Food Allergies and Intolerances

gastroenterologist west orange

More people are having unwanted reactions to foods. Up to 35% of adults believe that they are allergic to some type of food. The number of people with allergies is rising. Although it is becoming more common to have a reaction to a particular food, in many cases it is an intolerance, rather than a true allergy. To distinguish the two is important, as an allergy can be immediately life threatening, while an intolerance affect health and quality of life over longer periods of time.
Food Allergy:
• Comes on suddenly
• Can be triggered by a minute amount of food
• Happens every time you eat or are in contact with the food
• Can be life-threatening
• Caused by an abnormal immune system response, with symptoms occurring throughout the body – respiratory system, digestive tract, skin, eyes etc.
Food Intolerance:
• Usually comes on gradually
• Primarily involves digestive symptoms, though migraines, memory problems, headaches and skin eruptions are common
• May only happen when you eat a lot of the food
• May only happen if you eat the food often
• Is not immediately life-threatening
• Does not involve the immune system directly
Both allergy and intolerance symptoms:
• Nausea
• Stomach pain
• Diarrhea
• Vomiting
When a food irritates your digestive system and is not properly digested, causes an intolerance. You may have these symptoms:
• Gas, cramps, or bloating
• Heartburn
• Headaches
• Irritability or nervousness
A food allergy happens when your immune system mistakes something in food as harmful and attacks it. It can affect your whole body:
• Rash, hives, or itchy skin
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain

Sudden drop in blood pressure, trouble swallowing or breathing –this is life-threatening.
Food Sensitivity:

Food sensitivities cause symptoms similar to allergies but the effects are slower and milder. Symptoms may take hours or days to appear. Immune system reactions are involved. Sensitivities may contribute to chronic conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, sinusitis, rashes and more. Inadequate digestion and absorption of partially digested foods can create reactions and symptoms throughout the body.
Numerous ideas have been proposed to explain the rise in these conditions. Though no clear cause has been determined, most research suggests that multiple factors are involved. These are some of the most prominent.
• Hygiene hypothesis: proposes that less exposure to allergens and bacteria during childhood causes an underdevelopment of the immune system. Our environment has become cleaner in an effort to have a “germ free” world has had a negative effect on our immune system. Antibacterial products, meats dosed with antibiotics and produce that is sprayed have created an artificial, unnatural environment. Perhaps exposure to natural dirt and bacteria is necessary to “educate” our immune system.

• Exposure to a higher variety of food. Our ancestors were limited in the kinds of foods they ate, often eating the same thing everyday. Furthermore, today our foods are processed and genetically modified in ways that the human body has never encountered. The consequences of this are not fully understood.

• Refined sugars, refined fats, chemical additives, drug residues, foods genetically modified (GMOs) to produce pesticides and other “non foods” may all contribute to an unhealthy digestive tract and/or immune system.
Unfortunately no clear solutions or guidelines yet exist to ameliorate this growing problem. Therapies and treatments can vary with each patient and depend on the specific intolerance or sensitivity. Raising nutritional status by eating organically raised foods and eliminating toxic non-foods such as refined grains, fats and sugars, chemical additives is helpful. Specific protocols such as the Elimination diet, have many positive outcomes.

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