Food Allergies vs. Food Sensitivities: Giving the One-Two Punch to Our Bodies
Our bodies can take a beating everyday by the choices in foods we make. Many times, people experience symptoms of rashes, headaches, fatigue, gas and bloating and do not think to link them to foods that they are ingesting on a daily basis. They are often brushed off as common ailments linked to stress or something we came into contact with that bothered our systems briefly. Food allergies and the more common food intolerances/sensitivities can wreak havoc on our bodies leaving us feeling sick, fatigued and down for the count.
In This Corner…Food Allergies
A food allergy results when the immune system mistakenly targets a harmless food protein – an allergen – as a threat and attacks it. Unlike a food intolerance, the immune system produces abnormally large amounts of an antibody called immunoglobulin E — IgE for short. IgE antibodies fight the “enemy” food allergens by releasing histamine and other chemicals, which trigger the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) states that although nearly any food is capable of causing an allergic reaction, only eight foods account for 90 percent of all food-allergic reactions. These food are: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish and shellfish.
The effects of food allergens range from mild to severe. Symptoms may include:
- Tingling mouth
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, face or throat
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Cramping, Bloating and/or diarrhea
- Anaphylaxis (causing airways to tighten), which can be life threatening and requires immediate treatment.
If an adverse effect to a food is encountered and a food allergy is suspected, a visit to an allergist for some tests will help confirm symptoms. The allergist may conduct tests to help identify a food allergy. While these tests alone do not always provide a definitive answer, the allergist will combine test results with the information given in a medical history to provide a diagnosis. These tests may include: skin prick test, blood test, oral food challenge (with doctor’s supervision in office), or a trial elimination diet.
And in This Corner…Food Intolerances
Food intolerances, on the other hand, may not have the dangerous effects of food allergies, but they can still cause discomfort and pain. Because a food intolerance does not involve a quick immune reaction, we can go about eating these foods in small amounts without much trouble. However, even though food intolerances are generally less serious, they could still cause digestive upset (bloating and gas pain), migraines, eczema, sinusitis and many other discomforts that can easily be eliminated.
Common food intolerances include lactose in cow’s milk, gluten, eggs, nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, bell peppers), alcohol and a newcomer on the food intolerance scene – foods high in fructose such as high-fructose corn syrup. As today’s diets include more and more processed foods, our intake of staple processed ingredients like wheat and fructose is also increasing (shout out to clean eating!).
Food intolerances can be identified through various ways. A first step is to keep a detailed food and symptom journal. If all symptoms point to a food, an elimination diet is often used to identify the culprit, taking out suspected foods one at a time and reintroducing them. Blood tests can also be helping in detecting food intolerances. It is not recommended to use the elimination/reintroduction method with true allergens as they may cause a life-threatening reaction when the food is added back in.
Don’t Be Down for the Count
Paying attention to our body’s cues is the most important way to block whatever punches come flying at us from our food. Food should make us look healthy, feel great and give us energy. When we’re feeling sick and tired, lose sleep, get grumpy or other signs that just don’t feel normal, TRUST your gut! It is always right.