Did you know that 2.5 million Canadians, or 1 in 13 have a serious food allergy? Many more identify themselves as having a food sensitivity or intolerance. Is it in our imagination or are allergies and such on the rise? According to research, it would appear that we are in fact experiencing an increase in this area.
“Incidence of food allergies has doubled in the last 10 years, and it’s not just reporting bias or media awareness or schools being more cautious,” says Dr. Charlotte Miller, a pediatric allergist with the Toronto Allergy Group and The Hospital for Sick Children.
There are many theories as to why: our environment is too clean causing our immune system to become dysregulated, kids are spending way more time indoors than outdoors, the ‘Westernized’ world we live in and changes being made to how food grows and is raised are all ideas worth discussing as a nation.
While it is important to get to the root of the issue, what do we do in the meantime? Let’s start by identifying some key terms.
Allergy, Sensitivity or Intolerance?
- Allergies are an exaggerated immune system response to a substance that is most often immediate but may take a few hours to present and can involve the respiratory system, digestive tract or skin. An IgE response is involved and can be life threatening.
- Food sensitivities result from the body’s difficulty with digestion of a particular food. Symptoms can be more elusive, taking a few days to appear. An IgG response is involved and is not immediately life threatening.
- Food intolerances result from difficult digestion of a particular food but are not immune related in nature. Intolerances have more to do with an enzyme deficiency. Lactase deficiency = lactose intolerance.
The most common triggers fall into two categories:
- Peanuts, Tree Nuts (e.g., walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, cashews), Milk, Eggs, Fish, Shellfish (e.g., shrimp, crab, lobster, mussels), Soy, Sesame Seeds, Wheat, Mustard, Artificial colours or flavours, Preservatives in food – sulphites, MSG
- Scents, Environmental – pollen, grass, ragweed, Insect stings, Dust mites, Mold, Animals, Latex, Medication
The challenge is sometimes in identifying what the trigger is. In the case of a true allergy, the response is usually quite swift making it easier to determine what is causing the reaction. In the case of a sensitivity, this can be more challenging as it can take a few days to notice symptoms.
So, what is one to do? First of all, if you suspect a true allergic reaction from a certain food, you are best to make an appointment with your primary health care provider for next steps and avoid consuming until otherwise notified. If you are having trouble breathing or swallowing, call 9-1-1 and get help.
If on the other hand, your symptoms are elusive – patchy dry skin (eczema), bloating, chronic constipation, foggy thinking or trouble concentrating, recurrent infections, upset stomach or achy joints and you’ve been to your primary health care provider without any helpful solutions, consider testing for food sensitivities. How does one do this? It is a simple blood test and results come back in only a few weeks. If you are interested in learning more about this, please contact me for more details.
Finding out that you are allergic, sensitive or intolerant is not a life sentence to boring food. We work together to create a diet that supports your health as well as your personal tastes and lifestyle. As a mom to a child with sensitivities to dairy, gluten and eggs, I’ve got a handle on how to make meals work and keep a hungry teenager happy!
This post is intended for informational purposes only. Contact your health care team for information geared specifically for you.