The difference between a food allergy, an intolerance, or a food sensitivity can be really confusing. Many people say that have an allergy to a certain food, when in fact they have an intolerance or sensitivity. It’s important to understand the difference because a true food allergy has the potential to be life-threatening.
A food allergy actually triggers an immune system response in your body. This means that your immune system sees the food as an invader like a bacteria or a virus, and it goes into overdrive to deal with it. Immune cells mobilize to deal with the invader, and your body releases histamines and other chemicals to help wipe it out. When high amounts of histamines are released, however, it can inflame and damage your tissues, causing sometimes severe symptoms, such as hives, swelling, and anaphylactic shock. This is especially dangerous when a food allergy (or any severe allergy) involves your airways or gastrointestinal tract.
An allergic food reaction occurs very quickly. In addition, in most cases a food allergy is not dose-dependent. This means that eating even a small amount of a food allergen has the ability to trigger a severe reaction. That’s because it’s not actually the food that causes the reaction, but your body’s release of histamines, which can be set off by any amount of the offending food.
A food intolerance is also often called a food sensitivity. If you have a food sensitivity, it usually doesn’t affect your immune system to produce a histamine reaction. Instead, a food intolerance produces symptoms over a longer period of time—from hours to days, and the symptoms most frequently affect your digestive tract. The most common symptoms of a food intolerance include gas, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. Over time, regularly eating a food that you have an intolerance to can cause other symptoms not related to your digestion, such as headaches, cough, a runny nose, and generally feeling unwell. Some of the most common food intolerances include intolerance to the gluten found in grains, a sensitivity to certain food additives (dyes, artificial sweeteners, or flavorings), and lactose intolerance, which is caused by a deficiency in the digestive enzyme you need to digest dairy products.
Treating Food Allergies and Intolerances
The simplest and most effective thing you can do if you have a food allergy or intolerance is to avoid the offending food. In most cases if you have a food allergy, it’s usually pretty clear what’s setting off your immune system. However, what if you suspect you have a food intolerance, but are unsure what’s causing your symptoms? Or what if you’re sensitive to more than one food? Or what if you’re just feeling unwell and wonder if it’s something you’re eating? At BodaHealth, we have some answers. Our naturopathic physicians, holistic nutritionists and acupuncture practitioners can help you in different ways.
Our naturopathic doctors can perform a variety of lab tests and assessments to determine what foods are triggering your symptoms and why. Along with your overall health, they are able to test for nutritional deficiencies, the balance of your gut microbes, the presence of toxins, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and the permeability of your gut. Their treatments may consist of vitamin, herbal, or nutritional supplements, dietary recommendations, and lifestyle modifications to help support your overall digestion, enhance immune function, and calm the inflammatory process.
Our acupuncture practitioners work with patients to determine the underlying cause of their food allergy or sensitivity issues from a Traditional Chinese diagnostic framework. This means that they work to understand the weaknesses or imbalances that are causing your digestive or immune system to malfunction. Your treatment plan may include acupuncture, Chinese herbs, food therapy, and other interventions. Early research has documented that Chinese herbs with strong anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy actions can be a promising tool in treating food allergies. In addition, acupuncture is an important part of your treatment plan as a way to improve your immune function, strengthen your digestion, and support your gut-brain axis, the connection between your nervous system and your digestive organs.
At BodaHealth, nutritional strategies will also be a key component in treating your food allergy or intolerance. Our acupuncturists, holistic nutritionists and naturopaths are trained and experienced in working with patients who have food-related reactions. As a way to decrease reactivity, they can:
- Help you identify and eliminate foods that may be causing your symptoms
- Recommend foods that promote good digestion
- Suggest foods and probiotics that support beneficial gut bacteria
- Prescribe a diet that decreases inflammatory reactions
- Suggest food and supplements that support a healthy immune system
Food allergies and intolerances can be confusing, upset your life, and in some cases can be life-threatening. It can be hard to sit down to a dinner with friends or a restaurant meal and worry about whether or not something on the menu might make you sick. At BodaHealth, our practitioners come from a variety of healing disciplines and are committed to helping you untangle the confusion and provide healing strategies for your food allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity. Contact us today to find out how we can best help you.