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May 12, 2014

Definition of food allergy and food intolerance or sensitivity

by Helene van den Berg

Food allergies and food intolerance are quite different in terms of their origin, symptoms and treatment.

ALLERGIC REACTIONS involve the body’s immune system. When the body identifies a food as harmful, the white blood cells produces antibodies directed against that food and become sensitized. The next time the food is consumed, the body mounts an immune response with the release of histamine and other chemicals that trigger allergic symptoms. An example of a food allergy is to peanuts. With a food allergy, symptoms may occur almost immediately or up to hours after consuming the particular food. These symptoms may affect the respiratory, gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular system or the skin.

Allergic symptoms may include:

  • Skin rash
  • Swelling of the throat and tongue
  • Breathing problems (asthma)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramping

Severe allergic reactions may result in a drop of blood pressure, loss of consciousness, or even death. There are no medications that can cure food allergies. Diligent avoidance of the offending food (careful examination of food labels), will prevent a reaction. Severe life-threatening allergic reactions can be treated with the prescription drug epinephrine (available as a pen-style injector).

FOOD INTOLERANCE/FOOD SENSITIVITY does not involve an immune reaction. It means “any bad reaction attributable to food or food components” (incl. preservatives, artificial colors and flavors). A common type of food intolerance is LACTOSE INTOLERANCE- lack the enzyme, lactase, to digest milk sugar /lactose. It is a non-allergenic, yet FOOD SENSITIVE condition (discussed in more detail in Q b).

The symptoms of LACTOSE INTOLERANCE are INTESTINAL e.g. gas, abdominal distention, recurrent abdominal pain, diarrhea (esp. children).

With a MILK ALLERGY, people suffer intestinal AND SYSTEMIC symptoms like nasal congestion, headache, urinary frequency, hives and protein loss in the urine.


people with a true milk allergy can also have a food insensitivity. Of 24 milk-allergic individuals, half were found to be lactose intolerant. Therefore such a reaction to milk illustrates the importance of distinguishing between the types of food sensitivity – in this case true allergy versus food intolerance, due to enzyme deficiency.

Treatment option for milk allergy is:

  • not using milk
  • desensitization – introduces a very small dose of an allergic substance into the body and blocks the body’s response to the allergy. It controls, but doesn’t cure the allergy.

Treatment options for lactose intolerance are:

  • Not using milk
  • add the enzyme, lactase, to milk
  • add sufficient acidophilus bacteria (natural yoghurt)

Food sensitivities are entirely INDIVIDUAL-what affects one person may have no affect on another!.

Many sensitivities occur through “non-allergic means”. Dr Breneman in his book “Basics of Food Allergy” believes up to “60% of illnesses involves food intolerance” and “food allergy can do anything to any part of the body”. Food intolerance is becoming more common due to stress, fast foods and over consumption of refined sugar products. Allergies and food intolerance should be one of the first possibilities in practice when consulting patients. People have no conception of the sugar content of most of the foods they buy. A copy of the Glycemic Index (GI) for foods will assist patients in purchasing foods e.g. fruit juice is loaded with sugar – one would never eat 10-20 apples a day, but may drink the equivalent amount of apple juice! It helps to dilute fruit juice with 1-2 parts of mineral water. Your best sources of sugars are fruit and vegetables and for sweeteners a little honey (don’t give infants honey- may contain botulin, a common source of infection for children), carob or glucose.

Another example of food sensitivities is ARTHRITIS. Gouty arthritis has the least allergic involvement; it is caused by overactivity in the enzyme, xanthine oxidase, which leads to the production of too much uric acid, with symptoms like joint pain, especially in the big toe.

Rheumatoid arthritis is NOT caused by food sensitivity, but food and chemical sensitivities aggravates it. The “nightshades” plant family (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, and tobacco) are the cause for Osteoarthritis. It contains small amounts of a natural toxic chemical.

Food sensitivities can also be triggered by food chemicals like preservatives.

Commercial interests alone are the basis for artificial chemicals in food.

Our human biochemical systems, functioning the same for 2 million years, have not had the time necessary to adapt to the synthetic food chemicals present in our diets for only the last 100 years!!

The food chemical, sulfites, is a cause for many health problems. They are used as a preservatives (reduce food spoilage) and as antioxidants (delay discoloration of foods). They are used in wine, beer, many processed foods, juices, fresh fruits and vegetables. Restaurants use them on salads, vegetables and potatoes to make them look fresh and just-picked. Asthmatics suffer the most from sulfur dioxide in foods and beverages. A sulfite preservative has even been found in an anti-asthmatic drug!. Asthmatics have died from Chinese food containing MSG (monosodium glutamate).

Food and chemical sensitivities have increased due to 2 factors:

  • Nutrient deficiencies (soil depletion and food processing)
  • Increase in number of chemicals


Look for the following SYMPTOMS after a suspect food has been eaten:

  • mood changes (crying fits, bad temper, depression, anxiety, fear),
  • sudden fatigue, abnormal sleepiness or activity
  • muscle weakness or pains
  • headaches
  • sudden breathlessness, sweating, increased heart rate
  • itchiness
  • handwriting and drawing – before lunch breaks at school, the children are well behaved, draws and writes neatly, BUT this noticeably deteriorate after lunch!.

When food intolerances (e.g. milk and other dairy products) are removed from the child’s diet, frequent ear infections, will vanish. Appropriate food eliminations will also stop bed wetting.

As creatures of habit, we have to make careful notes of sudden changes!.

VISIBLE SIGNS of food intolerance in children:

  • Face – puffy under the eyes, dark circles, horizontal wrinkles from inner corners of the eyes.
  • Cheeks and lips – dry, scaly, lip corners are cracked.
  • Ears – red, cracked (where they join the face).
  • Eyes – eye lashes wet and sticking together.
  • Nose – horizontal crease at end of nose (frequent wiping of nose); “allergic salute” (frequently wiping nose with back of their arm).
  • Pot bellies.
  • Abnormal bowel movements (alternate between diarrhea and constipation).
  • Hair – musty smell (grain/wheat, yeast intolerance).
  • Head – rhythmic banging of head in the pillow at night.
  • Legs – rhythmic movement of legs.

The uncontrollable clumsy, disobedient, hyperactive problem child is usually suffering from FOOD INTOLERANCE, when other more obvious factors have been ruled out.

CARDINAL SIGNS of food intolerance are:

  • Uncontrollable cravings for specific food
  • Excessive quantities consumed of specific foods and with increased frequency, during times of stress.
  • Depending upon foods which give you a “drug-induced high”.

The culprit food is the one you can’t do without!. If you miss eating them you will start to feel bad. You will start to have withdrawal symptoms just like a drug addict, because the body will start rebelling against the removal of the foods on which it has come to depend upon.


Causes for food intolerance could be stress overload. An overload of stress factors causes the body to break down – either physically, mentally or emotionally. How the stress overload is manifested, varies from one individual to the other.

Often it is not the stress in our lives, but the way we HANDLE it, that makes the difference between health and sickness.

We are not always affected by the major stressors in our lives (highest on the stress scale is

1 =death; 2= divorce; 3= marital separation; 4= personal injury/illness;5=marriage;6=fired from job etc.), BUT an accumulation of small stressors over a long period of time, can tip us over the edge!

The body fights physical, emotional, mental and allergic stress by releasing specific hormones: adrenaline and ENDORPHINS. These chemicals act on the brain in the same way as morphine. Endorphins help reduce pain perception of stressors such as food allergens. They also give people a temporary sense of well-being and euphoria (as a professional marathon runner, I was in a constant state of euphoria or “runner’s high”!).

During an adverse food reaction, endorphins are released, which stimulates a craving for that food. So it is not the food itself that is addictive, it is the stress-induced release of endorphins with it’s opiate effects!

Due to this physiological response to addictive foods, the person may experience considerable mood swings – from happy, excitable and a good sense of humor to being depressed, lethargic and argumentative. These mood and behavior changes coincides with the frequency of exposure to the addictive food – while the body is getting it’s regular “fixes” everything is fine, but if it misses it’s fix, the blues takes over, as the addictant exposure gives way to the withdrawal phase of elimination. A person rarely gets too far into the withdrawal phase before reaching for their reactive food, which is the reason why these addictive food allergies are masked. The real withdrawal symptoms are masked by eating more of the same food.

During the “UNMASKING” PHASE ( through food elimination and controlled fasting), the withdrawal symptoms appear in full force and the person feel quite ill for the first few days. Withdrawal symptoms may include: nausea, vomiting, headaches, fatigue, diarrhea, increased heart rate, aching joints and muscles etc. as well as increased nervousness, anger, irritability and depression. For some the withdrawal period may be relatively mild.

After 4-5 days the symptoms subside and a sense of vitality, well-being and increased awareness emerges as the stressful veil of food intolerance is lifted. Re-exposure to the reactive foods during this time, will cause the symptoms to be more severe, because the body is now more sensitive to the allergens and it’s natural warning systems is starting to work more properly.

Any frequently consumed foods (eaten on a daily basis), may lead to intolerance, depending on individual susceptibilities – mostly wheat and milk products or corn and soya (in processed foods). Sensitivity to one food, may also mean a sensitivity to other foods in the same food family e.g. a person sensitive to eggplant, may also have a sensitivity to tomatoes, potatoes and peppers (capsicum, chilies, paprika). The larger the portion consumed at one time, increases the adverse reaction. “Fixed allergies” require total elimination of the specific food.

Addictive cyclic allergies can be controlled (after the unmasking elimination period) by rotation of the food types. It ensures the same foods are not eaten every day and it allows the body to recuperate e.g. salad can be lettuce, tomato and cucumber one day, grated coleslaw and carrots the next and grated beetroot and baby spinach salad the next, and so forth. By rotating the food types, food intolerance is prevented and it offers a more nutritionally sound diet, through exposure to a greater variety of foods.

The unmasking period can be accomplished through rotating foods without the initial specific food elimination period. The advantage is that the withdrawal symptoms are less severe. The disadvantage is that the whole procedure takes longer.


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