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“‘Food allergy’ has become a blanket term for a negative reaction to food,” says Northwestern University pediatrics and medicine professor Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, author of Food Without Fear: Identify, Prevent, and Treat Food Allergies, Intolerances, and Sensitivities. But the term is often used incorrectly.

Precisely defined, a food allergy is a medical condition in which exposure to a food triggers an immediate, marked immune response. These typically involve immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies but occasionally involve different parts of the immune system.

Precisely defined, a food allergy is a medical condition in which exposure to a food triggers an immediate, marked immune response.

“Antibodies are like guided missiles that the immune system produces against things like viruses but also against foods,” explains naturopath Dan Lukaczer, ND, director of medical education at the Institute for Functional Medicine. While food sensitivities can also involve the immune system (more on that later), allergies are usually distinguished by the involvement of IgE antibodies. These antibodies can be identified with blood tests.

The symptoms can range from mild (an itchy or tingling mouth, a few hives) to severe (tongue swelling, difficulty breathing). In some people, a food allergy can trigger anaphylaxis — tightening in the airways, a severe drop in blood pressure, and loss of consciousness.

“With food allergies [involving IgE antibodies], the reaction is immediate and sometimes dramatic, often occurring within seconds to minutes,” Lukaczer says. And it doesn’t take much of the offending food to cause a response. “Small amounts, such as one strawberry or a small amount of dairy, can cause reactions.”

This was excerpted from “Making Sense of Food Allergies” which was published in the May 2022 issue of Experience Life magazine.

Mo
Mo Perry

Mo Perry is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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