Food Intolerance & Food Allergy: the difference.

Finding out if your food reaction was due to an allergy or food intolerance is not difficult.

The Causes & Symptoms defined

Food allergy is caused when a food particle (e.g. protein) enters our digestive system and our immune system thinks it is a harmful body (e.g. bacteria). The immune system is hence triggered and goes on the attack resulting in allergy symptoms as in the table below.

Food intolerance is caused when our digestive system does not produce sufficient enzymes (chemical proteins) to help break down food into smaller components. These larger parts of food remain undigested and unabsorbed by the intestines. As this food travels deeper in the digestive tract, bacteria that live in us digest it themselves resulting in production of gases (wind) and leading to the symptoms explained below.

Food Intolerance & Food Allergy Comparison

Food Intolerance
Food Allergy
Cause not enough enzymes to breakdown the sugars, fat or proteins consumed in foods harmless proteins in food is mistakenly thought to be those of harmful bacteria by the immune system
Age starts later in childhood but most common in adults, may be temporarily present in the form of colic in babies for a short time starts usually from early infancy and more common in children who overgrow it, triggered in later adult life in some who never had it in childhood

affects the digestive system only, mainly:

abdominal bloating
gas and wind
stomach cramps diarrhoea

usually immediate and affecting more that one part of the body-

digestion: nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhoea
skin: swelling eczema, hives
airways: wheezing, coughing, congestion and a runny nose
anaphylaxis: most known to happen in peanuts allergy but can be triggered by all sorts of food ingestion.

Morbidity never life threatening can be fatal, e.g. peanut allergy


While avoidance is the best cure, some times no matter how hard we can try, unwanted food comes in touch.

Food Intolerance Treatment

The only way to treat food intolerance is by digestive enzymes. Since more then half the world population is food intolerant to some degree it is no surprise that there are so many manufacturers producing digestive enzymes. They simply supplement our diet for a complete breakdown of foods.

Food Allergy

Avoidance is definitely the best way to go, especially if the reactions are severe. Doctors can prescribe drugs to control continuous reactions while over the counter medicines are also available. However, the same article mentioned above written by Anthony J. Cichoke also goes to explain how digestive enzymes are helping to treat allergies. Enzymes not only break down sugars and fats but also proteins into smaller blocks. Hence, if the offending protein is broken down this does not remain a threat to the immune system.

Final Advise

Anthony J. Cichoke in his article advises "An unpleasant reaction to a food may not always be a sign of a food allergy, it could indicate a food intolerance. Fortunately, enzyme therapy can help to overcome both of these by enhancing immune function and improving digestion."

Find out more about:

Food & Lactose Intolerance

Food intolerance is the inability to completely break down food resulting in cramps, bloating, wind, diarrhoea etc. Lactose Intolerance (milk) is the most common form and affects half the world population. Food Allergy is not Lactose Intolerance. A guide is provided.

Food & Milk Allergy

Food allergy is caused when the immune system mistakenly responds to food proteins thinking they are harmful substances. Symptoms include vomiting, itching, rash, and hives. Allergies in children are very common, but treatment with digestive enzymes may prove very helpful.

Coeliac or simply Wheat Sensitive?

In Coeliac Disease, gluten causes damage to the small intestines, however, more people are wheat sensitive. This shows negative in blood tests. Read how to diagnose and avoid false negative screening results.

Baby Colic

Baby colic is very distressing to both the baby and the parents. However, studies conclude that half the babies suffer due to lactase deficiency. This is easily treated by neutralising milk with lactase enzyme.

IBS or Simply Food Intolerance?

Medical studies confirmed 50% of patients diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome may in fact be Lactose Intolerant. Omitting dairy products from their diet, or treating it with enzymes has helped them start a new life. Since IBS symptoms are similar to LI, diagnosis can be confusing.

Carbohydrate Intolerance and Obesity

The inability to break down starch and other sugars leads to bloating, wind, cramps, diarrhoea, etc. Now there is evidence that obesity may be related to carbohydrate intolerance. There is some good news with the help of digestive enzymes

Food Additives & E Numbers

The Romans used them, they come in 'numbers' or in weird names. Some are healthy but others are 'bad' despite being approved for consumption and depending where you live. Watch out for the ones to avoid and the others not to worry about

Fructose Intolerance vs. Malabsorption

Fructose Intolerance is a rare genetical disorder and leads to severe symptoms and may prove dangerous.

Fructose Malabsorption has symptoms similar to Lactose Intolerance and avoidance of fruits helps.

Alcohol Allergy & Intolerance

Once ingested, alcohol is quickly broken down by enzymes produced in the liver. Otherwise it is a toxin and the body will react. Many people of oriental origin lack this enzyme and this explains why they turn red when drinking alcohol. So what is the cure?