Sensitivities vs. Allergies
What is the difference between food allergy, food sensitivity and food intolerance?
Food allergies, food sensitivities and food intolerance are often used interchangeably and inappropriately. In fact, there is active debate in scientific and medical circles as to how to define and use these three terms. The general consensus is that food allergy can be defined as any adverse reaction to food that involves our immune system. This further breaks down into two kinds of reactions, food allergy and food sensitivity. Food intolerance does not involve the immune system.
Perhaps the best known example of food allergy is also its least common and most dangerous. Anaphylactic shock is a severe hyper-reaction of the immune system caused by a massive release of histamine and other chemical mediators from certain types of white blood cells called mast cells and basophils. Not everyone with food allergies experiences anaphylaxis though. The immunological triggering mechanism that causes the mast cells (and basophils) to release their chemicals is called IgE and is a very well understood phenomenon. This underlying mechanism is considerably different from the triggering mechanisms found in food sensitivities. The most common foods implicated in food allergy are peanuts, other nuts, shellfish or foods containing sulfites. People with anaphylaxis can die within minutes if they ingest even one molecule of their allergic food.
Food sensitivity (also known as delayed food allergy) is quite another story. Delayed reactions manifest in many different ways as they can affect any organ system in the body and can take from 45 minutes to several days for symptoms to become apparent. The delayed onset of symptoms and complex physiological mechanisms involved in food sensitivities make them an especially difficult puzzle to try to solve either on your own or with most laboratory serum tests. In fact, food sensitivities often go un-diagnosed or misdiagnosed.
Feel free to contact me with your specific concerns about Food Sensitivities.