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Allergies and intolerances: what’s the difference?

Allergies and intolerances

Allergies and intolerances: what’s the difference?

Have you ever eaten food even though you know that after you will suffer? Even if you are unsure why your body reacts that way? It may not seem important at that moment, but chances are you’re either suffering from a food allergy or food intolerance. Once the symptoms go away it’s worth finding out for the benefit of your long-term health which one it is.

What’s the difference?

Allergies and intolerances are similar on the surface, but couldn’t be more different. Food allergies cause an immune system reaction that usually affects multiple organs. It can cause a range of symptoms that can often be life-threatening and trigger anaphylaxis shock.

Food intolerance symptoms are mostly limited to digestive problems. They are usually less severe and are often caused by the lack, or insufficient level, of enzymes in the body. We need these enzymes to digest foods and they are important for keeping a healthy and regular body.

An example is the enzyme lactase, which we use to break down lactose, found in milk products. Without it you could be lactose intolerant, causing an upset stomach, bloating, gas, flatulence, diarrhoea, and vomiting.

Long and short-term health effects

If left alone, food intolerances can lead to chronic health problems. Both food allergies and intolerances can affect your quality of life and influence gut health negatively. Good gut health is important, which, in turn, can avoid other health conditions.   

Testing testing

A useful test for food allergies is a patch test. This involves exposing the cells of the immune system to possible allergens and measuring the immune response.

There are genetic blood tests that can help to predict the likelihood of lactose and gluten-related problems. Also, by watching your daily intake and introducing a process of elimination to your diet, we can get to the root of what you are intolerant to by slowly reintroducing foods.

Why do we keep doing it?

Worryingly, as a food intolerance is not immediately life-threatening, many of us keep eating food that we know threatens our wellbeing. Sometimes we are unaware that we are intolerant to certain foods and keep eating food that can cause bloating, indigestion, tiredness, migraines, headaches, persistent runny nose and coughing, inability to work or pay attention, depression and general irritability.

What can we do to stay healthy?

Nutritional measures can help. Here’s where the difference between allergies and intolerances becomes important. It might seem obvious but first and foremost avoid eating foods that you know you are allergic to! With some a vast amount of ‘free-from’ products available on the market, it is increasingly easier to replace your favourite treats.

If you are unsure whether or not a particular food is disagreeing with your body and you would like to know more, book an appointment with one of our consultants today.

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