Food allergy vs. food intolerance
By Thomas DeLauer
Understanding the immune system is key to living a healthier life. In this video, HYLETE Community Captain, Thomas DeLauer, helps identify what type of reaction your body is having towards the food you‚Äôre eating.
Learn about your immune system and about the cons of over training in this video.
About Thomas DeLauer
From 280 lbs. to the magazine covers... All by living a lifestyle that is honest and real. Thomas DeLauer brings nutrition expertise along with a unique perspective on health and wellness that is everything HYLETE.
The following is a transcription of the above video:
So are you allergic to that food or are you just intolerant? I think we need to understand the immune system here and help you understand exactly what is happening inside your body when you have an allergic response to something versus an intolerance that might trigger some inflammation later on down the line. This is all very important stuff. Whether you're doing a ketogenic diet, whether you're fasting, or whether you're just trying to live a healthy lifestyle, understanding how the immune system works when it comes down to our response to food is going to make your life a lot easier, but it's also some pretty fun information in the first place.
All right, so let's get into the fun stuff. The first thing that I really want to talk about is a food allergy, and what happens inside your body. Okay? A food allergy is a reaction that begins with a food shortly after eating it. You've probably heard of a food allergy before. You know what ends up happening. You might get them in the way of hives, you might get them in the way of maybe some rashes, or maybe you end up having to run to the bathroom, or you end up getting some bloating. You know if you have a reaction to a food. You've probably experienced it before.
Now, that's the simplicity of it. But let's talk a little bit more about what's actually happening. You see, at the very, very root of it, when you have an allergy, it's just a simple substance that is harmless that your body is responding to as if it was a harmful foreign invader. Basically, your body sees a food come in and it thinks that it's bad, so it triggers a reaction. But there's a pretty interesting process that occurs when it comes down to that. You see, that response that actually happens with that food is coming from something known as IgE. It's a specific kind of protein, and we're going to talk about these all in a second. They're called immunoglobulins. In this particular case, this IgE protein attaches itself to the foreign invader, in this case, the harmless food that is labeled as a foreign invader.
So, the IgE protein attaches itself to the foreign invader and then from there, it triggers multiple chemical responses, one of which is usually histamine. Now, if you've ever taken an anti-histamine before, this is what you're fighting. You're not fighting the IgE response. You're finding the histamine response. Here's what's interesting. If you have allergies to multiple different foods, a lot of times, you might find the reactions are similar amongst all those foods.
Let's say for example, you're allergic to shellfish and you're allergic to peanuts. You might find that if you eat shellfish, you end up with your throat closing up. Well, you might find that if you eat peanuts, you end up having the same kind of reaction. That's simply because your reaction is to the histamine. It's not really to the food. So, there's a deeper problem going on where your body tends to recognize the shellfish or the peanuts as a foreign invader, triggering this already built-in mechanism that's causing your throat to close up.
But let's talk about the other immunoglobulins. It gives you a big broad spectrum overview of what is happening with your immune system, with foods and pathogens. IgE like we talked about, that's the immunoglobulin that is released whenever we have a foreign invader that attaches itself to it. Then we have IgA. IgA is the main protein that is released whenever we have any kind of infection or issue going on with the respiratory tract or the digestive system. If you get a blood test and you notice that your IgA levels are super high, a lot of times it can be indicative of some kind of chronic issue with your digestive system, or possibly even pneumonia or some respiratory condition like that.
Then we get into IgG. IgG is another really common one that we see. IgG is a response to a bacterial issue. You could have some kind of low scale bacteria infection that's going on throughout your body that you don't really know about, that's not really manifesting in symptoms, but it's causing your IgG to be elevated. This means you are having an immune response and your body is creating proteins to ultimately attack this, but you may not realize it. Then in the cases of more chronic conditions like Lyme disease, where you actually do have symptoms, you might notice that your IgG levels are super, super high. And then of course if you have a rampant infection, you're definitely going to notice that your IgG levels are high.
Then we have IgD. IgD is an immunoglobulin that really isn't talked about too, too much. All that is is an antigen and antibody receptor. Whenever we have antibodies in the body to help tell our bodies that something is okay and we don't have to have a response to it, we still need to have protein that receive that message, and that's all that IgG does. So, that's really going to stay stagnant for the most part when you're looking at your blood work.
Then we have IgM. See, IgM responds to blood infections. If you have high levels of IgM, you probably need to be a little bit concerned. There are some exclusions, but for the most part, if you have a blood infection, you might want to go get checked out, because that could lead into a lot of other things. Sometimes, IgA comes after a chronic IgE exposure. So if you've been exposed to a food that you're mildly allergic to for a while, it might eventually lead to a broader scale infection or issue based on the immune response.
Now, to wrap up the allergy part, I'm going to help make some sense of all of this. Remember how I told you that the IgEs respond to the actual component that you're allergic to? Well, there's a reason why people end up getting more allergic to things as time goes on. You see, it's the job of our immune system, it's the job of that IgE, to go and attach itself to that food so that the body knows that there is an issue. Which means the next time you eat that food, the body's going to respond even faster.
Here's an example. Let's say you're allergic to peanuts again. The first time you eat peanuts, you're going to have that IgE response which is going to trigger histamine. You're going to show a small reaction. Then, if you were to eat peanuts again, you're going to notice your reaction's worse, because the body has already figured out how to send histamine there in a really fast way, because that IgE already knows how to respond. That's why when you're testing food out with infants, you're usually testing them out in very small, independent doses so that you can see if there's even a small, little teeny minuscule reaction. That way, you know as a baby if they have a reaction to a food so that you don't continue to feed it on later when they end up having a worse reaction.
Okay, now let's talk about intolerances for a second. There's a big difference. You see, an intolerance is simply the lack of the body's ability to break down a food. It's usually structural or functional in that case, meaning we're lacking an enzyme to physically break a food down. A good example is lactose intolerance. People will say, ""I'm allergic to milk."" No, you're lactose intolerant, which means you're lacking the enzyme to break it down, so you end up having a lot of digestive issues. You have gas. You have an intolerance. Lactose intolerance. So, that's where the difference comes into play.
Now, there are a lot of goods that we can be intolerant to that can lead to an immune response later on. See, what ends up having is if we're consistently eating foods that we can't break down, then we start to cause some structural damage within our digestive system. And once there's structural damage, there's microtrauma. And when there's microtrauma, there's tears. And when there's tears in the intestinal tract, of course your immune system's going to attack it. You could have bacteria that gets into those micro tears, and that causes the issues with all of the allergic-like responses. So over time, by eating foods that you are intolerant to, you will ultimately cause yourself to have an immune reaction. But at its root, an actual response as an intolerance is non-immunological. That means there's no immune system response.
Now, there's a couple things that can trigger intolerances, because it's not something that we're always born with. If you have high bouts of stress for a period of time, you can start to break down enzymes and structural components that would normally help you metabolize food. So, if you go through a period of really, really stressful stuff, you might find all of a sudden, you can't eat broccoli anymore, or you might find that you can't do milk anymore. These intolerances can come on over time. You're not born with them. So, it's something to always be aware of. And again, if you continue to eat those foods after an intolerance, you can trigger a more serious allergic response that you're not going to like. I hope this clears up any confusion between allergies and intolerances, and helps you understand a little bit more about the immune system and what you can start to do to keep an eye out for any potential issues.¬†