Allergy Or Intolerance?

What’s the difference when it comes to food and what can I do about it?

Sometimes it seems that everyone has an allergy or intolerance to some sort of food these days. Do people actually mean allergic or do they mean intolerant when they say “I’m allergic to….” ?

An allergy refers to the body’s reaction to the proteins within the eaten food (immune system). This food is harmless to most people.1

An intolerance or sensitivity is considered a ‘chemical’ reaction (digestive system) to a substance, commonly food, and does not show up on a traditional allergy test. Intolerances can cause similar signs and symptoms1.

Symptoms are widespread and non-specific and include1:

  • gastrointestinal symptoms,
  • skin complaints,
  • respiratory issues,
  • fatigue,
  • headache,
  • migraine,
  • cognitive deficits,
  • neurodevelopmental disorders,
  • anxiety,
  • depression,
  • joint pain,
  • muscle pain, and
  • endocrine disturbances

Whatever the cause, allergies and intolerances can be very debilitating. There are some risk factors that increase your chances of having allergies and intolerances1.

  • Family history of allergies
  • Personal history of allergies
  • Digestive disorders (e.g., hydrochloric acid deficiency)
  • Dysbiosis and/or liver toxicity
  • Exposure to environmental allergens and/or toxic compounds

While some of these are out of our control, there are some factors which we can influence to reduce reactivity. Most practitioners will primarily focus on the health of the gut.

I found out first-hand the power of the gut in relation to allergies and intolerances.

At age 21, I had my first set of antibiotics due to strep throat. Pre antibiotics I had no issues with any foods. I chose not to eat a lot of bread and milk as I felt they made my tummy look bloated. Over the next few years following this set of antibiotics, I noticed that I could no longer tolerate wheat, then gluten, then all dairy products, then yeast, soy, corn, mould and coffee.

In my late 20s, I was at the point where even tiny amounts of these foods would cause me to become very ill with migraines, eczema, cognitive issues, fatigue and stomach upset. I avoided these foods for around 7 years.

At age 30, I contracted my first ever bout of gastro. I took a ton of probiotics and colostrum and resumed life as normal. Once I could eat again, I noticed that I didn’t get sick when I accidentally ate some gluten. Then I tried some of the other foods I was sensitive to….no, they were fine as well!

My naturopath and I were both flummoxed. The only thing that made sense was that the gastro had completely wiped my previous gut bacteria profile. The probiotics and colostrum had re-established the gut bacteria in a way that made my gut less leaky and more able to tolerate my previously problem foods. Full disclosure – I do actually have a dairy protein allergy so that’s still an issue for me.

Now I’m certainly not suggesting that you go out and get gastro, but my story highlights the importance of gut health in relation to allergies and intolerances.

If you aren’t addressing the root cause (the gut), your only real options are to avoid that particular food/substance or suffer, the later not being ideal.

If you aren’t sure what is setting you off, there are a few ways you can discover this. Traditional medical allergy testing is an option; however, it may not show anything as you could be suffering from an intolerance – see your GP for this testing. If you are experiencing symptoms of anaphylaxis, or severe symptoms please see your Doctor.

Other options include kinesiology and bio-resonance testing.

There are a range of supplements and programs that can be followed to improve gut health and potentially reduce not only the symptoms of your allergies and intolerances but also help to address the root cause.

Speak to you practitioner to find out what approach would be best in your situation.


[1] Metagenics Allergy and Reactivity Reduction Program: Clinical Guide

Please contact us if you would like specific references