Gluten free, dairy free, nut free….. Specialty diets are everywhere! However, not everyone has the same reaction to the food they are avoiding. Food allergies, food sensitivities, food intolerances. What's the difference? Let's find out!
What is a Food Allergy?
The job of your body’s immune system is to destroy germs that make you sick. A Food Allergy results when your body mistakenly targets a food protein (an allergen), as a threat and attacks it. The immune system then produces abnormally large amounts of Immunoglobulin E (IgE for short). IgE fights the enemy by releasing Histamine and other chemicals. This can result in mild symptoms like a rash or more severe symptoms like breathing problems that can even lead to death!
The most common IgE allergens in children include peanuts, tree nuts, soy, milk, eggs, and wheat. The good news is that many children outgrow their food allergies and can eventually reintroduce allergens under the supervision of their doctor. Adults can also develop food allergies. The allergens most commonly seen in adults are peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, citrus fruit, and wheat.
Pollen Food Allergy Syndrome (PFAS) is another allergic reaction that can cause your mouth, tongue, or throat to feel swollen, numb, and itchy. Read more about this topic in my blog post, Understanding Pollen Food Allergy Syndrome.
What is a Food Intolerance?
Lactose Intolerance is an example of a common intolerance. Your body lacks the enzyme it needs to fully digest dairy products. This causes unpleasant symptoms such gas, bloating, and sometimes diarrhea. Foods high in fermentable carbohydrates, referred to as FODMAPS, can also cause similar symptoms. These intolerances are NOT immune related. They are considered Non-IgE (non-allergic). They are not life threatening, but can certainly make for a miserable existence if you’re the one experiencing the symptoms!
What about a Food Sensitivity?
Food and food chemical sensitivities are also Non-IgE (non-allergic). When you eat a suspect food, your body releases inflammatory chemicals (called mediators) from various types of white blood cells. Many people reach a point of constant inflammation where they are experiencing chronic daily symptoms. Unlike food allergies, food sensitivity symptoms are usually delayed by several hours or days. Suspect foods can be just about anything! Even foods known for having anti-inflammatory powers (think ginger, spinach, salmon) can cause problems.
I often use this analogy to explain food sensitivities to my patients. "Visualize a balanced see-saw with a bucket on one end. You may feel great when the bucket is empty. However, if you continue to add a scoop of sand to that bucket each day, eventually the see-saw will shift and the heavy bucket will end up on the ground. It may even spill over, resulting in negative symptoms. If you don’t know what YOUR "sand" is, you may never have answers to why your bucket keeps tipping!"
Food Sensitivities can sometimes be recognized using an Elimination Diet protocol, but it can be a long and tedious process. Also, this doesn't address the body's unique response to individual foods. For example, your body may not do well with wheat, but barley and rye are OK and eliminating all gluten may not be necessary.
I prefer to use Mediator Release Testing (MRT) in my nutrition practice. This helps patients find out what foods and food-chemicals may be their problem based on measuring inflammatory chemicals that are released. It is a more direct way of identifying food sensitivities with faster results.
What about Gluten?
Celiac Disease is a Non-IgE Auto-Immune disorder affecting less than 1% of the world’s population. Blood testing and a biopsy of the duodenum (upper stomach) is used for diagnosis. Those people affected need to follow a strict gluten-free diet.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (food sensitivity) affects a much higher population. This should be considered once an IgE Allergy and Celiac Disease have both been ruled out and negative symptoms continue.
As you can see, the process of identifying food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities can be complicated! It requires a team approach involving your medical doctor, specialists, and a qualified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Nutrition Dynamix uses an individualized approach to help you tailor a diet specific to your allergies and help you to recognize potential intolerances or sensitivities. Please Contact Me with questions on how I can help you or Make An Appointment today!