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by Dr. Thomas K. Lo

Food allergies happen when your body’s defense system, called the immune system, triggers immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to bind with a food protein (the allergen). This activates cells throughout the body to release large amounts of chemicals such as histamine. Allergic reactions can occur throughout the body: the respiratory system, digestive tract, skin, eyes, ears, throat, or cardiovascular system. Reactions usually occur within a few minutes to an hour after eating the offending food. You may first feel itching in your mouth as you start to eat the food. Other symptoms include stuffy, itchy nose; swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat, or other parts of your body; vomiting; diarrhea; sneezing; itchy, watery eyes; stomach cramps; red, itchy skin; or a rash. True food allergies usually begin in the first or second year of life; childhood allergies may be converted into other “allergic” conditions like eczema or respiratory illnesses. About four percent of adults and up to eight percent of children have a food allergy.

What Foods Commonly Trigger Allergic Reactions?

The foods that most often cause allergic reactions in adults are the same for women and men. They include shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, milk, eggs, wheat, and soybeans.

Food Allergies Can Be Life Threatening

For some people, an allergic reaction to a food is uncomfortable but not serious; for others, an allergic food reaction can lead to death. A life-threatening reaction caused by an allergy is called anaphylaxis.

For these people, even the smallest amount of exposure—eating a food or even touching someone who is eating the food—can be dangerous. If you have anaphylactic reactions to certain foods, your doctor may give you a prescription for injectable epinephrine. You need to carry this medicine with you at all times so that you or someone you are with can give you an emergency injection, if needed. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include hoarseness; throat tightness or a lump in your throat; wheezing; chest tightness or trouble breathing; rapid heart rate; dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting; tingling in the hands, feet, lips, or scalp; and clammy, grayish, or bluish skin.

Should I Stay Away from Certain Foods During Pregnancy?

Avoiding peanuts or other highly allergenic foods during pregnancy is not necessary, unless you are allergic to these foods. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, avoiding certain foods in pregnancy does not prevent food allergies in children, though breastfeeding may prevent or delay food allergies. Also delaying the introduction of solid foods beyond four to six months of age does not prevent food allergies. Some people have also thought that food allergies can be prevented if parents delayed giving their babies certain solid foods (such as fish, eggs, and milk). However, current medical research does not support this idea.

Babies can have a reaction to a mother’s breastmilk, but this is due to something the mother is eating. Babies who are highly sensitive usually react to the food within minutes. Babies who are less sensitive may still react to the food within 4 to 24 hours. Symptoms may include diarrhea; vomiting; and/or green stools with mucus and/or blood; rash, eczema, dermatitis, hives, or dry skin; fussiness during and/or after feedings; inconsolable crying for long periods and sudden waking with discomfort; wheezing or coughing.

These symptoms do not mean your baby is allergic to your milk, but rather to something you are eating. If your baby ever has problems breathing, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

Are All Symptoms a Food Allergy or Could it be a Food Sensitivity?

You could be experiencing food sensitivities. Some health problems cause the same symptoms as food allergies, but are really food sensitivities. This can make it hard to know for sure whether you have a food allergy.

Food sensitivities can cause symptoms similar to allergies, but reactions are slower and milder. It can take hours or even days before symptoms appear. Immunoglobulins A, G or M (IgA, IgG, IgM) are often involved. Sensitivities may contribute to chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, arthritis, depression, sinusitis, GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disease), migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, attention deficit disorder (ADD), rashes, lactose intolerance, and more. Inadequate digestion or digestive disturbances like inadequate digestive enzymes or damaged intestinal walls with increased intestinal permeability are often involved.

What is Food Intolerance?

If your symptoms come from a food intolerance, it means the immune system is not directly involved and reactions are not life threatening, though health and quality of life are usually affected. The symptoms of food intolerance can be indigestion, bloating, fatigue, migraines, memory problems, toxic headache, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome. Digestive symptoms usually predominate. A common intolerance is lactose intolerance: difficulty digesting milk sugar, resulting in symptoms like abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Insufficient lactase, an enzyme needed to digest lactose, is involved. Some people do not produce enough lactase. Pasteurization of milk destroys lactase and changes milk sugar into another form. Some intolerances are due to food additives rather than a food. Common culprits are sulfites (inducing asthma in some people) MSG, aspartame, other artificial sweeteners, preservatives, yellow dye No. 5, artificial colors, and artificial flavors. Reactions always arise from individual susceptibilities. While an allergic reaction is triggered by small amounts of a particular food, a food intolerance may occur only with a large amount of frequent consumption. Symptoms can be chronic or delayed by hours or a couple of days. Addiction to “offending” foods is common, as they sometimes relieve symptoms for a while. Far more people have food intolerances than true allergies. Most allergies involve the eight foods mentioned above, but intolerances can involve any food.

Do You Think You Have a True Allergy?

A study from Bastyr University has shown that a single person’s blood sent to a number of laboratories for food allergy testing had very different results, depending on the lab the blood was sent to. Unfortunately, this kind of testing can be inaccurate. Dr. Lo, at the Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center, uses Nutritional Response Testing® to analyze the body to determine the underlying causes of ill or non-optimum health. Call 240-651-1650 for a free evaluation to see if you have a true allergy or not. We also offer free seminars held at the office on rotating Tuesdays and Thursdays. The office is located at 7310 Grove Road #107, Frederick, MD. Check out the website at