by Dr. Jessica Corbeille Harris, ND
Physical reactions to foods are common, but not all physical responses are classified as a true “food allergy” – many are deemed “food intolerances” instead. What’s the difference?
Food Allergies: An immediate immune system response to a food (even a tiny amount of that food) that causes sometimes widespread involvement in the body including (but not limited to) hives, anaphylaxis (closure of airway), asthma reaction, swelling, itching, or immediate GI distress/diarrhea.
Food Intolerance: An immune system response that is often delayed and can cause wide-spread, non-specific, sometimes less severe systemic responses. Sometimes a little bit of the food isn’t enough to trigger symptoms (but sometimes it is!). Common food intolerance symptoms include: GI upset (most common), increase in muscle and/or joint pain, headache, irritability/mood changes, depression/anxiety, breathing difficulties (less severe than an asthma attack or anaphylaxis), heartburn, ear infections, sinus congestion, post-nasal drip, urinary pain or discomfort, skin reactions (eczema, psoriasis, rashes, etc.), heart palpitations, and more. Basically, many of the symptoms people experience regularly can be caused by the foods they are eating.
It’s important to understand the difference between a true allergy and an intolerance, but often in either case, the problematic food/foods will be avoided (obviously this is a much more serious recommendation in the case of anaphylactic food allergens!).
One important symptom that I like to point out to patients at my clinic is the association with food to pain.The majority of my patients seek treatment with me for their pain, but many of them are not expecting me to suggest a food allergy/intolerance test as part of the work-up for the cause of their pain. Yes, I do like to treat pain with injection therapies (i.e. prolotherapies, PRP, neural therapies, etc.), but if the patient continues to eat a food that is causing them inflammation (pain), then the treatments are not likely to have a lasting effect – and sometimes they don’t work at all until the problematic food(s) are eliminated.
For this reason, I often will order a food intolerance test for patients as part of their initial workup when I suspect food as a component to their pain problem. The testing I use is relatively inexpensive and results come back quickly. These tests are really excellent ways to figure out quickly the most likely problematic food triggers for their body – and I OFTEN see that eliminating problematic foods for a period of time (or for good) will SIGNIFICANTLY change their pain problem!
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