Is the food you’re eating sabotaging your health? You might not even be aware of it because sometimes it’s hard to directly connect a reaction to a food. What are food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities, and what are the differences between them?
Many people are clear that a nut allergy is a serious and potentially life-threatening medical condition. But apart from this, food allergy isn’t always taken as seriously as it should be. As it’s Food Allergy Awareness Week this week, I want to give you the lowdown on food allergy and intolerance, and what to do if you suspect there are foods that don’t agree with you.
What Is a Food Allergy?
To start, let’s get clear what a FOOD ALLERGY is …
The job of the body’s immune system is to identify and destroy germs (such as bacteria or viruses) that make you sick. A true food allergy happens when your immune system overreacts to a harmless food protein—an allergen. The body mounts an immune response by releasing IgE antibodies which stimulate the release of certain chemicals such as histamines which cause physical symptoms.
The symptoms can be restricted to one area (your digestive system, skin and so on) or the whole body, where the immune system triggers widespread inflammation and swelling – which can result in anaphylaxis and can be deadly. Symptoms usually show up immediately or within the first two hours after eating the problematic food.
The most common food allergens are milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish.
Mild food allergy reactions may involve only a few hives or minor abdominal pain. The most common food allergy signs and symptoms include:
- Tingling or itching in the mouth
- Hives, itching or eczema
- Swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat or other parts of the body
- Wheezing, nasal congestion or trouble breathing
- Abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness, light-headedness or fainting
Severe food allergy reactions can lead to anaphylaxis which can cause life-threatening signs and symptoms, including:
- Constriction and tightening of the airways
- A swollen throat or the sensation of a lump in your throat that makes it difficult to breathe
- Shock with a severe drop in blood pressure
- Rapid pulse
- Dizziness, light-headedness or loss of consciousness
If you think you have a food allergy, you can often get tested free of charge via your GP, but private tests are also available.
One clinical pearl I’m going to share with you is that, if you’re struggling with the symptoms of a true allergy (itchy eyes, swelling and the like), yet testing reveals no problem foods, or the test shows you have low grade reactions to a number of foods, the answer might be in the gut. For example, parasites also cause the body to produce high levels of IgE antibodies, yet these are not often considered by conventional medicine as a potential cause of allergy-like symptoms.
With food intolerances your immune system isn’t involved and symptoms may not appear until hours or days later.
When a food intolerance exists, the problem is at the level of the digestive system –it can’t digest the food which causes uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms. In contrast to a food allergy, a person with a food intolerance can typically eat small amounts of the identified food without experiencing symptoms.
Food intolerances are most commonly due to lactose, gluten, preservatives, additives, histamines in foods, salicylates, fructose, impaired complex carbohydrate digestion (the body’s enzymes simply can’t handle the volume of carbohydrates in the digestive system) and tyramine (common in cured meats, aged cheeses and smoked fish).
They can produce low grade inflammation throughout the body and symptoms that are far ranging, but altogether less dramatic. These can include the following:
- Weight that won’t shift
- Coughs (frequent)
- Runny nose
- Itchy or overly waxy ears
- Stomach ache
- Irritable bowel
- Blocked nose
- Ear Infections
Why it’s important to deal with Food Intolerances
Although the symptoms might seem less dramatic, it really is worth dealing with food intolerances, especially if you’ve had niggly issues for years. This is because the low-grade inflammation created throughout the body when you’re repeatedly eating foods the body doesn’t like, frequently progress to more problematic issues. ALL chronic disease is caused by low- or high-grade inflammation of one sort or another.
Although you can do your own elimination diet, cutting out foods you suspect you might have a problem with for a period of time, then reintroducing them and seeing what happens, this can be time consuming if you are not entirely sure which foods might be problematic. Testing can help you pinpoint which foods might be problematic for you- this can save a lot of time, remove the stressful guesswork and help prevent the unnecessary exclusion of too many foods.
Intestinal inflammation caused by a food intolerance may also impair your body’s ability to absorb essential vitamins and minerals. This can lead to serious nutrient deficiencies down the road.
Researchers are finally validating what many of us have known for years: Certain foods just don’t agree with some people. Although food allergies are well-recognized because firm diagnoses can be made through the use of blood tests for the presence of IgE antibodies, food sensitivities fall into a grey area. Experiencing unwanted symptoms after eating certain foods are not as easy to diagnose, but it doesn’t mean that they’re any less real.
Some people can eat tiny amounts of these foods and not always have symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they are a lot less severe than allergies but can be just as debilitating and include migraines, brain fog, inflammation, digestive problems, and bloating.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP WITH FOOD ALLERGIES, INTOLERANCES, AND SENSITIVITIES?
The Gut Connection
Studies have increasingly found that food intolerances, sensitivities and allergies are associated with arthritis, autoimmune disease and a leaky gut (or increased intestinal permeability). So it’s important to not just avoid the food in question but to address potential underlying root contributing factors such as leaky gut and inflammation.
It’s not enough to just take the food out and not do anything about it. Because symptoms are another way of your body telling you that your gut needs some TLC to heal, restore and rebalance itself. Without this vital step, no matter how many elimination diets you do, if you don’t work on healing your gut you’ll likely end up fighting symptoms all over again. And also likely to eventually end up with more intolerances and symptoms.
Once you have really healed your gut, you may find that foods that once gave you problems are tolerable again. But it’s important to remember that many of the foods that we become reactive to are inflammatory in nature, so while you may be able to tolerate them, it’s good to eat them in moderation.
Currently, there is no cure for food allergies themselves. The only way to prevent food allergies reactions is to completely avoid the food you are allergic to. So if you have a food allergy, you will need to avoid the food forever. That’s because part of the immune system works on the basis of memory. In exactly the same way your body remembers its response to, say, the polio vaccination you were given as a child (and can prepare its attack should it come into contact with polio again), it remembers its response to nuts, dairy, or whatever food you’re allergic to. However, making sure the integrity of the gut lining is intact is important to help reduce inflammation associated with food allergies and help prevent further potential complications developing in the long-term.
If you have a food intolerance, you don’t necessarily have to remove the food forever, it depends on the underlying cause of the reaction. Digestive support can often help alleviate many symptoms.
Since 80 percent of your immune system is found in your gut, it makes sense that by healing your gut you could reverse sensitivities. Now, that doesn’t mean that every person and every single food sensitivity will be able to be completely eliminated forever—but you don’t have to think of it as a life sentence!
If you are wondering whether you have a food allergy, intolerance or sensitivity, please do get in touch. I can help by offering a variety of testing options where necessary to help get to the bottom of the problem, and my gut restoring programmes can help bring your body back into balance. Book your free call here: https://app.acuityscheduling.com/schedule.php?owner=14670092