ALLERGY VS INTOLERANCE - WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?
I come across so much confusion over this subject when talking to clients. They eat bread and they get really bloated..but does that mean they’ve got an allergy, an intolerance, or coeliac disease?!
This video answers that question. It covers:
What an allergy is
What an intolerance is
Common foods that people are allergic or intolerant to
How to work out if you have an allergy or intolerance
What to do if you’ve got one
And here’s the written version in case you don’t fancy listening to my voice!
WHAT IS A FOOD ALLERGY?
We’ll start by talking about allergies - an allergy is a response to any food that your body is basically mistaking for an invader so your body's saying “you don't belong here.” It's the proteins in food that cause an allergy so if there’s not a protein in the food then it can't be an allergy.
What happens in an allergy is that your immune cells produce IgE antibodies and those antibodies produce histamines. It's the histamines that then cause the allergic reaction and that allergic reaction can be a whole range of things.
There's four different types of allergy - type 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Type 1 is a real hypersensitivity. This is a really immediate response, so that can be hives, rash etc. Food allergies are typically a type 1 so they're the main ones that we tend to focus on but you can also suffer from a type 4 allergy, which is a delayed immune response and that's normally the case with coeliac disease. With this type, you might get a stomachache a few hours later and you normally get a much less severe reaction. However, when it's chronic and it goes on for a long time then it can lead to much bigger problems.
Most allergies will occur in children, so if you've got an actual allergy to something you most likely will have had it since you were a child. That's not the case for everyone. There can be allergies that kind of crop up when you're bit older but most of the time it will be something that you've had since you were a child.
COMMON FOODS YOU CAN BE ALLERGIC TO
The most common ones are:
Peanuts or any type of tree nut
Fish or seafood
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE AN ALLERGY?
The way to work out whether you've got an allergy is to go and get a blood test with your doctor. You can get a blood test which will detect those IgE antibodies and will tell you whether you've got an allergy and to what foods.
WHAT IS A FOOD INTOLERANCE?
Food intolerances are different in that they're gut issues. They're caused by a response in the gut rather than by an immune response and normally that will stem from an enzyme deficiency. This is the case in lactose intolerance, for example. If you're intolerant to lactose it's because you're missing the enzyme lactase which your body needs in order to break down the lactose. So your body isn't producing an immune response to the lactose, it's just lacking that enzyme that it needs in order to break it down.
The other thing to note in an intolerance versus an allergy is that it's normally a delayed immune response that you're getting. So, you’ll normally have a delayed reaction to that food that involves an IgG antibody rather than the IgE antibody in an allergy and that will then produce an inflammatory response.
The most common symptoms with intolerances are gut issues, such as bloating, gas, heartburn and stomachache. However, it can also show up in other areas of the body like headaches, skin issues, brain fog, not being able to concentrate, fatigue. You might not associate these things with an intolerance, but they actually can be caused by an intolerance.
With an intolerance you'd have to eat a significant portion of that food in order to see a reaction. Take beans for example - if you've got an intolerance to beans you could have one or two beans and you wouldn't notice anything whereas if you have a whole plate of beans on toast and you might get those skin issues or that stomachache. In that sense, it's not the same as an allergy where cross-contamination matters and where you have a tiny bit and you'll have a reaction. Normally, with an intolerance you've got to have a significant portion of that food in order to to show a reaction.
Due to this, an intolerance can normally go unnoticed. You can have an intolerance to beans with for 10 years and maybe get a little bit of bloating, but not anything that you'd really notice. However, it can cause real inflammation in your body over time and what that can do is it can wear away your gut wall and can cause further digestive problems if it goes unnoticed.
COMMON FOODS YOU CAN BE INTOLERANT TO
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE AN INTOLERANCE?
If you want to work out if you've got an intolerance to something then there's two ways that you can go about it:
Blood Test: you can get a blood test that would test for the IgG antibodies in your blood. I've done a blood test in the past and, to be honest, they're really expensive and they're not actually that accurate. You'll come back with a whole list of things that you're apparently intolerant to which really isn't all that helpful.
Elimination Diet: with an elimination diet, if there's something that you think you've got an intolerance to, e.g. wheat, cut it out of your diet for 2-4 weeks and see if you feel better. Then reintroduce it and see if you feel worse. So, for example, if you cut out wheat for two weeks you feel much better, then you add it back in and you suddenly get a stomach ache, that means you've got an intolerance to it. This is the method I’d recommend, and make sure you keep a food log as you go to note down symptoms and draw correlations.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
So, if you’ve followed those steps and you've worked out whether you've got an allergy or an intolerance to a certain food, you might be wondering what you do next.
If you've got an allergy, it's quite simple. You can't have that food so you've just got to avoid it unfortunately!
If you’ve got an intolerance, on the other hand, it’s a bit more positive. An intolerance can actually be triggered by a leaky gut or bad digestion. What that means for you is that if you remove that food for a bit and while you're doing that you build up your gut and repair it, you’ll rebuild your gut. You then might be able to reintroduce that food back into your diet so you're not going to be stuck without it forever.
This gut healing process is what I take my clients through using my 4 Pillar Gut Love Method.
Hopefully that's been helpful! We've talked through what allergies are, what intolerances are, how you can work out whether you've got one or the other and then what you can do about it.
If you're feeling like you have got an intolerance and it could be down to bad digestion or a leaky gut and you want some support to heal it, get in touch with me. Book in a FREE consult call to find out how I could help you.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and letting me be a part of your journey in taking control of your gut, eating well and living your life.