Many of us confuse and interchangeably use the terms food intolerance and food allergy, however, both have significant differences.
Food allergies involve our immune system and its job is to protect us from potential harm. It must distinguish which substances are dangerous and which are harmless.
Once the immune system has detected something as foreign, it begins to fight back by releasing inflammatory chemicals to tackle the intruder. The immune system is able to recall substances it has previously encountered due to the production of antibodies which act as a memory of the invading matter that has been identified.
Food allergies stem from the generation of immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. Every time a person ingests this food, their immune system will predictably respond in a similar manner as it has been trained to do so. This is an unintentional reaction on behalf of the immune system and can have genetic roots.
A food allergy is often instantly evident and consistent over time. For instance, if you get a skin rash every time you consume strawberries, then it is most likely a food allergy. Some allergies can be life-threatening, such as those to nuts which can cause anaphylactic shock. Even the smallest amounts of the causative food are capable of producing a reaction.
Commonly, food allergies are triggered by shellfish, eggs, peanuts and soya. Symptoms can vary from a skin rash to sneezing to digestive issues.
Food sensitivities involve a different antibody, IgG, which occur when food particles that have not been digested are absorbed into the body due to a permeable intestinal lining. In this form, they are unrecognisable to the immune system, and so an attack is launched. Additionally, some people may be sensitive to ingredients used in food production.
Food sensitivities can trigger delayed reactions, with a variety of symptoms manifesting in almost any part of the body.
Food intolerances are different from food allergies. They are caused by the body’s inability to process or digest certain foods, which can result in symptoms like an upset stomach, bloating, gas, and nausea.
Food intolerances are not caused by the immune system; they are brought on when the body cannot process food. As with lactose intolerance, it is possible that there is inadequate enzyme production to break down a certain protein, or it may be the case that the person has a sensitivity to some of the chemicals found in food.
The intensity and timing of the reaction to food intolerance can vary greatly, making it tricky to pinpoint. It might occur within hours or take a few days to show itself, and the amount consumed or other elements in the meal could influence its severity.
Lactose intolerance is one of the most common food intolerances, caused by a deficiency in the enzyme necessary to break down lactose. Additionally, some may have a sensitivity to ingredients like caffeine: even in small doses, it can bring on symptoms such as anxiety, sleeplessness and unease. Egg sensitivities are another possible cause of digestive disorders like diarrhoea and abdominal discomfort.
Gut Microbiota and Food Allergies
Gut microbiota play a role in food allergies as an altered gut flora can affect the immune system and lead to allergic reactions.
The idea of the hygiene hypothesis of allergy was put forward, suggesting that increased contact to germs may reduce an individual’s probability of having allergies. This does not relate to tidying your space or washing your hands, but more so to variables which can influence the level of exposure to microorganisms.
The ancient humans experienced many advantages from their symbiotic relationship with microorganisms that were common in hunter-gatherer and farming communities. This connection encompassed organisms living on other people, as well as those causing low-level infections that allowed our ancestors to develop a strong defence system. These microorganisms lived in the same surroundings as people, consisting of mud and vegetation.
It is important to be aware of common food allergens and how your body reacts to certain foods. Additionally, you should know the differences between allergies, intolerances and sensitivities in order to easily avoid any potential health issues.
If you’d like to discuss your gut health, book a consultation with us.