Adverse Food Reactions 

Many people who experience adverse reactions to food don’t realize that a specific food is causing symptoms. Food reactions are often overlooked as a contributor to chronic health issues. Adverse reactions to food can be broken down into three categories: allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities.

Food allergies

True food allergies are immune reactions to food. These reactions begin to cause symptoms immediately after a trigger food is eaten. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and may include a rash, swollen or itchy tongue, runny nose, hives, abdominal pain, vomiting, trouble breathing, coughing, wheezing, or a closed airway. Common sources of food allergies are peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, milk, fish, and shellfish. However, many other foods can also cause allergic reactions

Food intolerances

Food intolerances

Food intolerances

Food intolerances

Food intolerances are non-immune reactions to certain food components (e.g., lactose, histamines, alcohol, etc.) that occur when a person is lacking the digestive enzyme or nutrient responsible for breaking down those food components. Intolerances can cause flushing, cold or flu-like symptoms, inflammation, and general discomfort, because the body lacks the appropriate tools to break down trigger foods. Common trigger foods and ingredients include dairy products, sulfites, histamines, lectins, preservatives, artificial colors, fillers, flavorings, chocolate, citrus fruits, and acidic foods.

Food sensitivities

Food sensitivities

Food sensitivities

Food sensitivities can cause reactions that are delayed by hours or even days. These food reactions are usually caused by an imbalance in the gastrointestinal system that is affecting the immune system. One such imbalance is intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut syndrome.” Symptoms of food sensitivities differ from person to person, and can depend on the type of food eaten. Some symptoms are migraines, headaches, dizziness, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, depression, anxiety, unintentional weight loss or gain, dark under-eye circles, asthma, irregular heartbeat, irritable bowels, bloating, wheezing, runny nose, sinus problems, ear infections, food cravings, muscle or joint pain, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, bladder control issues, fatigue, hyperactivity, hives, rashes, dry skin, excessive sweating and acne. Common sources of food sensitivities are cow’s milk (and dairy products), eggs, gluten (from wheat, rye, spelt, and barley), soy, shellfish, and tree nuts.

Identifying Adverse Reactions to Food

If you suffer from a food allergy, you are likely aware of the allergy and already avoid trigger foods. If you or your healthcare practitioner suspects that you have a food intolerance or sensitivity, the best way to identify the foods that cause negative symptoms is eliminate those foods from your diet for a certain period of time, then reintroduce those foods one by one, paying close attention to your body’s reaction. IFM’s comprehensive Elimination Diet, Food Reintroduction Symptoms Tracker, and Diet, Nutrition, and Lifestyle Journal are some of the tools your practitioner may give you to help you in this process.

Cross Reactions Between Food and Environmental Allergens

Having seasonal allergies may increase a person’s likelihood of having certain food allergies and vice versa. There is also some evidence that the level of reaction to food allergies will be higher in people that are also sensitive to particular environmental allergens. The following table shows potential cross-reactions that should be taken into account when evaluating a person with allergies.

*90% of people with melon allergy have another fruit allergy

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