People easily interchange food allergy and food intolerance, but the two are quite different. Food intolerances are very common, affecting roughly 15-20% of the human population. Intolerances differ from allergies and we’ll explain how below.
What Is A Food Allergy?
An allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to an ingredient or substance that it misinterprets as harmful. The body often mistakes a food, typically a protein, as harmful and creates a defense system against it. The antibodies that the body creates battle the foreign protein, causing an allergic reaction. It’s very common to experience allergic reactions to nuts, shellfish, eggs, dairy, and certain fruits or vegetables.
What Is A Food Intolerance?
Differing from a food allergy, an intolerance is a digestive response as opposed to an immune response. After eating a certain food, for example, the digestive system experiences irritation. This commonly happens when a person cannot properly digest or break down the food. It’s very common to experience an intolerance to lactose, which is found in most dairy products. Food intolerances are also common in people with digestive disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). You can find common signs that may indicate a food intolerance below.
Headaches can be symptoms of so many different conditions, so it’s easy to overlook a headache as an indication of a food intolerance. Severe food intolerances may even trigger migraines. When the body cannot properly digest or break down a certain food, the body sees it as a threat. It starts to release immunoglobulin (IgG) antibodies into the bloodstream. These antibodies can sometimes cause headaches or migraines.
Bloating Or Gas
The two most common signs of food intolerance are bloating and gas. Gastroenterologists say that these two symptoms most commonly occur after a large, high-fiber meal. When the symptoms become uncomfortable or painful, however, that is cause for concern, especially if they occur every time you eat a certain food. Bloating and gas are two very common symptoms of lactose intolerance. The body cannot fully digest lactose, so bloating and gas result. Consider dairy alternatives in the case of lactose intolerance.
Diarrhea Or Constipation
These two symptoms often indicate an intolerance, especially to gluten. If the body cannot properly digest or break down gluten, it’s very common for constipation or diarrhea to occur. Gluten intolerance may or may not be an autoimmune reaction. In the case of Celiac disease, the body attacks the villi in the small intestine in response to the presence of gluten. Non-celiac intolerance can mean that the gut cannot properly digest gluten. According to studies, about 50% of gluten intolerant people experience diarrhea and 25% experience constipation.
Fatigue, sluggishness, or a general tiredness after eating a certain food. Occasionally, people can have a blood sugar crash that causes fogginess or fatigue, but it can indicate a food intolerance. If the body cannot properly process certain foods, the adrenal glands produce cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. It does this to help reduce irritation or inflammation in the gut. The fatigue is a result of the stressed adrenal glands.
As stated in the beginning of this article, a food intolerance is not the same as a food allergy. People who have food allergies can experience hives, itchiness, rashes, or puffiness after eating the trigger food. The body can still interpret a food as harmful even if you are not allergic to it, though. As a result, a person can experience acne or a similar skin reaction. If a certain protein in a food doesn’t agree with the body, it can produce histamine, and the reaction will occur wherever the body produces it. If it releases histamine in the skin, you may experience acne or even eczema.