Ever had a rash, stomach problem or respiratory ailment that defied diagnosis? You might have been suffering from a hidden food reaction.
Read on to learn about some of the most common food allergies, food intolerances and how you can get down to the bottom of what may be causing your symptoms.
What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
Up to 1% of adults and 7% of children under age five have at least one food allergy. An allergy is an adverse immune system response triggered by exposure to “foreign” proteins. Food allergies can produce severe symptoms, with severe cases leading to anaphylactic shock.
Anaphylactic shock is a potentially deadly condition marked by a drop in blood pressure, anxiety, reddening and swelling of the face, sometimes hives, tightness in the chest and throat, and difficulty breathing. Anyone experiencing these symptoms needs immediate medical attention.
Leading Causes of Food Allergy
The primary offenders when it comes to food allergies are fish (including shellfish), cow’s milk, eggs, wheat (including bread and pasta), peanuts, tomatoes, spinach, strawberries, raspberries, oranges and mangoes.
It’s estimated that 5% to 50% of all adults suffer from a related problem called food intolerance. This adverse reaction does not involve the immune system, but it produces similar symptoms. Many cases of food intolerance are caused by a lack of one or more digestive enzymes. This deficiency impairs the body’s ability to break down certain proteins in food.
Leading Causes of Food Intolerance
The frontrunners in this category are lactose, sulfites, artificial colors, food additives like monosodium glutamate, histamines (compounds in fermented foods like cheese, sauerkraut, alcoholic beverages and vinegar), tyramine (an amino acid in aged cheeses, yeast extract, wine, beer, raspberries and bananas) and food preservatives like benzoic acid and sodium benzoate. See a pattern here? Predictably, processed or refined foods – if we haven’t yet realized how unhealthy they are, in general – are often the culprits in allergic reactions.
Pinpointing Food Reaction
Food allergies and intolerances manifest themselves differently in different people. A food that might give one person a rash might give another stomach pain. Predictably, doctors often have a hard time pinpointing the trouble. Misdiagnoses are very common.
If you suspect certain foods are making you ill, ask your doctor to refer you to a food-allergy specialist. This is someone who is experienced in the use of the “elimination and challenge diet.” This diet is pretty much the only surefire way to pinpoint food reactions, and it does so in two phases.
During the four-week elimination phase, all suspect foods are off limits. Symptoms often begin to clear up during this phase. During the ensuing challenge phase, lasting a few weeks to a few months, suspect foods are reintroduced one at a time. The patient watches carefully to see if symptoms return. By the end of the process, you are now aware what’s causing you all the trouble and can now eliminate those foods permanently to remain symptom-free.