Food Allergies or Food Intolerances: How They Affect Digestive Health

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Filed Under: Food Allergies/Intolerances, Digestive Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Food Allergies or Food Intolerances: How They Affect Digestive Health

Learn the difference between food allergies and food intolerances

Although food allergies and food intolerances share many of the same signs and symptoms, they are two different things. With a food allergy, your body actually mounts an immune system response to a food that your body mistakenly identifies as harmful. Even a trace amount of an allergy trigger food can cause a serious allergic reaction. Food allergies affect an estimated 11 to 15 million Americans and have been on the rise in recent years.

There are both immediate food allergies and delayed food allergies. Immediate food allergies are obvious because they have extreme symptoms that show up within minutes of eating a trigger food. An example is when a child starts wheezing right after eating a peanut. With a delayed food allergy, symptoms can take hours or even days to appear after eating a trigger food, making it harder to identify the problem.

As opposed to a food allergy, a food intolerance does not involve an immune system response. For instance, a person who is lactose intolerant simply doesn't produce enough of the enzyme lactase to fully digest lactose, which is a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products. Consequently, those who are lactose intolerant often experience digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea after eating dairy foods, although, because it is a food intolerance and not a food allergy, they may be able to eat a little bit of a trigger food without a reaction.

More Dr. Williams Advice on Food Allergies and Intolerances

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