#WednesdayWisdom Series // Food Allergy + Intolerance


🧐 First up, what’s the difference between them? Food hypersensitivity refers to both food allergies and intolerances, but they’re both distinctly different. A food allergy is an abnormal immune response (either IgE or non-IgE mediated) to food.

😣 A food intolerance, on the other hand, is not mediated by the immune system. These can result from the absence of certain enzymes required for digestion in the body, an abnormality in the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients, or in response to certain naturally occurring chemicals found in foods (e.g. caffeine, salicylate).

🤢 SYMPTOMS - Symptoms of a food allergy can range from mild to live-threatening, and their onset is usually pretty quick (minutes to hours after exposure). Symptoms may include itching, swelling of the tongue, vomiting, diarrhoea, hives, trouble breathing, low blood pressure, and severe anaphylaxis. Symptoms of food intolerance are more acute and tend to have delayed onset. They can be similar to those of food allergy, but also include things like bloating, gassiness and other GI symptoms, sinusitis, asthma, and skin rashes.

👊🏻 CAUSES - Food allergies are caused by proteins found in food. Most commonly in the case of a food allergy the immune system identifies specific protein(s) as ‘invaders’, and produces antibodies to fight it upon subsequent exposure. It’s the release of these antibodies that sets off a cascade of immune responses, including the release of histamine from mast cells. Food sensitivities are caused by foods that irritate the digestive tract, either because the body is unable to break components down for digestion or because the GIT is just sensitive to them.

😯 DIAGNOSIS - Diagnosis of allergies and intolerances can be tricky, and often rather frustrating for sufferers. As attractive as it may sound, food allergies can’t be diagnosed by Home testing kits or hair analysis. Diagnosis needs to happen alongside a qualified healthcare professional who can assess clinical history, and conduct a blood test, skin prick test, oral good challenge and/or elimination diet. Food intolerances are more tricky to diagnose. Lactose and fructose malabsorption can be diagnosed using a hydrogen breath test, whilst other intolerances may require supervised, strategic elimination diets for proper diagnosis.

🤨 Although it was previously thought that delaying the introduction of potentially allergenic foods to infants was a good idea, research had now shown that their early introduction (from 6 months onwards) is associated with lower risk of developing allergies. Introduction of these foods can be a bit scary for mums though, particularly if there is a family history of severe food allergies, so if you find yourself in this situation it’s best to find a healthcare provider who can help you introduce these foods under supervised conditions.

🥜 Common food allergens include peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, wheat, and soy. Others include rice (more common in East Asia), mustard seed, sesame, poppy seeds, and even certain fruits.

🥛 Lactose, caffeine, histamine, salicylate, sulphite, and nitrate intolerances are those most commonly experienced (non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is a bit of a tricky one to discuss here, due to contradicting research so I’ll save it for another post).

😂 This topic is so much more complex and has far more depth to it than I can fit into one post, but hopefully I’ve done a fair job of highlighting some of the main differences between food allergies and intolerances and have left you feeling a bit smarter.