With an increasing number of food allergies and sensitivities being diagnosed, understanding the differences can be very confusing. Gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy, celiac disease-these are all different! And why can someone who is lactose intolerant eat yogurt?
Food is broken down by enzymes, which are specific to the food they break down. A classic example is lactase, the enzyme that breaks down the sugar molecule of milk, lactose. When we have inadequate amounts of these enzymes, our food is not properly broken down, causing uncomfortable digestive symptoms, such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, diarrhea etc. This is a food intolerance.
Our body contains immunological proteins, known as antibodies, which attack foreign particles in an effort to protect our body from harmful exogenous substances. Each antibody is programmed to attack a specific foreign particle; one may attack a specific bacteria, another may attack a virus. There are a number of subsets of antibodies, including IgE and IgG. Sometimes, IgE antibodies develop against food, creating a food allergy. Upon exposure to the specific food item, an immune reaction occurs, resulting in symptoms such as hives, nausea, vomiting, swollen tongue and lips, and anaphylaxis. These symptoms occur almost immediately and need just the smallest food exposure. A classic example is a severe peanut allergy, where the individual must carry an Epi-pen.
IgG antibodies can also develop against food particles, causing as a food sensitivity. The reaction is delayed, occurring hours to days after the exposure and depends on the amount of food the body is exposed to. The symptoms are vague-migraines, eczema, digestive issues, joint pain, behavioral problems, fatigue etc. Because the symptoms can appear as other illnesses, food sensitivities can be difficult to diagnose. A hypoallergenic diet and IgG blood tests are used to determine potential food sensitivities.
Food sensitivities can appear at any stage in our life because they are caused by Leaky Gut Syndrome. This occurs when the digestive track becomes inflamed and the natural barrier between the blood and food is compromised. Food particles enter the blood stream, where they are met by IgG antibodies that see them as foreign and a food sensitivity is established. Inflammation of the gut is caused by drugs, infections, nutrient deficiencies and certain illnesses.
Although food allergies are permanent, food sensitivities can be effectively treated using naturopathic medicine. Removing possible and known offending foods-dairy, wheat, soy, peanuts, corn, eggs, etc-and healing the gut lining using glutamine, probiotics, and fish oil reduces the inflammation, building up the gut’s barrier. Within 2 weeks of avoiding the offending foods, most patients experience relief of their symptoms. Your naturopath can develop an eating plan that makes avoiding these foods easier.
Most people with food intolerances or allergies are aware of them because of a direct correlation between symptoms and ingesting the food. If you have non-specific symptoms, particularly accompanied by digestive issues, addressing possible food sensitivities may be your answer!