Is it food sensitivities or food allergies?

Trying to determine if your symptoms are from food sensitivities or some other cause can be a real challenge.  And mostly because reactions to foods can cause just about any kind of symptom you can imagine.  Really!

But it does help to go back to our definitions of the different kinds of food reactions.  If you want a little background, take a peek at this post.  Quick reminder: there are either food allergies (IgE reaction and histamine-related) or food intolerances (you don’t have an enzyme to break down milk or gluten, as example).  

Keep in mind that there is no hard and fast definition in medicine for food sensitivities.  I use “food sensitivities” for all of those other reactions that pop up and surprise us when we eat certain foods, especially if testing doesn’t identify an issue with that food.  There is a cause for these reactions but we haven’t identified it…yet.  

For food allergies, reactions are typically related to elevated amounts of histamine in the body.  These are things like congestion, stuffy nose, watery eyes, black circles under the eyes, tingling tongue or lips, wheezing, difficulty breathing, burning stomach, loose stools, explosive stools, urinary urgency, rashes…and the list goes on.  

Food intolerances are typically more specific to the gut – it’s the scene of the crime!  Bloating, abdominal cramping, constipation or loose stools, irritable bowel syndrome, nausea, gas, etc.  Food intolerances are also frequently dose-related, meaning a little bit of the offending food may be fine but a lot will put you over the edge and cause a reaction.  (Although, in all honesty that is how my allergies work, too!)

The most important thing to remember, however, is that your body is unique.  It didn’t read the classic medical textbooks.  It doesn’t go to school to learn how to react to a food or allergen.  If you have symptoms, even if they don’t fit the classic definition, listen to your body!

Food sensitivities are tricky.  Like I said, I use that phrase to talk about any reaction we have to foods that isn’t “normal”.  For instance, if you know you react to a particular food, let’s say tomatoes.  You get tested by the allergist and tomatoes don’t pop up as a problem food on your IgE test!  Now what?  Perhaps you do IgG testing and tomatoes still don’t show up.  Does that mean it’s all in your head??

Absolutely not!  Listen to your body!  

Food sensitivities can also be caused by intolerances to histamine, oxalates, sulfites, lectins…again, the list can go on and on.  Maybe you needed to take antibiotics for a while and now suddenly you’re reacting to new foods.  That is likely related to changes in your microbiome.  

And with different causes to your sensitivity, the symptoms may be a little different.  If oxalates are an issue, you’ll likely have more abdominal pain and urinary urgency than if you are struggling with a microbiome issue.  A microbiome issue will likely be more gut-specific…but not always!

The ultimate message today is to listen to your body.  If you know that a symptom is not “normal” for you, find a provider who will help you work through the possibilities (with an open mind!) and find the best solution for you.  

Don’t suffer in silence and don’t let a healthcare provider convince you it’s all in your head.

Sixty-Second Self-Care Tip...

There are recommendations for all sorts of journaling out there…so much so it can be a little overwhelming.  

You know me…I like to keep things simple.  Here’s one kind of journaling I do encourage you to start – a symptom journal.  If you’re here reading about food sensitivities and symptoms, I could assume you have already started a symptom journal.  (But you know what assuming does!)

Snag a little notebook or use the notes function on your mobile phone.  Simply list what symptoms you have on a particular day, include the date, and rate your symptom.  The scale isn’t as important as having a consistent way to compare how you feel over time.  

If you can start to link symptoms to different food or environmental exposures, include those notes in your journal!

In my experience, it is easy to lose track of how symptoms progress – for the better or the worse – purely off of memory.  And when we go in to talk with a doctor, it’s really easy to lose all focus!  (I do it, too!)  Having a reference will become invaluable!!!

Reacting to foods but having a hard time figuring out where they are hiding?  CLICK HERE for a copy of my FREE download – Reading Labels for Food Sensitivities – and start reading labels like a pro!


60-second self-care, food allergies, food sensitivities, histamine, microbiome, oxalates, symptoms

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