What's the difference between food allergies and food intolerance?

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Get clued up about how your diet could be affecting your day-to-day life...

food allergy, intolerance

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Forget about colds and flu, because food intolerance is the real 'hidden epidemic' we should all be worried about. Up to 45% of the population are thought to be be affected by food intolerance, but because the symptoms are so varied, doctors have a tough time diagnosing patients.

From fatigue, headaches, migraines and skin problems, to bloating, stomach pain, depression, nausea, diarrhoea, IBS, joint pains, respiratory symptoms and eczema; there are so many symptoms you might be suffering and you don't even know it!

The problem is we're all to quick to combine food intolerances and food allergies into the same category, but in reality they're quite different. A food allergy is an adverse immune reaction to a specific food resulting in the production of antibodies (IgE). Any time the food culprit is ingested or comes into contact with the skin, the body releases histamine - an immune system response - that fights back.

Allergy sufferers may experience rashes, swelling, diarrhoea and vomiting. In the most severe cases symptoms such as swelling of the lips, tongue or face, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties and loss of consciousness can occur. People with severe cases will probably carry an EpiPen just in case.

This is very different to food intolerance, and only 2.5% of the population have been diagnosed with food allergies.

Food intolerance or food sensitivity is associated with chronic, long term symptoms rather than drastic attacks or anaphylactic shock. People with food intolerance might not notice they're even having a reaction (you'd know about it within minutes if you had an allergy) and this delayed response can take as long as three days to appear after eating a 'trigger food'.

Some people who feel continuously unwell may actually be experiencing food sensitivity to things like dairy, gluten, nuts or eggs.

So, what's the solution? If you're worried that you might have a food intolerance, the trick is to start a food diary and see if you can tally up your symptoms with your diet. If you're having stomach pains three days after eating bread for six weeks running you might need to watch your wheat intake.

What's an elimination diet? This involves eating a restricted diet for several weeks. If there is no improvement during this time, it is assumed that the food type that has been restricted is not causing the symptoms, and the process is repeated with another food type. This method is very time consuming, and because it is impossible to test all the different combinations of food types that may be causing the problems, it is a very ineffective process.

What's the blood test approach? Some blood tests can measure food-specific IgG antibodies. Antibodies are substances produced naturally by the body to identify and neutralise foreign objects such as bacteria and viruses. Antibodies to foods are found in the body when the immune system has identified a particular food type as being foreign. Antibodies are also known as Immunoglobulins (abbreviated Ig) and one type of antibody is the IgG antibody. Measurement of IgG antibodies to foods in blood shows that that the body is 'fighting' that particular food.

What's the YorkTest? To help identify undiagnosed food intolerances that could be responsible for your health problems, you could try the YorkTest food and drink intolerance test called Food&DrinkScan. This can uncover potential food and drink triggers, allowing you to modify you diet without having to try the elimination method. Top find out more visit YorkTest.com.

Dr. Gill Hart, food intolerance expert and biochemist at YorkTest Laboratories, comments: "Identifying trigger foods can be a complicated process; for many people affected by the symptoms of food intolerance it is not a single food, but usually a combination of foods and drinks that cause a reaction, so the traditional approach of using an elimination diet to remove one food at a time is unlikely to uncover all the problem areas."

What do you think? Are you a food allergy sufferer?



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