Food Intolerances or Allergies

There is a lot of confusion over the difference between food allergy and food intolerance. When asking people about their reactions to food they will often say they suffer from an allergy, however, more often than not, adverse food reactions are caused by food intolerances.  So what is the difference?


A food allergy is a reaction triggered by the body’s immune system when it mistakes a substance that is normally harmless, for a dangerous invader (an allergen). It reacts by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE antibodies fight the culprit food by releasing histamine and other chemicals, which set off the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

A true allergy usually shows within two hours of eating. It primarily affects the digestive tract, airways and skin and even a tiny amount of the food can trigger a significant and sometimes potentially fatal reaction. Eight main foods have been identified as causing 90% of food allergies. These are cow’s milk (dairy), eggs, peanuts, tree-nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Persons with a known severe allergy should always wear a medic alert bracelet and carry an EpiPen.

Allergies can develop at any age, but most food allergies begin in childhood. Your odds of developing an allergy start in you genes. While specific allergies are not inherited, a tendency toward having allergies is. Other risk factors for developing food allergies are environmental elements associated with a westernised life-style, such as the hygiene hypothesis, pollutants and stress on the immune system.

A food intolerance is an adverse reaction to food that results in clinical symptoms (some of which can be similar to allergy symptoms), but is not caused by a response of the immune system and is not life threatening. It usually involves the most commonly eaten foods. Symptoms can occur after ingesting small amounts of the offending food or may only happen when you eat larger amounts of the food. Reactions are often delayed, occurring several hours and occasionally up to several days after eating the offending food. Symptoms caused by food intolerances may include: Bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, gas, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, IBS, sore joints, eczema, skin rashes, lethargy, headaches and brain fog.

Food intolerances can have a number of different causes:

  • Improper digestion. Enzymes are required to break down our food. If these enzymes are lacking, large undigested food molecules can irritate the gut lining increasing the chance of a localised reaction.
  • Inflammation of the digestive tract resulting from irritants such as medications, antibiotics, coffee, alcohol, drugs and food chemicals.
  • A number of naturally occurring substances that some people are more affected by than others, such as histamine, salicylates, caffeine or sulphites.
  • Stress.
  • Frequently consuming a particular food or drink.
Maria Hoogeveen

Maria Hoogeveen

MA,BHSc (CompMed), Adv.Dip.Herb.Med., Adv.Dip.Nat., Cert.Massage Pract (NZCM),

Maria is one of our highly talented resident Naturopaths and Medical Herbalists. She has over 13 years experience in complementary medicine and co-founder of Advanced Naturopathics, a Naturopathic clinic in Christchurch. She uses a variety of non-invasive modalities including nutrition, herbal medicine, homotoxicology and Bicom bioresonance therapy.
Maria Hoogeveen

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