Allergy or Intolerance - what`s the difference?
Many people confuse the terms allergy and intolerance.
An allergy results when a person has an extreme and abnormally high sensitivity to a normally harmless substance. It is possible to be allergic to virtually anything from foods, environmental chemicals, artificial food additives to yeast or fungi. Allergic reactions can be life-threatening, resulting in Anaphylaxis, a potentially serious collapse that can hinder breathing.
Symptoms can include a skin rash, nausea, fatigue, stomach pains, nasal congestion, dizziness, watery eyes, headaches, dark circles under the eyes and insomnia.
An intolerance can be uncomfortable, but is rarely life-threatening, but could possibly lead to long-term illnesses such as Arthritis, Asthma, Eczema and IBS. It occurs when the body lacks an enzyme to breakdown a certain food, e.g. a person who is intolerant to milk may lack the enzyme lactase needed to digest lactose (a milk sugar). Undigested lactose then passes into the gut and it starts to cause a problem. Usually, in the case of dairy, excess gas, loose stools and bloating are a common symptom.
Because reactions to food can be delayed, sometimes up to 3 days, the culprit food can be difficult to detect, whereas with an allergy, the reaction tends to be instant and occur every time the culprit food is ingested.
Why are we experiencing such a growth of food intolerances?
There`s lots of reasons why intolerances are becoming more common. Wheat and dairy are two of the main foods that cause a problem. The introduction of wheat and dairy is a relatively new thing in our diets in terms of how long humans have been on the planet. We didn`t evolve to eat the amount of them that we do. We have lost our intuition and knowledge about how to eat seasonally. We are eating more foods out of season, when really, certain foods grow at certain times of the year for a purpose that benefits our gut microbiome and nutrient need.
We are also lacking in variety of what we eat and consuming very limited diets . Variety is "the spice of life" and also key to our digestive health. Eating the same foods too often, (e.g. wheat at every meal in various guises) causes our microbiome to be impaired.
Another reason is the hygiene hypothesis. The hygiene hypothesis states that now our environments are cleaner and we are obsessed with everything being sterile and anti-bacterial, children’s’ immune system are not as robust as they used to be, coupled with the alarming rise in antibiotic use; our immune systems are under constant assault.
An intolerance or sensitivity to wheat is a common cause of tiredness, water retention, loss of concentration and digestive problems. When we stop to consider how often it is eaten, we may be consuming it at every meal; wheat-based cereal or toast, sandwich for lunch and pasta in the evening, and that’s not including any biscuits, cakes or snacks during the day. Some people are intolerant to the wheat itself, whilst others are intolerant to the gluten within the wheat. Wheat can be responsible for bloating and discomfort after a meal. Gluten can hinder the nervous system and exascerbate autoimmune conditions. It can cause huge problems with mood balance, mental clarity and fatigue alongside playing havoc with your skin.
Some people are intolerant to dairy because they don`t have enough lactase to digest the lactose in dairy. Others are sensitive to the Alpha 1 Beta Casein in dairy which for some people can convert to a very inflammatory peptide called Beta-casomorphin-7. For these individuals, dairy can cause diarrhoea and incredibly heavy periods, premenstrual mood disturbances, period pain and poor skin.
Dairy produce can cause cramps, wind, diarrhoea, eczema, tingling lips, sneezing or sinus problems. For some, sheep or goats’ milk may be better tolerated, this is due to the difference in the proteins; they are different, but not different enough to make them tolerable for everyon
Yeast is another common allergen. Present in many foods and drinks, so careful examination of labels is required if you are avoiding it. Those who react to yeast are likely to have a strong reaction to alcohol, in particular wine and beer.
Chocolate, Coffee & Nuts:
These are in the pip/nut family. If you react to nuts (not peanuts are they are from another food family), it is possible you’ll react in some way to chocolate and coffee.
There are 100’s of chemicals permitted for food use, with the 2 most common triggers being monosodium glutamate (MSG) and the colouring tartrazine (E102). As your diet changes to contain more wholefoods, it will naturally become lower in food additives.
Other common food trigger are sulfites (a group of chemicals found in wine and seafood). Foods rich in the amino acid tyramine such as blue Cheeses, beer, wine and canned food can provoke migraines – as can Chocolate, Caffeine and Citrus (can also cause aching joints), think of the 4 C’s.
Histamine is found in red wine and yeast and can provoke sneezing, swelling and itching.
Another trigger food is eggs, not to be confused with dairy. Eggs can trigger headaches, behavioural and skin problems (a rash around the mouth and swelling of the face); however this is seen more often in children than adults.
The most accurate test is a blood analysis. The immune system is responsible for reacting to offending foods and producing the allergic response, in doing so it produces substances called markers. A blood test measures levels of certain markers produced in response to the trigger. There are many intolerance tests on the market but many are inaccurate. You should look for an IgG response test. This is something that I can arrange for you.
An exclusion diet may be employed, eliminating suspect foods for a period of time and reintroducing them one by one and monitoring for any adverse reactions.
NB. For those with allergies, particularly to nuts, take care to read labels for skincare products and make-up as some contain peanut oil.
Interestingly, food cravings are a symptom of food sensitivities. Often the food that we crave is precisely the food that should be avoided. If you crave sugary items, that can indicate an intolerance to wheat or dairy (along with some other metabolic reasons).