Is your Food making you Sick?

Are you reacting to food in one way or another and don’t know it? Let’s sort out how we react to various foods and the intensity with which we react.

There are certain types of reactions to food that can be delayed up to 48 hours after eating the food, so the symptoms are hard to track.  These types of reactions are the IgG, or “hidden” food allergies and they are low grade or chronic type reactions.

Another way to react to foods is at several levels of intensity.  Food sensitivities are less severe than food allergies, and perhaps more common. Celiac disease is the most severe form of allergy and is a reaction to gluten, a protein in wheat, barley and rye. There is increasing evidence that Celiac Disease effects  anywhere from 1 to 3 percent of the U.S. population. Celiac reactions occur in the lining of the small intestine.

And perhaps most confusing of all, is that we can react to the same food in several different ways, depending on what type of antibody you make to that food and where in the body we are reacting.

These are the major ways we react to foods, keeping in mind that this is an emerging science with many theories.

  • IgE:  These are the immediate and acute reactions, such as the ones that people have to shellfish and peanuts, where the throat swells shut, lips get puffy and hives might appear. Allergists test for these reactions using skin scratch testing.
  • IgA: These are reactions that occur in the lining of the digestive tract, mostly in the small intestine. Gluten allergies (to wheat, barley and rye) are almost always IgA reactions.  IgA reactions tend to be digestive, such as bloating, constipation and diarrhea, although some IgG symptoms can also manifest in the intestines.
  • IgG:  The “hidden” allergies that often don’t show a reaction until up to 48 hours after a food has been ingested, so it is hard to connect a certain food with a reaction. The symptoms tend to be low grade and chronic rather than acute, and show up as fatigue, headaches, muscle and joint pain, foggy thinking, etc.

The tricky thing is that we can develop different types of reactions to the same foods.   For example, dairy can be an IgA, IgG, or IgE reaction or two out of the three.  Eggs, soy and corn are other common foods that can trigger various types of antibodies and therefore react in different ways.

Not only do we develop different types of antibodies but we also react to foods to varying degrees, which are labelled food sensitivity versus food allergy.

Let’s take Celiac Disease, for example. Celiac Disease is a condition that affects the intestines.  The villi, which are the small finger-like projections in the small intestine, have lots of surface area for nutrients to be absorbed. Think of a shag rug.  In Celiac Disease these villi flatten out, looking much like a berber carpet. They can no longer assimilate nutrients as effectively because the surface area for absorption has decreased.  Celiac Disease is clearly an allergy and a serious one at that.

Somewhere in the spectrum between Celiac Disease and a perfectly healthy digestive tract lining is a gray area of reactivity. This has been labelled Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, which emerging research is revealing to be surprisingly common.  Some estimate as high as 15 percent of the population.

In good health,

Read Part 2 of Food Allergies, The Facts, for information on the second most common allergy, dairy, and the difference between lactose intolerance and an actual dairy allergy.