By Dr. Chad Larson, narrated by Charles Griffin
While the common consciousness has come to accept terms like peanut allergy, gluten sensitivity, and lactose intolerance, many people are often confused by what these connected (but disparate) terms really mean. In fact, 49 percent of Americans say they are only somewhat or not at all knowledgeable about food allergies or intolerances.
So, what’s the difference? While symptoms can sometimes seem similar, what’s happening within the body is often vastly different, and identifying those complex internal processes is the key to effective treatment.
A food allergy is a reaction caused when a person’s immune system recognizes a specific food as an invader; it creates Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to fight the allergen, which releases chemicals-such as histamines-into the body. The resulting inflammation can create symptoms ranging from itchiness and rashes, to stomach pain and respiratory issues. In the most severe cases, these reactions are immediate and can be life-threatening. Research estimates that up to 15 percent of Americans suffer from food allergies.
Food intolerance is characterized by difficulty in digesting certain foods. While this can be caused by different factors (such as poor nutritional intake or reactions to food additives) some people lack the enzymes required to break down particular foods. Lactose intolerance, for example, is caused by an individual’s inability to produce sufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down lactose in dairy. Symptoms of food intolerance are wide and varied and are therefore often difficult to diagnose. However, we know that food intolerances do not involve IgE antibodies or the immune system, so testing is an effective way to rule this out.
Food sensitivity is perhaps the most complicated of these three classifications, as it combines many of the nebulous non-immunologic symptoms of food intolerances with the complex immune responses that are typical of food allergies (characterized by delayed IgG and IgA immune responses rather than the faster IgE variety). Testing for food sensitivity is especially important because while symptoms can be less severe or obvious than those of food allergies, the possibility of long-term damage is a real danger.
Celiac disease is one example of this. When individuals with celiac disease ingest gluten, their immune systems respond by attacking the small intestine, ultimately damaging the intestinal tissue. If left untreated, celiac disease can lead to the development of other autoimmune disorders.
Where do I go from here?
If you’ve noticed that you feel unwell after eating certain foods or you suffer from chronic unexplained symptoms, it’s important to work with your doctor to diagnose what exactly is happening within your body so you can pursue an appropriate treatment plan. The science of food-related reactivity has come a long way in the last few decades. 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 diagnosis easier than ever.
If you’d like to have a lab test done to determine your food sensitivities, give us a call to schedule a complimentary consultation with our health experts.
Our priority is to choose the test that best meets your individual health needs and goals. Schedule your free consultation today.
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