Food allergies are estimated to affect 4 to 6 percent of children and 4 percent of adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A food allergy occurs when the body has a specific and reproducible response that demonstrably involves the immune system. In people with food allergies the immune system incorrectly attacks some of the proteins in foods and recognizes them as harmful.

Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerances vs. Food Sensitivities

It’s important to note that only IgE (immunoglobulin E) reactions are recognized by conventional medicine as true food allergies. These reactions typically occur within minutes of exposure or ingestion of the allergenic food.

Food intolerances on the other hand (with the exception of Celiac Disease) do not involve an immune reaction, although some of the less threatening symptoms can resemble those of food allergies. Lactose Intolerance, for example, occurs in people who don’t produce enough of the enzyme lactase. As a result, affected individuals are unable to digest lactose, a type of sugar found in dairy products.

Food sensitivities are a bit of a grey area since there is no agreed upon definition. It’s a term that often refers to delayed immune reactions to foods and don’t involve IgE reactions, but rather IgG and IgA reactions. It’s also sometimes used to describe non-immune-related reactions to food.

Food Allergy Symptoms

Food allergy symptoms can range from mild to severe and can affect the skin, gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, and cardiovascular system. They can also vary over time within the same individual.

Symptoms can manifest in one or more of the following ways:

• Vomiting, stomach cramps, and/or diarrhea
• Hives, Eczema, and/or skin rashes
• Shortness of breath; wheezing
• Repetitive cough
• Tight, hoarse throat; trouble swallowing
• Swelling of the tongue, affecting the ability to talk or breathe
• Weak pulse
• Pale or blue coloring of skin
• Dizziness or feeling faint
• Anaphylaxis; a potentially life-threatening reaction that can impair breathing and send the body into shock; must be treated promptly with epinephrine (i.e. EpiPen)

Common Food Allergies

While any food can cause an allergic reaction, the following eight types of food account for close to 90 percent of all reactions:

• Eggs
• Cow’s Milk
• Peanuts
• Tree nuts
• Fish
• Shellfish
• Wheat
• Soy

Certain seeds, including sesame and mustard; and sulphites – either added to food as a preservative or naturally occurring – are also common food allergy triggers and considered major allergens in some countries.

Diagnosis and Testing

Suspected food allergies should always be evaluated, diagnosed, and treated by a qualified medical professional.

The first step in diagnosing a food allergy generally involves a detailed medical history and dietary review to determine if your symptoms are caused by a food allergy and if so, what the culprit food(s) may be.

Next, one or more of the following tests might be conducted in order to help diagnose a food allergy. While these tests alone don’t always provide a clear answer, your doctor will combine the results with the information gathered in your medical history and dietary review to provide a diagnosis.

These tests may include:

1. Skin Prick Test – A tiny amount of food or solution is pricked or scratched into the skin just below the surface using a tiny needle or probe, and then monitored for a reaction.

2. Blood Test – A sample of blood is drawn and measured for IgE antibodies to suspect foods.

3. Oral Food Challenge – The problem food is eaten in gradually increasing amounts in a controlled environment under medical supervision.

4. Elimination Diet – During a period of 2 to 4 weeks suspect foods are eliminated while your doctor monitors your symptoms (or lack thereof)

It’s worth noting that both skin prick tests and blood tests are not conclusive on their own, and about 50-60 percent of all tests will yield a “false positive” result, meaning the test shows positive results even though you aren’t actually allergic to the tested food. This is why it’s important to visit an experienced allergist/doctor who will interpret your results in the context of your medical history.

Treatment and Prevention

According to conventional medicine, there is no recognized cure for food allergies other than avoiding allergenic food(s) once you’ve been diagnosed and learning to manage and recognize symptoms. However, some allergies, in particular milk, eggs, soy, and wheat are often outgrown in childhood.

With that said, there are still a number of natural remedies you can utilize to support immune health and digestive function, potentially helping to prevent some food reactions, and/or negate some of the uncomfortable symptoms associated with them.

In addition to eating a healthy whole-food dominant diet that’s abundant in fresh vegetables and limits anti-inflammatory foods such as excess sugar, wheat, processed foods, refined oils, and additives, consider adding one or more of the following supplements into your regimen.

1. Digestive Enzymes to support proper digestive function and complete breakdown of food.

2. Probiotics to support a healthy gut and further aid in complete digestion of food – plus they’re also shown to exert an immune protective effect.

3. L-Glutamine to support intestinal health and repair a damaged lining that leads to intestinal permeability, which is implicated in a number of health conditions including food allergies.

4. Additional Immune Supporting Nutrients such as Vitamins A, C, D, Bioflavonoids including Quercetin, along with the mineral Zinc; and immune modulating herbs such as astragalus and reishi mushroom. It’s also important to support the health of your liver.

Allergies: Disease in Disguise, Carolee Bateson-Koch, DC, ND

About the Author

Elaine is a Certified Nutritionist and Women’s Health Coach. She works with clients across the globe to help them improve their health and relationship with food. Elaine believes in a real food approach to health that is rooted in optimizing digestion and includes ongoing and intelligent cleansing. You can download her FREE Hip, Healthy & Holistic Makeover Guide to learn 5 simple things you can do every day to lose weight, increase energy, kick cravings, and feel beautiful inside & out.