Eric Bakker N.D.March 28, 2022

There are lots of people who are talk to me regularly about their food allergies and intolerances, and a lot of people kind of get confused and think that all food reactions are allergies, when in fact, many reactions are intolerances to foods and not food allergies. So how do you distinguish between them both? How do you know if you are actually allergic to something, or can’t tolerate a food?


Have You Got A Food Allergy?

There are lots of people who are talk to me regularly about their food allergies and intolerances, and many people kind of get confused and think that all food reactions are allergies, when in fact, many reactions are intolerances to foods and not food allergies. So how do you distinguish between them both? How do you know if you are actually allergic to something, or can’t tolerate food?

You may like to read my page Food Allergies and Food Intolerances for much more detailed information, this page gives you some good hints and tips on how to cope & deal with food allergies. If you want to dive deeper and want a good overview of what the immune system is please read your amazing immune system.

Food Allergies

Food allergy is defined as an adverse health effect arising from a specific immune response that occurs reproducibly on exposure to a given food. (Boyce 2010). A true food allergy is not as common as you may actually think. Food intolerances are much more common in my experience. Many people I know have become condition to believe that most digestive problems like burping, gas, bloating result from a food allergy. A recent study found a correct diagnostic approach and dietary control of both immune- and non-immune-mediated food-induced diseases is the best way to minimise the nutritional gaps in patients.(Gargano 2021)

What I’ve learned from clinical experience is that food reactions are more commonly experienced when somebody has irritable bowel syndrome, candida that often involves leaky gut syndrome.

When you have a food allergy or any kind of intolerance to foods, it is a good idea is to keep a regular Food Diary. I just so happen to have a handout used in my clinic that you can print and use free of charge. Eric’s Weekly Food Diary. When you fill this form, try to use a good amount of detail. In time, and with a little experience, you will figure out if what you are eating is linked to any reactions or symptoms you may be experiencing.

It is good to remember that a food allergy is immune mediated, and involves a reaction to a food or drink which involves the immune system. A food intolerance does not involve an immune response (an allergy) but results from your body having become intolerant of a food or something in that food or drink.

In my experience, we create food intolerances over a period and are typically the result of dietary indiscretions, stress, and many other potential causing factors. A lack of sufficient digestive enzymes is one of the key reasons, and so is leaky gut syndrome, which has become so very commonplace in today’s society. Modern medicine would like to think that functional complaints such as leaky gut simply “do not exist”.

Immediate Food Allergies –  Type 1 or IgE Response

Food allergies are immediate (IgE)  or delayed IgG). With an immediate reaction, it will be quite noticeable and could take place within minutes to a few hours after ingestion of the offending substance.

The best known and most studied form of food allergies is called a Type 1 immune reaction, or IgE mediated response. Type 1 food allergies occur in less than 5 percent of the population, and mostly in children. They are also called immediate-onset and/or atopic food allergies. These types of allergies usually occur in the genetically predisposed individual (one or both parents have an allergy), and the immune system creates a specific type of antibody called IgE (immunoglobulin IgE) to certain foods.

An IgG food allergy can be quite tricky to uncover, as it can take up to three days for the allergy to be expressed in a person, causing confusion and doubt which (if any) food is responsible.

An IgE reaction most always occurs immediately after exposure to the “allergen” (the allergic substance) such as a food or inhalant. The early phase reaction usually occurs as little as 15 minutes after exposure to the allergen. Other types of IgE reactions may occur 4-6 hours later and persist for days with increased inflammation, including symptoms such as swelling, puffiness, redness and itching.

I have often heard patients tell me they will eat a certain food, or perhaps be exposed to a certain inhaled allergen like pollen and literally within hours have a reaction ranging from itchy skin to feeling just about completely disabled! I will never forget these two standout cases of an IgE response:

Case Histories

Case # 1.  A 14yr old girl with a strong milk allergy.

Sarah (not her real name) came to my clinic with a pretty bad dairy food allergy, and particularly to cow’s milk. In fact, this allergy was so extreme that her mother noticed that whenever Sarah walked passed the large refrigerators which house the milk at the local supermarket, within minutes her skin would itch violently, and by the time Sarah got home her skin was covered in large red welts.

Case # 2 – A 63yr old man with a strong fish allergy.

Graham (not his real name) came to our clinic with digestive problems, and he mentioned that he has to be very careful when out and about. He noticed one day that after he walked passed a takeout store where they prepare deep fried fish and chips that his throat got rather “scratchy”.

Over time, this got increasingly worse to the point that his wife had to dial emergency because Graham had breathing difficulties when they went shopping and he stayed for too long close to where the fresh fish was being sold. He was lucky, because on this occasion he suffered a strong anaphylactic attack and almost choked to death!

Food Allergies – The Immediate Response

So what happens with these immediate responses? One side of the IgE antibody will recognise and firmly bind to the allergic food (like fish or milk). They attach the other side of the antibody to a specialised immune cell called a mast cell, packed with histamine.

Ready and waiting for action, the IgE antibody now only has to wait for re-exposure to food allergens.  When they eat the allergic food the next time, IgE antibodies hungrily latch onto the food.  Almost instantly, histamine and other allergy-related chemicals (called chemical mediators) are released from the mast cell,  bringing on various signs and symptoms rapidly – like redness, pain, swelling and even choking as the airways become more constricted.

Since this pathway occurs immediately, it is very easy to recognise a Type 1 allergy as a problem after an exposure to the irritant. This is the immunological pathway behind seasonal allergies such as hay fever. The most common test for this type of reaction is the “scratch” or “RAST” test which is performed by doctors or specialists. This involves scratching the skin and applying a test substance and then waiting for a “wheal and flare response”, often a skin reaction. This test is considered by most to be the most accurate.

Type 1 food allergy responses include:

  • anaphylaxis, the most alarming response (can’t breathe, fast heart rate, panic)
  • stomach cramping
  • diarrhoea
  • skin rashes
  • hives
  • swelling

Dealing With Food Allergies

Some don’t have any idea that they have it. A food allergy is the result of the body’s basic reaction upon introducing the types of food that are difficult or cannot be digested by the system. Once these types of food are digested and penetrate into the bloodstream, some of the food nutrients or other food components are rejected by the body. The tendency of the antibodies and other related elements are to fight back. Thereafter, allergy symptoms become apparent.  Common symptoms of food allergy include swollen hands, itchy and swollen eyes, burning sensations of the lungs due to thinning of the tissue lining, and closing of the larynx or throat.

Dealing with food allergies whether the condition is mild, moderate, or severe, is something you tend to learn over a period of time. It includes learning your actual causes and triggers of allergic reactions you experience, and then developing your own best options for preventing and fighting food allergies. You will find that as time goes by, you tend to develop your own skills and will eventually integrate ways into your lifestyle is to avoid your food allergies. Many patients I see have come to learn to adapt, whereas others get caught out regularly and just don’t seem to get the point of avoidance!

A good browse through many pages of this website will explain the various types of potentially allergic foods eaten by people, and I will also try to provide you with detailed information on how to deal with major allergens such as eggs, dairy, gluten or wheat, corn, peanuts, shellfish, fish, and more.

Conventional medicine does not see the allergy/illness connection

It is amazing how many chronic illnesses are actually linked to food allergies, many conventional physicians don’t really focus in their clinical practices on how food allergies are interrelated with chronic illnesses such as arthritis, asthma, diabetes, and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). It is a known fact now that changes in behaviours and emotions can occur due to allergic food reactions, and that different types of food can directly affects the health of the baby when breastfeeding. questions that must be asked to an allergist, using processed types of food, how to distinguish food sensitivity, food intolerance, and food allergy, how immunological process is connected to food hypersensitivity, and how to maintain eating healthy types of food through non-allergic substitutes.


Discussion (1 comment)

  1. I came to your clinic many years ago with candida and you were able to help me. For the last 3 years , first started with constipation , then developed into IBS , but the last year have had severe bowel problems which I believe could be SIBO. different doctors not knowing what actually is wrong is treating me with many laxities’ and enemas’ , sending me to hospital each time for clean out with giving me too many tablets I have pain in my bowels day and night since Christmas have lost weight ,[53kg] tired but not sleeping at night for bowel pain . Could I have SIBO? I am on a basic LOWFOD MAP .Allergy Gluten and dairy milk, Can you help me ? I am 87 and live in Wairoa

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