Food Intolerance Test or Food Allergy Test - Which One Should You Choose?
Do you regularly feel tired and sluggish? Have you lost your energy or worry about what you can eat? It could be as simple as a food intolerance or food allergy. But how do you know which to test for?
In this article you’ll learn:
- ● Know what is a food intolerance
- ● Know what is a food allergy
- ● What are the differences between a food intolerance and food allergy
- ● Whether you need a food intolerance test or food allergy test
The difference between allergies and intolerances is simple; in most cases, allergies are mainly hereditary and you have for life. Many children and babies suffer from allergies to tree nuts, peanut, egg and dairy. However, a lot of the time, they will grow out of these childhood allergies. An intolerance on the other hand can and does change depending on diet and lifestyle. You can work with your intolerances to reduce them and even eliminate them.
What is a food intolerance?
An intolerance is the body’s inability to digest an item properly, whether this is a food intolerance or an environmental factor (a non-food intolerance).
It is often unclear why a person is sensitive to certain foods. If your symptoms come on after having dairy products, it's possible you may have lactose intolerance. Meaning your body can't digest lactose, a sugar found in milk, yoghurts and soft cheeses. Your GP can usually diagnose lactose intolerance by looking at your symptoms and medical history.
Some people have trouble digesting wheat and experience bloating, wind, diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach pain after eating bread. Otherwise, the culprit may be a food additive, chemical or contaminant, such as:
- ● monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- ● Caffeine
- ● Alcohol
- ● artificial sweeteners
- ● histamine (found in Quorn, mushrooms, pickled and cured foods, and alcoholic drinks)
- ● toxins, viruses, bacteria or parasites that have contaminated food
- ● artificial food colours, preservatives or flavour enhancers
Should you receive a reaction from eating foods several hours after ingestion then you should complete a food intolerances test.
Many people cut gluten from their diet thinking that they are intolerant to it, because they have symptoms that come on after eating wheat. But it's hard to know whether these symptoms are because of a genuine intolerance to gluten, an intolerance to something else in wheat, or nothing to do with wheat at all.
In reality very few people need to cut out gluten from their diet, although it's important to do so if you have coeliac disease (which is neither an intolerance nor an allergy).
What is a food allergy?
Food allergy is caused when the body mistakenly makes an antibody (IgE) to 'fight off' a specific food. When the food is next eaten (or sometimes is just in contact with the skin) it triggers an immune system response which results in the release of histamine and other substances in the body.
These cause various symptoms, depending on where in the body they are released. Very rarely the immune system chemicals are released throughout the body, causing a 'systemic' reaction (such as anaphylaxis).
Normally food allergy symptoms appear within a few minutes of eating the offending food, although they may be delayed by up to a couple of hours. The symptoms are usually those of 'classic' allergy, some of which are listed below:
- ● Abdominal pain
- ● Vomiting
- ● Diarrhoea;
- ● Itching
- ● Swelling (rash or nettle rash)
- ● Runny nose
- ● Sneezing
- ● Wheeze
- ● Cough
Should you receive a reaction immediately then you should complete a food allergy test.
What are the differences between a food intolerance and food allergy?
A food intolerance is not the same as a food allergy. Here's how you can tell the difference:
A food allergy:
- ● is a reaction from your immune system (your body's defence against infection) - your immune system mistakenly treats proteins found in food as a threat
- ● can trigger typical allergy symptoms, such as a rash, wheezing and itching, after eating just a small amount of the food (these symptoms usually come on rapidly)
- ● is often to particular foods – common food allergies in adults are to fish and shellfish and nuts, and in children to milk and eggs as well as to peanuts, other nuts and fish
- ● can be serious
A food intolerance:
- ● doesn't involve your immune system – there is no allergic reaction, and it is never life-threatening
- ● causes symptoms that come on more slowly, often many hours after eating the problem food
- ● only results in symptoms if you eat reasonable amounts of the food (unlike an allergy, where just traces can trigger a reaction)
- ● can be caused by many different foods
Whether you need a food intolerance test or food allergy test
Allergies are detected by measuring the Immunoglobulin E count (IgE) in the blood, as these are specific blood cells that help to combat allergies. If you have an allergy to a particular food or non-food item, your body will begin to react the moment it comes into contact with it.
By comparison, an intolerance is not as severe and immediate as an allergy. These symptoms come on gradually; anything from 30 minutes up to 48 hours later.
Food allergies then are quite uncommon and normally causes symptoms within a few minutes of eating the offending food or being in contact with the relevant substance. A food intolerance (non-allergic hypersensitivity) is much more common with the onset of symptoms are usually slower and may be delayed by many hours after eating the offending food.
Words: David Bailey-Lauring