How Your Immune System Determines the Difference between Food Intolerance and Food Allergy
What’s the difference between food intolerance vs food allergy?
The symptoms of a food sensitivity can similiar or in fact the same as a Allergy/Sensitivity. To help clear up the confusion, take a look at how we’re defining these two conditions:
- Food intolerance: a reproducible, adverse reaction to a food that’s not the direct result of an immune response
- Food allergy: a reproducible, adverse reaction to a food that’s caused by a type of immune re-action to a food protein
Note the main difference between those two definitions: the role of the immune system, your body’s defense mechanism that protects you against germs, diseases, and other foreign invaders.
Non Immune Food intolerance by definition are not directly caused by an immune response to a food protein, while food allergies are, and that’s the main difference between the two.
Allergists actually think about food in a specific way when trying to understand whether an individual’s symptoms are caused by an allergy. Simply put, they think about the protein of the food.
Most foods, including fruits and vegetables, which aren’t usually major sources of proteins nutritionally, contain proteins (or allergens, as we’ll call them) that may be recognized by your immune system as foreign.
On the other hand, some things you eat, like pure fats or sugars, don’t contain significant amounts of allergens.
That’s why if somebody tells an allergist that he or she may he allergic to corn because symptoms manifest after eating high-fructose corn syrup, the allergist suspects there’s probably another explanation for the symptoms.
Perhaps the person can’t absorb large amounts of fructose (which indicates an intolerance) or could be having problems because of another ingredient.
There is one condition, though, celiac disease, that’s a little trickier to classify because, in it, the immune system does play a central role. However, most physician, don’t classify celiac disease as an allergy since the disease is actually a response of the immune system to proteins in the body versus those in food.
Essentially, the immune system begins attacking itself, and although the attack is triggered by exposure to gluten, the damaging response is directed at proteins in the body, not those in gluten.
We’ll discuss celiac disease in greater detail in another post about food intolerance.
There seems to various definitions about the difference between Food Intolerance vs Food Allergy. To simplify it an intolerance is by no means less severe than an allergy and the symptoms may appear to be the same but the definition is all about the immune system. Allergy is about the immune system reacting to an introduced food or substance