Food Allergy Symptoms + 6 Ways to Reduce Them
Food allergies are immune-based diseases that have become a serious health concern in the United States. An estimated one-fifth of the population believe that they have adverse reactions to food, but the true prevalence of food allergies ranges between 3 and 4 percent in the general population.
Despite the risk of severe allergic reactions and even death, there is no current treatment for food allergies. The condition can only be managed by allergen avoidance or treatment of food allergy symptoms. Fortunately, there are natural allergy fighters that can help to boost the immune system and enhance the gut microbiota, which helps to reduce the development of food allergies and allergy symptoms.
What Are Food Allergies?
Food allergies consist of an immune system response to a disagreeable food. The body senses that a protein in a particular food may be harmful and triggers an immune system response, producing histamine to protect itself. The body “remembers” this and when this food enters the body again, the histamine response is more easily triggered.
The diagnosis of food allergies may be problematic because nonallergic food reactions, such as food intolerances, are frequently confused with food allergy symptoms. Intolerance derived from an immunological mechanism is referred to as a food allergy, and the non-immunological form is called a food intolerance. Food allergies and intolerances are often linked, but there’s a clear difference between the two conditions.
A food allergy comes from a reaction of the allergen-specific immunoglobulin E antibody that is found in the bloodstream. Non-IgE-mediated food allergies are also possible; this happens when someone is exposed to a food that causes signs and symptoms of an allergy, such as allergic contact dermatitis. A food intolerance is an adverse reaction to foods or food components, but not due to immunologic mechanisms.
For example, a person may have an immunologic response to cow’s milk because of the milk’s protein, or that individual may be intolerant to milk due to an inability to digest the sugar lactose. The inability to digest lactose leads to excess fluid production in the GI tract, resulting in abdominal pain and diarrhea. This condition is termed lactose intolerance because lactose in not an allergen, as the response is not immune-based. Food intolerances are nonspecific and the symptoms often resemble common medically unexplained complaints, such as digestive issues.
IgE-medicated food allergies are the most common and dangerous of adverse food reactions; they cause your immune system to react abnormally when exposed to one or more specific foods. Immediate reactions to IgE-mediated food allergies are caused by an allergen-specific immunoglobulin E antibody that floats around in the bloodstream.
When IgE is working properly, it identifies triggers that could be harmful to the body, such as parasites, and tells the body to release histamine. Histamine causes allergy symptoms such as hives, coughing and wheezing. Sometimes IgE reacts to normal proteins that are found in foods — and when the protein is absorbed during digestion and it enters the bloodstream, the entire body reacts as if the protein is a threat. This is why food allergy symptoms are noticeable in the skin, respiratory system, digestive system and circulatory system.
According to a 2014 comprehensive review published in Clinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology, the prevalence of food allergies in infancy is increasing and may affect up to 15–20 percent of infants. And researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine suggest that food allergies affect as many as 6 percent of young children and 3–4 percent of adults. The alarming rate of increase calls for a public health approach in the prevention and treatment of food allergy, especially in children.
Researchers suggest that this increase in the prevalence of food allergies may be due to a change in the composition, richness and balance of the microbiota that colonize the human gut during early infancy. The human microbiome plays a vital role in early life immune development and function. Since IgE-mediated food allergies are associated with immune dysregulation and impaired gut integrity, there is substantial interest in the potential link between gut microbiota and food allergies.