Mention the phrase “food allergies” and most of us imagine those poor kiddos who get near a peanut butter sandwich only to have massive swelling around the eyes and throat, followed by difficulty breathing and hives. The constellation of these symptoms make up what’s known as an anaphylactic reaction which, unfortunately, has become more and more frequent in the general population over recent years. In fact, some newer studies suggest that approximately 3-8% of Americans run the risk of anaphylaxis when exposed to any number of foods, although tree nuts, milk and shellfish are at the top of the anaphylactic list.
Even more, we are seeing a less severe variation of these dangerous food allergies, called “allergy sensitivities” that don’t typically cause life-threatening symptoms, but can still be quite uncomfortable nonetheless. If you have symptoms like indigestion, gastritis, eczema, asthma, celiac disease, arthritis, and even depression, anxiety, and chronic fatigue, it could be a result of a “food sensitivity.” Additional reports suggest that at least 60% of Americans suffer from symptoms due to adverse food reactions as a result of food sensitivities.
Food allergies/sensitivities may be a reaction to a protein, a starch, a contaminant found in the food (e.g., pesticide residues) or a food additive (e.g., colorings, preservatives, flavor enhancers, etc). Once the body decides it’s uneasy with a food, a complex cascade of events takes place that can result in either a life-threatening situation (anaphylaxis) or simply the aforementioned unpleasant symptoms.
Driving this reaction is the immune system’s production of multiple types of antibodies. For example, during an anaphylaxis response, IgE antibodies are produced within two hours of exposure. These antibodies then bind to specific cells called mast cells and basophils which release their inner contents–histamine. This is why an anti-histamine, like Benadryl or Quercetin, is often prescribed for allergies.
Yet, it’s the more delayed allergic response found in food sensitivities, one that can take up to 72-hours after exposure, that causes the aforementioned “uncomfortable” symptoms. This response is usually driven by IgG antibodies and although it can stimulate the release of some histamine, it usually recruits many more players of the immune system, further complicating the reaction in the body.
Studies suggest that dairy, wheat and eggs are the three biggest sources of food sensitivities in people. How is this determined? In the past, the skin prick test was used where small amounts of foods were injected into the skin either on the back or forearm. Now a simple blood test does away with this antiquated test. These blood tests can measure for both IgG and IgE antibodies and help guide you and your provider in a direction for food avoidance, which is the mainstay of treatment.
So if you suffer from indigestion, asthma, eczema, etc., simply avoiding problematic foods could be your ticket to feeling well. In addition to elimination, I recommend rotation of food families (e.g., veggies, fruits, meats, etc.) along with assisting the body with its normal digestive processes through the use of pancreatic and stomach enzymes. Probiotics can be quite helpful as well.
Living in fear of foods because of their potential to make us sick is unnecessary when you recognize there are easy ways to identify possible sources of food allergies/sensitivities. Combined with practical and realistic interventions you can take to calm the reaction and subsequent symptoms, you can alleviate a multitude of health conditions.