Food Allergies, Sensitivities, and Intolerance: The common but confusing problem you are facing.
Have any of you or someone you know experienced unpleasant symptoms after a meal or snack? Chances are that you experienced some degree of skin rashes, sneezing, wheezing, brain fog, bloating, diarrhea, joint pain, or other symptoms. It is possible that you are having some form of food allergy, sensitivity, or intolerance. These reactions can range from just annoying to life-threatening. So it’s important for you to know the differences.
What is the difference?
The main difference between them is the body’s responses. When you have a food allergy or sensitivity, your immune system causes an immediate or delayed reaction. While if you have a food intolerance, the reaction is triggered by your digestive system.
Food intolerances are not immune-mediated and caused by the inability to process or digest certain foods.
You may be sensitive or intolerant to a food for a few reasons. These include:
not having enough enzymes to digest a certain food
reactions to food additives or preservatives like sulfites, MSG, or artificial colors
pharmacological factors, like sensitivity to caffeine or other chemicals
sensitivity to the sugars naturally found in certain foods like onions, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts
Symptoms are mainly digestive-related, include:
gas and bloating
The most common food reaction appears to be lactose intolerance. As we get older, our ability to digest dairy decreases. That’s because, with age, our intestines make less of the enzyme (lactase) that processes lactose, a type of sugar present in milk and dairy products. As a result, we have more lactose sitting in the digestive tract, which can cause stomach bloating, inflammation, and diarrhea. Research has found that only about 35% of people worldwide can digest lactose beyond the age of about seven or eight. Lactose intolerance is not a serious disease, but it can be quite uncomfortable. Avoiding dairy products is a surefire way to avoid symptoms; some, like milk, tend to produce more severe symptoms than others, like yogurt and cheese. Over-the-counter lactase enzyme supplements can also help.
Your immune system is your body’s defense against invaders like bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens. You have a food allergy when your immune system identifies your food as an invader and reacts by producing antibodies to fight it. The most common of this immune-mediated reaction is by our allergic immunoglobulin called IgE. They caused an immediate reaction by causing the release of chemicals like histamine from mast cells. Food allergies can be fatal. A true allergic reaction can lead to an overblown immune response causing a severe outcome. The classic example is the potentially life-threatening difficulty breathing and low blood pressure following exposure to peanuts or seafood. Food allergies can show up at any time in our lives, even during older adulthood.
Symptoms of food allergy include:
skin reactions, like hives, swelling, and itching
anaphylaxis, including difficulty breathing, wheezing, dizziness, and death
Eight foods account for 90 percent of allergic reactions: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, and soybeans.
People who have food allergies must carefully read the food ingredient labels and avoid these foods. Also, the parents and caretakers of a child with food allergies must be trained to treat accidental ingestions. Carrying epinephrine shots in case of accidental ingestion or contact with the food in question is essential and can be lifesaving.
If you think you may have a food allergy, consider allergy testing and treatment, especially if your symptoms are severe (significant rashes, feeling of passing out, facial swelling, and problems breathing).
After eating certain foods, many people experience symptoms that are not related to food intolerances or food allergies. These are referred to as food sensitivities. It appears that exposure to specific foods may create a delayed immune reaction that generates a multitude of symptoms. The symptoms are not life-threatening, but they can be quite disruptive and include joint pain, stomach pain, fatigue, rashes, and brain fog. Gluten and dairy is probably the best-known trigger of food sensitivities.
In order to identify food sensitivities, we can do a specific diet we call the “Elimination Diet”. A process of careful observation and experimentation. Removing certain foods believed to cause reactions from the diet for two to four weeks, reintroducing them one by one, and watching for symptoms is the current gold standard to pin down what may be causing symptoms. A physician or nutritionist can provide guidance for undertaking an elimination diet and can help you understand limitations and avoid possible pitfalls. Removing certain foods can help stave off undesirable symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Food reactions, especially sensitivities, can also fade away with time. Our bodies, immune systems, and gut microbiome are continually changing, and what may not be well to eat today may be fine to have later on in life once your gut is healed. At some point, you may consider reintroducing small amounts of food that you have been sensitive to, to see what you may be able to tolerate.
The bottom line is…
When we repeatedly eat foods that our body can’t handle, it creates a system-wide immune response, which leads to chronic inflammation, weight gain, gut issues like leaky gut syndrome, and other symptoms that can wreak havoc on your body.
Further reading: Leaky Gut
Food hypersensitivities are affecting up to 20% of the population. With so many people experiencing discomfort after eating food, we need to have a more reliable way to find out the answer. The best tool we have now is the comprehensive food sensitivity test. Food sensitivity is driven by the antibody immunoglobulin G (IgG) and the test measures your immune response to more than 100+ common foods. The tests typically help you narrow down which foods trigger your symptoms. The good news is once you know the foods that are hurting you, you can work towards healing your gut and find relief sooner.
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