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The Truth About Food Allergies and Food Sensitivities

Food allergies and sensitivities are increasingly common. You’ve heard of nut-free schools and gluten-free foods, and yes, some people truly need to avoid even the tiniest traces of these foods. In fact, millions of Americans experience allergic reactions to foods every year. While most reactions are mild, some can be life-threatening and require emergency treatment or hospitalization.

Where do food allergies and sensitivities come from? How do we know whether our symptoms are from an allergy or sensitivity? What are the best ways to prevent, treat, and live with them? Keep reading to find all of the essential answers in this blog post.

Is it a food allergy or a food sensitivity?

Food allergies and sensitivities are simply an abnormal response to food that’s triggered by the immune system. Our immune system is the system that fights infections. An immune system trigger happens when the immune system mistakes a non-harmful food, like wheat for example, for a serious invader and overreacts to it.

With food allergies the immune system creates a specific type of compound called an IgE antibody that is responsible for most of the symptoms of true allergies. These IgE-mediated allergic reactions can be non-serious or serious and life-threatening.

Allergies are often first noticed during childhood but they can develop at any age and may last for a lifetime. Mild allergic reactions to a food may result in more serious symptoms the next time it is eaten. So, after your first reaction—even if it’s mild—it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider to see if you should go for allergy testing or carry emergency medication (more on this below).

It’s unclear exactly where food allergies come from. Research shows that they could partly be genetic (inherited in the genes you’re born with). Gut microbiota may also influence your chance of developing food allergies. New studies show that introducing young children to peanuts may reduce their chances of developing serious peanut allergies. (Speak with your healthcare provider before introducing your child to peanuts.)

Unfortunately, there is no cure for food allergies, but reactions can be prevented. In an allergic reaction, the production of IgE antibodies is triggered by a protein in the offending food. Any food has the potential to cause an allergic response, however, there is a short list of foods that account for most reactions. These common food allergens must be declared on package labels, according to the FDA. Common food allergens include:

● Peanuts

● Tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans)

● Fish (e.g., cod, bass, flounder)

● Shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp)

● Eggs

● Milk

● Wheat

● Soy

Ruled out food allergies? It could be a food sensitivity.

Many food sensitivities or intolerances are often mistaken for allergies. Food intolerances can cause many symptoms after eating offending foods but what differs is that these symptoms are not the result of the IgE antibodies. That’s what makes them a sensitivity and not an allergy. Although food sensitivities are not the result of IgE antibodies, they do produce some inflammatory markers called mediators. A quality food sensitivity test, such as the one I use in my practice, will look at your body’s mediator response to more than 170 foods and food chemicals. This is not the same as over the counter sensitivity tests.

Food sensitivities are not life threatening, but they are life altering. Food and food-chemical sensitivities remain one of the most under-addressed areas of conventional medicine.

Many of my clients have been suffering with diagnosis of IBS (a blanket diagnosis for a collection of symptoms), autoimmune diseases, GERD, and constipation for so many years they feel it is part of their normal health. As you may well know, these symptoms can impact the quality of life you are living. The good news is they are reversible and your gut and sensitivities can be healed.

Common food sensitivities that can be healed.

There are several different types of food sensitivities that I work with in my practice. Here is a short list of the most common reactions.

Eosinophilic Esophagitis

Heartburn-like symptoms, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or difficulty swallowing after eating certain foods may be eosinophilic esophagitis associated with food allergies. If this happens, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider to see if you should get tested for allergies or need medications. Avoiding foods that cause this reaction is key. A quality food sensitivity test may be beneficial, as well as a stool test to identify any unhealthy balances of your microbiome. Apply here for a complementary screening to see if testing would benefit you.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose is a sugar found in milk that can cause gas to build up in the gastrointestinal tract. This is not an allergy, but rather an inability to effectively digest it. Lactose is a two-part sugar molecule that needs the enzyme lactase to break it down. When someone does not have enough active lactase in their digestive tract, lactose remains intact and causes abdominal pain, nausea, excess gas, bloating, and diarrhea. It is not uncommon for adults to have a lack of lactase. The less you consume lactose, the less lactase your body will produce over time. Since adults intake of lactose tends to decline over the years, it is no surprise many adults can have a lack of this enzyme. Curious if you have lactose intolerance? There is a simple test your healthcare provider can run, or you can try adding in a lactase pill to see if your symptoms still appear.

Celiac Disease or Gluten Intolerance

Gluten is a protein found in many grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. While intolerance to gluten involves the immune system, it differs from allergies by the specific antibodies involved (allergies involve IgE antibodies, while gluten intolerance does not). A person can have a gluten sensitivity and not have celiac disease. Ask your healthcare provider to test you for celiac disease, if you suspect it. If you are free of the disease, the next step would be to test for a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. A GI-Map is a practical at home test used by my practice.

Living with food allergies and food sensitivities

The best way to deal with food allergies and sensitivities is to avoid those foods that cause reactions for you. If you believe that you may have a food allergy, schedule an appointment with an allergist and request a food allergy blood test. A blood test can measure your immune system's response to particular foods by measuring the allergy-related antibody known as immunoglobulin E (IgE) and is the most accurate way for diagnosing allergies. Skin prick tests are not as accurate when it comes to food allergies. You can also implement an elimination diet, eliminating the top food allergens. If you suspect your symptoms are a sensitivity, apply for a complimentary consultation with myself for a quick screening.

Bottom Line When It Comes to Food Allergies vs Food Sensitivities

Food allergies and sensitivities are increasingly common. There are several different kinds and most are not serious or life-threatening, however, they all cause unwelcome symptoms. As a general rule, avoiding the offending foods is highly recommended.

If you believe you have a serious food allergy, it’s critical that you see your healthcare provider to determine if you need to carry emergency medication for future exposures. If you think you may be sensitive to certain foods I would love to visit with you. You don't have to navigate your gut health alone. I include a customized meal plan designed to help you enjoy the meals you love minus the few foods that you may be allergic or sensitive to in all of my gut health packages. You also get weekly virtual check-ins to address any questions that come up during your healing process. Apply for a complementary call to discuss your health goals today!


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