Food Allergies vs. Food Intolerance

Food intolerance and food allergies are often confused as being one and the same.  Read on to learn more with this information from SCNM’s Dr. Shaun Kennedy:

Although the terms food intolerance, also commonly referred to as food sensitivity, and food allergies are used interchangeably they actually have very different meanings. A food intolerance is a loose term used to describe a consistent negative reaction to a particular food or combination of foods. The negative reaction refers to the generation of symptoms like a headache, joint pain, gas and bloating, or any number of other ailments. With food intolerance the symptoms can develop over minutes, hours, or even days after eating the offending food. Some labs have attempted to find an association between the offending foods and the immune system by measuring such things as IgG or IgA (little proteins used by the immune system) but the accuracy of such testing is yet to be determined. In some cases, we do know the mechanism of the food intolerance, as in the case of lactose intolerance in which the person lacks the ability properly digest and absorb lactose, a sugar present in dairy products like milk. 


A food allergy on the other hand is a more severe and immediate reaction to a particular food that is mediated by the immune system. This means that if you eat the food to which you have an allergy your immune system will respond with a cascade of immune reactions that lead to such symptoms as coughing, wheezing, and swelling of the lips/tongue to name a few. This reaction is quite immediate and can be life-threatening if the person does not seek medical attention immediately. The classic example recognized by most people is the reaction some may have to peanuts. To find out if you have a food allergy it would be best to consult with allergist who can perform a skin prick test to see how your body responds to a number of common allergens and can work with you to potentially reduce this exaggerated response. 


If you find yourself experiencing symptoms after eating a particular food or just in general after eating you may want to consult with a naturopath. Food sensitivities can often be identified through an elimination diet and can often be re-introduced after a period of time. Other treatments that help to improve the integrity of the GI tract can also be beneficial in reducing our reaction to the things we eat and can be included as part of the elimination protocol. If you have symptoms consistent with anaphylaxis (shortness of breath, itching, cough, swelling of lips/tongue, etc.), a reaction to a true food allergen, seek medical attention immediately.