There has been much debate with the rise of food allergies as to whether or not many people have a food allergy or just a food intolerance. With so many different ideas and opinions floating around out there, how do you know which is which? Is there a difference? Is it all just something that is just the newest fad?
I can tell you there is a difference. A food allergy is a response that your body has within your immune system. This happens because your body mistakes a particular (or many particular) ingredients in a food as harmful and then creates antibodies to fight it off. When you start to notice the symptoms, this is the process of the antibodies fighting off the food that it wants to attack. Kind of like your body’s own coat of armor.
Food allergy symptoms can vary from person to person because not everyone has the same response during a reaction. Many people associate allergic symptoms to getting hives or swelling of the lips. These are symptoms but they can also include a rash, itchiness, diarrhea, swelling in other body parts, a shortness of breath or even a constricted airway when the throat or lungs start to swell shut. Because of this, it is recommended that an allergic food be avoided rather than limited. Strict avoidance is the only sure safe way to prevent an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions may also be cumulative which means the first time may only be itchy or swelling but the second or third time could be fatal.
A food intolerance is slightly different. This is a response that occurs in the digestive system rather than in immune system. When an ingredient in a food irritates a person’s digestive system or they cannot digest or breakdown the food properly, this causes intolerance symptoms. Symptoms of a food intolerance can include or be a combination of stomach issues (bloating, gas, cramping, pain, nausea or vomiting) but it can also present in the form of headaches, nervousness or even muscle aches. These symptoms can also sometimes be interchangeable as a food allergy symptom, depending on the severity of the allergy. Many people try to avoid the foods that they are intolerant to but some find that they are comfortable simply using a rotation diet for foods that they cannot fully avoid.
How do you know what you are allergic too? There are a few different tests- skin tests, blood tests and food challenges. A skin test is usually done on your back or on your arm somewhere. The doctor will use small amounts of an allergen and place it on your skin to see what type of reaction occurs on the skin. Depending on the reaction, the size of the reaction or other symptoms this will give the Doctor a better gauge on how your body may react in the future if this food is ingested, touched or inhaled. Blood work is a simple blood draw that will test for allergens and antibody levels. Most primary Doctors simply test for the top 8 allergens only. I recommend that if you are looking for a more comprehensive test, that you seek out a Doctor who will be willing to use a test, such as Alletess (http://www.foodallergy.com/) or Meridian Valley Lab (http://mvl.peachy-days.com/). If you are unable to get a positive response form your Primary Doctor, many Integrative Doctors will be open to administering these tests for you. A food challenge is usually the last test done AFTER a skin or blood test has been completed. This is a test that is done in a Doctor’s office or a hospital. Allergenic food is given to the patient and is monitored for a reaction. To be completely safe, I do not recommend doing this on your own unless you are fully equipped for the possibility of a severe allergic reaction.
Food allergies and food intolerance are just another way of our body telling us that there is an imbalance that needs to be fixed. Your body will continue to nag you until you listen to it. Allow yourself to be healthy. Don’t rule out anything as silly or impossible. Every person is unique – embrace your uniqueness and make sure you are doing whatever is the very best for you.