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What are food allergies?

Reactions to specific foods are very common and contribute to a wide array of symptoms.  Many people are familiar with the terms "food allergy," but in actuality there are several types of reaction to foods.  The term "food sensitivity" is general and can encompass any of these reactions.

Food allergy technically means that a person creates antibodies to a food.  In a Type I response, a person makes IgE antibodies which lead to histamine release and symptoms of itching and swelling.  If the response is severe enough, it can become an anaphylactic reaction, in which the face and airway swell and breathing can be obstructed.  This type of allergy is usually life-long.  Complete avoidance of the problem food is recommended with a severe food allergy.

In a Type IV allergic response, a person makes IgG antibodies to a food.  These reactions are known as "delayed" and the symptoms may take days to show up and may be more subtle than the Type I reactions. 

Another type of food reaction is "intolerance."  This generally refers to a missing enzyme.  A well-known example of this is "lactose intolerance," in which a person is deficient in lactase, the enzyme which breaks down lactose (milk sugar).  This type of reaction tends to cause digestive upset.

Celiac disease, yet another type of food reaction, is an autoimmune response to gluten in wheat and related foods.  The immune system destroys the cells which line the intestines, severely limiting absorption of nutrients. 

Symptoms from food allergies may appear within 30 minutes following ingestion of the offending food, but often are delayed up to several days, making food allergy identification difficult.  A food intolerance may be easier to identify as the digestive symptoms can be intense.  Celiac disease is often undiagnosed for years if the digestive or skin disturbances are minimal, since other symptoms (such as fatigue) can be vague.

Common symptoms resulting from food reaction include:

  • Skin symptoms such as itching, burning, hives, red spots, sweating and “allergic shiners”
  • GI symptoms such as gas, bloating, heartburn, constipation and/or diarrhea, stomach ache and abdominal cramps, increased salivation, canker sores and itching or burning of the anus
  • Respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, productive cough, itchy, sore, or dry throat, wheezing and difficulty breathing
  • Nervous system symptoms such as fatigue, drowsiness, irritability, hyperactivity, depression, insomnia, restlessness, visual changes, numbness, dizziness, headaches, shaking and sweating
  • Cardiovascular symptoms such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, flushing, tingling and faintness
  • Genitourinary symptoms such as frequent, urgent or painful urination, inability to control the  bladder, itching, discharge, pain and water retention.
  • Generalized symptoms such as weight gain from water retention, joint or back pain, eye symptoms (itchiness, watering, redness, lid swelling), ringing in the ears and ear infections

While it is possible for a person to be sensitive to just about any food, the most common problem foods are:

  • Dairy products
  • Wheat
  • Corn
  • Eggs
  • Citrus fruits
  • Nuts (especially peanuts)
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Soy
  • Seafood
  • Beef
  • Bananas
  • Methylxanthines (caffeine and chocolate)
  • Refined sugar

If you have questions about food reactions or if you think you may have a reaction to certain foods, give me a call.  I can help you figure it out!  Eliminating the problem food or foods, at least for a time, and healing the digestive system are often critical elements in resolving symptoms and creating lasting health.


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