Do I have a Food Allergy or Sensitivity?
You’d know it if you have an allergy! A true food allergy causes an immune response such as nausea, vomiting, hives and swelling of the lips and throat, which can be life-threatening. Common offending foods are peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish. People with food allergies avoid the food they are allergic to and sometimes cannot even be in the same room as the offending food. This is why peanuts are no longer served on airplanes.
A food sensitivity is something else. The symptoms can come on gradually and don’t involve an immune response. Generally people have an unpleasant reaction to certain foods, such as acid reflux, bloating or cramping and gas.
A food intolerance is another term to understand. An intolerance occurs when the body lacks an enzyme to digest a particular food or drink. Often times the terms sensitivity and intolerance are used interchangeably, but they are different. Common food intolerances are lactose and gluten. The majority of Asian Americans are lactose intolerant and Native American’s do not metabolize alcohol, as just two examples of cultural relevance in food/drink intolerances.
How do you find out if you have an allergy, sensitivity or intolerance?
- A food challenge is managed by your doctor or health professional and is done in a controlled environment. It involves gradually giving higher doses of a particular food to see how much of that food is needed to trigger an immune system response.
- The skin prick test can indicate if the patient has a true food allergy by injecting a small amount of the allergen into the skin and checking whether the skin develops a bump or rash. Remember an allergy can be life threatening, so see your doctor for this test.
- A food elimination diet is taking away a specific food to see if the reaction disappears. You need to take away one food at a time and after a certain period of time, add that food back into your diet to see if symptoms occur. When keeping a food diary, be sure to also note not only how you feel physically, but mentally as well. I refer to it as a Food and Mood Journal.
- Blood tests are very useful. In my nutrition practice I use Alcat Laboratories. I recently had myself tested and found out I had sensitivities to peppermint, catfish, pears and cashews. How is that for random?
As a health educator, I find various lab tests very useful and very interesting, hence the ongoing use of myself as a guinea pig for just about every test you can imagine. I find out some very interesting facts about my own body and this information allows me to stay up to date so I can assist others in obtaining or maintaining their own health and their family’s health.