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What’s the difference between food allergies and food intolerances?


By Fiona Campbell for CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine).

difference between food intolerance and food allergy

If you’re suffering from bloating or abdominal pain, skin problems, rhinitis, fatigue or irritable bowel syndrome, you may already be thinking that certain foods could be contributing to the problem.

Food intolerances affect most of us at one stage or another. They can be difficult to pinpoint because of the time delay that often occurs between eating and experiencing symptoms.  For many people a reaction can occur up to 12 hours later, long after the memory of what they have eaten has ebbed away.

Many of us don’t understand that there is a big difference between food intolerances and food allergies.  You might also be surprised to know that some of the food intolerances you identified 12 months ago may no longer be relevant, so you may be avoiding certain foods unnecessarily.

What is a food allergy?


A food allergy involves the immune system and a reaction is usually quite swift and potentially severe.  Luckily, only a very small percentage of the population has currently been identified as suffering from food allergies.

Food allergies involve a special class of immune system cells, called IgE antibodies, which the body makes to help ‘fight off’ what it feels are harmful substances which it encounters through the mouth or the skin.  Symptoms range from rashes and tingling to more serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing.  If you suspect that you may have a food allergy, it’s important that you contact your GP who can refer you to an allergy specialist if necessary.

What’s the difference to food intolerances?


Food intolerances are not so clear cut and are surrounded by controversy.  What we do know is that foods which we eat, or over-eat on a regular basis, can sometimes  start to make us feel uncomfortable or unwell.

Wheat and other gluten containing foods, dairy and other common dietary staples such as tomatoes and white potatoes can irritate our digestive lining and eventually compromise its ability to filter substances properly.  Stress, stimulants, alcohol and refined or processed foods can often compound the problem.

Here, another class of immune system cells living in the digestive tract, called IgG antibodies, seem to respond by increasing in their number and activity.  It’s not considered to be a true immune system response because the reaction is locally based, but it’s significant for our sense of wellbeing, nonetheless.

If you suspect that you have a food intolerance, one option is to keep a food diary and to monitor when your symptoms are getting better or worse.  With some diligence, you may be able to identify which foods are aggravating your symptoms.  If you then eliminate these foods for a period of 12 weeks, and gradually re-introduce them to your diet, you may find that you are able to tolerate them again.

You may however find it easier to consult a qualified Nutritionist who can help you identify the right tests, and support you with making the necessary dietary changes.

Fiona Campbell graduated in Naturopathic Nutritional Therapy from CNM (College of Naturopathic Medicine). CNM is the UK’s leading training provider in a range of natural therapies, with colleges across the UK and Ireland.  To find out more about CNM courses, visit www.naturopathy-uk.com

 

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