and excite, the neurons. Dr. Russell Blaylock, among others, has written extensively about the neurotoxicity associated with an excess of glutamate. However, I believe that unregulated calcium may play an unappreciated role in triggering the incessant neuronal firing and resultant cell death that are a hallmark of excess glutamate in the nervous system. If a child is unable to regulate calcium due to a Vitamin K deficiency, that child may display signs of glutamate toxicity and uncontrolled neuronal firing that manifest as the cluster of behavioral disorders called autism.” “A Vitamin K deficiency may be a contributing factor in the autistic child’s endogenous production of oxalic acid, which can bind to and immobilize calcium. If the renegade calcium is bound to oxalates it cannot make its way into the nervous system and cause damage. The human body seems to have a reason for producing oxalic acid: to control and manage calcium. It also has the means to dispose of it once the diet contains adequate Vitamin K again: the Vitamin K triggers carboxylation of bone proteins, which can then chelate the calcium from the crystals and put the calcium where it belongs. Meanwhile the oxalic acid will be disposed of, via secretion either through the kidney tubules or across the intestinal membrane. However, if the kidney tubules are not filtering well due to the presence of CaOx crystals, or if the intestines do not contain oxalate-degrading bacteria, then the oxalic acid will remain in the body and re-crystallize. Disposal of any other waste product or toxin will be compromised also.” “Vitamin K appears to be capable of chelating the calcium from calcium oxalate crystals, thus dissolving them and opening up the kidney tubules as another avenue for disposal of soluble oxalate. As CaOx crystals deposited around the body begin to dissolve, the autistic child’s behavior should improve.”
“Dr. Clive Solomons found that, if the diet is very low in oxalates, the dieter would begin to produce oxalates endogenously. The very-low-oxalate dieter is by definition eating few or no leafy greens, the main dietary source of Vitamin K1, lending some credence to the hypothesis that a Vitamin K deficiency is one reason the liver would manufacture soluble oxalates.”


See my blog post on our experience with it here.