Talk about buzz words! I don't know about you, but it seems that every where you go, you hear someone say that have a food sensitivity to this, or an allergy to that, or they are intolerant to something. But when they say that, what do they really mean??
All three terms describe a person having a bad reaction to a food. They are different in how the person reacts to the food.
Food Allergies are the classic type of allergy we think of: mild enough to cause an itchy throat or severe enough causing swelling of the oral cavity and face, and in extreme cases these are so intense that an EpiPen and a trip to emerge are necessary. For example, peanut allergies are common food allergies that cause these types of symptoms. This is a result of one of the soldiers of the immune system, the IgE immunoglobulins, reacting with the assaulting food and creating this response in your body. To find out if you have a food allergy, you need to have a skin prick test administered by either your family doctor or your allergist.
Food Intolerances occur when your body cannot digest a certain food component. The most common would be a lactose intolerance, when a person lacks the enzyme (lactase) that breaks down lactose (the sugar component in milk. Simple treatment of this food reaction can include orally supplementing with this enzyme to enable food digestion. There is no immune system reaction to these foods.
Food Sensitivities, like allergies, your immune system is reacting to the food you are eating in a negative and inappropriate way. An example of this would be celiac disease, where a person is sensitive to gluten molecules and has been for so long that extensive damage has been done to their intestinal tract. Different severities of gluten intolerances do exist in my opinion, where celiac is a more end stage, has been present for a long time type of scenario. Instead of IgE immunoglobulins, however, the IgG immunoglobulins are primarily responsible for symptoms with food sensitivities. Unlike IgE, the IgG system can be delayed in your reaction to foods and can actually take up to 72 hours for a symptom to manifest.
Common symptoms of food sensitivities include:
That list looks pretty long, and by no means is it extensive. The most common belief with what's going on in these situations is this: irritating foods gets eaten, and starts causing some inflammation in the gut. A little inflammation your body can handle, but as the assaulting food(s) keep coming in it's too much for your body to keep up with. The tight barrier that is your intestines begins to have some cracks and chips in the wall. Food particles and proteins that would normally be broken down before entering the blood stream now can pass through these large gaps. Your immune system is totally caught off guard! It has never seen this before - these are totally novel and novel means it must be some new virus or bacteria. Your IgG system starts working in overdrive now, and the level of inflammatory mediators in your body has substantially increased. These two steps can cause a wide variety or systemic symptoms, a few of which are listed above.
The take home message is that when a food irritates your intestinal wall, your entire absorption of nutrients is out of whack AND your immune system is also falling out of balance.
For these reasons it's important to consider what you're putting into your body and how you feel afterwards. The cheapest way to do this is to do an elimination diet challenge. Although it is more work on your part, I love that it gives you qualitative information that a blood test never could. It also gives you the change to reassess your relationships with some foods and improve diet habits overall. However when this fails and you are still not feeling 100%, then IgG food sensitivity testing is an option to consider.
Do you know anyone who uses these terms? Have you wondered if a food is causing some of your symptoms?