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Allergies vs Intolerances: What is the difference?

allergy vs intolerance feature image

Allergies vs Intolerances: What is the difference?

Navigating the world of food can be tricky, especially if you experience discomfort after consuming certain things. While you might suspect an allergy, it is crucial to understand the difference between an allergy and an intolerance before jumping to conclusions. 

This blogs aims to demystify these terms, highlighting the key distinctions, while unveiling ways to manage your unique situation effectively. 

What is Food Intolerance?

When you have a food intolerance, it means your digestive system has a hard time digesting (breaking down) a food. Another word for food intolerance is food sensitivity.

Food intolerance means your gut is sensitive to certain foods and can’t tolerate them. When you eat these foods, you may experience uncomfortable symptoms like gas, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

What is the difference between:
Food Intolerance & Allergy

Food intolerance, or food sensitivity, is not the same thing as having a food allergy.

A food Intolerance:

  • Affects your digestive system.
  • Occurs when your digestive system can’t break down certain foods.
  • Causes symptoms like an upset stomach that aren’t life-threatening.
  • Brings on symptoms within a few hours after eating as the food makes its way through the digestive tract.
  • May not cause symptoms if you eat just a small amount of a food.

A food Allergy:

  • Affects the immune system.
  • Occurs when your immune system mistakes a protein or other ingredient in food as a threat.
  • Your immune system releases antibodies (proteins) called immunoglobulin E (IgE) to fight the threat.
  • Causes an allergic reaction, such as hives and swelling, shortness of breath or wheezing.
  • Brings on symptoms within minutes of consuming even a small amount of an allergy-inducing food.
  • May cause a severe, life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Without an epinephrine
  • treatment, this reaction can be fatal

Reactions Producing an Immune Response

The reactions that trigger an immune response are most often referred to as allergies. The most common ones are classed as follows:

Type I (IgE reaction)

This is also known as an IgE mediated allergy, Type | hypersensitivity reaction, “true” or “classical” allergy. Such a food allergy produces an immediate adverse reaction; i.e. within seconds or minutes after ingestion of certain foods (for example peanuts and shellfish) and produces symptoms such as rashes, sneezing, difficulty in breathing, and for some people can even be life threatening because of an anaphylactic shock.

It is usually obvious which foods are responsible for a food allergy and these have to be avoided for the rest of your life

Type III (IgG reaction)

This is also known as IgG mediated reaction, Type Ill allergy, delayed onset, hypersensitivity/food sensitivity, however it is more commonly referred to as food intolerance. This is the type of reaction that is measured in your Food Intolerance Tests processed by our Medical Laboratory and delivered at Home by Vesta Care.

Food intolerances are associated with a range of symptoms that are caused by chronic inflammatory processes. The onset of symptoms is within hours or days after ingestion of the food. Symptoms include anxiety, depression, IBS, headaches/ migraines, fatigue, hypertension, eczema, hypothyroidism, asthma, joint paint, chronic rhinitis, arthritis, weight problems and fibromyalgia.

The good news is that with a food intolerance, it is possible to eliminate the food from the diet for a period of time and then to re-introduce them gradually back into the diet after an improvement in symptoms.

Reactions that DO NOT produce an Immune Response

Those reactions that do not produce an immune response are most often referred to as intolerances. An example of this type of reaction is an enzyme deficiency such as:

  • Lactose intolerance which is due to a deficiency of the enzyme lactase. Symptoms include bloating, excessive wind, diarrhea and stomach pains.
  • Histamine intolerance which is due to the deficiency or inhibition of the enzyme diamine oxidase, DAO. Symptoms include migraines, headaches, dizziness, bowel/ stomach problems, rhinitis, depression, irritation or reddening of the skin. Foods containing histamine include red wine, cheese, tuna fish or chocolate and citrus fruits.
  • Gluten intolerance is due to the adverse reactions against the protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Gluten sensitivity isn’t the same as having celiac disease, a type of autoimmune disease. When you have celiac disease, gluten damages the small intestines. If you have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, your body has a harder time digesting gluten.

What are the Symptoms of a Food Intolerance?

Symptoms of a food intolerance include:

What Causes Food Intolerance?

People with food intolerances often don’t make enough of a particular enzyme that the digestive system needs to break down a certain food or ingredient. Experts aren’t sure why some people develop food intolerances.

Certain gastrointestinal conditions may make you more prone to food sensitivities. These conditions include:

  • Celiac disease

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Test Now and plan your diet

There are a number of tests and methodologies available, easily and affordably, at your disposal today to address the issue of food intolerance. In any case, it is recommended to seek consultation from licensed medical facilities in your search for the root causes of a food intolerance! At the end, these are tests performed by licensed medical laboratories and results explained by licensed physicians and clinical pathologists. 

A comprehensive Food Intolerance IgG test will measure your sensitivity to hundreds of foods and will suggest ways in which a change of diet can improve your quality of life while consuming food. 


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