Every single day our bodies break down, process and extract nutrients from the foods we eat without any problems and most of us give very little attention to this spontaneous process. Unfortunately, in some cases, our relationship with food may not be this straightforward and may even be causing health problems. Food reactions are becoming increasingly common nowadays and more people are starting to pay attention to what they are including in their diets.
Gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, heartburn, constipation, nausea, rectal itching and undigested food may be some of the telltale signs that you may be experiencing an adverse reaction to food. However, the signs may not be so obvious and the absence of gastrointestinal symptoms doesn’t mean you have no food sensitivities.
Food allergies and sensitivities have been associated with numerous health problems affecting almost every body system. Some of the more common health problems associated with food include:
SKIN: Itching, burning, hives, red spots, acne, eczema, psoriasis, rashes.
EAR, NOSE, THROAT: Sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, hoarseness, ringing in ears, dizziness.
EYES: Blurring, spots before eyes, watering, pain, twitching, sensitivity to light, redness, swelling.
RESPIRATORY: Wheezing, mucus formation, shortness of breath, tightness of chest, asthma.
CARDIOVASCULAR: Pounding heart, increased heart rate, flushing, tingling, faintness.
GENITOURINARY: Frequent, urgent, painful urination; urinary incontinence, itching, discharge.
MUSCULOSKELETAL: Fatigue, weakness, pain, swelling, stiffness of joints, backache.
NERVOUS SYSTEM: Headache, migraine, drowsiness, inability to concentrate, depression, irritability, restlessness, hyperactivity, dizziness, numbness, tremors.
The above list is only a partial list of symptoms that may respond to eliminating food allergies and/or sensitivities. Many times it may be difficult to connect our health problems to food, which is why it is important to seek professional help. Getting to know what foods we can and cannot eat is very important for our health and wellbeing.
ADVERSE FOOD REACTIONS
When someone complains of an adverse reaction to food, it is likely due to one or more of the following:
Food toxicities (such as microbial contamination of food by E. coli causing gastroenteritis)
Psychological food sensitivities (such as taste and texture aversion when pregnant)
Chemical food sensitivities (such as histamine found in Swiss cheese causing headaches)
Metabolic food sensitivities (declining levels of lactase enzymes – lactose intolerance)
Physiologic food sensitivities (breakdown of certain foods such as legumes causing gas)
Immune-mediated food sensitivities (Type I, II, III or IV hypersensitivity reactions)
In this article, I will focus mainly on immune-mediated food sensitivities as defined by any response to food that is immune-mediated, including antibody responses well as cell-mediated food reactions.
There are primarily 4 types of immune reactions that occur when our body’s immune system is called into action. For the purpose of this discussion we will consider two main types that are related to food sensitivities:
IMMEDIATE OR TYPE 1 HYPERSENSITIVITY
Immediate or Type I hypersensitivity reactions are the most commonly recognized type of food allergy. It turns out that eight types of food account for about 90 percent of all Type I reactions. These include: Eggs, Dairy, Peanuts, Tree nuts, Fish, Shellfish, Wheat and Soy. Type I reactions typically involve a specific antibody referred to as Immunoglobulin E or IgE. The binding of IgE to specific molecules present in a food (antigens) triggers the immune response. The response usually occurs soon after ingesting the food (within hours) and may be mild or in rare cases it can be associated with the severe and life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Some of the more common symptoms associated with IgE mediated immune responses include:
Itching in your mouth, swelling of lips and tongue
Tightening of the throat or trouble breathing
Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal cramps
Drop in blood pressure