What is food allergy?

With food allergy, the immune system makes a kind of mistake: it can mistake harmless substances in the food for a harmful substance. The body then responds by producing antibodies that want to remove the substance in question from the body. Nasty allergic reactions are the result, such as hives, itching, abdominal cramps, fainting, anxiety, and even death. There is no magic pill that can cure food allergies.

Failing immune system

With a food allergy it seems as if the immune system is overworked. This system tries to protect people from dangerous viruses and bacteria, but it can mistakenly mistake harmless substances in food for harmful ones. That is why the immune system does everything it can to remove these substances from the body as quickly as possible. This exaggerated reaction can get so out of hand that people succumb to it.
Food allergy is therefore a reaction of the immune system in which antibodies are produced against substances in food, so that the body now regards these substances as harmful. The immune system produces so many chemicals (for example histamine) that the body reacts with all kinds of symptoms, such as hives or a potentially life-threatening reaction in which all the vital body systems shut down.
Food allergy should not be confused with several other conditions or physical reactions. The following conditions are rare and related to allergies:

  • Food intolerance. This is the inability to digest certain foods. This occurs, for example, with milk and wheat. Food intolerance is usually the result of a missing enzyme in the digestive system.
  • Food poisoning. Some foods contain toxins or bacteria that make people ill. Getting sick from something you ate does not necessarily mean a food allergy.
  • Histamine poisoning. An allergic reaction is always accompanied by the release of the substance histamine. This causes the unpleasant symptoms. Some foods (such as strawberries, chocolate, wine and beer) contain enough histamine to cause symptoms similar to allergic reactions.
  • Response to additives in food. MSG (monosodium glutamate) and sulfites often cause a lot of discomfort, but these are not allergic reactions.
  • Other ailments. Food allergy is often linked to other ailments such as migraines and intestinal problems. Usually these ailments have a different cause.



If the immune system starts to produce a lot of histamine, all kinds of bad things can happen. The released histamine can affect many organs. This leads to the following common symptoms:

  • hives, swelling or an itchy rash
  • itchy or swollen lips, tongue or mouth
  • tightness in the chest, hoarseness, coughing
  • abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea or nausea
  • fainting, becoming unconscious, looking pale, turning blue, irregular heartbeat
  • coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing
  • anxiety, panic, chills, suddenly feeling faint
  • death, if medication cannot be given in time


Causes of food allergy

Research shows that food allergies are mainly caused by the body’s interaction with food; so it is a combination of genetics and environmental factors:

  • You were born with a genetic predisposition to a certain allergy
  • Exposure to that food (even a very small amount) causes your immune system to become sensitive to it. It produces antibodies to attack that specific food as soon as it presents itself again. When first introduced to that food, one may not experience any allergic complaints, but at that moment the body is arming itself for the next confrontation.
  • Eating the food again causes the problems. The immune system has become sensitive and takes action to get the allergen out of the system as quickly as possible
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