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What is food allergic?

You ever have allergies to certain foods ?. Why the immune system does not work properly ?. What is Food allergic? What is food sensitivity? Our bodies are like complex factories that function day and night without pause in a never-ending cycle of renewal and decay. New cells and tissues are created, old worn-out matter is broken down, recycled or excreted, and our organs continue to function, day in and day out, without requiring any direction from us. We provide the building blocks and the source of energy for these processes through the food we eat, the liquids we drink, and the air we breathe. Everything runs smoothly in its appointed manner until a glitch in the system creates havoc, and we then have to deal with the consequences of this malfunction.

food-allergicFood allergies and intolerances are just one example of “things going wrong,” but because we cannot stop eating, we can’t ignore the signs. We must come to terms with how our body is acting and take steps to adjust to the situation. In making changes, especially ones as far-reaching as how we eat, we need to understand exactly what we are trying to achieve so that we can make the correct modifications and then stay with them. So this book, which will guide you through the complexities of eating in the way that your particular sys- tem requires, even when food seems to cause nothing but problems, is going to start by answering that really important question: What is happening when my body rejects food?

An allergy is caused by our immune system reacting to a foreign material (food) that is incapable of causing disease on its own. In the process of rejecting the “foreign material,” the immune system releases chemicals that cause the Symptoms we call allergy. In other words, a food allergy is a rejection of the food by our immune system that can sometimes be quite devastating in its severity. In contrast, intolerance of a food is often due to an error in the way our bodies process it, not an actual rejection of it. Food intolerance reactions are usually milder than allergies and do not involve the immune system.

Food allergy is perhaps one of the most confusing and misunderstood condi- tions in medical practice. Physicians, other health care professionals, and patients alike are often unsure about what symptoms are caused by food allergy, how it is diagnosed, and what is the best way to manage it. The greatest obstacle in under- standing the problem is the misconception that “food allergy” is a distinct disease. In fact, “food allergy” refers to a response of our bodies that can result in many different symptoms, in diverse organ systems. Furthermore, a food that causes symptoms in one person is often quite harmless when eaten by another.

It is standard medical practice that when a person develops symptoms, his or her doctor orders specific tests in the process of making a diagnosis. When the doctor has made the diagnosis, he or she will then recommend a treatment, which in most cases will control the disease. In the case of food allergy, the only time the specific cause can be easily identified is in the occurrence of anaphy- laxis: when a specific food triggers an immediate and sometimes life-threaten- ing response.

However, unlike a specific medical condition in which the same cause in different people causes the same disease, the food that causes anaphylaxis in one person rarely causes the same symptoms in others. The symptoms are caused by the allergic person’s unique response to the food, not by the food itself. For example, an infectious bacterium such as Salmonella will cause the symptoms of severe food poisoning in just about everyone who eats the contaminated food. In contrast, a person who is highly allergic to peanuts can develop life-threat- eninganaphylactic shock after consuming the smallest quantity of food, where- as the majority of people can eat a whole bag of peanuts without any ill effects.

How the immune system responds in an allergic reaction

The key event in food allergy occurs when the immune system identifies a spe- cific food as a foreign invader and orders the release of special chemicals to pro- tect the body. These chemicals act on body tissue and result in a specific set of symptoms. In the 1960s, all reactions of the immune system that are not involved in protecting us from diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, and similar threats to the body were termed “hypersensitivity reactions” by the internation- ally renowned Professors Gell and Coombs.

Such reactions include allergy. Therefore, another term for an allergic reaction is a hypersensitivity reaction, which is often used in medical texts in place of “allergy.” (On a personal note, I was greatly privileged to learn my first immunology under the tutelage of Professor Gell, who was chairman of the university department where I was a student, and his distinguished colleagues.)

In contrast, any adverse reaction to a food or food additive that is not caused by a response of the immune system is called food intolerance. Because there are many ways in which food can cause symptoms in the body that are not due to an immunological (related to the immune system) response, the term covers a large number of different physiological mechanisms. For convenience, we shall refer to adverse reactions to food as “food sensitivity” when it is unclear whether the reaction is an allergy or an intolerance.

The symptoms of food sensifity

Symptoms of food intolerance usually appear in three major organ systems: the digestive tract, the respiratory tract, and the skin. In the digestive tract, nausea, vomiting, cramping pain, diarrhea, abdominal distension (bloating), and exces- sive gas are common indicators of food allergy. In the respiratory tract, sneezing, nasal congestion (stuffy nose), runny nose, itching and watering of the eyes, itching in the throat, throat tightening, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightening might be signs of allergy. Skin reactions include eczema, hives, facial swelling, and rashes, especially with itching.

These symptoms might occur after eating the food, or when the skin and mucous membranes come into contact with allergens. An allergen is the term we use to indicate the component of the food or other material, such as pollen, animal dander, mold, or insect venom, that causes allergy. (Mucous membranes are the tissue systems in internal organs exposed to the outside, such as the mouth, digestive tract, respiratory tract and lungs, and the urogenital tract). The most common contact reactions occur on the hands and in the mouth after direct exposure to raw foods.

The most severe allergic reaction is anaphylaxis. In anaphylactic reactions to
food, the response is systemic, meaning that the reaction is not confined to any single organ system. Multiple organ systems are involved, and symptoms devel- op rapidly throughout the body. In the most severe anaphylactic reactions, the symptoms can start within 1 to 2 minutes of eating the food. Thereafter, the reaction builds up over a period of 1 to 3 hours and it can result in anaphylac- tic shock and death from cardiorespiratory arrest.

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