Allergies and Food, Part 1: Knowing More About Food Allergies

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In the last decade we’ve all heard more and more about food allergies. By now we’re more familiar with the life-threatening reactions, like anaphylactic shock, that some people can have when they eat various foods like peanuts, shellfish, milk or wheat.

Allergic reactions to food are caused by the body trying to “fight off” the offending food, as the body “thinks” that it is an offending toxin, or poison. To combat the supposed toxin, the body releases chemicals called IgE antibodies, such as histamine, to try to expel the “poison.”

As a result, allergic symptoms occur. Your symptoms may vary, depending on where in the body the histamine is released. For example, if it is released into your upper respiratory system, such as ears, nose and throat, you will experience symptoms like runny nose, scratchy throat, or trouble breathing. If it is released into your gastrointestinal tract, you may experience stomach ache, gas, or diarrhea.

Severe reactions, such as anaphylactic shock, can cause a complete shut-down of respiratory and cardiovascular systems in the body, resulting in coma, or even death. Thankfully most of us don’t suffer from extreme food allergy symptoms.

Food allergies can be triggered by even a tiny amount of the offending food and occur every time the food is consumed. People with food allergies are usually advised to avoid the offending foods completely. Something as seemingly insignificant as peanut dust in the bottom of a snack bag can cause deadly reactions. This is why you’ll sometimes hear of schools instituting a “peanut free” lunch table.

A zero-tolerance approach must be used by people with these life threatening allergic responses.

However, did you know that most people do not suffer from true food allergies? True food allergies occur in only about 1 percent of people. Instead if you are experiencing adverse reactions to certain foods it’s more likely that you have a food intolerance.

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