I recently read an article in the NY Times that said that many people who have been diagnosed with food allergies don’t actually have them. They felt that perhaps only 8% of children and less than 5% of adults actually have them.
I feel that quite the opposite is true. In my practice, I see many people who have undiagnosed food allergies. And they often don’t associate their symptoms with foods. But once they avoid the reactive foods, they find myriad of symptoms that they have struggled with, for either weeks or years, disappear. Symptoms affected by food allergies are wide ranging – from making seasonal allergies worse, to ear infections, fatigue, headaches, eczema, heartburn and other digestive disorders – even high blood pressure.
Their distinction of food allergies versus food intolerance did make sense. A food allergy is actually activating the immune system. This involves antibodies. Conventional allergists often test for food allergies using the skin prick test, where a small amount of a serum with the food is injected under the skin to see if a reaction forms around the area on the skin. The antibody that is active in this type of testing is called IgE (which stands for immune globulin E). Some practitioners do a blood test, which often looks at another immune globulin called IgG (as above, immune globulin G). IgG is better at finding the undetected food allergies are found, as it is more prevalent in delayed hypersensitivity reactions. IgE is the mediating immune globulin for more immediate sensitivities, like those that cause inhaled allergies – like when you get itchy eyes from petting a cat; or the more serious anaphylactic reaction from eating a peanut.
A food intolerance is more common. Many people are lactose intolerant – they cannot digest the sugar in milk, and find themselves with symptoms such as upset stomach and loose stools. Reacting to sulfites in red wine is also an intolerance, rather than a food allergy.
For many people, the distinction is immaterial. They feel better if they avoid the food. So avoid the food.
One reason I like to make the distinction is that most people with food allergies are likely to also have intestinal permeability (also known as “leaky gut”). With this in mind, there are a number of therapies that can help to heal the digestive tract. Along with food allergy avoidance, healing the digestive tract can improve health, including eliminating symptoms caused by the food allergies, as well as mitigating reactions when they have any of their allergenic foods.
Whether you think you have food allergies or just an intolerance, it is wise to see a naturopathic doctor – a specialist in finding a treating the cause, as well as treating illness with the most nutritive elements nature has to offer.