Today more than 15 million Americans have food allergies. Almost half of these statistics include children under the age of 18 years old. This ever-growing prevalence of food allergies has increased by 50% since the 90’s.
Identifying if your reaction to certain foods is a true allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity is important since food allergies can be life-threatening.
Food intolerances and food sensitivities are less emergent, but they also provoke their own set of problems. Irritations to certain foods can promote intestinal inflammation which can cause gut dysbiosis.
Gut dysbiosis, an imbalance of gut bacteria has been linked to inflammatory bowel diseases, autoimmune disorders, and even certain cancers.
So whether you’re struggling with a food allergy, food intolerance, or food sensitivity, it’s important not to ignore your systemic or gastrointestinal reactions to the foods you eat.
In this article, we will discuss the difference between a food allergy vs intolerance vs sensitivity.
A No-Go Zone – Food Allergies
Allergies are an indication of how unique every individual truly is. One person can eat all the peanuts in the world while another person can’t even touch the surface of leftover peanut residue without getting a reaction.
This is because when proteins in certain foods enter the bloodstream, their immune system incorrectly tags this protein as an invader. Their immune system responds by releasing powerful “fighter” proteins called antibodies to seek out these “invader proteins” to attack.
These antibodies, also known as immunoglobulin E (IgE), are released within minutes of a trigger food. These antibodies are what cause systemic food allergy reactions.
The most common food allergies include:
- Cow’s Milk
- Tree Nuts
Common food allergy symptoms include:
- Hives, itching, or eczema
- Tightening of the throat
- Tingling or itching in the mouth
- Swelling of the face, lips, or tongue
- Trouble breathing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Nasal congestion or trouble breathing
It’s important to identify if you have a true food allergy because exposure to trigger foods can progress rapidly into a life-threatening situation such as anaphylaxis.
Air on the Side of Caution – Food Sensitivities
Food sensitivities start out in a similar way to food allergies. Your immune system attacks certain proteins in foods, but instead of the fighter protein IgE being released, immunoglobulin G (IgG) is released.
These IgG antibodies don’t have such a vigorous response time as IgE antibodies. Food sensitivity reactions can take up to 72 hours after consumption of trigger foods. Due to this delayed reaction time, it’s harder to detect the offending food.
Common food sensitivity foods include:
- Animal meat
- High FODMAP foods
Food sensitivity symptoms may include:
- Gastrointestinal problems such as bloating, gas, and heartburn
- Body aches
- Itchy skin, skin rashes, and eczema
- Sleep disorders
- Brain fog
A common misconception among gluten sensitive individuals is that if you have a food sensitivity to gluten then you must have celiac disease. But that’s not necessarily true because you can have a food sensitivity to gluten and react with similar symptoms of celiac patients, but your blood and endoscopy tests return normal.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a less severe form of gluten sensitivity, but can also lead to chronic inflammation of the gut, neuroinflammation, and cognitive dysfunction.
An unresolved low-grade inflammation in the body from the diet can be the precursor to diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, leaky gut, and autoimmune diseases.
Uncomfortable Food Intolerances
Food intolerance is different from food allergies and food sensitivities in that it’s a biological deficiency in your gut causing your reactions. Food intolerances don’t have an immunoglobulin antibody reaction. Instead, food intolerances have a digestive reaction, being unable to properly break down food. This can be due to enzyme deficiencies, reactions to naturally occurring chemicals in foods, or sensitivity to additives in food.
For example, in lactose intolerant individuals, they’re missing the enzyme lactase which breaks down lactose. Therefore, this leaves lactose undigested in your intestines, leaving you with all those uncomfortable gastrointestinal issues.
Like food sensitivities, food intolerances may also be hard to pinpoint the exact culprit because of their delayed reaction compared to food allergies.
Foods most common with food intolerance responses include:
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Food additives
- Citrus fruit
Food intolerance symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain
Without eliminating the trigger food, food intolerances can lead to increased symptoms, diverticula, rectal disorders, bile acid malabsorption, and gut dysbiosis, and possibly certain infections.
In addition to eliminating the trigger food(s), you can also supplement with digestive enzymes to assist your gut in the digestion of certain foods. Digestive enzymes such as lactase and peptidase can enable lactose and gluten to be broken down into nutrients so your body can readily absorb it.
Functional Medicine Doctors in the Kansas City Area
If you find you’re allergic to a particular food, then complete avoidance of your trigger food is necessary to prevent a real life-threatening situation such as anaphylaxis. Food allergies can subside over time, but never try to reintroduce a true food allergy unless you’re under the direct supervision of your doctor.
An elimination diet is one of the most common ways to discover if you have a food sensitivity or food intolerance. Intolerances and sensitivities are usually not permanent. By avoiding the trigger food, you allow your gut to heal from inflammation and the negative responses may decrease.
If you don’t let your gut properly heal from food intolerances or food sensitivities, you can eventually damage the lining of your small intestines. This can prevent you from absorbing the nutrients you need from your food.
Food is something you eat every day, multiple times a day. Trying to pinpoint which food is causing your reactions when you can’t even remember what you had for breakfast yesterday can be frustrating.
Gluten and dairy are the two most common intolerances and sensitivities we see in our patients. We suggest eliminating these two food groups to help give you a starting point in discovering what’s causing your reactions.
If you’re in the Kansas City area and looking for guidance in your food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity, request an appointment today with Dr. Jessica Jellison or Dr. Paul Reicherter or call (913) 568-0608.