Food allergy or food intolerance?

If you suspect that you’re suffering from either a food allergy or a food intolerance, it could be a distressing time for you, especially if your symptoms are affecting your quality of life.

It’s useful to understand the difference between a food allergy versus a food intolerance as these are two separate conditions. So, let’s get started!

What is the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance?

A food intolerance and a food allergy are often thought to be variations of the same thing and are usually thrown round in the same conversation, but the biological processes behind them, and how they affect you, are very different.

In fact, in one of our polls which surveyed 1,000 UK respondents*, we found that the majority of those questioned were unable to differentiate between the two conditions and many respondents assumed they were the same thing.

A food allergy is when the body’s immune system believes that it’s being ‘invaded’ and produces IgE (Immunoglobulin E) antibodies to fight off the food or drink ingredient it mistakenly considers to be harmful.

In the case of a food allergy, reactions can range from mild to severe and may affect one or more systems in the body, such as the digestive system, respiratory system or the skin.

In severe cases, however, the immune system triggers a response throughout the whole body, resulting in a systematic reaction (anaphylaxis) which is potentially fatal and would need immediate medical attention.

But what about a food intolerance?

Alarmingly, in the same poll studying 1,000 UK respondents*, 64% thought that a food intolerance can trigger anaphylaxis, which is not the case.

A food intolerance is often a delayed biological reaction which, although uncomfortable and unpleasant, is not life-threatening.

A food intolerance is often caused by a difficulty digesting certain foods with symptoms emerging hours or days later. Depending on the type of food intolerance, the immune system can sometimes identify food protein particles as ‘foreign’ when they enter the blood stream and produce IgG antibodies to ‘attack’ the food in question.

Breaking down the science

You’ve most likely caught onto the fact that a food allergy produces IgE antibodies.

Food intolerances on the other hand take different forms, such as lactose intolerance and coeliac disease. In this case, we look at IgG-mediated intolerances

Here at YorkTest, we define food intolerance as a food-specific IgG reaction. There are four subtypes of IgG: IgG1 is the most prevalent, making up around 60-70% of your total IgG, followed by IgG2 (20-30%), IgG3 (5-8%). IgG4 only makes up 1-4% of the IgG antibodies present.

Not all food intolerance† tests you see online are created equal, though. Therefore, it’s important you find a reliable provider. Our food intolerance† programmes analyse all four antibodies, so your whole IgG profile is fully covered.

For more information on IgG, click here.

What are the symptoms of a food allergy?

Food allergy symptoms can vary from mild to severe, usually appearing from 30 minutes to two hours after. The most common food allergy signs and symptoms include:

  • Itching or tingling in the mouth
  • Swelling of the lips, face, tongue, throat or other parts of the body
  • Wheezing, shortness of breath or nasal congestion
  • Hives, eczema or itching
  • Nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea
  • Fainting, feeling lightheaded or dizzy
  • Hay fever-like symptoms, such as sneezing or itchy eyes
  • Difficulty swallowing

In severe cases, the immune system may trigger a response throughout the whole body, causing anaphylaxis. The symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • Swollen tongue or a ‘lump in the throat’ sensation
  • Breathing difficulties
  • A sudden drop in blood pressure
  • Tight chest
  • Trouble swallowing or speaking
  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • Rapid pulse
  • Loss of consciousness

Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and anyone experiencing these symptoms needs immediate assistance.

Do I have a food allergy?

You may experience minor symptoms but, in some cases, if you consume the culprit food once again, it could lead to anaphylaxis. The way your body responds to a food allergy can be unpredictable.

If you suspect a food allergy, your first port of call is to see your GP. They can then refer you to a specialist and carry out certain tests, like a skin prick test.

Be cautious when it comes to commercial tests on the Internet that claim they test for food allergies. If you haven’t consumed the culprit food for quite some time, the test may say that you have no reaction to it. This may cause serious consequences if you then eat the trigger food.

What are the symptoms of a food intolerance?

Symptoms of a food intolerance include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Gas and bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Skin issues, such as acne, eczema, psoriasis or urticaria
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Respiratory issues, such as rhinitis and sinusitis
  • Joint pain, swelling, fibromyalgia and arthritis

The above symptoms can take hours or up to 3 days to appear. Therefore, it can be difficult to pinpoint your reaction, especially if a person has more than one food trigger.

How common are food allergies and food intolerances?

 

Food intolerances are estimated to affect 45% of the UK population, whereas a food allergy affects approximately 2% of the adult population.

It can be assumed that food intolerances have increased over the years, with speculation that changes in agriculture practices, antibiotic usage and environmental pollution could be responsible.

Do I have a food intolerance?

Food intolerances are much more common when in comparison to food allergies. They can occur at any point in your life and symptoms can be distressing, especially if they affect your day-to-day life.

Delayed onset food intolerances can be measured through a YorkTest programme. We have over 35 years’ experience in diagnostic testing and test your IgG reactions to up to 208 food and drink reactions, including cow’s milk, wheat, gluten, eggs and several wine types, such as Merlot and Shiraz.

The good news is that sometimes people can tolerate their food intolerances after a period of elimination.

For more information about our testing programmes, you can click here.

YorkTest define Food Intolerance as a food-specific IgG reaction.
Our information is intended to provide nutritional advice for dietary optimisation. YorkTest do not claim to treat or cure symptoms and recommend that you discuss any medical concerns you have with a GP before undertaking a YorkTest programme.
*OnePoll surveying 1,000 UK respondents