As a Naturopath I get asked regularly about food allergies and intolerances. These terms are being used and investigated by people more and more as various reactions to foods are occurring in individuals as young as babies. The topic is of high interest and I think we need to make sure we have an understanding of the difference between a food allergy and an intolerance. Plus, it is a question I get asked about quite often.
Firstly, a food allergy is a immunoglobulin E (IgE) response, which means an IgE antibody is released in the presence of a foreign substance (allergen / food), and the body acts abnormally when exposed to one or more allergens. The most common allergic foods are gluten, peanut, tree nuts, shellfish, eggs and cow’s milk. Those with a food allergy will react quite quickly within minutes to a couple of hours as this immediate reaction is caused by an allergen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody that may cause an anaphylactic reaction (a severe body allergic reaction). Symptoms such as swelling of airways making it difficult to breath or skin irritations, vomiting, diarrhoea, sneezing or runny nose.
Secondly, a food intolerance is an immunoglobulin G (IgG) immune response to one or more foods. Even though this reaction is not life threatening it shouldn’t be underestimated, as symptoms of a food intolerance can still be quite debilitating. Symptoms include bloating, stomach pains, fatigue, headaches, migraines, respiratory conditions and irritable bowel syndrome, skin conditions just to name a few. Generally by the time patient’s come to me, they have been experiencing any of these symptoms for months to years and not known why.
It is so important to identify food intolerances and allergies, but it is equally as important to heal the digestive tract, support digestive enzymes and promote healthy bacteria to encourage the break down of food and absorb nutrients into the blood stream. It is so much more than avoiding a specific food, but also determining why there is an intolerance / immune system response in the first place. That’s what I call getting to the cause of the problem!! There are many factors impacting the breakdown of food, increased gut permeability and hypersensitivity reactions within the body.
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