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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