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10 Feb '18

Differences between Food Allergy and Food Intolerance

Posted by Sandra Sosa

Regarding health related problems associated to food on both, adults and children, there are two big groups with clear differences, even when most of people tend to think it's all the same.

These two groups are Food Allergies and Food Intolerance; two different entities with symptoms that might overlap, leading to confusion and missed interpretations.

The main difference between both conditions is the underlying disorder leading to symptoms development.

In the case of Food Allergies, there are involved several immunologic factors, that means the immune systems see some of the food molecules as threats instead of a nutrition source, and then reacts against such molecules (called allergens) to destroy the threat.

This immune response is responsible of local symptoms (diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea) as well general symptoms (itching, rash, hypotension) which in some cases may be lethal when an anaphylactic shock is developed.

Food allergies are not dependant of the eaten food dosage, thus a severe allergic reaction might arise after eating just a bite of food containing a giving allergen;Food Health Related Problems while in some other cases, despite of a generous intake, the allergic reaction is mild.

In the case of food intolerance, the underlying disorder is metabolic but not immunologic. On such cases an individual is not able to break down macromolecules of certain food (usually lactose from milk or gluten from wheat), due to the absence of a particular enzyme intended to do it, being impossible a proper digestive process, leading to the apparition of symptoms like abdominal cramps and diarrhea.

Once again, symptoms severity is not linked to the food portion size; then individuals with a complete enzyme absence will develop severe symptoms with just a bite of the food they intolerant to; while those with partial enzyme absence will have mild symptoms with bigger intakes.

On both situations, avoidance of food responsible of the problem is the main solution, however health implications when this is not possible are worst in the case of food allergies while a potential lethal situation may arise on such cases, being necessary aggressive treatments such as epinephrine injections; something not required on food intolerance.

On the other hand, food intolerance may be managed with support treatment or not treatment at all; even better, in some cases such as lactose intolerance, external enzymes may be administered prior to milk or dairies intake in order to avoid symptoms, however at the end of the day, food intolerant people will only have discomfort if the food they are not capable to process properly is not avoided, but their lives won't be at risk.

As it may be seen, food allergy and food intolerance are two completely different things even when to the lay eye they look like the same; thus in the event of symptoms arose after food intake, the best choice is to find medical advice in order to have a proper diagnosis and being able to act consequently, avoiding discomfort and potentially critical complications, especially in the cases of food allergies.


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