The Difference Between An Allergy And A Food Intolerance

It seems like there is a big trend these days to be intolerant of a certain type of food. However, only a specific set of symptoms mean you are actually intolerant. You may actually be experiencing an allergy, which is quite different. There are also varying degrees of intolerances and allergies, from mild annoyance all the way through to life-threatening severity.

Symptoms such as bloating, rashes, shortness of breath and problematic bowel movements could mean you are intolerant or allergic to a certain food. On the other hand, you may just have a food sensitivity, which is far less dangerous.

What Is a Food Intolerance?

A food intolerance is when your gut physically cannot digest the specific food item. This means that the food is left sitting in your digestive tract for sometimes days at a time. The end result can be severe discomfort due to bloating and an overproduction of gas as the food ferments. In most cases, this is not life threatening.

The most common intolerance is lactose – the enzyme found in dairy. As our bodies mature, we generally stop producing as much lactase – the enzyme required to digest lactose. Around 35% of grownups around the world are actually lactose intolerant. This means that you likely experience acid reflux, bloating or diarrhea after having too much milk, cheese or ice cream.

How Is An Allergy Different?

A food allergy is often far more severe or potentially life threatening to a person. Essentially, your body’s immune system thinks that the food is attacking the body and tries to fight it off. This reaction can vary to a large degree, from mild symptoms you hardly notice all the way through to being unable to breathe and requiring outside assistance.

The most common food allergies seem to be shellfish and peanuts. People who are allergic to these can experience anything from slight shortness of breath and possibly a mild rash to full-on anaphylactic shock and require an EpiPen application in order to survive. Allergies can also get worse as you get older, or only develop in the body once you are a teenager or even an adult.

Where Does Celiac Disease Come In?

A true gluten intolerant person suffers from Celiac Disease. This is when the small protrusions inside the gut that increase the surface of the intestine lie flat instead of standing up. When a person with this autoimmune condition eats something containing gluten, their bodies become inflamed.

It isn’t usually an instant reaction (although it can be in severe cases) and is often more of an exposure problem. The more gluten you ingest, the worse the problem gets – regular ingestion over a long period of time can lead to major pain and other symptoms. These include weight loss due to the inability to digest food properly and even growth issues in younger sufferers.

Though many people think that they are gluten intolerant, this condition doesn’t actually affect that many people. Only around 1% of the Western world is a true Celiac Disease sufferer.