Allergies vs. Intolerances, and Natural Treatments That May Help

A true allergy:

There are four types of reactions to allergens, including:

1. An immediate and acute reaction. It is the most common form of an allergic reaction, but it is still uncommon among the global population. An anaphylactic reaction releases histamine, serotonin, bradykinin, and lipid mediators, which may damage tissues and organs.   Anaphylaxis involves the reaction of more than one of the body’s systems to an allergen to which the body has become hypersensitive. (1) Anaphylaxis can include respiratory, skin, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal systems. The reaction usually happens immediately or within a few minutes of exposure to the allergen and quickly escalates. When you have an acute allergic reaction, you need to get immediate medical attention and take any medication you may have handy for this purpose if this is not your first exposure to the allergen. When you know that you suffer from this type of reaction to a known allergen, the best line of action is complete and total avoidance of the allergic substance.

Coeliac disease is an example of a true allergy to gluten, which is the main protein component found in wheat, rye, barley. In coeliac disease, the consumption of gluten leads to an immune response, causing inflammation and the destruction of the lining of the small intestine. This leads to the malabsorption of essential nutrients, which, if left untreated, can be life-threatening.

Generally, all foods can potentially trigger an allergic reaction. Over 170 foods have been identified as being potentially allergenic. Still, the majority of allergies are caused by only a few foods.

Due to the hefty consequences of exposure to an allergen for which one has a true allergy, complete avoidance of that food for life is the best solution.

2. The second type of reaction is a cytotoxic reaction when antibodies destroy cells within the body. This type of allergic response has a gradual onset. This may lead to impaired blood clotting in the body, but this type of allergic reaction is rare.

3. The third type of reaction to allergens is an immune complex hypersensitivity which leads to inflammation of the tissues. This type of allergic reaction is also quite rare.

4. The fourth type of allergic reaction is cell-mediated or delayed hypersensitivity. This reaction is the second most common type of sensitivity and leads to inflammation. It usually takes 12 – 24 hours for signs of inflammation to appear locally.

Allergy symptoms often include:

  • nasal congestion
  • pressure in the sinuses   
  • runny nose
  • itchy, watery eyes
  • scratchy throat
  • cough
  • swollen, dark-colored skin under the eyes
  • asthma
  • swelling of the face especially around the eyes and mouth
  • In extreme cases, swelling of the airway, quick lowered blood pressure, diarrhea, and organ dysfunction.

Some allergens are impossible to avoid. For this type of allergy, avoidance is not possible from the sheer abundance of the substance. For example, an allergy to a particular tree found in plentitude in your environment, or an allergy to dust mite will be challenging to avoid. You want to limit your contact as much as possible to these allergens by washing any clothing that has been worn outside, staying indoors on dry, windy days, checking pollen counts regularly, and avoid going out on high days. Also closing doors and windows when pollen counts are high, drying clothes in a dryer, use air conditioning in cars and homes instead of opening windows during high pollen count days, and perhaps also buying a HEPA filter (high-efficiency particulate air) filter or dehumidifier.   

Sometimes, going for a desensitization treatment may be worthwhile. This procedure is performed by an allergy specialist in a hospital setting. It involves the gradual exposure to increasing doses of the allergen in order to desensitize the patient’s immune response to it.   

Treatment of the second and third allergic reactions usually involves some type of immune suppression.

If you’ve had an allergic reaction to a specific medicine or food, it is essential to let your doctor and your dentist know, as well as your place of work. For children, their school or daycare center must be aware of any true allergies you know or think they have.  

Nutrition and Allergies

Although it may sound unlikely, nutrition has a large impact on allergic diseases. Breastfeeding, for example, as well as the time of the first introduction of food, and taking sufficient probiotics, and having a diet with adequate nutrients, fiber, phytochemicals, and omega-3 fatty acids, all affect the development of allergies.

Therefore to avoid the onset of a true allergy in children, it is wise and recommended to breastfeed your children exclusively for the first six months. To do this, a pacifier must not be introduced during this period to ensure the mother produces sufficient milk. Solid foods can be introduced at six months, although foods from animal origin should only be introduced after 1-1.5 years. 

Also, all foods should be consumed in their whole form to provide sufficient fiber and nutrients. Green leafy vegetables and seaweed are great as second stage foods. Nutritional supplements are also helpful for fussy eaters.

Processed food may enhance the allergenicity of foods, due to the change these foods cause to our microbiome. The different bacteria release different metabolites that may lead to allergic reactions.


A true allergy is different from an intolerance.

Food intolerance is not a true allergy since it has no clearly defined immune response. Symptoms usually only affect the digestive tract. Deficiencies in specific enzymes that break down food components are likely to cause the build-up of a large number of byproducts that lead to the symptoms of intolerance.

  • With food intolerance, a person can eat small amounts of food without apparent consequences. Eating larger amounts may lead to allergic reactions, including stomach cramps and diarrhea.
  • Lactose intolerance is an example of food intolerance. A deficiency in the enzyme lactase that breaks down lactose, the sugar found in dairy products, is the cause. There is an increase in lactose levels in the bowel, which leads to bloating, diarrhea, cramps, and nausea. Although this is uncomfortable, it is not life-threatening.

To support your body before an allergic reaction and reduce the symptoms of an allergy and raise your levels of tolerance, there are some nutrients that, when taken consistently every week, along with a healthy diet low in animal products and rich in phytochemicals, will produce beneficial results.  

Here are 7 nutrients, herbs, and therapies that can reduce allergic reactions and support your immune system

1.   Quercetin,    a flavonoid rich in many plants, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and can also stabilize mast cells. Therefore, quercetin can help alleviate allergic reactions and their after-effects. However, quercetin may interact with other medications, and pregnant women should not take it. If you have kidney or liver problems, consult your doctor before taking quercetin.

2.   Vitamin C   supports the immune system function. It also improves the effect of quercetin. I recommend taking vitamin C as an ongoing prevention strategy

3.   Vitamin D   – Some recent evidence shows that vitamin D deficiency may lead to allergic diseases. Vitamin D is indeed a potent vitamin, and I recommend taking sufficient levels if you are not exposed to adequate levels of UVB rays from the sun because of the location where you live.

4.   Probiotics   – Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli probiotic products are sometimes used to treat allergic diseases in children, and some epidemiological studies show that intestinal probiotic bacteria can protect from allergic disease. I recommend taking a capsule with 100 billion CFU’s with a minimum of 10 different strains of bacteria as an ongoing therapy if you are prone to allergies and intolerances.

5.   Herbs –   Some herbs can help support the immune system, and others may reduce the severity or frequency of allergic reactions. For example,   Skullcap   (Scutellaria baicalensis) can have antihistamine benefits. It was proven to decrease food allergy in studies performed on animals. However, it can potentially interact with many medications, so you should consult your physician before taking this herb. Another herb is   Licorice   (Glycyrrhiza glabra), which has been traditionally used to help the immune system and can have antihistamine benefits. Use licorice only under the direction of a healthcare provider. The next potent herb is   Stinging nettle   (Urtica dioica), which may have anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory properties that may help in the prevention of allergies. If you have diabetes or kidney problems, you need to consult your doctor before taking stinging nettle.

6.   Homeopathy –   Some patients use homeopathic remedies for allergic diseases or allergic reactions. This may be helpful, and many people see a reduction in allergic symptoms after using homeopathy.   

7.   Acupuncture   has been used to improve immune function, alleviate symptoms of seasonal allergies, and help with asthma, chronic allergies, and atopic dermatitis. It is generally considered a well-tolerated and safe treatment.

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Dr. Galit Goldfarb


(1) Katherine Anagnostou1,2, Paul J Turner  “Myths, facts and controversies in the diagnosis and management of anaphylaxis“, 2018


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