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what’s the difference between a food intolerance and a food allergy?

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Modern science has equipped us with a far-reaching vocabulary that helps us diagnose any number of different health concerns. It’s helpful to be able to use these to put a name on a condition or medical issue. However, there are plenty of times where the ever-growing plethora of different words can become confusing. 

One pair of health terms that are often misconstrued is food intolerances and food allergies. Most people know that there is a difference between these two titles. In addition, most know that an intolerance is less of a “big deal” than an allergy.

But what’s the real difference between an intolerance and an allergy? That’s the question that we’re here to answer today.

defining a food allergy

While a food allergy is connected to eating, at its root, it isn’t related to your digestive system. Instead, a food allergy has to do with a negative response from your immune system.

According to Mayo Clinic, a food allergy is “an immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating a certain food.” 

This reaction can occur from even a very small quantity of food. The health site reports that food allergies affect up to 8% of children under three and just 3% of adults.

Once triggered, an allergy can lead to a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Hives, itching, and swelling
  • Congestion and breathing issues
  • Dizziness and lightheadedness
  • Abdominal pain, including diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting

The severity of these symptoms depends on each individual case. At times they can be minor. However, for some, an allergic reaction can lead to an extreme state known as anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.

defining a food intolerance

In contrast to a food allergy, a food intolerance is based on the digestive system and points to an inability to break down certain foods. 

When describing a food intolerance, Cleveland Clinic succinctly says that “Food intolerance means your gut is sensitive to certain foods and can’t tolerate them.”

The site adds that a food intolerance develops when an individual isn’t able to make enough of a particular enzyme to break down a particular food ingredient that you’ve ingested.

When that happens, it can lead to a variety of less dangerous (though still severely uncomfortable at times) symptoms, such as:

  • An upset stomach
  • Significant quantities of gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain

Whereas an allergy can be triggered by any quantity of the unwanted substance, if a small amount of this substance is consumed it may not lead to any symptoms. (In addition, if you use one of Intoleran’s supplements, it can help eliminate these symptoms before they even appear — more on that, further down.)

While the threat is lower, the number of people that suffer from food intolerances is much higher. For example, it’s estimated that as much as 68% of the world’s population struggles with lactose malabsorption. When this leads to symptoms, it is officially labeled as lactose intolerance — something that as much as 50 million people suffer from in the United States alone.

As a quick aside, there is also a third category known as a food sensitivity. While some resources, like the above one from Cleveland Clinic, lump this in with food intolerances, Harvard Health defines food sensitivity as “symptoms that are not related to food intolerances, food allergies, or celiac disease.” It also describes them as an immune reaction to food that generates a multitude of non-life-threatening symptoms.

managing allergies and intolerances

Allergies are a serious condition that should always receive medical attention. Those with an allergy should consult with their doctor to ensure that they have the proper preventative measures in place in the event of a significant reaction.

While they may not be as severe as a full-blown food allergy, having an intolerance can still significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. It can lead to limited choices at meals and serious levels of discomfort after the fact.

In addition, if someone suffers from multiple intolerances, it can lead to serious issues when they’re triggered at the same time.

Our products allow individuals to enjoy food again by supporting the digestive tract with an extra dose of enzymes. Our products can be used in cases of lactose intolerance, among others. The Quatrase Forte formula addresses multiple FODMAPs.

While a food intolerance may not be as serious as an allergy, it’s important to take action to manage your food intolerances, in the name of a healthier digestive tract and a happier overall lifestyle. Start that process with Intoleran today.

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