What causes food allergies and intolerances?

Antibodies and allergies

What causes food allergies and intolerances?

The experience of a food intolerance can be uncomfortable. It can result in itching, swelling, rashes and other annoying symptoms. For those with serious allergies, it can result in anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal. So what causes our bodies to take such extreme action against seemingly harmless substances? This question is worth asking, but the answers to it are not completely understood yet. But we can look at what part our own antibodies play.

Common causes

We do know that allergic reactions occur when the immune system incorrectly perceives something as a threat to the body. This results in an overreaction to the substance, resulting in your immune system releasing antibodies. These antibodies trigger the release of protective chemicals. They are the cause of your unfortunate runny nose and watering eyes. Your immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work in unison to defend the body from harmful invaders. If the immune system were to break down, we would be severely susceptible to disease. Even mild infections like the common cold could kill us.

This defence system has evolved over thousands of years to be incredibly effective at protecting the human body. So how can something as simple as a nut or a glass of milk cause the whole system to turn on itself? Some scientists argue that the most common food allergens contain the same proteins. These are the proteins that cause allergic reactions. Nuts, seeds, shellfish, corn, milk, soy, eggs, and wheat are among the most common food allergies. They appear so different on the surface, yet they all share the same proteins. The proteins in question are more visible to the immune system than other proteins. For people with food allergies, the detection of these proteins triggers the release of Immunoglobulin antibodies.

The science behind antibodies

These IgE antibodies are usually the first line of defence against parasites, but in this case, they are misidentifying the food as a threat. When Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is produced, it occupies receptors on mast cells that, in the presence of the allergens, release histamine. That triggers symptoms like swelling, rashes, itching, and anaphylactic shock within seconds or minutes. There is a range of evidence to suggest that these types of allergies may be hereditary. Although children may not be allergic to the same foods as their parents, research suggests that parents with IgE-mediated allergies are more likely to have children with IgE-mediated allergies.

With large allergic reactions to food, it may seem obvious what is causing the problem. However, more subtle reactions can allow a food allergy to go undiagnosed for some time and there may be some confusion over what is causing your symptoms. But, there are ways to see what may be causing the reaction. 

If you are concerned that you may be suffering from a food allergy, book an appointment with one of our consultants today.

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