Food Sensitivities, Food Allergies And Food Intolerances
In this section, we want to differentiate between a food sensitivity, food allergy and food intolerance. I find that most people are not clear on the distinction. A food allergy is an immune reaction to a specific food. It will occur each and every time you eat that food, even if you only consume a small amount. A food allergy occurs when your immune system mistakenly believes a food or food element (like peanuts, lactose or gluten) is detrimental to your body so it produces specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to neutralize that foreign invader. To bring your body back into balance and mitigate the perceived antigen, your body will release histamine as well as other chemicals into your bloodstream anytime you eat the offending food. Inflammation is then created and it’s these chemicals that cause the entire range of allergic symptoms (rashes, runny nose, wheezing, diarrhea to the more severe anaphylactic shock). Only true food allergies can produce life-threatening anaphylaxis. This is why kids with peanut allergies have to carry an EpiPen. An Epipen simply carries Epinephrine which narrows blood vessels and allows the flow of oxygen. The reaction is immediate anywhere from minutes to hours. Allergies are not very common and are prevalent in less than 5% of the population. They may also be permanent. The most common food allergens are milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, soy and wheat.
Food sensitivities are different than an allergy in many ways. Delayed reactions manifest in many different ways as they can affect any organ system in the body and can take anywhere from 45 minutes to several days for symptoms to become apparent. They generate an immune response known as immunoglobulin G (IGG) and not necessarily to protein. This is why it is more difficult to determine if you have a sensitivity to a food. The delayed onset of symptoms and complex physiological mechanisms involved in food sensitivities make them an especially difficult puzzle to solve. I have my patients keep a journal of what they ate for a week. If they experience any symptoms, I always ask what they had in the past 24 – 48 hours. They are very common affecting between 25-50% of the population. They can be cured and the underlying cause is usually “leaky gut” or a compromised mucosal barrier. We will describe in a later chapter how you can test for food sensitivities.
The final reaction to food I want to discuss is food intolerances (non-IgE mediated food hypersensitivity or non-allergic food hypersensitivity). They are a digestive system response rather than an immune system response. It occurs when something in food irritates a person’s digestive system or when a person is unable to properly digest food. An example of this is an Intolerance to lactose, which is found in milk and other dairy products as described above. Symptoms can be bloating, migraines, headaches, a cough, etc. Some causes of intolerances can be an absence of certain enzymes, specific chemicals, toxins, or some histamine in food. These are fairly common in people and an elimination diet is very helpful in curing these.