Sometimes that heartburn can indicate more than just eating a pizza at the wrong time of day (or night), and maybe that glass of milk before bed is not such a good idea after all. Perhaps you are getting more colds per season than you think might be normal? There may be more to it than just a simple inconvenience or a mild annoyance. Let’s take a look at the differences (and similarities) of food allergies, food sensitivities and food intolerances and find out how they are different from each other and how to tell the difference.
Food allergies are indicated by immune reactions involving mast cells in which food triggers release of mast cell mediators such as histamine when the food allergen binds to preformed lgE antibodies already bound to the mast cell. Put simply — an allergic reaction.
Also called food hypersensitivity, food allergies are very common with about 3 million US cases per year. Food allergies are usually self-diagnosable, with lab tests or imaging rarely required, but they can be chronic, lasting for years or even a lifetime. Most food-related symptoms occur within two hours of ingestion; often they start within minutes. In some very rare cases, the reaction may be delayed by four to six hours or even longer.
Symptoms of an allergic reaction may involve the skin, the gastrointestinal tract, the cardiovascular system and the respiratory tract. They can surface in one or more of the following ways:
- Vomiting and/or stomach cramps
- Shortness of breath
- Repetitive cough
- Shock or circulatory collapse
- Tight, hoarse throat; trouble swallowing
- Swelling of the tongue, affecting the ability to talk or breathe
- Weak pulse
- Pale or blue coloring of skin
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction that can impair breathing and send the body into shock; reactions may simultaneously affect different parts of the body (for example, a stomachache accompanied by a rash)
There is new research along with increasing evidence that food sensitivities appear to be more common than previously thought, and have a wider and more varied impact on our health than previous realized.
Although often equated with food allergies, food sensitivities also include food intolerances which, unlike allergies, are toxic reactions to foods that do not involve the immune system and are often more difficult to diagnose.
Many of the symptoms of food sensitivities include vomiting, diarrhea, eczema, urticaria (hives), skin rashes, wheezing and runny noses, and are associated with an allergic reaction to specific foods.
However, food sensitivities may also cause fatigue, gas, bloating, mood swings, nervousness, migraines and eating disorders.
These symptoms, which are more commonly related to food intolerance, are less often associated with the consumption of food.
New clinical research is accumulating evidence that the sensitivity to food can also increase the severity of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and other diseases normally not considered food related.
Food intolerances are characterized by detrimental reactions, often delayed, to a food, beverage, food additive or compound in foods that produces symptoms in one or more body organs and systems, but generally refers to reactions other than immune reactions. Food intolerances are very similar to food allergies in that they share the commonality with about 3 million reported cases in the U.S. per year. Food intolerances are also usually self-diagnosable with lab tests or imaging rarely required, but they can be chronic, lasting for years or, in some cases, a lifetime. Most food-related symptoms occur within two hours of ingestion; often they start within minutes. In some very rare cases, the reaction may be delayed by four to six hours or even longer.
The symptoms of food intolerance generally take longer to emerge, compared to food allergies. The onset symptoms typically occur several hours after ingesting the offending food or compound and may persist for several hours or days. In some cases, symptoms may take 48 hours to arrive.
Some people are intolerant to several groups of foods, making it harder for doctors to determine whether it might be a chronic illness or food intolerance. Identifying which foods are the culprits can take a long time.
According to the Australian NSW Food Authority, the following are the most common symptoms of food intolerance:
- Runny nose
- Feeling under the weather
- Stomach ache
- Irritable bowel
So if you suspect that you are suffering from a food allergy, food sensitivity, or food intolerance, experts advise you to keep a diary and write down which foods are eaten, what the symptoms were like, and when they appeared. The data in the diary can help your dietician or doctor identify which foods are causing adverse reactions, and what steps to take.
Dr. Chad Larson, NMD, DC, CCN CSCS, Advisor and Consultant on Clinical Consulting Team for Cyrex Laboratories, says, “The science of food-related reactivity has come a long way in the last few decades, and this knowledge is helping to shape a more positive relationship with what we put into our bodies. We now understand that there are many different factors and forces contributing to the way we react to various foods, and advancements in testing are making it easier than ever for each of us to identify a path toward our individual optimal health.”
Dr. Larson continues, “The more we learn about these differences, the better we’ll be able to prevent the kinds of misconceptions that lead to misdiagnoses — and that means less time focusing on foods to avoid, and more time focusing on what we need to sustain happier, healthier lives.”
We couldn’t agree more!
Available at amazon.com. Click on title to order.
Food Allergies and Food Intolerance: The Complete Guide to Their Identification and Treatment
by Jonathan Brostoff
Weight Gain, Asthma, Eczema – Signs of Food Allergies
by Sally Pederson
Food Allergies: A Complete Guide for Eating When Your Life Depends on It (A Johns Hopkins Press Health Book)
by Scott H. Sicherer
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