Allergies, Sensitivities and Intolerances, Oh My!

When I was growing up, my mom cooked a LOT of spaghetti.  Not only was it a cheap option for feeding so many kids, but my big brother Tai loved it.  When he was a growing teenager, he would come home from school and eat a whole package of spaghetti for his afternoon snack!  His kids love hearing that story over and over.  To this day, the guy will still call Mama Kay up and ask her to come over to make him and his family a spaghetti dinner.  He can’t get enough of it!

I don’t know if I did it for attention or if I was just sick of eating it all the time, but at a very young age I decided I HATED spaghetti with all my heart and refused to eat it.  I would eat any other shape of noodle – macaroni, ziti, fettuccine – but I was convinced that I was “allergic” to spaghetti noodles.  Even to this day, I never cook spaghetti or order it in a restaurant.  The only time I eat is, you guessed it, when Mama Kay makes it for the whole family.

We hear people talk about their food allergies and sensitivities all the time, but do we know the difference between them?  Today I’m going to help you make the distinction.

Allergies: According to the medical definition, a person can only be truly allergic to some kind of protein-based substance.  An allergy is simply a normal immune response to an unfamiliar protein sequence.  It occurs when the body mistakes an ingredient to be harmful and mounts an attack against it.  While certain allergies are inherited, most are the result of digestive problems and dietary stressors.  The most common food allergies are peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, milk, eggs, soy and gluten.  Allergy symptoms look like this:

  • Rash or hives
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Itchy skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Swelling of the airways to the lungs
  • Anaphylaxis

Allergies  can be triggered by even a small amount of the food and occur every time you eat the food. People with food allergies are generally advised to completely avoid the offending foods.

Sensitivities/Intolerances: A sensitivity is an allergic-type reaction (see allergy symptoms above) to foods that are not protein-based.  As with allergies, a sensitivity reaction is not always a digestive one, but sometimes comes in the form of symptoms like congestion or skin irritations.  But unlike allergies, food sensitivities are not immediate.  They may not show up for 24-48 hours after you eat the food, making it harder to pinpoint.  So many people are walking around with food sensitivities, and they have no idea, so they just keep right on eating the food that is making them sick!

There may be several different reasons that a person becomes sensitive, or intolerant of, a particular food.  It could be inherited, or it could be something that is inherent in the food.  It could also be that you associate the food with trauma, infection, or negative feelings or experiences.  Intolerance to lactose, which is found in milk and other dairy products, is the most common food sensitivity.  Common symptoms look like this:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Gas, cramps, or bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Irritability or nervousness

People with a food sensitivity may not have symptoms unless they eat a large portion of the food or eat the food frequently. So a person who is lactose intolerant may be able to drink milk in coffee or a single glass of milk, but becomes sick if he or she drinks several glasses of milk.

If you suspect that you may have a sensitivity to a certain food, you should ask yourself three questions:

1) Is the problem caused by something you need to avoid?  Is something making it worse? (For example, do you need to completely eliminate foods with MSG?)

2) Is the problem caused by something that needs to be eliminated or detoxified? (For example, there could be a build up of yeast in the body that causes it to have a reaction to foods like fruits and grains.)

3) Is the problem caused by a deficiency in something?  (For example, without sufficient stomach acid, we can’t break down foods and eliminate harmful bacteria.)

The Gluten-Free Craze

You may have noticed an ever-expanding section of gluten-free foods at your local health food store. In fact, it’s the fastest growing segment of the natural foods market.  Gluten is a protein found in wheat and wheat-like grains including spelt, kamut, barley and rye, and it’s very difficult for many people to digest.  You might not think you eat a lot of gluten, but it’s in more foods than you might think, such as salad dressings, condiments, lunch meats and snack foods.  When people who are allergic or intolerant eat gluten, it reeks havoc on the intestinal lining, leading to a chronic immune response and digestive issues galore!  Click here for a complete list of foods that contain gluten.

Do you suspect that you might have a food allergy or sensitivity?  If so, there are a few measures you can take.

1) Conduct the Coca’s Pulse Test, a great do-it-yourself way to determine if specific foods cause you to have a stressful reaction.

2) Another way to identify problem foods is to go on an elimination diet.  This involves completely cutting out any suspect foods from your diet until you are symptom-free. You can then begin to reintroduce the foods, one at a time. This can help you pinpoint which foods cause symptoms.

3) Come to Longevity Health Center and let Dr. Anderson test you for sensitivities, allergies and intolerances (shameless plug). Often times, he is able to desensitize his patients against the food that is bothering them so that they can eventually incorporate it back into their diets without future reactions.

Please let me know if you have any questions about allergies, sensitivities.  If I don’t know the answer, I’ll try my best to get it for you.  Have a wonderful day!

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Filed under Healthy Tips, Rants and Cravings

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