What Is the Difference Between Food Allergy and Intolerance?

A food intolerance can occur when the body has difficulty digesting certain foods. A food allergy can cause a life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis.

What Is the Difference Between Food Allergy and Intolerance?

A food intolerance can occur when the body has difficulty digesting certain foods. When this occurs over time, large food particles (proteins) may enter the blood stream and this can cause inflammation.

When foods and drinks are digested, the proteins within them are broken down into smaller fragments for easy absorption into the body.  Larger fragments can pass through without breaking down, and sometimes the body reacts by attacking them using antibodies called Immunoglobulin G’s (IgG).

A food-specific IgG reaction should not be confused with food allergies, nor other types of food intolerances. These include

  • chemical sensitivities e.g. histamine, tyramine, sulphites etc
  • coeliac disease requiring lifelong avoidance of gluten
  • enzyme deficiencies e.g. lactose (milk sugar) intolerance

Food intolerance can cause a wide range of disruptive symptoms such as:

  • depression and low mood
  • digestive problems
  • eczema
  • fatigue
  • joint pains
  • migraines and headaches
  • sinusitis
Food Intolerance Symptoms Woman Infographic

A food allergy can cause a life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis. This is when released chemicals act on the blood vessels to cause swelling. Food allergies normally appear instantly and up to two hours after consumption.

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Should I Take a Food Intolerance Test?

It is always recommended that any concerns are discussed with a doctor first, before taking a food intolerance test. This is to fully investigate the potential causes which may include investigations for coeliac disease and/or lactose intolerance and provide the medical follow up required. It is a fact of life, however, that in many cases there is no medical explanation for symptoms such as these.

For example, medically unexplained symptoms or ‘functional symptoms’ where doctors can’t find a problem with the body that might be the cause, account for up to a fifth of all GP consultations in the UK.  These include symptoms such as tiredness, chronic fatigue (ME), depression, anxiety, IBS, fibromyalgia, headaches and migraines, skin rashes and joint pains, runny nose and sinusitis.

Many people with these problems will be given the all clear by their doctor and strongly suspect that food is the root cause of their problems. So what options do they have?

  • do nothing
  • choose to remove foods from their diet by second guessing
  • seek support from a dietician or nutritional therapist and try an elimination diet and challenge method; a method which can be long and laborious (it is difficult to determine the exact combination of relevant trigger foods using this method)
  • take a food intolerance test to identify their food triggers and fast-track their elimination diet”

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Food Intolerance Testing

For those who think they might have a food intolerance, the gold standard approach is to try an elimination diet, removing one food at a time to see if symptoms ease. However, the elimination diet is difficult to do without any prior knowledge about which combination of foods could be causing a reaction.

A food intolerance test carried out by taking a blood test can measure food-specific IgG antibodies which shows foods your body has an IgG antibody reaction to. Many use this approach to define their elimination diet, rather than starting with no knowledge.

IgG is a fancy word for testing the reaction to proteins in foods. This simple blood test is used as a measurement strategy of food-specific IgG antibodies for identifying foods to which a person may be sensitive. This type of testing is now considered mainstream as many choose to use this approach as a starting point for an elimination diet.

Please click here to find out more about the Food Intolerance Test which tests for food-specific IgG antibody reactions to 200+ different whole food extracts.

The test is not diagnostic of any condition but is used as an aid to management of dietary intake, a “starting point” for an elimination diet.

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Coeliac Disease DNA Test

Coeliac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder caused by an intolerance to gluten. Left untreated, it can lead to serious complications, which could negatively impact on your quality of life. Symptoms include:

  • bloating and flatulence (passing wind)
  • constipation
  • diarrhoea
  • indigestion
  • stomach pain

Coeliac disease can also cause more general symptoms such as:

  • an itchy rash
  • difficulties with getting pregnant
  • fatigue
  • weight loss

Please click here to find out more about our Coeliac Disease DNA Test which tests for the HLA DQ2 and DQ8 genes.

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Lactose Intolerance DNA Test

Lactose intolerance is not the same as a food allergy to milk. It is a common digestive problem which means the body cannot digest lactose, a type of natural sugar, found mainly in milk and dairy products.

Some people who have lactose intolerance cannot digest any milk products. Others can eat or drink small amounts of milk products or certain types of milk products without problems.

Lactose intolerance usually affects older children and adults because the level of lactase starts to decrease naturally as you get older. It is more common in people of Asian, African and South American descent.

Please click here to find out more about our Lactose Intolerance Test which analyses the LCT gene and reports whether you are a low or high risk for developing lactose intolerance.

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Gut Microbiome Test

Gut Microbiome Testing identifies which bacteria live in your gut, how abundant they are and how they affect your body. Gut microbiome analysis will show whether your nutrition and gut ecosystem are well balanced or if you need to make changes to your diet to improve your bacterial composition and improve your health.

Please click here to find out more about our Gut Microbiome Test.

Disclaimer: Your test results are solely for informational and/or educational purposes only and should NOT be used for making medical, health or any other decisions without consulting a medical professional. Always speak to your doctor and seek professional help before taking action. The test does not replace a visit to a doctor, nor the advice or services of a doctor or other qualified specialist.

Please Contact Us with any questions you might have.