Food Allergies vs. Food Sensitivities

Food allergies are now classified as a public health problem.  They have doubled in the past 15 years, affecting approximately 4 percent of adults, and 8 percent of children aged 2 and younger.  Interestingly enough, just eight common foods – milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat (gluten) – account for approximately 90 percent of all allergic reactions in the U.S.  It’s also important to note that there is a difference between true allergies vs. food sensitivities.  Allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to environmental triggers, causing tissue inflammation, organ dysfunction and an array of other symptoms. Sensitivities may include both true allergies or reactions that do not affect your immune system.  Both allergies and sensitivities can invoke an immune system response, but allergies typically trigger immediate antibody reactions in your bloodstream, whereas sensitivities trigger slower responses within your cells.

Why Have Food Allergies/Sensitivities Increased?

Theories abound as far as the reasons for a rise in food allergies, including:

Many individuals have grown up in an overly sterile environment which causes our immune system to overreact when confronted with harmless substances

The change in the way our food has been processed over the years, including genetically modified foods which are problematic in many ways and can cause food reactions

The age infants are initially introduced to solid foods may influence the development of food allergies

Basically, our bodies are a complex system and exposure to certain foods and chemicals may trigger an imbalance.  It’s very individual as to whether or not someone will symptomatically react to these triggers.

Leaky Gut and the Connection between Food Allergies/Sensitivities and Leaky Gut

Food allergies or sensitivities are a possible cause of leaky gut.  There is also a growing body of scientific evidence showing that grains, as well as legumes, contain anti-nutrients and other problematic substances that may contribute to leaky gut.  Gliadin is the primary immunotoxic protein found in wheat gluten and is among the most damaging to your health.  Leaky-gut syndrome occurs when the wall of the small intestine is damaged, thus affecting the immune system and contributing to a variety of diseases (it is estimated that over two-thirds of all immune activity occurs in the gut).  Once the integrity of your intestinal lining is compromised and toxic substances are “leaking out” into your bloodstream, your body experiences a significant increase in inflammation.  Although it is not a disease itself, leaky-gut plays a part in other diseases.  The leaky gut syndrome is so substantial because it is almost always associated with autoimmune disease and its reversal depends on healing the lining of the gastrointestinal tract.

Steps to Take to Heal the Gut Lining

There certainly are steps you can take to help reduce the inflammation and restore the integrity of your gut lining.  An anti-inflammatory diet that eliminates refined sugars, dairy, gluten, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners can be very helpful.  Identifying reactive foods (food sensitivities) and avoiding them for a period of time will allow the gut lining to begin to heal on its own.  In addition, taking optimal amounts of omega-3 essential fatty acids such as those found in fish or krill oil,  consuming plenty of green leafy vegetables, high fiber and fermented foods (like sauerkraut or kimchi), and/or taking a high-quality probiotic supplement regularly can all help to promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut.