Some people think the terms “food allergy” and “food intolerance” are interchangeable, or variations of the same thing. However, the biological processes behind them, how they affect you and hence forms of treatment are markedly different.What’s the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?
FOOD ALLERGY: During an allergic reaction, the body’s immune system produces IgE (Immunoglobulin E) antibodies to fight off the particular food/ food ingredient it mistakenly considers to be harmful. The body’s response is immediate, varies from mild to severe and can affect one or more systems in the body. In some cases, the immune system sets off an inflammatory response throughout the whole body, resulting in a systemic reaction (i.e. anaphylaxis) which is potentially life threatening.
FOOD INTOLERANCE: A food intolerance usually involves a physical or biological reaction to the food/ food ingredient it mistakenly considers as a threat. This immune response is not life threatening. One form of intolerance is delayed onset food intolerance, which may affect digestion, skin, joints, energy levels and weight.
Delayed Onset Food Intolerances
With delayed onset food intolerances, the body produces a variety of inflammatory responses but unlike immediate allergic reactions, these IgG immune responses can be delayed for up to 72 hours, are often more subtle and vary in severity.
For example, if you have an intolerance (food-specific IgG reaction) to gluten, your body produces an inflammatory response to gluten proteins, and the reaction may manifest as bloating, acne, etc. after ingesting gluten or gluten-containing foods (Note: this is different from Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder where ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine). Another example: If you have an intolerance to dairy, your eczema may flare up every time you drink cow’s milk or eat cheese (Note: this is different from lactose intolerance, a condition where you lack the enzyme lactase to break down the milk sugar, lactose).
These delayed onset food intolerances aren’t necessarily lifelong. Avoiding the trigger foods and correcting gut function can help to mend the immune system and ultimately overcome these IgG reactions.
Common conditions/ symptoms linked to food-specific IgG reactions:
- eczema/ atopic dermatitis
- IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), diarrhea/ constipation
- bloating, abdominal pain, feeling “gassy”
- tiredness, fatigue
- joint pain
- headaches/ migraines
- inability to lose weight, water retention
Should I test for food allergies, or food intolerances?
If you experience immediate reactions, such as hives, after eating certain foods/ drinks, then you most likely have a food allergy. But if you have any of the above symptoms and cannot quite pinpoint which foods, if any, may be triggering your symptoms, then you may benefit from getting a food-specific IgG test done.
A licensed naturopathic physician can help you determine which test is appropriate according to your symptoms. Dr. Ardyce Yik ND offers allergy and intolerance testing in her practice.
What are the treatments for both?
For food allergies, it is best to avoid the food you are allergic to. Treatment includes anti-histamine drugs and for anaphylactic reactions, epinephrine via an auto-injector (i.e. Auvi-Q™, EpiPen® or Adrenaclick®). Natural medicine for minor allergic symptoms includes quercetin. Allergy shots, also called “immunotherapy,” help your body get used to the allergen/ food that triggers an allergic reaction.
For food intolerances, avoiding the trigger foods for a period of time will help. During this period, Dr. Ardyce Yik ND prescribes to her patients natural medicines to help restore gut function and correct immune response. Patients often find that after treatment, they are able to eat the foods they were once intolerant to without experiencing previous symptoms. Click here to contact Dr. Yik.