Let's Talk Intolerances

I think this is an appropriate title for today’s blog, as a lot of my discussions lately have centered on food allergies. While food allergies can be very serious and affect approximately 220 million people worldwide, there are a significant number more people that are living with intolerances (to put it into perspective, approximately 168 million people globally have a lactose intolerance—not to mention the gads more intolerances not lumped into this bucket)! In my immediate family alone, two (and maybe three)! of the eight of us have serious food intolerances.

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

This might seem like a “duh” question, but there are actually LOTS of people that can’t tell you the difference. And it’s pretty important to understand! So here it is:

Food allergy = an IMMUNE system reaction that affects multiple organs throughout the body. It can cause a range of symptoms, most often affecting these systems: central nervous, cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal and skin. A food allergy can lead to anaphylaxis, a life threatening allergic reaction that requires medical treatment (i.e. epinephrine).

Food intolerance = a DIGESTIVE system reaction that affects multiple organs throughout the body. It also causes a range of symptoms, most often affecting these systems: central nervous (head), respiratory, gastrointestinal and skin. The most important thing to note as differentiation is that, while a food intolerance can lead to severe and uncomfortable symptoms, it is NOT life threatening and will not lead to anaphylaxis.

So for those of you that appreciate CliffsNotes, we’re talking immune system-mediated and potentially life threatening vs. digestive system-mediated and not life threatening (but seriously uncomfortable).

Now I don’t mean to make light of a food intolerance by any means. I’ve seen the aftermath several times of a family member accidentally ingesting an intolerance and being incapacitated for several hours. Symptoms can surface quickly, and last hours, days, or even weeks. It’s no fun and strict avoidance for both a food allergen and an intolerance is still the best practice.

What are the most common intolerance triggers? There are lots of intolerances out there, but most often you’ll hear: lactose, chocolate, beans, gluten, salicylates (found in citrus fruits), and food preservatives such as citric acid, MSG, sulfites and artificial coloring.

So where do we go from here? If you think you may have a food intolerance, it’s best to talk to your doctor. They may recommend a referral to a specialist (GI, allergist, dietician, etc). They may even start you on an elimination diet to try and find the culprit of your symptoms if an intolerance is suspected.

Food can be delicious and also such a mystery on the effects (both good and bad)! it can have on the body. Give me a shout out if you want to “talk intolerance”, share a story or discuss Food Allergy Partner’s services for those living with food intolerances. We’re here to help!

Until next time,


Posted on February 1, 2016 and filed under Food Intolerances.