Are you positive you’re reacting to something in your diet but can’t quite work it out? If so then this article is for you!
Have you seen your child’s eczema flare up after certain foods, yet they have been tested for allergies at the doctor and nothing has come up? This article is for you!
Do you get sinus congestion, bloating or other symptoms and wonder if food could have anything to do with it?
Are you confused about the difference between an allergy, an intolerance, and a sensitivity? Read on!
So, what’s the difference between an allergy and an intolerance? What about a sensitivity?
While these terms are often used interchangeably by the general public, medically an allergy means something quite specific.
An allergy is an antibody-mediated immunological reaction to a specific substance. That means your body has ‘seen’ that substance before, decided it is dangerous, and taught a whole lot of immune cells to target it for destruction! These antibodies are IgE or immunoglobulin E antibodies, and they are trigger-happy fighters that work FAST. This means true allergies are the ones where your symptoms arise rapidly. This kind of reaction can be tested for in a skin-prick test, where injecting small amounts of the substance into the skin will produce a red welt-like bump. People can be allergic to foods, eg. peanuts, or to environmental irritants, such as pollens and grasses that cause hayfever. The most severe kind of allergy is a full anaphylactic reaction that results in anaphylactic shock, which is why people with these types of allergies may have an epi-pen on them. For more on the details of how this reaction works, and the role of histamine, please read here.
Symptoms of IgE allergy may include:
- Itching, redness, hives
- Irritation of the nose, eyes, throat or stomach
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid heart beat
- Nausea or diarrhoea
Other allergies can involve a more delayed response, and different antibodies called IgG antibodies. These tend to be more cumulative and slow acting, and are therefore harder to detect. Blood tests can be done for these with natural health practitioners. Some food reactions are IgG reactions.
Symptoms of IgG allergy may include all of the above IgE symptoms as well as:
- Joint pain or stiffness
- Chronic digestive upsets- diarrhoea or constipation, bloating, cramping
- Headaches, migraines
- Mood changes, behavioural problems or difficulty concentrating
- Eczema, psoriasis
- Fatigue or energy changes
- Sinus congestion
- Compromised immune function
- Increased inflammation and reactivity
Intolerances on the other hand don’t involve the immune system at all, but that doesn’t mean they don’t produce serious symptoms. Intolerances usually involve an inability to digest or metabolise some kind of food or food substance. A common one is lactose intolerance, where people can’t digest the lactose sugar in milk and dairy products, often due to a reduced amount of the lactase enzyme in their gut. Foods high in FODMAPS also trigger reactivity in many people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome type symptoms.
Symptoms of intolerance may include anything mentioned above!
Sensitivities can describe any other kind of way of reacting to a substance or food. This may be due to an inability to break down or detoxify that substance in the gut or the liver. People can be sensitive to literally anything, and this is highly individual, which is why it can be hard to work out!
Some common substances that can trigger reactivity for a variety of reasons include:
- Salicylates (a natural chemical found in many edible plants)
- Histamine (another naturally occurring chemical)
- Food colourings, flavourings, additives
- Preservatives (nitrates, sulphites etc)
- Solanic acid (found in Solanaceae family plants – also known as the Nightshade family – tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants etc)
- The list goes on!
So decoding your particular matrix of reactivity can be a tricky business. This is why it is useful to have support to do so. Natural health practitioners work with allergies, intolerances and sensitivities all the time, supporting people to first identify, then understand, their triggers. Natural testing methods are incredibly useful to help speed this process along.
Identifying triggers is only the beginning however, it is not often sustainable or healthy to avoid a particular group of foods indefinitely. Often removal of triggers is simply the first step in a healing journey of improving gut health, re-balancing immune function and supporting detoxification.
For more on this, please click here to read Are You Over-Sensitive? Four Key Points on Reactions to Foods.
And if you’re still confused, please get in touch!