Which one is it? A Food Sensitivity or a Food Allergy?
One question I receive a lot from patients is pertaining to the distinction between food sensitivities or food allergies. Understanding the difference can be vital in finding the root cause of many health issues I see at Nourish Medical Center.
A true “food allergy” is an immune response that is mediated by an IgE antibody. Let me back up here… In order to protect us from “harmful invaders”, our immune system has several antibodies as part of its response team. They are the IgE, IgG, IgM, and IgA antibodies. When someone has an “allergy”, whether to a food or to an environmental allergen, such as cats or pollen, the response is made by the IgE antibody. This response is fairly immediate and robust in nature. This is why most people are aware they have this type of allergy, since it happens right after exposure AND symptoms are usually pretty obvious (anywhere from a life-threatening anaphylactic response to runny nose, watery eyes, itchy throat, hives, etc)
On the other hand, a food sensitivity is mediated by an IgG or IgA response. Although these don’t have the potential of being life threatening like an IgE response, they can still cause havoc in people’s health. They are also a lot harder to identify because these responses tend to be delayed. One could have a food sensitivity to dairy, for instance, and the antibodies or inflammation may not mount for hours or even days after exposure. However, it is still characterized by inflammation and the more someone exposes themselves, the more inflammation builds. And it is this inflammation that is associated with all the potential symptoms of food sensitivities- fatigue, brain fog, mood issues, joint pain, migraines, skin issues, digestive complaints and the list goes on…
The distinction is important because I would say most of the chronic issues I see in my practice have more to do with IgG and IgA based reaction than they do with IgE reactions. And a lot of my patients attempt to track what foods may be causing their symptoms and many end up frustrated and as confused as when they started. The reason for this is because of how IgG and IgA antibodies operate. In my opinion, the most reliable way to identify food sensitivities is to do a blood test.
Hope this was informative. If you suspect that food sensitivities could be playing a role in your health concerns, or if you or a family member wants to get a food sensitivity test, please schedule today. Together, we can review your results and create an individualized diet plan that works best for your body!
Dr Christina Martinez