It’s likely you or someone in your family has experienced unpleasant symptoms after a meal or snack. We often blame reactions like bloating, nausea and diarrhea on our food, particularly spoiled, under-cooked or contaminated food. But symptoms like wheezing, joint pain, and brain fog can also be a reaction to what we eat.
These reactions might lead you to believe you have a food allergy, and it’s possible you do. On the other hand, rather than a true allergy you might have food sensitivity or food intolerance, and it’s important to know the differences between them, as your reaction can range anywhere from discomfort and irritation to life-threatening.
A good way to begin is to point out that your immune system triggers your body’s response to food allergies and food sensitivities, while your digestive system produces the reaction to food intolerances.
Beyond that basic difference, the following provides some essential information on these food-related issues.
The immune system defends your body against invaders such as bacteria, viruses and fungus. While its goal is to keep you healthy by protecting the body from harm, it can sometimes get confused and see a protein in something you have eaten as an invader. It then reacts by producing antibodies to fight it, and the reaction can be severe.
It’s also important to know that a food allergy can be inherited, and although about 60 percent of food allergies develop during the first year of life, they can appear at any age.
Common food allergens
Eight foods account for about 90 percent of allergic food reactions. These include:
- Tree nuts
Peanut allergy is one of the most common allergies in older children, and only about one in four children will outgrow peanut allergy.
Potential life-threatening reactions
Within minutes of exposure to the food allergen, a person can have potentially life-threatening symptoms, which may include:
- Difficult or noisy breathing
- Swelling of the tongue
- Difficulty talking
- Hoarse voice
- Persistent coughing
- Dizziness or a collapse
- In young children, becoming pale and floppy
For those with food allergies, reading food labels carefully is essential, and carrying epinephrine shots in case of an accidental ingestion or contact is extremely important and potentially lifesaving.
If you think you might have a food allergy, you should seriously consider testing and treatment.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition affecting about one percent of the Western population. It is brought on by the ingestion of gluten which initiates a complex inflammatory reaction that can make you very sick and can lead to damage in the small intestine. It’s estimated that two-and-a-half million Americans are undiagnosed and at risk for long-term health complications from celiac disease.
That said, celiac disease is not a true allergy. In contrast to a real food allergy, eating gluten once doesn’t cause an immediate, life-threatening reaction, but prolonged and continuous ingestion can lead to an inflammatory reaction characterized by diarrhea, weight loss and malnutrition.
Gluten is found in a variety of grains, including wheat, rye, barley, semolina, bulgur and farina. Those suffering from celiac disease must be careful about cross-contamination, when a gluten-free food comes into contact with a gluten-containing food.
Food sensitivity, like food allergy, is an immune-based reaction to certain foods that can produce symptoms such as joint pain, stomach pain, fatigue, rashes, diarrhea, migraines and swelling, especially in joints and feet. While not life-threatening, these symptoms can be painful and disruptive.
It’s also important to note that symptoms of food sensitivity might be delayed for days after ingesting the triggering food. For example, you unknowingly eat a triggering food on Monday but don’t develop a migraine until Wednesday. And some people with food sensitivities may go a lifetime without knowing they have a problem because of the delayed reaction times and symptoms that mirror other common ailments.
Finally, it needs to be pointed out that some food sensitivities can be reversed and are not necessarily lifelong. You may be able to regain a tolerance to sensitive foods once you’ve eliminated them from your diet temporarily and given the gut time to heal and your immune system a chance to calm down.
A food intolerance happens when your body lacks a particular enzyme needed to break down a certain food, triggering a digestive response. One of the most common examples is lactose intolerance which occurs when someone lacks sufficient quantities of the enzyme lactase to break down the sugars in milk, leading to gastrointestinal distress, including bloating, inflammation and diarrhea.
Milk tends to produce more severe symptoms than those caused by other dairy products like yogurt and cheese.
Symptoms of food intolerance
Admittedly, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the symptoms for food allergy and food intolerance. Symptoms of a food allergy usually develop soon after the food is consumed, while those caused by food intolerance can be immediate, or they may take 12 to 14 hours to develop.
The symptoms of food intolerance can include:
- Rapid breathing
- Asthma-like breathing problems
- Headache, migraine
- Burning sensations on the skin
- Tightness across the chest and face
Food intolerance reactions are usually related to the amount of food ingested, and may not appear until a certain amount has been consumed. However, that consumption threshold varies for each person.
Finally, lactose intolerance tends to run in families, and while it’s not a serious disease, it can make you quite uncomfortable.
Help for your food-related issues
From this summary, hopefully you can see that food reactions are common, and while identifying the cause of your problem can be challenging, it is certainly worth the time and effort to improve the quality of your life.
If you think you’re suffering from any of these food-related issues, you’re urged to contact us at WeCare Integrative Medicine in Frisco to schedule your initial consultation.