Allergy vs. Intolerance
An allergy is an immune system response. It is caused when the body mistakes a digested ingredient (proteins) as harmful, creating a defense system of antibodies to attack it. An allergic reaction occurs when the antibodies are fighting an ‘invading’ food protein. Common food allergies include nuts, milk, and shellfish.
Food intolerance, however, is a digestive system response. It occurs when something in a food irritates the digestive system and you are unable to properly digest and break it down. A common food intolerance is lactose which is found in dairy products.
Are food allergies & intolerances common?
Food allergies and intolerances are becoming more prevalent. Almost everyone at one time or another has had an unpleasant reaction to something they ate. Some people experience specific food intolerances. Children can often grow out of their intolerances while adults may come into new intolerances later in life.
How can I tell if I have an allergy or an intolerance?
Food allergies are triggered by even small amounts of the food and occur every time the food is ingested. People with food allergies are usually advised to avoid the allergen-specific food all together.
Food intolerances are often dose relate. An affected individual may not experience symptoms unless a large amount of the food ingested or consumed often. For example, a slash of milk in your coffee may not trigger you, but 3 glasses of milk can disrupt you.
Your health care provider can help determine if you have an allergy or intolerance and establish a plan to help control your symptoms. If you think you may have an intolerance, or you are experiencing unpleasant reactions to food, we recommend our Naturopath, Dr. Simona Scurtu. ONE80 Health does administer in-depth food intolerance tests and comprehensive management plans.
Symptoms of a food allergy:
- Rash or hives
- Cramping stomach pain
- Itchy skin
- Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Swelling of the airways to the lungs
Symptoms of a food allergy can range from mild to severe. Anaphylaxis is a very serious and potentially fatal allergic reaction that involves a sudden drop in blood pressure, loss of consciousness and body system failure.
Symptoms of food intolerance:
- Stomach pain
- Gas, cramps, bloating
- Irritability or nervousness
What causes food allergies and intolerances?
Food allergies are triggered from a sensitivity to chemical compounds (proteins) in food, even compounds that are found naturally in food. There is genetic/hereditary factor as food allergies are more common in people who have family members with allergies. This component may also be involved in the development of a food allergy.
An allergy is developed after exposure to the harmful food protein. The first time you eat the food containing this protein, your immune system response by creating specific disease-fighting antibodies (known as immunoglobulin E or IgE). When you eat the food again, it triggers the release of IgE antibodies and other chemicals, including histamine, in an effort to get rid of the harmful protein invasion from your body. Histamine is a powerful chemical that can affect the respiratory system, gastrointestinal track, skin or cardiovascular system.
The allergy symptoms you experience depend on where in the body the histamine is released. If released in the ears, nose and throat, you may have an itchy nose and mouth, or trouble breathing or swallowing. If histamine is released in the skin, you may see hives or a rash. If released in that gastrointestinal tract, you will likely develop stomach pains, cramps or diarrhea. It’s is common to experience a combination of symptoms when the allergen is eaten and digested.
There are many factors that may contribute to food intolerance. In some cases, the affected individual lacks the chemicals, called enzymes, necessary to properly digest certain proteins found in food. Chemical ingredients added to food to provide colour, enhance taste and protect against growth of bacteria can also be factors that cause an intolerance. These ingredients can include dyes and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Sulfites, a substance which may occur naturally (as in red wine) or may be added to prevent the growth of mold, are also a source of intolerance. The FDA has banned the use of spray-on sulfates used to preserve fruits and vegetables, but sulfites are still found naturally in some foods. Salicylates are a group of plant chemicals found naturally in several fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffees, juices, beer and wine. Aspirin is also a compound of the salicylate group. Foods containing salicylates may trigger symptoms in people who are sensitive to aspirin. Of course, any food consumed in excess quantities can cause digestive distress and symptoms.
If you think you may have a food intolerance or you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, give us a call today and find out if a food intolerance test is right for you.