Food Allergies and Intolerances

Food Allergies and Intolerances

What is an allergy?

When the body is under attack by a parasite, bacteria, or virus, the immune system launches a counterattack, designed to stop the intruders, and eventually destroy them.  In order to be able to do this, the immune system must be able to tell the difference between cells that belong to the body and cells that do not.  They do this by reading the proteins on the surface of the cells that they encounter.  An allergy is a case of mistaken identity.  The immune system misreads the proteins on an innocent cell or protein from harmless food and launches an attack against it.  The familiar symptoms of allergy are a byproduct of this attack.

What are the symptoms of food allergy?

The most common symptoms of food allergy include dark circles under the eyes, runny nose, diarrhea, chronic infections, skin rashes and itching, and headaches.

Which foods are common allergens?

The proteins found in wheat, dairy products, eggs, peanuts, corn and sugar, are not tolerated by the immune system of many people.  We develop allergies to the foods we eat most often, as these are the foods that our immune system is exposed to.

What is food intolerance?

Food intolerance is a broad classification that includes many types of reactions to foods.  These can include lack of specific enzymes to digest lactose, sorbitol, or sucrose or reactions to food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and sulfites.  These reactions do not involve the immune system, but often the symptoms are very similar to food allergy symptoms.  A very common food reaction is lactose intolerance.  Individuals who are lactose intolerant do not have enough of the enzyme lactase to break down the sugar lactose which is present in dairy products.  Lactose then reaches the colon intact, where it causes bloating, cramps, and diarrhea.

What is the difference between food allergy and food intolerance?

A food allergy is the result of an interaction between the immune system and a food protein.  Usually the allergic reaction is mild and only causes ill health in the long run.  However, some instances of food allergy can be life-threatening.  If you suspect that you have a food allergy, be sure to discuss this with your integrative medicine physician, naturopathic doctor or nutritionist.

A food intolerance does not involve the immune system and other than toxic reactions to food additives or toxins, rarely causes immediate life-threatening reactions.  Intolerances can, however, lead to malabsorption of food and gradual malnutrition.

What are the treatments for food allergies and food intolerances?

The treatment for either problem is the same: foods that cause the allergy or intolerance must be eliminated from the diet.  Some allergies such as those caused by IgG reactions are often transient and clear up after a period of elimination from the diet.  Other types of food triggered immunoglobulins such as the more serious IgE reactions may be life long.  If you have an allergy and want to learn what type of reaction you are experiencing, there are blood tests available such as Genova Diagnostics Food Antibody Assessment.

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