Food Allergy vs Food Sensitivity vs Food Intolerance
I’ve had many patients and friends ask me the simple question, “What’s the difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity”? With a short glance many just assume they are the same thing. But there is actually a difference, a big one.
When the term food allergy is said the images of a person’s throat closing after eating a peanut, or a rash some children get after eating strawberries come to mind. A food allergy can be caused by even the smallest amount of eating, or exposure to a food. Sensitivities often have less noticeable symptoms, but are just as destructive.
What’s a Food Allergy:
When one consumes a food they are allergic to they have a type of autoimmune response, which can include eczema, rashes, anaphylaxis, etc. The response is typically due to antibodies in ones blood (IgE). This type of reaction typically occurs very soon after eating the food and is easily noticeable. A food allergy is not typically life threatening but can be in certain cases, so it need to be approached with extreme care. A true food allergy can be hard to rid one of, but there are often ways to decrease the affects one has when exposed.
What’s a Food Sensitivity:
Food sensitivities are much harder for most people to realize since the symptoms can be less specific and don’t always occur immediately after food consumption, but can up to 24 or more hours later. Many people don’t know they have food sensitivities but frequently suffer from headaches, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, fatigue, brain fog, muscle aches, etc. etc. which are often caused by food sensitivities.
Dr. Gangemi at the Sock Doc said it well in one of his weekly health tips:
“Ever wake up with a stiff neck (a crick in your neck)? Most likely it’s because of what you ate or drank for dinner the night before rather than how or where you slept.”
Many people have not learned to piece together why they get these aches and pains, headaches, bowel disturbance, etc. Identifying these sensitivities can be difficult for many because the symptom does not often occur immediately afterwards. Another confounding variable is the same food one is sensitive to may not always cause the same symptom, or even any symptom at all! Confused? For example, if one has a food sensitivity towards oranges the consumption is going to cause inflammation and an immune response, but it may or may not cause an outward symptom. If your body is in a healthier state (less overall stress [physical, emotional, & biochemical]) then you can handle the orange better, but if you have another form of stress the same day then the orange will push your body past its’ total load, leading to outward/physical symptoms. This is based on “total load” theory, which we will discuss in a future post. Other times a food one is sensitive towards will only cause a reaction if one eats it frequently, while if they have sparsely it may not cause the same symptoms.
Food sensitivities don’t often cause life threatening health conditions, which food allergies occasionally do, but they do make living life much less enjoyable.
What’s a Food Intolerance:
A food intolerance doesn’t necessarily cause the same histamine reaction that a food allergy or sensitivity causes, but is because ones body doesn’t contain the correct enzymes to properly breakdown a food. This is commonly seen in people with Celiac disease or those who are lactose intolerant. If one is lactose intolerant they don’t produce the enzyme lactase, or they don’t produce enough of it, meaning they can’t properly break down the lactose (a milk sugar) and it will continue to travel through the digestive tract intact, causing abdominal bloating, spasm, gas, etc.
Food Sensitivities and Dysbiosis:
Food allergies and food intolerances (where one genetically does not produce a certain enzyme) can be hard to eliminate, but can be helped very greatly by lowering other stressors in your body. Food sensitivities can often be eliminated by getting rid of dysbiosis in ones body. Dysbiosis means an imbalance of microbes in ones body and can be caused by an increase in viruses, bacteria, fungus, and candida. Getting checked for dysbiosis is one key thing that must be done to help one suffering from food sensitivities, and by eliminating the dysbiosis many patients have been able to greatly increase what they are able to eat without symptoms.
How to Treat a Food Allergy vs Food Sensitivity:
All forms of food allergies and sensitivities can cause histamine levels to be raised. Elevated histamine levels are a cause of anaphylaxis, in addition to many other symptoms. There are ways to be checked if histamine is an issue and taking certain vitamins like B6, zinc, and folic acid can help with histamine breakdown. Also certain products high in vitamin C can help one deal with histamine.
Treating just the histamine levels won’t often get to the root cause though. Getting not only checked for food sensitivities and dysbiosis, but also many other stressors including heavy metals, emotional stress, environmental toxins, etc. are key to improving ones overall health.
Please share this with any friends or family whom you think will find this article helpful. And as always, email me at DrNoahLebowitz@gmail.com
-Dr. Noah Lebowitz is a second generation Chiropractor and Applied Kinesiologist practicing in Tacoma / Seattle WA. Dr. Lebowitz treats the chronically ill patient with fatigue, intestinal issues, depression, autoimmune conditions, etc. The patients he sees have often seen many other doctors beforehand and are able to be helped using the unique protocol developed by Michael Lebowitz DC. He also works with professional athletes (including NHL and MLB All-Stars and MVP players) and amateurs working to optimize muscle function and nutrition helping decrease injuries and increase performance.