Food Allergy & Food Intolerance – What’s the Difference (Full Version)

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , /

You may have noticed in recent years that more and more people are allergic or
intolerant to various foods. Food allergy, food intolerance and also coeliac
disease can affect people of any age. In each case, normal healthy foods can cause symptoms in people who have these conditions. There are distinct differences between these conditions that you should be aware of. You immune system normally protects you from disease causing bacteria, parasites and
viruses as well as harmful toxins that you encounter
in your environment. However if you have a food allergy
your immune system sees a food as being just another environmental threat to your health. Coeliac disease also involves the body’s immune system but this time it attacks the lining of your gut. This happens in a response to eating gluten which is a mixture of proteins found in foods made from cereals such as wheat, rye and barley. Food intoleances don’t involve the immune system. They can be due to an inability to digest food properly or maybe even a tendency to react to certain food components. For instance if you have lactose intolerance, this is because you have a deficiency in the enzyme lactase that helps you digest milk and dairy products. Or maybe you get headaches after eating strongly flavoured cheese? If so, you may be reacting to a chemical called tyramine. However, for a great many food intolerances we just don’t know what causes them or why some people react to certain foods. Absolutely not! When somebody gets food poisoning, they have probably eaten food that was contaminated with harmful bacteria or maybe even toxic
chemicals. However, if you are allergic or intolerant
to a food, it doesn’t matter how hygienic, nutritious, delicious or desirable that food
is, it has the potential to cause symptoms if you eat it. Everybody else can eat the food and it is probably a very healthy choice for them to
do so. But the person who is allergic or intolerant
has to avoid it. It is important to be able to recognise the
signs and symptoms of food allergy, food intolerance or coeliac disease. These can range from mild to severe depending on how sensitive the person is. A food intolerance can cause similar signs and symptoms as a mild food allergy, and people
often confuse the two. For the most part, these are associated with
digestion and include nausea, constipation, stomach pain, diarrhoea, and so on. Other symptoms of a mild food allergy can include hay fever-like symptoms and skin symptoms
such as eczema, dermatitis, or hives. A severe food allergic reaction includes many
of these symptoms plus a fall in blood pressure, swelling in the throat and mouth, severe hoarseness
or wheezing, or a persistent cough. The person may have a pale colour and experience
dizziness or even collapse. They may appear panicked and distressed.
If this happens, the person is said to be experiencing “anaphylaxis.”
This can be fatal and the person must receive medical attention immediately. Thankfully fatal allergic reactions to food are very rare. The symptoms of coeliac disease include digestive upset and it can take a very long time for
the person to fully recover. Over the longer term We know that coeliac disease can be associated with anaemia and osteoporosis As well as certain types on intestinal cancer if they’re diet is not controlled properly On the island of Ireland the most common food
allergy is to egg. Other significant allergenic foods are peanut,
nuts, milk and sesame. Throughout the European Union, fourteen foods
are recognised as being the most significant for food allergies and intolerances. Coeliacs, and people with other gluten-related disorders, must avoid eating food products
made from cereals that contain gluten such as wheat, rye, barley and oats that are
not certified as being gluten-free. Lactose-containing foods such as milk and
dairy products are problematic for those with an intolerance to lactose, although many can
tolerate some lactose in their diet. We think the rate of food allergy is 1-2%
of adults and 5-8% of children. Coeliac disease affects around 1% of the population and lactose intolerance affects around 5%. But for the other food intolerances, well it’s anybody’s guess.
The estimates vary wildly with some authorities saying it may be as high as 40-45% of the
population! However, it we take a conservative estimate
for food allergy, food intolerance and coeliac disease at roughly 10% of the population,
this still corresponds to around 600,000 people on the island of Ireland which is a LOT of
people. Self-diagnosis is certainly not advised: you
may end up cutting out foods that cause you no harm at all. Your first port of call should be your GP who can arrange for a blood test to check for
allergy or coeliac disease and can refer you on to a specialist. You may be referred to a dietitian as well, particularly if you have a suspect food intolerance. If you require more information, a good place to start, is

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