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Understanding the Difference Between Allergies & Intolerances

Understanding the Difference Between Allergies & Intolerances

Among the many reasons why people start drinking almond milk and other dairy alternatives is due to a food allergy or intolerance. This often means we are forced to limit our intake or rule out the offending substance, however the actual allergy or intolerance is often  due to a single compound within the food. The foods we eat are made up of various compounds including protein, fat, carbohydrates nutrients as well as natural chemicals, not to mention additives that can all single handedly cause adverse reactions.  In the case of cow’s milk, for example, some people (particularly children) will have an allergy to the protein in the milk, while others will have an intolerance to the sugar, lactose.

While the two are often grouped together, there are a few distinct differences. One of the primary differentiating factors is that an allergy illicits an immune response by producing specific antibodies against substances in the environment that are normally harmless. Contamination with an allergen usually results in swelling and inflammation which can occur all over the body. The severity can range from irritating to life threatening. In order to diagnose an allergy, most common methods include skin prick testing and blood testing for specific allergen born antibody. These tests are largely conclusive.
The most common food allergies are: peanuts, cow’s milk, soy, seafood and eggs.

An intolerance similarly causes an adverse reaction to food that can be mistaken for an allergy, as they share some symptoms, which can also be very severe. Yet unlike a true allergy, intolerances do NOT involve an immune response and does not show up on allergy testing mentioned above (blood test and skin prick testing).
The most common intolerances are: lactose, wheat sensitivity, salicytates, amines, glutamates, preservatives, artificial foods colours and food enhancers eg. MSG

Testing for intolerances is often far less conclusive and often exceptionally confusing. This is because not only are we always eating and drinking but people will also experience different reactions and to varying severities.  The best way to find foods responsible for food intolerances is to follow an elimination diet, followed by gradual reintroduction and challenges under the supervision of a professional. However due to the restrictiveness and time involved, many people will deal with undiagnosed intolerances, or worse self-diagnose.

Finally, you think you or someone you know is suffering from an intolerance or allergy, it is important to see your doctor to rule out anything life threatening.