Many people experience unpleasant reactions to foods they have eaten and suspect they have a “food allergy”. However, only 2-5% of adults and 2-8% of children are truly “allergic” to certain foods.
The remainder of people may be experiencing food intolerance, or food sensitivity, rather than true food allergy.
I think a quick lesson is in order…
A food allergy occurs when an individual ingests a food (usually containing a protein) that the body sees as a “foreign” or threatening substance – known as an ANTIGEN or ALLERGEN.
The person’s immune system responds by mounting an attack, producing large amounts of IgE antibodies, which attach themselves to specialised white blood cells. These cells release histamine and other inflammatory substances, producing “classic” allergic symptoms of swelling and inflammation. Conditions and symptoms such as rhinitis, asthma, wheezing, lip swelling, itchy skin, hives, and eczema involve this type of “allergic” reaction. The allergens involved could be anything from a food protein, pollen from flowers or grasses, house-dust mite or animal dander.
A food “intolerant” reaction also occurs when the body “reacts” to the ingestion of a food. This reaction however may or may not involve the immune system, and may be caused by a food protein, a starch or sugar molecule, other food component, or by a contaminant found in the food (e.g. food colouring, preservative etc.). If the immune system IS involved, it is usually a different class of antibody that is produced, which is why standard food allergy tests can produce negative results, yet noticeable food-related symptoms persist. Many symptoms related to food intolerance are caused by a local inflammatory response in the gut, and a sign of underlying “inflammation”.
With food “intolerance”, it is worth understanding, that it’s rarely the food that is the problem – it is the person’s response to it! russian store
Foods containing wheat or milk for example are getting reputations as “bad foods” due to the reactions they can produce in some people. While they can very well be “problem foods” for some, they can also be very healthy foods for others. Food intolerance could be re-named as “poor digestion”, as reactions to food are often the result of poor or compromised digestion!
So what can cause food intolerance?
Food intolerances are often caused by stress! Food-intolerant people often have low levels of secretory IgA, a class of protective antibodies found in the gut. IgA antibodies protect the body against the entry of foreign substances. Stress leads to a decrease in secretory IgA… a bit of vicious cycle really, but it certainly explains the relationship between stress and food intolerance!
Underlying digestive problems (e.g. low stomach acidity, gut bacterial overgrowth, a “leaky” or damaged gut lining, yeast infection or poor digestive enzyme production) are common “causes” of food intolerance and must be addressed before avoiding foods unnecessarily.
Gallbladder disease, gallstones, and pancreatitis may also be underlying causes of reactions to foods, but these will produce other symptoms too.
It is usually large food particles that cause allergic reactions, so proper breakdown of food (especially protein) via cooking and chewing is vitally important. Digestive enzymes or probiotics can often help too to ensure complete digestion, and once digestion is corrected, things can improve quite dramatically.
Signs and symptoms of food intolerance can be quite diverse, depending on how long the person has been ingesting food allergens and how the body has “adapted”. Common symptoms include bloating, stomach cramping, diarrhoea or constipation – yes commonly known as “IBS”!
Long term food intolerance may produce symptoms totally unrelated to the digestive system and may include fatigue, joint and muscle aching, depression, headaches and migraine, hyperactivity in children, and even certain autoimmune disorders.