Food Intolerances & Food Allergies: What’s the Difference?
Do you ever feel like the internet is buzzing with solutions to all of your problems…even problems you didn’t know you had? Food intolerances and sensitivities have become buzz words around nutrition that are no exception, and the internet is overflowing with people ready to capitalize on it. We’re here to help you break down the science behind allergies, intolerances, sensitivities and the truth about food sensitivity testing.
The difference between food allergies and food intolerances is so simple, we wonder how the internet has gotten away with confusing us all so much. It comes down to this: allergies involve an immune response and intolerances involve a digestive response. Allergies are triggered by an immune overreaction to a food, typically a protein component. The immune system identifies the protein as harmful and produces IgE antibodies in response. The result? Symptoms ranging from skin rashes to breathing difficulty. Food allergies can become severe, even life-threatening.
As for food intolerances, this indicates a digestive issue, NOT an immune response. Most commonly the symptoms are digestive upset in response to certain foods. This can be due to lack of the appropriate enzyme to break down the food. In other cases, intolerance can be in response to food additives or even naturally occurring compounds. Another cause that is not fully understood is stress. Symptoms typically include stomach pain, gas, bloating and diarrhea. Another point to note here is that with intolerances, as opposed to allergies, people are often able to tolerate small amounts of the food in question.
As for food sensitivities, it is not even a medically defined term. It is often used interchangeably with food intolerance or as a blanket term referring to any allergy or intolerance.
So without a clear definition, what are we buying when we buy food sensitivity tests? We're so glad you asked.
The Truth About Food Sensitivity Tests
You have you heard buzz about food sensitivity tests. Maybe nagging stomach upset and digestive problems have made it tempting to try one to finally find the solution. We get it! That is exactly what these tests are designed to sell you. But are they delivering?
Most food sensitivity tests sold online (or otherwise) are testing for an IgG response, NOT an IgE response. This makes sense, as IgE is medically associated with allergic reactions and and the tests are not claiming to test for those. So what are they claiming? They’re claiming they can identify food sensitivities, and once identified you will know what to avoid to alleviate your symptoms.
Here is the issue with the claim: When the IgG response is high, the test indicates this as a food sensitivity. The problem? Elevated IgG simply indicates an exposure to a food, not necessarily a sensitivity or overreaction to a food. People produce IgG antibodies after eating a food. In fact, the elevated IgG antibody response is indicative of a normal immune system and likely indicates the tolerance to a food. Higher IgG levels only indicate that a person has had frequent exposure to a food. At this time, there is no scientific evidence to support IgG levels diagnosing food intolerances and it is not recommended to make changes to your diet based on them.
So if food sensitivity tests aren’t the answer, what is?
If you are suffering with GI distress, CorePerform is here to help you resolve it and break free from the symptoms once and for all. Working with a registered dietitian is the best way to find the issue at the CORE of your symptoms. CorePerform dietitians can order and interpret tests that are specific to you.