Both food sensitivities and food allergies are ways of describing immune system reactions to eating certain foods. But what is a true food allergy? And what is the difference between a food intolerance and a true allergy?
What Is The Difference Between Food Allergies & Food Intolerance?
The answer lies in immunoglobulins. Immunoglobulins are proteins that serve an important purpose for our immune system. These immunoglobulins or antibodies are circulating around our body looking for a fight. What are they looking for? Anything that they have been programmed to attack. Our immune system is set up to attack and eliminate anything it considers to be dangerous like a virus or a parasite. It uses different types of antibodies (immunoglobulins) to attack in different ways.
Think of it like the US armed forces. You have the army, navy, airforce and marines. They all have the same end goal, to keep us safe, but they use different tools and strategies. So does our immune system. We have different antibodies/immunoglobulins including IgG, IgA, IgM and IgE. They all destroy their target using different tools.
IgG and IgA tend to be associated with food sensitivities and IgE are associated with allergies. Allergies (IgE) are thought of as “worse” because they are usually associated with something called a histamine response. There are these cells called mast cells that are filled with histamine.
Let’s say you sent an IgE antibody to kill off an invader. IgE’s favorite weapon is a histamine-filled mast cell. Using a mast cell is like dropping a gigantic bomb on an invader. There is shrapnel (histamine) that gets released. Histamine tends to cause common allergy symptoms like redness, itching, pain and swelling. So if we have an IgE response there is more to be concerned with. IgA and IgG responses are much more subtle. They act more like snipers than bombs, so there are fewer “casualties” in the body.
Problems occur when you have a lot of invaders and a lot of IgAs and IgGs. No matter how good a sniper is at keeping things clean, if you have thousands of them firing every day, there is going to be a problem. The problem is too much inflammation. Inflammation is not bad–it’s just the reaction of our body to a problem. We need to have inflammation regulated. When our body starts to recognize things that we are eating as foreign invaders we have a problem. We can’t stop eating, so we have to figure out which foods are causing reactions.