Millions of people around the world are affected by food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances. A majority of food allergies or sensitivities cause minor discomfort or mild symptoms, but some people can develop severe reactions to certain foods and in some cases, those foods can become life-threatening.
In our experience serving the Denver Metro, we’ve seen a lot of confusion about these allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances. We’d like to set the record straight and help you understand what comprises a food allergy, food sensitivity, and food intolerance. Additionally, we’ll discuss how gluten fits into these medical issues.
What is a Food Allergy?
These kinds of allergies deal with the immune system and antibodies. In a food allergy, your body “tags” the unwanted food particles in your body with the Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody. Then, the antibody binds with a Mast cell that creates histamine, which then directs the immune system to destroy that “invasive” food particle or particles.
The biggest indicator of a food allergy is that it takes minutes to hours to manifest in the person, and it involves IgE antibodies and Mast cells to release histamine. Food allergies can be inherited, or they can arise from food poisoning, serious stress or trauma, infections, heavy metal or chemical toxicity, in your lifetime. It is rare that someone will lose a food allergy once they have it, but it has been known to happen. Food allergies are not as common as food sensitivities.
What is a Food Sensitivity?
A food sensitivity is similar to a food allergy, in that it involves an immunoglobulin antibody, however, not the IgE antibody. Food sensitivities primarily include the IgG antibody, but we have seen sensitivities with Immunoglobulin A(IgA) or Immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibodies. These antibodies don’t cause histamine to be released, but inflammation does still occur. With that being said, it can take up to 48 hours for symptoms to manifest.
Food sensitivities are much more common than food allergies, but the diagnosis of these sensitivities can be challenging as they can cause almost any kind of symptom. We’ve treated patients with headaches, insomnia, skin outbreaks and rashes, issues with fluid retention, and much more. To correctly diagnose food sensitivities at the Grossman Wellness Center, we rely on a procedure called Mediator Response Testing (MRT). This method tests the chemicals (i.e. cytokines) that come to destroy the “unwanted” food(s). We rely on this approach because antibody testing, another popular food sensitivity test, has a tendency for false positives.
What is a Food Intolerance?
Simply put, a food intolerance involves enzymes. For example, someone who is lactose intolerant lacks the lactase enzyme needed to digest dairy properly. It’s important to note that intolerances are not life-threatening, but they can still cause serious discomfort.
What is Gluten?
You’ve probably heard of this food protein, but the chances are likely that you’ve heard it used in an incorrect way. Gluten is a protein that acts as “glue” in our grains, and it is typically found in wheat, barley, and rye, but it can be found in other foods. Gluten in made up of a Gliadin and Glutenin, but we will come back to those proteins later in this blog post.
A majority of the population has no issues digesting gluten, but those with autoimmune disorders should avoid the protein altogether. Gluten has the same molecular structure as a lot of proteins in our tissues, especially the thyroid. The immune systems of those with autoimmune diseases can confuse gluten proteins with other, more important proteins and attack them.
What is Gluten Sensitivity?
Over the last 50 years, we have made significant changes to the chemical composition of our diets. Gluten has always been in our foods, but we’ve hybridized and deaminated it over time. Our grandparents didn’t eat the same gluten that we are eating, and they weren’t exposed to as much of it. For this reason, gluten has become more immunoreactive, meaning that it causes a reaction from the immune system. Our changes to the Gluten protein have been known cause headaches, stomach discomfort, and other issues. Almost anyone can contact a gluten sensitivity, but it’s important to note that Gluten Sensitivity is completely separate from Celiac’s Disease.
What is Celiac’s Disease?
This immune system disease involves something called molecular mimicry. Gluten proteins, and especially Gliadin proteins, look very similar to proteins found in your intestines, and in Celiac’s Disease, these intestinal proteins are targeted and attacked by your body’s immune system. Those with this disease can be in danger of damaging the lining of their small intestine, which can lead to further digestive issues.
It is crucial that Celiac’s Disease is diagnosed and treated, because if left untreated it can cause osteoporosis, anemia, malabsorption, and greater mortality. The diagnosis of Celiac’s Disease can involve an antibody test or an MRT, but the primary physiological indicator or Celiac’s Disease is damage to the intestinal wall. This can be determined by undergoing an endoscopic biopsy of the small intestine.
Food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances might sound the same, but the physiological differences between these digestive issues all vary. Food allergies and sensitivities involve your immune system, while food intolerance deals exclusively with enzymes. Gluten, a protein commonly found in grains, has been altered over the last half-a-century to become more reactive in our bodies, and in some cases, it can do lasting damage to essential organs.
Our nutrition team is very well versed with helping patients with specific food allergies, Celiac’s Disease, and other food-related issues. Meet our nutrition team here, or call (303)233.4247 for answers to your food allergy-related questions.