Food Intolerance and Food Allergy, what’s the difference?

People often confuse Food intolerance and Food Allergy as the same thing, Some of the symptoms of food intolerance and food allergy are similar, but the differences between the two are very important. Eating a food you are intolerant to can leave you feeling miserable. However, if you have a true food allergy, your body’s reaction to this food could be life-threatening.

The symptoms and causes of food allergies and food intolerances overlap considerably. However, the main difference is that food allergies trigger the immune system, while food intolerance does not.

Food Allergy

Food Allergy is a fast response – it happens within minutes, the body’s immune system affects numerous organs in the body and sees the food as an invader. This leads to an allergic reaction i.e. a response from the immune system in which chemicals like histamine are released in the body.

A food allergy is an exaggerated immune system response to a food protein and the body triggers an allergic reaction.

Signs or symptoms are typically immediate, dramatic and visible: coughing, sneezing, vomiting, migraines, watering eyes, rashes, swelling tissue, hives – or in severe cases an anaphylactic shock which requires emergency intervention.However other symptoms like the gastro-intestinal responses nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can be delayed for hours or even days.

Food Intolerance

Food Intolerance is a slow onset reaction, it takes hours, days or even weeks later. It is an inability to process a particular food. It may also trigger an immune system response. The gastro-intestinal tract in some people is simply unable to produce appropriate enzymes for normal biochemical breakdown.

The food passes through unprocessed, or lingers in the gut fermentation producing excess ‘gas’. Symptoms of food intolerance can include nausea, gas, cramps, abdominal pain, diarrhea, irritability, nervousness, or headaches.

Food intolerance is a reaction to a food that is adverse in nature which does not involve the immune system. In some cases protein fragments rupture the lining of the intestine allowing foreign particles into the bloodstream – which causes additional health issues.