Food Allergy or Food Sensitivity: What’s the Difference

06. 04. 2018

What is the difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity? A true food allergy is caused by an immune system reaction to a specific protein in a food. The reaction can be mild to severe and can affect multiple organs in the body. Only about three to four percent of adults have true food allergies, but these allergies can cause severe digestive distress and can even be life-threatening. Food allergies can cause digestive symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping, but can even cause anaphylactic shock or loss of consciousness (Everyday Health).

On the other hand, a food sensitivity or food intolerance occurs when the gut does not react well to a particular food – often due to a lack of the enzyme needed to properly digest that food. This can cause digestive symptoms such as gastrointestinal discomfort, gas, diarrhea or bloating.

Here are a few common food allergies and how they affect the digestive system.

Gluten Allergy or Celiac Disease

About one in every 133 Americans is allergic to gluten, a protein in all forms of wheat, barley, rye and some oats. Celiac disease is a lifelong autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine and results in an inability to absorb vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Common symptoms of celiac include bloating, constipation, diarrhea and weight loss. Undiagnosed celiac disease can cause a host of health issues like anemia, bone density loss, joint pain and malnutrition (Mayo Clinic).

Peanut and Tree Nut Allergies

Peanut allergies are the most common nut allergies. Proteins found in almonds, cashews, pecans and pine nuts can also cause allergic reactions. Digestive system reactions include diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramps and nausea. In most severe cases, nuts can cause anaphylaxis, a reaction that impairs breathing and can send the body into shock (ACAII).

Shellfish Allergy

Shellfish is among the most dangerous food allergens and causes more emergency-room visits than any other allergen. The protein tropomyosin is commonly responsible for most shellfish reactions. Ingesting shellfish can cause an array of symptoms from vomiting and diarrhea to wheezing, swelling and difficulty breathing (ACAII).

What You Can Do

Remember that true food allergies can be life-threatening and should be taken seriously. Contact a doctor if you experience a severe reaction to a food. However, if you have had gastrointestinal distress as a result of eating a particular food, consider whether you may have a food sensitivity or intolerance. Keep a food journal to isolate specific foods that may be causing issues and visit a doctor to discuss your symptoms.

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Related Articles:

How Gluten Affects Your Gut
What a Gastroenterologist Does and When to Go See One

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