Food Allergies Vs. Food Sensitivities or Intolerances (Part 1)

When trying to determine if you have problems with certain foods, we automatically think in terms of allergies. There are different ways that foods can affect our body. Besides a true allergy, there are sensitivities or intolerances. The type of problem you have will determine what kind of test, if any at all, you would need to take to be certain of it.

IgE Immune Response

If you have a true food allergy, that means your body has an immune system response and creates antibodies to fight off the foreign invader (usually against proteins). The antibodies are food-specific, so that if you are exposed to those foods again later, the antibodies will recognize the food and attack them to protect your body, just as it would an invading virus. These are IgE antibodies (immunoglobulin E).

When the IgE antibodies are released, so are other natural chemicals in the body, like histamine, which produce the allergy effect. It can show up as respiratory, skin, digestive, cardiovascular symptoms or a combination of these, depending on where in your body the histamine is released. This is what the allergist and other standard medical doctors consider when you discuss the possibility of food allergies with them. This is what they are trained in – diagnosing and counteracting true IgE allergies.

It’s estimated that 5% of children have these types of food allergies. An example of this type of allergy is a peanut allergy. (Other non-food allergies like bee stings and allergies to medications are also IgE mediated responses.) Only a tiny amount of exposure to the offending food can cause a reaction. These reactions of a true food allergy are serious, and can even be life threatening. The typical response time is within a few minutes to a few hours of exposure.

Top 8 Recognized Food Allergens

The top 8 food allergens (and those required to be listed on food labels) are: milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. (**Note that gluten is found in more grains than just wheat, but ONLY wheat is required to be listed. Be sure that any food product you eat is truly gluten-free if you are eliminating gluten from your diet.)

IgG Immune Response

There is another type of immune response involving IgG antibodies. This usually involves a milder, delayed response. One might not see reactions for several hours, or even up to a few days! These symptoms sometimes go away after avoiding the food for several months, but that’s not always the case.

Because any type of “allergic” response other than the immediate-type IgE reactions is outside the conventional medical community’s knowledge and understanding, these reactions are generally not accepted as true allergic responses. Often they are given a “food sensitivity” label, although food intolerances and sensitivities involve other processes that do not create an immune system response at all.

Other types of antibody responses involve IgA and IgM antibody reactions. The main thing to know is that IgE are your acute reactions that you can’t miss and the others all involve delayed reactions that are much more common yet not as well understood (or even widely accepted in the medical community).

Food Intolerances

Food intolerances are much more common than food allergies. The reactions of a food intolerance are not so obvious and in many cases go undiagnosed. They are usually a delayed reaction which could happen for as long as up to a few days after exposure.

Food sensitivities and intolerances are the root cause of many different chronic, incapacitating and common illnesses today – yet the conventional medical community does not recognize most of them. Because symptoms can be long delayed and multiple sensitivities can produce simultaneous effects, this compounds the problem.

One example of a classic, widely-accepted food intolerance is lactose intolerance. There is no immune response with antibody build up in response to lactose (milk sugar) in the body. In this case, lactose intolerant people simply lack the proper enzymes to fully digest lactose and consequently suffer digestive difficulties. The more lactose consumed increases the amount and frequency of the symptoms. The symptoms can be eliminated by simply avoiding lactose, drinking lactose-free milk, or even taking an enzyme tablet that gives them the enzymes needed to digest the milk sugar.

Symptoms of Food Intolerance

Symptoms of food intolerance are many, in the hundreds, but here are just a few to highlight the variety and total-body symptoms that can be seen:
digestive disorders, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, ulcers, reflux, heartburn, headaches, migraines, dizziness, difficulty sleeping, recurrent colds, upper respirator infections, ear infections, coughing, dark circles und the eyes, bad breath, asthma, high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, bed wetting, recurring urinary tract infections, PMS, skin disorders, hives, eczema, psoriasis, acne, arthritis, aching joints, lupus, chronic fatigue, starch and sugar cravings, hyperactivity, autism, ADD/ADHD, behavior problems, learning problems, convulsions, obesity, anxiety, panic reactions, depression, mental dullness, memory lapses, mood swings and irritability, anger outbursts, difficulty thinking, and many more!

This list probably has you thinking that everyone on the planet has some form of a food intolerance! The numbers are definitely higher than currently expected. The only way to tell if your symptoms are related to food is to do an elimination trial.

Part 2 of this article will discuss the various testing and treatment options. Here’s a quick hint and preview: There are specific tests you can take for allergies and sensitivities, but the only way to identify general food intolerances are with an elimination diet to see if you have reduced or eliminated symptoms.