Updated: Jun 5, 2020
These are hot words when it comes to shopping and eating out these days, and many times they're used inappropriately. Here I hope to make some sense out of these dietary buzz words.
A food allergy is an immediate immune system response, usually within minutes. This is your classic severe reaction to foods, which can cause hives, swelling and even anaphylaxsis, which is where the airway swells shut and can be fatal without medical treatments. Antibodies which mediate this response are referred to as "IgE". Diagnosing food or environmental allergies is done by seeing an allergist and getting a skin scratch test.
Sensitivities are also a reaction of the immune system, similar to allergies, but the reaction is delayed. Sometimes the reaction is not noticed for several days and is rarely, if ever, fatal. Antibodies which mediate this response are referred to as "IgG". Diagnosing food sensitivities involves a blood test being sent to a specialty lab, US Biotek and Alletess are commonly used by physicians.
Intolerances are different from allergies and sensitivities in that they are not a reaction of the immune system. Intolerances are a mechanical digestive issue, and usually mean there's an enzyme deficiency making it harder for these foods to be broken down and utilized by the individual. This is usually evaluated by a naturopathic physician knowledgable in food intolerances.
Clinically, when intolerances are removed from the diet and digestion is optimized, the immune system can function more efficiently. Since up to 80% of your immune system lives in your gut as microbes, this makes a lot of sense. Your immune system will function better and you'll have less hyper reactivity to other foods.
I see this all the time when a patient comes in and they cannot eat dairy or gluten, doing so gives them terrible symptoms, but when we evaluate their food intolerances they're not intolerant to dairy or gluten but something different. This tells me that the dairy and gluten are sensitivities, foods which are now irritating a compromised immune system from the patient eating their food intolerance regularly. Once the intolerance is removed from the diet and the gut is given a little time to heal they can generally eat dairy and gluten without an issue.
Most common food intolerances I see are dairy, eggs or potatoes and potato products. I also see combinations of foods which are not digested well and create problems. In general, some people cannot digest sugars with fruits, or grains with certain food groups. Curious about what your food intolerance(s) might be? Schedule a complimentary 15 min visit to see if the evaluation is right for you - Pacific Clinic of Natural Medicine 503-894-8977.
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