Patients often ask me – “What is a food allergy?” Or “What is a food sensitivity?” Is that the same as a food intolerance? What are the differences? – Dr. Sanjay Mohan Ram
Let’s start at the beginning. The word “allergy” is derived from the Greek word meaning “altered reaction”. This reaction can range from having a headache, to nausea, vomiting, hives, migraines, asthma etc. whenever you are exposed to the problematic substance. However, some patients can have no overt symptoms at all, but suffer a general malaise possibly due to an internal inflammatory reaction. This substance which provokes a reaction is called an allergen. There are many allergens in the world; the most famous ones being house dust, dog danger, tree pollen, just to name a few. More often than not, a patient can have “hidden” food allergies, and these are known as IgG food sensitivities, and this is what I will focus on for this blog article.
As an overview, food sensitivities are typically an adverse reaction to foods that other people can eat with no concerns. Food intolerances on the other hand, can show symptoms only after a particular amount of that food has been ingested. In contrast, a food allergy is seen when the food proteins are recognized by the immune system as being harmful like a virus or bacteria. In my practice, I see dairy, eggs, gluten, pineapple and kidney beans as being the most common offenders. For most people, the term “allergy” creates images of itchy eyes, runny noses, congested sinuses etc. However, an allergy can affect any organ system, such as the digestive tract or the skin or the joints. Irrespective of how they show up, allergies are common with an estimated 30 to 50% of the population having them. Allergies can start or end at any point in life – patients can grow out of allergies or develop allergies at any time throughout their life.
Having allergies impacts a person’s ADL’s or activities of daily living, and it causes low work productivity. Depending on the severity of this disease, associated costs could be specific medications and surgery. According to the Health Canada website, there are slight differences between food sensitivities, food intolerances and food allergies. Let’s talk about them in more detail. Food sensitivities are adverse reactions to a food that other people can eat safely – it is the umbrella for all food and food -based ingredients that can elicit a reaction in the body. Traditionally, a food sensitivity has not been seen as a type of allergy per se.
On the other end of the spectrum, a food allergy has a classic immune response with numerous IgE immediate hypersensitivity antibodies to a specific food protein being released. In these cases, the immune system thinks that the food protein is similar to a harmful pathogen, such as a bacteria or virus, and mounts an immediate immune response. With repetitive exposure, the immune system produces large quantities of histamine which adversely affect the lungs, heart, skin and gastrointestinal tract. If the histamine release exceeds a certain point, the person could suffer a fatal anaphylactic reaction.
In the middle, between the food sensitivities and food allergies, there are food intolerances, wherein a larger amount of food has to be consumed in order to produce symptoms. The most common example of this would be lactose intolerance, where the enzyme lactase is deficient. When taken in smaller quantities, most people with this intolerance can handle the lactose, especially when the lactose is combined with other foods. However, when larger quantities are consumed, a person will suffer from abdominal pain, diarrhea, flatulence, and bloating. Food intolerances can be considered a milder form of an allergy, even though there is no immediate allergic response like the classic food allergy – they tend to be delayed. In fact, studies show that food intolerances involve other types of antibodies like IgM, IgA, IgD and IgG. Since IgG antibodies are produced at a slower rate, often hours to days after exposure, as compared to IgE immediate hypersensitivity antibodies created in minutes, food intolerances have not been historically considered an allergy. Delayed food reactions can occur up to several days after ingestion of the reactive food, making it difficult to link up one’s symptom to the food eaten several days prior. Such hidden intolerances are often the cause of many chronic inflammatory symptoms. These antibodies combine with the food particles in the blood to form immune complexes, which in turn, create inflammatory reactions in tissues. Such inflammatory reactions can affect any part of the body, and produce symptoms such as a headache, eczema, joint pain, mood and mental imbalances.
So, what are the top 10 food allergies or sensitivities or intolerances I see in practice?
9 Green/Kidney/Navy Beans
I would like people to realize – many people may have food sensitivities or intolerances or allergies; some of them are genetic; some of them are acquired throughout life.
If you are curious about which foods will be beneficial to your body, versus which foods can create an inflammatory reaction in your body, I can do a simple blood test at the Cross Roads Naturopathic Clinic to detect these antibodies. Based on the results of the blood test, I will type up a treatment plan for each patient to address the inflammation that the food intolerances may have formed in the body. With time, the body recovers and the patient may feel better overall. I truly believe that the diet is the basis for any health plan and this is a really good way to fine tune and customize a treatment plan for each patient.
Feel free to contact me if you have questions, and I look forward to helping you in the future.
Dr. Sanjay Mohan Ram, B.Sc. (Hon.), N.D.
Reduce your Allergies the Natural Way! – By Dr. Kristen Brown, ND
Q: It’s that season again – I have itchy eyes, a runny nose and sneezing – my hay fever is really bad this year, how can I get rid of my allergies?
A: British Columbians have the second highest rate of adults developing allergies (57%), with symptoms occurring anytime from early spring through late November. More than 62% of sufferers say allergies significantly impact their day to-day lives, including affecting sleep patterns and ability to perform at work. If you’re one of them, you could really be hit with a one-two punch this cold and flu season. Unfortunately, allergies are poorly understood and are often inadequately treated.
Allergies are the result of your immune system’s over-reaction to pollens, grass, airborne fungi, and even certain foods and cosmetics. With more than 60,000 chemicals already existing in our environment, and nearly 500 new ones being created annually, we face numerous biochemical challenges to our immune system.
Naturopathic treatments, with the help of diet planning, blood testing and supplements, may help to reduce and prevent the symptoms of seasonal allergies and hay fever as well as decrease or eliminate a dependence on antihistamine medications. Moreover, you may improve your overall resistance against allergens and support the immune system.
Food Allergies: What Is a Food Allergy?
The word allergy is derived from the Greek words meaning “altered reaction”. An allergic individual usually suffers from physical symptoms when exposed to substances to which they are sensitive. The substance, which provokes this reaction, is called the allergen. It can be dust, pet dander, certain foods, chemicals or even bacteria, just to name a few.
With a food allergy, the body reacts as though that particular food product is harmful. As a result, the immune system (which fights infection and disease) creates antibodies against the food allergen, the substance in the food that triggers the allergy.
The next time a person comes in contact with that food by touching, eating or inhaling its particles, the body releases chemicals, including one called histamine, to “protect” itself. These chemicals trigger allergic symptoms that can affect the respiratory system, digestive tract, skin, or cardiovascular system. Symptoms can vary widely.
The immediate, obvious IgE-mediated food reactions include hives, wheezing, runny nose, vomiting and anaphylaxis. Delayed or IgG-mediated reactions include less obvious chronic symptoms such as headache, digestive problems, muscle and joint aches and pains, and skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis.
Over the past few years, there has been increasing awareness of many illnesses that can be caused, or contributed to, by the presence of allergies. Anyone can be allergic to any food, but there are eight common allergens that account for 90% of all reactions in children:
- Tree nuts (such as walnuts and cashews)
- Shellfish (such as shrimp)
If you have ever experienced any allergy symptoms or you suspect you may have a food allergy, it may be a good idea to complete a food allergy lab test. Consideration of food allergy is a critical component of any comprehensive approach to good health. For prevention of illness an elimination diet approach remains the gold standard.
Naturopathic treatments, with the help of diet planning and supplements, may help reduce and prevent the symptoms of food allergies.